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House Speaker Biographies

Photo credit:

Courtesy of the University Archives, University of Pennsylvania.


Photo credit:

Courtesy of the University Archives, University of Pennsylvania.

 

Isaac Norris II

Born: October 23, 1701, Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, PA.  Died: July 13, 1766, Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, PA.  Member of the Colonial Assembly: Philadelphia County, 1735-1736, 1737-1738, 1739-1765. Affiliation: Quaker, Pro-Proprietary.

Isaac Norris II was born on October 23, 1701, in the city of Philadelphia to Speaker Isaac Norris and his wife Mary Lloyd.  He received his education from private tutors before entering into his father's mercantile business.  Norris spent most of the 1720s involved in running the family business and began a career of public service when he was elected to the Philadelphia Common Council in 1727.  He served as a councilman until 1730, when he was elected as alderman, a position in which he served until 1742.  Upon his father's passing in 1735, Norris II inherited a great deal of his father's sizable estate and was elected to fill his father's seat in the Colonial Assembly.  In 1739 he married fellow Quaker, Sarah Logan, and the couple had 4 children together, however only 2 survived to adulthood, Mary Dickinson and Sarah. His wife, Sarah, died during childbirth in 1744 and Norris II did not remarry.

Norris II enjoyed a long career in public service, serving 29 terms in the Colonial Assembly.  On October 15, 1750, he was elected the 23rd Speaker of the Assembly, a positon he held for 15 subsequent sessions, with only a brief gap due to illness in 1757. Throughout the 1740s, he became actively involved in the debate around the defense of Pennsylvania and often disagreed with Speaker John Kinsey's anti-defense policies.  Kinsey, a pacifist and fellow Quaker, served as Speaker for much of the 1740s and became Norris' chief political competitor.  Throughout the 1740s, Norris II began to break with the Quakers over the issue of defense and had left the faith altogether by 1750.  During this time, Norris II was involved with Native American diplomacy on behalf of the Colony and became caught up in an ongoing dispute with Kinsey over a bill to allow the Governor power to appoint trustees to the General Loan Office.

Kinsey died in 1750, and Norris II succeeded him as Speaker of the Assembly.  Norris II presided over an Assembly that actively supported defense with appropriations to the British Crown during the French and Indian War and he fought for a bill, which passed in 1758, to tax Penn's proprietary estates.  He also took a great personal interest in the commissioning of a bell to hang in the statehouse; the bell is now known as the Liberty Bell.  He personally chose the inscription for the bell from Leviticus 25:10: "Proclaim Liberty throughout all the land, unto all the inhabitants thereof."  Later in his career, as the Colonial Assembly began to move towards approving a petition to ask for royal government in 1764, a move that Norris II strongly opposed, he resigned the Speakership.  The Assembly then elected Benjamin Franklin, a strong supporter of the concept of royal government, to the Speakership. 

Isaac Norris II died in Philadelphia on July 13, 1766.  He is interred at Friends Arch Street Meeting House Burial Ground in the city of Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania.