Legislation Quick Search
01/18/2020 02:06 AM
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
https://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/SpeakerBios/SpeakerBio.cfm?id=113
Share:
Home / Speaker Biographies / Frederick Augustus Conrad Muhlenberg

House Speaker Biographies

Photo credit:

History, Art & Archives, U.S. House of Representatives, “Frederick Augustus Conrad Muhlenberg,” http://history.house.gov/Collection/Detail/29616


Photo credit:

History, Art & Archives, U.S. House of Representatives, “Frederick Augustus Conrad Muhlenberg,” http://history.house.gov/Collection/Detail/29616

 

Frederick Augustus Conrad Muhlenberg

Born: January 1, 1750, Trappe, Philadelphia County (now Montgomery County), PA.  Died: June 5, 1801, Lancaster, Lancaster County, PA. Member of the General Assembly: Philadelphia County, 1780-1783. Affiliation: Republican.

Frederick Augustus Conrad Muhlenberg was born January 1, 1750, in Trappe, Pennsylvania, to Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, a well-known Pennsylvania German minister in the Lutheran Church, as well as a direct descendant of diplomat and Native American interpreter Conrad Weiser.  He attended the University of Halle in Germany, and remained abroad from 1763-1770.  He became ordained in the Lutheran Church, and upon return to Pennsylvania, he married the former Catherine Schaeffer on October 15, 1771.  The couple had 7 children who lived to adulthood, including, Maria Heister, William Henry, Elizabeth Irwin, Margareth Sperry, P. David, and Catharine Shaeff.

Muhlenberg and his wife established themselves near Schaefferstown, Pennsylvania, where he ministered to several Lutheran congregations in the region until 1774, when he accepted a position in New York City.  They quickly returned to Pennsylvania for the safety of their growing family, however, as Revolutionary tensions escalated.

Muhlenberg began his career in politics with an unsought nomination to the Continental Congress in 1779, representing a strong base among the Pennsylvania German population.  Muhlenberg was elected to the Pennsylvania General Assembly as a Republican for the 1780-1781 term, and was re-elected for the 2 following sessions.  On November 3, 1780, he was elected the 33rd Speaker of the Assembly.  He was re-elected Speaker on November 9, 1781, and again on November 1, 1782.

After leaving his Assembly service, Muhlenberg advocated revising the Pennsylvania Constitution and United States Articles of Confederation, and presided over the 1787 Pennsylvania ratifying convention, at which the Federal Constitution was approved.  In 1789 he was elected as a Pro-Administration candidate to represent Pennsylvania in the First United States Congress.  He also has the distinction of becoming the first Speaker of the United States House of Representatives. Muhlenberg was re-elected to the Second and Third Congresses as an Anti-Administration candidate, as well as to the Fourth Congress as a Republican. He served as Speaker a second time for the Third Congress.

During his fourth term in Congress, while serving as the chair of the Committee of the Whole, a committee that is comprised of the entire House for the purpose of considering complex or controversial legislation, he was instrumental in the passage of the Jay Treaty.  The treaty, which was designed to address the lingering economic and political conflicts from the Revolutionary War, was controversial within Congress, and Muhlenberg’s support ultimately was seen as a betrayal by many Republicans. Muhlenberg’s brother-in-law, Bernard Schaeffer, a loyal Republican, was particularly upset and went so far as to stab Muhlenberg on May 4, 1796.   Muhlenberg survived the incident, but his political career in Congress never recovered.

In conjunction with his activities at the national level, Muhlenberg maintained connections with local politics and business in his home county of Montgomery, serving as a justice of the peace from March 19, 1784, to January 14, 1789, and maintaining a general store in Trappe.  Also in 1784, he was the first president judge of the Montgomery County Court, the Registrar of Wills, and Recorder of Deeds for the newly created county, which was formed from part of Philadelphia County. Muhlenberg’s later political positions included president of the Council of Censors of Pennsylvania, and from 1800-1801, receiver general for the Pennsylvania Land Office. The latter role prompted his relocation to the city of Lancaster, then the capital of the Commonwealth.

Frederick Augustus Conrad Muhlenberg died on June 4, 1801, in the city of Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  He is interred at the Woodward Hill Cemetery in Lancaster, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.