Isaac Weaver was born in Providence, Pennsylvania on March 1, 1756, the son of Quakers Isaac and Sarah Dell Weaver, descendants of an early (1685) Pennsylvania settler, Anthony Weaver.[i] Weaver received his education in Philadelphia, later becoming a schoolmaster. A physically imposing man at six feet, 240 pounds, Isaac left the Society of Friends before the Revolution, eventually becoming a Captain of the Chester County Militia during the war. After the campaign’s end, Isaac married Abigail Price and moved to Western Pennsylvania, settling at Muddy Creek, Waynesburg, Greene County.[ii] Weaver’s first wife died in 1813 and he married, second, Rachel Husbands.
A prominent figure in Greene County politics, he earned a seat in the state House of Representatives from 1797 to 1803, serving as Speaker from 1800 through 1802. He became state treasurer from 1803 to 1806, effectively “putting its (the treasury’s) affairs into order” after years of mismanagement.[iii] Elected to the state Senate in 1808, Isaac served as Speaker from 1816 through 1820, was an unsuccessful candidate for the U.S. Senate in 1819, and twice named a convention choice for governor.[iv] Distinguished U.S. and state Senator Jonathan Roberts complimented Weaver’s strong leadership, but noted his experience as a “schoolmaster and his high temper made him dogmatical [sic] … It was in his character to proceed in an oblique course, where a direct one was open.”[v] Fellow conservatives shared Roberts’ sentiments toward Weaver: the senator was typically opposed in debate by “old school” Jefferson men Roberts, Lane, and Tod.
Weaver advocated vast changes in the Pennsylvania Constitution: limited state senatorial term of one year, convening the state legislature in January rather than December, and diluting the governor’s veto power – subject to override by a simple majority in either house. In addition, he proposed extending the term of state Supreme Court and common pleas judges to seven years, county justices to five years, and recommended a provision to create a more flexible system for amending the constitution.[vi] The resolution lost to a committee of the whole on February 12, 1812, disapproved by a primarily Eastern vote of 12 to 16.[vii] The senator’s initiative, nonetheless, marked the beginning of a period that ultimately led to radical changes in the Pennsylvania Constitution, many articulated in Weaver’s suggested reforms. Weaver’s Senate response to a House resolution pertaining to the 1820 Missouri Compromise – “relative to preventing slavery into new states” – instructed Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation to oppose the Missouri Compromise.[viii] One of the few unanimous votes during Weaver’s Speakership, the Senate supported the measure, 30-0.
Weaver favored “pay as you go” appropriations bills, limiting the state’s spending to annual revenue totals, unencumbered by long-term debt. The former state treasurer, nonetheless, advocated the governor’s purchase of stock from turnpike companies, the Commonwealth’s chief means of securing ownership of public improvements. With Senator Walter Lowrie, he mitigated the negative impact of the “Bank Panic of 1819,” backed legislation curtailing embezzlement of local tax collections, differentiated the incorporation of “associations of citizens” from “commercial incorporations,” supported militia reorganization bills, and attempted to end a recreational pastime – betting on elections. Weaver additionally led an 1820 vote in defeat of horseracing.
Capping a distinguished legislative career, the Honorable Isaac Weaver Jr. cast the last vote of a particularly indifferent session, March 25, 1820, as the body’s single “nay” for adjournment, leaving members the impression that the old reformer’s negative vote for adjournment equated to a symbolic gesture, indicating his preference to continue a career of public service, unrivaled by many contemporaries. The Honorable Isaac Weaver, Jr. died at his Greene County home, May 2, 1830.
[i] John Smith Futhey, History of Chester County (Philadelphia: Lewis H. Everts, 1881), 760.
[ii] Howard L. Lecky, The Tenmile Country and Its Pioneer Families: A Genealogical History of the Upper Monongahela Valley (Greene County Historical Society), 300.
[v] Jonathan Roberts, “Memoirs of a Senator from Pennsylvania”; PHMB, vol. 62 (April 1938): 2: 219-220.
[vi] Higginbotham, 249-250.
[viii] SJ, December 20, 1820, 33.