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William Pennington, Speaker of the House of Representatives (American National Biography)

Scholarship

Lex Renda, "Pennington, William," American National Biography Online, February 2000, http://www.anb.org/articles/04/04-00775.html.

When Congress assembled in December 1859, Pennington's reputation as a moderate propelled him once again. After a protracted struggle, in which Republicans and antiadministration Democrats could not agree on a House Speaker, Pennington was selected on the forty-fourth ballot. The Speaker's routine importance was magnified by the worsening relations between northern and southern representatives. Contemporaries credited the elder statesman for maintaining, as much as possible, decorum and order in a volatile congressional session, which featured congressmen armed with weapons. Historians have been harsher in their judgment, citing his refusal to appoint a sufficient number of northern Democrats and moderate Republicans (as opposed to the abundance of southern Democrats and more radical Republicans he did appoint) to the "Committee of 33," which during the secession crisis unsuccessfully sought to devise a plan to save the Union.

In 1860 Pennington narrowly lost his reelection bid with 49.4 percent of the votes cast. In a pattern repeated elsewhere in the northern part of the state, the bulk of antiadministration Democrats, who had bolted from their party in 1858, returned to the fold, fearing the consequences for the Union of a Republican victory.
How to Cite This Page: "William Pennington, Speaker of the House of Representatives (American National Biography)," House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College, http://hd.housedivided.dickinson.edu/node/26539.