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07/29/2021 08:02 AM
Pennsylvania State Senate

Nathaniel Borrodaille Browne


Session Position District Party
1855 N/A Democrat
1857 Speaker N/A Democrat
 Counties   Philadelphia


1819 - 1875

Born in Northern Liberties, July 21, 1819, Nathaniel Borrodaille Browne was the son of William and Elizabeth Young Browne, educated in public schools in Reading; skipped to the sophomore class at the University of Pennsylvania; graduated with honors in 1838; and studied law under Charles Chauncey.  He became a specialist in commercial law and a member of the Philadelphia bar in 1842. 
He located in West Philadelphia (1850), built a flourishing practice, and accumulated a sizable portfolio of commercial property.  President of the West Philadelphia Board of Commissioners in 1853, Browne played a considerable role toward the consolidation of Philadelphia and Philadelphia County, instrumental in the Senate’s passage of the enabling act that led to the merger. He modernized and widened Philadelphia streets, supported the relocation of the University of Pennsylvania to its present site, and contributed land and ingenuity toward the largest improvement program the city had ever seen.
As an 1854 Democrat, Browne represented one of the two Philadelphia candidates who defeated American Party candidates.  In the Senate, he wrote legislation regulating the booming domestic and international insurance business, also receiving note for his work on the equally important area of regulating the growing sector of corporate gas, water, and bridge companies, and the state banking system.  Most memorable, Browne’s constituents mandated the senator to pass the Temperance Act of 1855, Nathaniel delivering as expected, framing and advocating passage of the Jug Law.  By 1856, however, the senator appeared as the only Democrat behind the measure and ultimately made concessions to “water down” the prohibitive nature of the legislation in favor of a less stringent, however strict enough licensing procedure.
In 1855, the Senator “knocked to pieces” the objectionable form of the Metropolitan Insurance Company’s proposed corporate charter.  Disconcerted with “extraordinary specimens of legislation,” Browne assured J.H. Martin, he was prepared to “apply the knife very freely to all these bills.”  This appeared especially the case with the 1856 “regulation of foreign insurance companies” measure.  Browne reserved serious misgivings concerning the “insecurity” of “these foreign countries,” some insolvent, leaving investors nothing for their money.  Other than major insurance reform, he also penned the 1857 Normal School Act, legislation that established the State Teachers College system.
Browne was a delegate to the divisive 1860 Charleston Democratic Convention and Buchanan’s Philadelphia Postmaster to 1861.  During the latter assignment, however, Nathaniel turned his allegiance wholly to Lincoln, and with Charles Gibbons became an early promoter and member of the Philadelphia Union League.  Admitted to the “League” as a Democrat in 1863, Nathaniel embraced the association’s cause to encourage the enlistment of African-Americans in the United States Army.
Browne served as an 1863 member of the first Board of Commissioners of Fairmount Park, having had personally financed land acquisitions prior to 1857; served as (1869) assistant to and later Treasurer of the Philadelphia Mint; lifetime president of the Fidelity Insurance Trust and Safe Deposit Company; trustee of the University of Pennsylvania, 1869; charter member and treasurer of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania; member of the American Philosophical Society; board manager of the House of Refuge; and treasurer of the Edwin Forrest Home.  The Honorable Nathaniel Borrodaille Browne died on March 13, 1875.  He married Mary J. Kendall in 1846, and after her death in 1856, married Emily Valeria Taliaferro of Richmond, Virginia, in 1859.
[1]       Frederick Godcharles, “Nathaniel Borrodail Browne,” Pennsylvania: Political, Governmental, Military and Civil, Biographical Volume (New York: The American Historical Society, Inc.), 12-13.
[1]       Browne to John Hill Martin, April 25, 1855, March 2, 1855; March 24, 1855, Society Collection, HSP.
[1][1]     Whiteman, 474.
[1]       Browne to James H. Castle, March 24, 1857, Society Collection, HSP.
[1]       Philadelphia North American, February 2, 1913.