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House Speaker Biographies


James Thompson

Born: October 1, 1806, Middlesex Township, Butler County, PA.  Died: January 28, 1874, Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, PA.  Member of the House: Venango and Warren Counties, 1832-1835; Erie County, 1855. Affiliation: Democrat.

James Thompson was born on October 1, 1806, in Butler County, Pennsylvania. He studied the printing trade as a young man before studying law in the office of Thomas Blair.  Thompson was admitted to the bar in 1829, and practiced law in Erie. Thompson was married to the former Mary Parker Snowden, sister to Speaker of the House James Ross Snowden, and the couple had 6 children: Sarah Gustine (Robb), James Ross, Snowden, Samuel Gustine, Clara, and William Eldred.

Thompson was elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives as a Democrat in November of 1832 to serve in the 1832-1833 session.  He was re-elected to serve in the 1833-1834 and 1834-1835 sessions.  Thompson was elected as the 63rd Speaker on December 2, 1834.  During his Speakership, the Allegheny Portage Railroad, the first railway to circumvent the Allegheny Mountains and connect branches of the Pennsylvania Canal, officially opened.  Act 34 of 1835 made a provision for the use of horses and other draft animals in the transportation of people and materials on the incline rail system used by the Allegheny Portage Railroad.  

Thompson was a delegate to the state Constitutional Convention in 1837, and served as presiding judge of the Sixth Judicial District Court from 1838-1844.  Thompson was elected to represent Pennsylvania in the Twenty-ninth Thirtieth, and Thirty-first United States Congresses, from 1845-1851.  He served as chairman of the Committee on the Judiciary in his final term. In 1836 Thompson was part of the Electoral College for the election of Martin Van Buren as President.

Thompson was re-elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives for the 1855 session, this time representing Erie County. 

Thompson was appointed as an associate justice of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, an office he held from 1857-1866.  In 1867 he rose to the position of chief justice of the Supreme Court.  He retired from the Supreme Court in 1872, returning to private legal practice.

James Thompson died on January 28, 1874, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  He is interred at the Woodlands Cemetery in Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania.