Portrait: “Robert Hare with Daughter” by Gilbert Stuart, location unknown
Born January 28, 1752 at Woolwich, County Kent, England, Robert Hare was the son of prominent London brewer Richard Hare (the Justice of Middlesex) and the former Martha Harford of Limehouse. Hare arrived in Philadelphia on June 4, 1773, participating in expeditions to Canada, the Niagara country, the St. Lawrence River, Boston, New York, Pennsylvania, and the Great Lakes. Like his father, he became a prominent merchant and brewer, marrying Margaret Willing on November 16, 1775, the daughter of banker and trans-Atlantic trader Charles Willing. Through marriage, Hare became a brother-in-law to Samuel Powel, William Bingham, and Col. William Byrd, establishing extended family ties to the Shippen family and the Society Hill aristocracy. Regarding Hare’s brewery, “Hare’s American Porter” received note as one of the most popular beverages in Philadelphia.
After the 1774 Continental Congress adjourned, Hare and others returned to Carpenters’ Hall to organize the First Troop of the Philadelphia Cavalry. Making a difficult decision to support the cause for independence, Hare weighed heavily the ramifications of declaring war on his parents and eight brothers, and sisters in England – two, who served in the British military. As General Howe occupied Philadelphia in 1777-78, Hare fled to Virginia, where he sought refuge with his sister-in-law’s husband, Col. William Byrd. He returned to Philadelphia in 1778 and continued his trade, becoming a person of substantial influence. Among his civic contributions, Robert belonged to the Manufacturing Society, the Hand-in-Hand Fire Company, and served as a trustee of the University of Pennsylvania in 1789.
Hare embarked on a political career as a delegate to the 1789 State Constitutional Convention. He received a 1791 appointment as subscription commissioner for the Schuylkill and Susquehanna Navigation Company, represented his district in the 1791 state House of Representatives, and secured a seat in the 1795 Senate of Pennsylvania after running on the “John Jay Treaty” Federalist ticket.
The senator served as Speaker for five consecutive regular sessions and one special session, 1795-1799. Hare cast an April 14, 1795 tie-breaking vote on passage of the Senate’s “Philadelphia health” bill, placing heavy immigration restrictions on Germans, through the auspices of the Philadelphia Health Office.
Changes appeared in the Senate rules in 1796; among those, Hare recommended an alteration allowing the Speaker to vote on all ballots, rather than as tiebreaker only. The Speaker continued to hold the final vote and obtained the privilege of voicing reasons for casting “yea or nay.” If the Speaker represented the tying vote, the “bill was lost” or reconsidered. During the same session, Speaker Hare supported a bill allowing aliens to own land in Pennsylvania, an act supported by a narrow vote of primarily Eastern Federalists representing Philadelphia speculators. The matter evolved into major conflict between Western Pennsylvanians and the Holland Land Company.
Hare supported the “Alien and Sedition Act,” the 1798 Naturalization Act (placing stringent general election restrictions on new immigrants), and district voting, rather than at-large, for congressional candidates. He resisted entreaties to reform the debtors’ prison law and bankruptcy reform; and on April 4, 1799, opposed moving the state capital to Lancaster – a measure defeated.
The Honorable Robert Hare died March 8, 1811 at his Germantown estate – interred at Christ Anglican-Episcopal Church. Senator Hare’s survivors included three prominent children: eminent chemist Robert Hare, Jr., attorney Charles Willing Hare, and future state Senator John Hare Powel – the latter, an adopted son of Samuel Powel’s widow.
Edgar Fahs Smith, The Life of Robert Hare: An American Chemist, 1781-1858 (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1917), 3. Colonial Families of Philadelphia, ed. John W. Jordan, vol. II (New York: The Lewis Publishing Co., 1911), 973-974; Leach, North American, June 28, 1908.