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Photo credit:

Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Brady-Handy Collection, LC-DIG-cwpbh-00053

Photo credit:

Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Brady-Handy Collection, LC-DIG-cwpbh-00053


John Cessna

Born: June 29, 1821, Colerain Township, Bedford County, PA.  Died: December 13, 1893, Bedford, Bedford County, PA.  Member of the House: Bedford County, 1850, 1862-1863, 1893-December 13, 1893; Bedfored and Cambria Counties, 1851.  Affiliation: Democrat, Republican.

John Cessna was born June 29, 1821, in Bedford County, Pennsylvania.  As a youth, he attended Hall’s Military Academy in Bedford County.  He graduated from Marshall College in 1842 (which later merged with Franklin College to become Franklin & Marshall College in 1853), and taught Latin there for a year after completing his studies.  In 1848 he served as a member of the Revenue Board of Pennsylvania. After studying law in the office of Bedford attorney Samuel Barclay, Cessna was admitted to the bar on June 25, 1845, and built a legal practice in Bedford.  He married the former Ellen Jane Shaffer on September 24, 1844, and the couple had 7 children: Daniel, Caroline (Carrie) Gerhart, Marion, Harry, Mary Etta Doty, and 2 children who died in childhood.  Cessna became a member of the Board of Trustees of Franklin & Marshall College in 1865, when United States President James Buchanan stepped down from the role of board president, and Cessna remained on the board until his death.  

Cessna was elected to the Pennsylvania House as a Democrat, serving from 1850-1851.  Cessna was elected as the 73rd Speaker of the House on January 7, 1851.  During this session, Act 99 was established which created an appropriation that allowed for gas lighting to be introduced into public buildings, an advancement that permitted longer working hours.  Cessna was later re-elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives for the 1862 and 1863 sessions.  He was again elected Speaker on January 6, 1863.  In the midst of the conflict of the infamous Civil War Battle of Gettysburg, Cessna’s political leanings shifted toward the Republican Party and in support of President Abraham Lincoln.  This change in political affiliation would last for the remainder of his political career.

Cessna’s reputation as an attorney and legislator led to his selection to act as a delegate to numerous national political conventions. He was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1856 and 1860.  In 1865 he was chair of the Republican State Convention, and was a delegate to the National Republican Conventions in 1868, 1876, and 1880.

Cessna was elected to the 41st United States Congress as a Republican, serving from 1869-1871.  Following an unsuccessful run for re-election in 1870, he was re-elected to the 43rd Congress, serving from 1873-1875.  Cessna frequently acted as Speaker Pro Tempore while in Congress.  Most notably, Cessna held the positon during debate over the passage of the 14th Amendment, which granted civil rights to former slaves.  Cessna was involved with the temperance cause in the state and national organizations.  In 1875 he served as Assistant Attorney General under President Ulysses S. Grant, and was continuously active in the Republican Party long after his legislative service.

Cessna returned to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives for one final term in 1893, after having a nearly 30-year hiatus from the House.  Cessna died while in office on December 13, 1893, and is interred at Bedford Cemetery in the city of Bedford, Bedford County, Pennsylvania.

Historical Member Biography

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