Little Bits of History

April 1

Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 1, 2017

1789: Frederick Muhlenberg becomes the first Speaker of the United States House of Representatives. He was born in 1750 in Trappe, Pennsylvania. His father was a German immigrant and is considered to be the founder of the Lutheran Church in America. When he was 13, Frederick was sent to Germany to study theology. Back in the colonies, he was ordained a minister by the Pennsylvania Ministerium in 1770. His first parishes were in Pennsylvania but he then moved to New York City from 1774 to 1776. With the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, he returned to Pennsylvania and continued his mission. His brother was a General in the Continental Army.

Frederick had been a member of the Continental Congress and served in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives from 1780 to 1783 where he was elected speaker. He was the president of the Pennsylvania state constitutional convention in 1787 which was called to ratify the Federal Constitution. He was a signer of the Bill of Rights. He served in the House of Representatives for four terms. He was Speaker of the House during his first term and did not seek nomination for a second term in office but was once again the Speaker between 1793 and 1795. Jonathon Trumbull, Jr. held the post in the interim.

He was chairman of the Committee of the Whole on April 29, 1796 when he cast the deciding vote passing laws necessary to carry out the Jay Treaty. This early legislation between the US and Great Britain has been credited with averting a war by resolving issues left over from the Treaty of Paris which ended the Revolutionary War. The Jay Treaty allowed for peaceful trade between the US and the UK. In 1794 a bill was before the House which would have required laws to be translated into German. Even with his family history, he was against it citing the need for Germans to become Americans if they were to assimilate here. He abstained from the vote and it failed to pass by a vote of 42-41. A legend grew up around this event giving him credit for prohibiting German from becoming an official language of the US.

Muhlenberg’s legends do not end there. He is also credited with our honorific for the Commander in Chief to be Mr. President rather than “His High Mightiness” or “His Elected Majesty” which were titles suggested by John Adams. After his time in the federal government, Muhlenberg returned to Lancaster, Pennsylvania where he was appointed receiver general of the Pennsylvania Land Office. He died in 1801 at the age 51.

The faster the Germans become Americans, the better it will be. – Frederick Muhlenberg

Everybody in America who didn’t come over the Bering Strait ice bridge stole his land from somebody else. – P. J. O’Rourke

In America we have a Declaration of Independence, but our history, our advancements, our global strength all point to an American declaration of interdependence. – Cory Booker

America’s a family. We all yell at each other. It all works out. – Louis C. K.

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