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07/28/2021 07:32 AM
Pennsylvania State Senate

Benjamin Matthias


Session Position District Party
1847 1 Whig
1849 1 Whig
1851 Speaker 1 Whig
 Counties   Philadelphia


1808 - 1852

Journalist Benjamin Matthias was the son of Abraham and Elizabeth (Hills) Matthias of Philadelphia, born 1808 in Northern Liberties. Descended from Welsh immigrants who settled in Bucks County before the Revolution, Matthias belonged to a prominent family of some means.  He received a good early education, became a “member of library and debating societies,” and a printer’s apprentice and literary student.  In 1825 he married Elizabeth, daughter of Philadelphian Thomas Rogers, however, it was through the marriage of his sister Martha to prominent publisher-printer John Van Court that Matthias established ties to the publishing community and propelled his career as a contributing writer to “many of the newspapers and periodicals of the time.” Matthias became Van Court’s printing foreman;” a business colleague of printer Samuel C. Atkinson; a key member of a “committee of five,” who produced a charter for the Society of Relief of Disabled Firemen; wrote the Philadelphia Hose Company’s constitution and by-laws, and provided similar organizational services as board president of the Philadelphia Sacred Music Society in 1833, and the Methodist-Episcopal Trinity Church (his church) in 1841. Matthias also published general interest publications, including two travel books featuring information relevant to rail, steamship, turnpike, and canal route passage from Baltimore and New York, to Philadelphia. His introduction to Mr. Atkinson provided Benjamin’s journalism career with a historically prestigious boost, serving as an editor, columnist, and foreign correspondent for a number of newspapers that ultimately merged into Atkinson’s Saturday Evening Post.  Matthias, eventually its publisher, guided the Post toward its modern course as one of the nation’s best-known family journals. Benjamin additionally wrote the 1846 Matthias’s Legislative Manual: A Manual for Conducting Business in Town and Ward Meetings, Societies, Boards of Directors and Managers, and Other Deliberative Bodies and the 1835 Politicians’ Register.  The former volume served as an educational primer in parliamentary procedure. Apart from his career in journalism, Benjamin was a 17-year member of the Dickinson College Board of Trustees, 1833-1850; was elected in 1832 as the “Whig and Workingmen’s Party” selection for the state House of Representatives; reelected in 1846; chaired the Education Committee; and supported progressive public education legislation.  Elected to the state Senate in 1847, Benjamin stood as a staunch advocate of Whig Governor Johnston’s “unwritten” policy for repealing the Fugitive Slave Act, chairing the Senate’s 1850 select committee on slavery. Matthias promoted the popular election of judges; supported the repeal of the Walker Tariff and other protectionist measures; and backed Johnston’s sinking fund and a revised tax code.  The senator and George T. Thorn of the House championed a bill proposed by the Hebrew Education Society of Philadelphia, to institute “a college, in the full sense of the word, for the instruction of Hebrew literature” and “the sciences,” and for the “advance of religious interests.”  The measure responded to rampant anti-Semitism spreading throughout the world and “assured the (Philadelphia) Jewish community (equality) as citizens.”  After an attempt at postponement, Matthias moved the bill to passage, gaining the praise of The Occident and American Jewish Advocate. In 1850, Matthias, with Whig caucus approval, swapped a certain term in the Speaker’s chair to Democrat Valentine Best, for Benjamin’s chairmanship of the Election Districts Committee.  Best received what he hoped for, the adjudication of Montour County, while Matthias’s Whigs gained a favorable senatorial and representative reapportionment. Serving as 1851 Speaker, Matthias stood as a favorite to repeat as Senate leader should Whigs retain the majority.  Repercussions from the Christiana Resistance, however, not only upset the senator’s expectation of returning to the chair and the Whig Party’s hope to maintain the majority, but the issue also established slavery as a key social and political issue throughout the nation. The Honorable Benjamin Matthias died in the final year of his second term.  The senator passed away on August 14, 1852 at age 44, after a “protracted illness.”  Emerson described Matthias as “of full size” with “an active temperament and an intellectual and pleasing countenance.” Interred at Monument Cemetery two days later, Robert Morris esq. delivered Senator Matthias’ eulogy at the Scott and Graham Club, the eminent journalist described as a “faithful and efficient public servant” – “always kind, courteous, and obliging.”