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House Speaker Biographies


Joseph Lawrence

Born: 1786, Hunterstown, Adams County, PA.  Died: April 17, 1842, Washington, DC.  Member of the House: Washington County, 1818-1824, 1834-1836.   Affiliations: Democrat, Anti-Mason.

Joseph Lawrence was born near Hunterstown, Adams County, Pennsylvania in 1786.  He was involved in agricultural pursuits, maintaining an interest in farming throughout his life.  In 1814 Lawrence married the former Rebecca Van Eman and had 4 children: Joseph, George Van Eman, Sarah Moffitt (Moore), and Samuel. Following Rebecca’s death on January 11, 1822, Lawrence married the former Maria Bucher on September 4, 1823.  Lawrence and Maria had 5 children together: John Jacob, James Kennedy, William Caldwell (Anderson), Samuel Moffitt, and Susan Mary (Sanford). Lawrence’s son, George Van Eman Lawrence, served in the Pennsylvania House in 1844, 1847, 1858, 1859, 1893-1896, and the Pennsylvania Senate from 1849-1851, 1861-1863, and 1876-1882.  George V.E. Lawrence also served in Congress from 1865-1869 and 1883-1885.  His son William C.A. Lawrence was elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives from 1858-1860, serving as Speaker from 1859-1860.  Another son, Samuel M. Lawrence, was elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives for the 1861 session.  

Joseph Lawrence was elected as a Democrat to represent Washington County in the 1818-1819 session.  He was re-elected to 5 consecutive sessions thereafter.  On December 7, 1819, he was elected the 53rd Speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.  He was re-elected Speaker for 3 subsequent sessions on December 4, 1821, December 5, 1822, and on December 2, 1823.  During his Speakership, Lawrence oversaw the passage of Act 116 of 1824, which incorporated the Franklin Institute of Pennsylvania for the promotion of the mechanic arts.

After his initial years of service in the Pennsylvania House, Lawrence continued to work in Pennsylvania’s state government. He served as president of the Pennsylvania Canal Convention in 1825, and was elected State Treasurer in 1835.  

Lawrence later served in the Pennsylvania House on the platform of the Anti-Masonic/Opposition for the 1834-1835 and 1835-1836 sessions.  Prior to this, he was elected to Congress as a member of the Adams party to serve in the 19th and 20th United States Congresses, serving from March 4, 1825, to March 3, 1829.  He was re-elected as a Whig to serve in the Twenty-seventh United States Congress, serving from March 4, 1841, until his death on April 17, 1842.  During his final year in Congress, Lawrence was chair of the Committee on Roads and Canals.

Lawrence died while in office on April 17, 1842, in Washington DC.  He is interred in the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, DC.  Upon his death, then-United States Senator and eventual United States President James Buchanan delivered his eulogy.