McClelland, Robert

Life Span
Dickinson Connection
Class of 1829
    Full name
    Robert McClelland
    Place of Birth
    Birth Date Certainty
    Death Date Certainty
    Sectional choice
    Free State
    No. of Spouses
    No. of Children
    John McClelland (father), Eleanor Bell McCulloh (mother), Sarah Elizabeth Sabine (wife, 1836)
    Dickinson (Carlisle College)
    Attorney or Judge
    Political Parties
    Pierce Administration (1853-57)
    US House of Representatives
    State legislature

    Robert McClelland (Dickinson Chronicles)

    Robert McClelland was born in Greencastle, Pennsylvania on August 1, 1807, the son of a prominent Franklin County doctor, John McClelland, and his wife, Eleanor Bell McCulloh.  The father had studied medicine under Benjamin Rush and perhaps not coincidentally the younger McClelland entered Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania to graduate high in the Class of 1829.

    McClelland was admitted to the Pennsylvania bar in 1832 in Chambersburg, and he practiced law in Pittsburgh for a short while before leaving the state for Monroe, Michigan in 1833.  He set up a successful law practice and was a member of the convention to prepare Michigan for statehood in 1835.  At the same time he became a leader in the new state's Democratic Party.  He served as a member of the board of regents of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor in 1837 and was elected to the state legislature for the first time in 1838.  He became speaker of the state house in 1842 and from 1843 represented his district in the U.S. Congress for three terms sitting on the Commerce Committee and the Foreign Relations Committee.

    McClelland became, among other things, a strong advocate for states' rights, including the right of a state to permit slavery.  His star rose in the party and he represented Michigan in several national conventions.  He also was an active member of the constitutional convention in Michigan in 1850 and the chair of the state Democratic Convention that year.  In 1851, he was elected governor of Michigan and re-elected by an even greater majority in 1852.  Soon after, having noted his active part in his presidential election, President Franklin Pierce named him to the cabinet as Secretary of the Interior.  In that position, McClelland advised the president to follow his neutral policy concerning Kansas, but most of his recommendations for reform made little progress.  Nonetheless, he built a reputation for organization and honesty in a previously chaotic and corrupt department.  After James Buchanan's inauguration in 1857, McClelland retired to a long and successful private practice in Detroit.  He sat again in a Michigan state constitutional convention in 1867.

    In 1836, he married Sarah Elizabeth Sabine of Williamstown, Massachusetts and the couple had six children. Three of their children reached maturity. Robert McClelland died in Detroit on August 30, 1880.
    John Osborne and James W. Gerencser, eds., “Robert McClelland,” Dickinson Chronicles,

    Robert McClelland (Congressional Biographical Directory)

    McCLELLAND, Robert, a Representative from Michigan; born in Greencastle, Franklin County, Pa., August 1, 1807; was graduated from Dickinson College, Carlisle, Pa., in 1829; engaged in teaching; studied law; was admitted to the bar in Chambersburg, Pa., in 1832; moved to Pittsburgh, Pa., and thence, in February 1833 to Monroe, Mich., and engaged in the practice of law; delegate to the convention called to frame a constitution for the proposed State of Michigan in 1835 and to the State constitutional conventions in 1850 and 1867; member of the board of regents of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor in 1837 and 1850; member of the State house of representatives in 1837, 1839, and 1843, in the latter year being chosen speaker; mayor of Monroe in 1841; elected as a Democrat to the Twenty-eighth, Twenty-ninth, and Thirtieth Congresses (March 4, 1843-March 3, 1849); chairman, Committee on Commerce (Twenty-ninth Congress); was not a candidate for renomination in 1848; delegate to the Democratic National Conventions in 1848, 1852, and 1868; delegate to the Democratic State convention in 1850; Governor of Michigan 1851-1853; resigned to accept appointment as Secretary of the Interior in the Cabinet of President Pierce March 7, 1853, and served until March 6, 1857; resumed the practice of law in Detroit, Mich., where he died August 30, 1880; interment in Elmwood Cemetery.
    "McClelland, Robert," Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774 to Present,
    How to Cite This Page: "McClelland, Robert," House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College,