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08/02/2021 07:47 AM
Pennsylvania State Senate

Charles Bingham Penrose


Session Position District Party
1833-1834 N/A Democratic-Republican
1835-1836 N/A Democratic-Republican
1837-1838 N/A Democratic-Republican
1839 Speaker N/A Democratic-Republican
1857 N/A Republican
 Counties   Cumberland, Perry, Philadelphia


1798 - 1857

The Honorable Charles Bingham Penrose was born at Frankford Creek, Philadelphia County on October 6, 1798. The son of Clement Biddle Penrose and Anna Howard Bingham, and grandfather of President pro tempore of the Pennsylvania Senate Boise Penrose, Charles was a member of a celebrated Philadelphia family, his ancestors settling in Penn’s Woods with the city’s original Quaker pioneers. His father moved the family to St. Louis in 1805, after receiving an appointment as President Jefferson’s Louisiana Territory land commissioner and territorial judge. Charles returned to Pennsylvania after serving in a St. Louis militia company during the War of 1812; graduated from Washington College; and moved to Philadelphia in 1819 to read law with Samuel Ewing. Admitted to several county bars after 1821, Penrose opened his first practice in Carlisle, later Lancaster, and finally Philadelphia, where he married Valleria Fullerton Biddle. In Carlisle, Penrose developing a keen interest in the local industry, investing in the Cumberland Valley Railroad and obtaining the Pine Grove Furnace in 1838 with partner William Watt. As a legislator, Penrose engineered the completion of the Cumberland Valley line, connecting rail between Chambersburg and Harrisburg; vaulted to a position of prominence in the community. Penrose entered public service as a Jackson Democrat and a senatorial delegate to the 1836 Democratic State Convention, already disenchanted with the president’s policy toward the Second U.S. Bank. By the end of the year, he assumed the posture of a devout “Bank Democrat” and a member of the “inglorious eight” with Senators Jesse R. Burden and Thomas Cunningham. Cast as a political villain by Buchanan, President Jackson, and the Democratic press during the Buckshot War, he served as the state’s Whig caucus chairman, joining forces with Thad Stevens’ and Thomas Burrows’ state Anti-Masonic caucus, fortifying the “Coalition.”  In July and November 1839, he chaired two Coalition state nominating caucuses in Chambersburg and Harrisburg, becoming first secretary of, and aligning as a Harrison Whig during the National Whig Nominating Convention in Harrisburg, December 1839. Penrose played a pivotal role in turning the tide of the Jackson party’s dominance through his efforts to place President Harrison on the general ticket. In 1841, he was appointed Solicitor of the Treasury, a position he held through the Tyler administration. Charles chaired Judiciary as successor to the Speaker’s chair, 1836-1837, and Estates and Escheats, 1835-1836. While he initially supported Jackson’s withdrawal of funds from the Second Bank in 1834, he opposed the President’s pet bank; specie circular, and sub-treasury programs. Penrose was pro-improvement; backed the Common School Acts of 1834 and 1836, introduced a bill to encourage the use of the coking process in iron manufacturing, and helped Burden, Cunningham, and Thad Stevens repeal the state’s property and personal tax laws. Senator Penrose enjoyed a close relationship with Simon Cameron. On October 25, 1855, Cameron received a letter from his “old friend,” reassuring Simon that behind the support of true “Cameron Americans” he would no doubt win a seat as U.S. Senator. Penrose added, however, if uncertain of the Philadelphia delegation’s vote, he might “apply a little trickery.” Cameron responded to Charles’ warm, if intriguing letter by using his influence to arrange his friend’s re-election to the state Senate as a “Reform Republican.”  In a warm letter of thanks to Cameron, Penrose made plans to legislatively reciprocate, querying Cameron, “What is to be done here?” Indicating the steel resolve that characterized Charles’ loyalty to friends, he added, “I am no half-way man, what I determine to do, I do.”  Making good his promise to “get the right combination” in the legislature to assure Cameron’s election to the U.S. Senate, Penrose further promised to fight hard against all things Buchanan. Just as he helped deliver Harrison to the Presidency in 1840, the Honorable Charles Bingham Penrose proved instrumental to Cameron’s successful re-election to the U.S. Senate in late January 1857. While a controversial contest, Cameron viewed this accomplishment as one of the important events of his life.  His good friend, who made the feat possible, died of pneumonia in office less than three months later, April 6, 1857.