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07/28/2021 08:07 PM
Pennsylvania State Senate

Jesse Reading Burden

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History of Central High School (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1902)



Session Position District Party
1827-1828 N/A Democrat
1829-1830 N/A Democrat
1831-1832 N/A Democrat
1833-1834 Speaker N/A Democrat
1835-1836 N/A Democrat
1837-1838 Speaker N/A Democrat
 Counties   Philadelphia


1796 - 1875

Born in Southwark, Philadelphia, January 8, 1796, Jesse Burden was the son of Joseph and Anna Maria Burden and the grandson of Hanna and George Burden of the same place.  Jesse’s father worked as a “Windsor chair maker” and “woolcomber” from a shop located at South Ninth Street, Dock Ward.  Dr. Burden graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1816, receiving a medical degree in 1819.
An advocate of public health systems, Dr. Burden supervised Philadelphia’s yellow fever hospital, 1820; served on the city’s board of health, was named guardian of the poor; and enlisted as first medical officer of the Fourth U.S. Infantry, Tampa Bay, Florida, 1823.  He returned to Philadelphia, marrying Anna Maria Smith. Burden established a successful Southwark practice by 1827 and later served as a trustee at Jefferson College.
Dr. Burden was instrumental in fighting the 1832 cholera outbreak in Philadelphia, remaining the sole caretaker at the city’s almshouse after nurses deserted the facility.  He later served as a trustee of the Pennsylvania State Lunatic Asylum in Harrisburg, and with Joel Barlow Sutherland and Judge Edward King, formed a potent Democratic political machine in Southwark.  The senator served the upper house for 10 of the next 11 years, elected Speaker twice, 1832-33 and 1837-38.  He was an ardent anti-Jackson supporter of the Second U.S. Bank, a “Bank Democrat,” intent on keeping the nation’s “great moneyed center” in his home town, or at least, retaining a “large state bank operating in Philadelphia.”  He lent strong support to the state’s internal improvements program, projects that depended on financing from the federal depository.  In 1837, his and seven other senators’ infidelity to the Jackson democracy over the bank issue earned the group the name “inglorious eight.”
He was an avowed abolitionist, Secretary of the Pennsylvania Society for the Abolishment of Slavery; advocated the separation of the court system from the political process; promoted higher education; was a contributor to the Joshua Hoopes Boarding School in West Chester; supported President Jackson’s force bill after South Carolina’s 1832 Nullification act (South Carolina threatened armed secession – Jackson threatened the state with armed discipline); he was anti-prohibitive tariff; and opposed the admission of Texas as a slave-state.
Senator Burden represented the Commonwealth as an 1835 delegate to the Baltimore Democratic Convention and served as the (Governor) Wolf faction’s nominating caucus leader in Harrisburg.  In the same year, he began a 20-year stint on the State Board of Prison Inspectors.  In addition to his terms in the upper house, Burden also served in the state House of Representatives. Senator Burden became a director of the Philadelphia Bank, and his interest in state finances led to a collegial relationship with Simon Cameron.  A man of stern principle, he later backed Cameron’s militant Civil War stance, once apologizing to the Republican boss for his lack of military participation, citing his pacifist vow as a Quaker and his dedication to the Democratic Party.
After public service, Dr. Burden served as Professor of Materia Medica and Therapeutics at the Philadelphia College of Medicine, president of the school, 1849-1854; and retired to private practice in 1870.  The Honorable Dr. Jesse Burden passed away at age 77, May 2, 1875, at his home on Pine Street, mourned very much admired, venerable and widely respected.