Congressman James Morgan, Jr.

Morgan Memories – Congressman James Morgan, Jr.

United States Capitol Building, Circa 1811 – 1814

Looking east at the United States Capitol Building as it was circa 1811 – 1814. This conjectural image was created by noted US Capitol Historian Glenn Brown in the year 1900.

Less than 100 yards from my childhood bedroom is the final resting place for Major General James Morgan, Jr. – right next to his father Captain James Morgan, Sr.  Recently I’ve been trying to learn all I can about both James Morgan, Sr. and James Morgan, Jr. (alas, there are actually three James Morgans buried there!).  They appear to have both been very interesting people who lived during and contributed to the birthing of the United States of America.  Both fought in the American War for Independence, though James Morgan, Jr. was of a much lower rank at the time.  It turns out that James Morgan, Jr. also had another prestigious title during his lifetime.

James Morgan, Jr. was voted as a Congressman into the United States House of Representatives during the October 8 – 9, 1810 general election in New Jersey. At this time, New Jersey had six (6) of the 139 congressional seats (4.3%); contrast this to 2016 where New Jersey has 14 of the 435 congressional seats (3.2%).

In that October 8-9, 1810 election, there were 26 individuals from New Jersey running for the House of Representatives – a number which is kind of unheard of these days.  New Jersey voters were to select six (6) from the 26 to represent New Jersey in the 12th Congress.  The six were to be selected based on the highest number of popular votes received per individual.

There were approximately 83,900 voters and the results of the election had the top six selected by larger margins than the next highest vote recipient, i.e., the 7th highest vote recipient.  The congressman elected with the highest number of votes was Adam Boyd who received 13,734 votes (16.4% of the vote).  James Morgan, Jr. placed number six with 13,509 votes (16.1% of the vote).  The next highest after James (i.e., the 7th) was a mere 524 votes (0.62%).  All six elected individuals were part of the Democratic-Republican Party – which is not the same party as either of the present day major US political parties though historians appear to refer to it as the “Republican Party”.  This party was formed by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison in the late 18th century to counter Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist Party and dominated in the early 1800s.  After the 1820s, it pretty much faded away.

James Morgan is referenced regarding the 1810 election on page 169 of the book, “New Jersey’s Jeffersonian Republicans: The Genesis of an Early Party Machine”.

According to Google Earth, it is 182.3 miles from James Morgan, Jr’s final resting place to the portion of today’s US Capitol, which was constructed in his time, and in which James Morgan, Jr. served.  I found myself wondering what method of transportation he would have used to get from his estate in present day Morgan, NJ to Washington, DC.  Remember, this was before there was any form of mechanically powered transportation, so it could only have been either horse drawn or by a sail boat – or a combination of both.  It also worked out that James Morgan, Jr. was promoted to Major General of the Third Division New Jersey State Militia just two days before his first day at the new job in Washington, DC.  The first day of the 12th Congress was November 4, 1811.  James Morgan was promoted to Major General by New Jersey Governor Joseph Bloomfield (fourth Governor of NJ – Chris Christie is the 55th) and presented with a sword as a reward on November 2, 1811.  I conclude this means he first stopped by way of Trenton on his way to Washington.

I know of no records indicating where he stayed while serving in Washington though he was a wealthy man who likely did not stay in a tent! At that time, the city was very new.  It was on August 19, 1791 – only 20 years earlier – when Pierre Charles L’Enfant presented to President George Washington his plan for the city which would later be named for the first president.  Two years later on September 18, 1793, President Washington laid the cornerstone for the US Capitol Building.  The first portion of the Capitol building, the Senate “North Wing” was sufficiently complete enough as to allow for both the Senate and House to utilize the facility for the second session of the Sixth Congress by November 17, 1800.  The House of Representatives’ “South Wing” was available in 1811 – just in time for James Morgan, Jr.

The 12th Congress was in office during the second half of the first term of President James Madison.  James Madison authored the first 10 amendments to the US Constitution which are better known as the “Bill of Rights”.  He also co-authored “The Federalist Papers” with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay.

The Capitol Building Circa 1811

As of the time of this writing, the 114th congress is in session and does its business in the historic and quite large US Capitol building.  In 1811, when James Morgan, Jr. served there, it was but only a small portion of what is now the present day building and predated the construction of the famous dome and the dome which preceded the current one.  As can be seen in the image at the top of this page, there were two components making up the Capitol Building with a wooden structure connecting them.  In the above image, the Senate portion is on the left and the House of Representatives portion is on the right. The wooden structure would later be replaced by the dome. Note that while the image shows a one story structure connecting the wings, this reference indicates there were two levels to the connecting structure (see the “View from the northeast..” box in the section: “Images and animations of the U.S. Capitol, exterior, 1803-1814”).  This same reference also has interesting animations regarding the U.S. Capitol Building from that time period.  The animation entitled “Animation dissolve from the Capitol in 2014 to the Capitol in 1814 and then to 1801.” shows how the 1812 structure maps into the current one.

Voting Record

This web site provides information on how Congressman James Morgan, Jr. voted during his time in congress.

According to this web site, during his time in Congress, James Morgan participated in 253 of 314 votes (80.6%), missing 61 votes (19.4%).  Missing this many votes was about the average for a Congressman in 1813.  Note that the median for missed votes in the 114th Congress was 2.2% but we have airplanes now!

Undoubtedly the most significant vote James Morgan, Jr. participated in, and voted ‘Yea’ for, was for the declaration of war against Great Britain which became known as “The War of 1812”.  This was the first formal Declaration of War made by the young United States and the second war with its parent country within 40 years.  The war decision was made by the House on June 4, 1812 after four days of closed door sessions followed by a vote of 79 to 49 (61% in favor).  The Senate voted 19 to 13 (59% in favor) two weeks later on June 17.  President Madison signed the bill the next day and the war “officially” started on June 18, 1812.

It is interesting to note that despite all of the conflicts the US has been involved with in the subsequent two centuries, there have been just 11 official Declarations of War made by the US Congress:

  • 1812 – Great Britain
  • 1846 – Mexico
  • 1898 – Spain
  • 1917 – Germany
  • 1917 – Austria-Hungary
  • 1941 – Japan
  • 1941 – Germany
  • 1941 – Italy
  • 1942 – Bulgaria
  • 1942 – Hungary
  • 1942 – Rumania

Afterward

Unlike the Senate, where terms are six years long, terms for Congressman are only two years long which means they are up for grabs every election cycle since the general election cycle is every two years.  For the 1812 election, New Jersey changed from the ‘Single at-large’ type of election to a system incorporating three ‘Plural-districts’.  This means that instead of everyone in the state picking six out of the listed candidates, resulting in the election of the top six vote getters, only those people in the ‘district’ – however that was defined – could pick two out of how ever many were listed.

James Morgan, Jr. was not reelected in the 1812 election.  His last day in office was March 3, 1813.

The Capitol building, White House and other public buildings were shortly thereafter burned down by the British on August 24, 1814 during that same War of 1812 which James Morgan, Jr. had voted for.  Some say it was in response to the US torching the Canadian town of Port Dover three months earlier. History tells that the torching of Port Dover was retaliation for the torching of other American cities before that.

I have found a source which listed James Morgan, Jr. as having been a representative in the General Assembly in Philadelphia from 1794 – 1795 but have yet to find a secondary collaborating source.  This Tufts University site shows the result of his other attempts at acquiring public office between 1800 and 1820, including the successful campaign of 1810.

James Morgan, Jr. died at the age of 65 on November 14, 1822 and is buried in the Morgan Family Cemetery, the only remaining remnant of the expansive Morgan Plantation left in Morgan, NJ.

Originally posted on January 27, 2016.