Portrait: The Hon. Daniel Sturgeon, (Brady-Handy Collection, Library of Congress)
Daniel Sturgeon was born in Mount Pleasant Township, York County (now Adams) on October 27, 1789.[i] He descended from eighteenth-century Scotch-Irish pioneers William and Mary Cross Sturgeon, and parents Henry Sturgeon and the former Letitia Rice. The family moved to Willow Grove, Allegheny County, en route to a permanent homestead in Washington County by 1800. He received a basic subscription school education, later graduating from Jefferson College in 1810. Sturgeon studied medicine in Uniontown under Dr. Benjamin Stevens, opened a practice for a year at Greensboro, Greene County, and returned to Uniontown to take over Stevens’ practice after his mentor’s death. Daniel married Nancy Gregg in 1814.
Sturgeon conducted a successful campaign in 1819, representing the Fayette-Greene district in the state House of Representatives. At the end of a six-year stint, he ascended to the Pennsylvania Senate in 1825. Senator Sturgeon supported the 1828 “Tariff of Abominations” and promoted the state’s legislative fight against (principally) Marylanders who crossed the Pennsylvania line to kidnap “freemen,” returning them to southern states to sell as slaves. Sturgeon, a fiscal conservative, voted down expensive canal appropriations bills, favoring a conservative pay-as-you-go tax toward completion of the mammoth project. A man of seeming contradictions, he fought the encroachment of the B&O rail system into Pennsylvania, however opposed an 1828 bill providing the construction of a “Pennsylvania rail road” along the canal right-of-way. During the same session, the conservative successfully fought passage of a public school bill, a measure funded by the sale of Pennsylvania’s “unseated” land. He fought Philadelphia Democrat Jesse Burden’s attempt to eliminate debtor’s prison and supported a Pittsburgh to Wheeling lock and dam system down the Ohio.
Serving as Speaker from 1827 through the 1829 session, Senator Sturgeon acted as Governor Wolfe’s state auditor-general for six years. He retired his post after the 1836 death of his wife, never remarrying.[ii] In 1838, he returned to public life, the Pennsylvania Assembly electing Sturgeon, state treasurer. As the state’s chief financial officer, he halted the spread of violence during the 1838 Buckshot War, denying Governor Ritner state funds with which the executive hoped to arm a militia. Sturgeon posted his own guard in order to protect the state treasury from the governor, or any group inclined to gain illegal entry.[iii]
Given the state legislature’s failure to elect a U.S. Senator in 1839, Sturgeon received the honor of filling that vacancy, securing re-election in 1845. During twelve years in the U.S. Senate, Dr. Sturgeon chaired the Patents and Patent Office and Agriculture Committees. After Congress, Daniel received an 1853 Franklin Pierce appointment as Treasurer of the United States Mint in Philadelphia, a position he maintained through 1858. He retired to Uniontown in 1859, pursuing the banking business. According to Ellis, “he was a sturdy actor rather than talker, and though a fluent and graceful colloquist, made no pretense ever, as a public Speaker. In the Senate he commanded high regard for sterling good sense and integrity; he made no speeches, and received the sobriquet ‘the Silent Senator.”[iv] Senator Sturgeon died in Uniontown on July 2, 1878, at 89 years.[v]
[i] York (Adams) County Census, 1790, Mt. Pleasant Township; also: History of Fayette County HFC), ed. Franklin Ellis (Philadelphia: L.H. Everts and Co, 1882), 347.
[iv] HFC, 346.
[v] Ibid., 154, 344-346.