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House Speaker Biographies

Photo credit:

Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Brady-Handy Collection, LC-DIG-cwpbh-00058


Photo credit:

Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Brady-Handy Collection, LC-DIG-cwpbh-00058

 

William C. A. Lawrence

Born: May 18, 1832, Washington County, PA.  Died: April 21, 1860, Harrisburg, Dauphin County, PA.  Member of the House: Dauphin County, 1858-April 21, 1860. Affiliation: Republican, Democrat.

William Caldewell Anderson Lawrence was born May 18, 1832, and was raised in Washington County.  Lawrence attended Washington College (now Washington and Jefferson College) and graduated in 1850.  He was admitted to the Dauphin County Bar on August 31, 1853, and later became a partner at the law office of John Crain Kunkel, who was a former member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives (1844, 1845, and 1850). Lawrence came from a family with a legacy in state politics, his father Joseph Lawrence having served in the House from 1818-1824 and 1834-1836, including 4 terms as Speaker (1820, 1822-1824).  His brother, Samuel M. Lawrence, also served in the House in 1861.

Lawrence was elected as a Democrat to represent Dauphin County in the Pennsylvania House for the 1858 term and was re-elected as a Republican to serve the following 2 terms.  Between January 3 and January 5 of 1859, the House held caucuses and selected leadership in what was described as a “prolonged contest” by the Raftsman’s Journal, with Lawrence emerging as the 81st Speaker of the House.  Lawrence was one of the youngest Speakers of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives when he was elected at the age of 26.  He was re-elected Speaker on January 3, 1860, with 65 votes over H. Dunlap’s 35 votes, with Dunlap changing his vote in favor of Lawrence following Lawrence’s vote for Dunlap.

As Speaker, Lawrence oversaw the reorganization of the House’s standing committees in 1860, including the creation of a combined Agriculture and Manufactures Committee, a combined Roads, Bridges, and Canals Committee, separate General Judiciary and Local Judiciary Committees, separate Railroads and City Passenger Railroads Committees, and the elimination of the Divorce, Lands, Local Appropriations, and Militia System Committees.  In 1860, Act 598 established Cameron County from lands previously part of Clinton, Elk, McKean, and Potter Counties.  Lawrence is also remembered for blocking an 1860 legislative petition to the House advocating for women’s rights by assigning the motion to a committee of one member, effectively ending the motion’s progress.

Also during his time as Speaker, Lawrence, a Harrisburg resident, was active in civic affairs specific to the city.  He successfully advocated for the city to gain a charter, which it did with Act 190 of 1860.  Lawrence had previously helped establish firefighting organizations in the city, including serving as president of the Mt. Vernon Company, which saw to the construction of Harrisburg’s first hook and ladder fire apparatus being built in 1858.   

William C. A. Lawrence died while in office on April 21, 1860, in Harrisburg.  He is interred in Harrisburg Cemetery, Harrisburg, Dauphin County, Pennsylvania.