Legislation Quick Search
12/13/2017 01:57 AM
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Home / Pennsylvania House of Representatives Archives

Pennsylvania House of Representatives Archives

Historical Highlights

Recent Highlights:

Frederick Augustus Muhlenberg (part 1)

In 1774, on the eve of the Revolutionary War, British forces were moving into New York City. Frederick Augustus Muhlenberg, then serving as a Lutheran minister, fled to a small town called Trappe in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. From his birth, Muhlenberg was a prominent German-American, having been born in Trappe in 1750 to Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, responsible for bringing the Lutheran Church to America, and Anna Maria Weiser, daughter of the famous Conrad Weiser, who served as a Native American translator.  Frederick married the daughter of an established Philadelphia businessman, Catherine Schaeffer, in 1771[1].  Along with the auspicious impetus that brought Muhlenberg back to Montgomery County, the political career on which he would soon embark would also follow a somewhat extraordinary path.

In just four short years, Muhlenberg became a participant in the Continental Congress in 1779 and 1780, joining the Pennsylvania House of Representatives shortly after.  In 1780, he was elected as Speaker of the House of Representatives of Pennsylvania for three years.  The following years saw his election to the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Pennsylvania, attempting to ratify the Federal Constitution, for which he served as President.  Within two years, he was elected to hold the significant role of the first Speaker of the House of Representatives for the United States.[2]  As the child of immigrants, Muhlenberg held an interesting position in serving as a bridge between many Pennsylvania Germans and the other constituents he represented.  While participating in all of these larger governmental functions, Muhlenberg did not lose sight of his responsibility to the people of his district within Montgomery County.  He served as Justice of the Peace for his area, even holding meetings in his own home in Trappe, as there was no public meeting place for court sessions in the early 1780s.[3]





[1] Seidensticker, Oswald. “Frederick Augustus Conrad Muhlenberg: Speaker of the House of Representatives in the First Congress, 1789.” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography. 13 (July 1889): 184-206.
[2] “The Uniquely American Life of Frederick Augustus Muhlenberg”, The Speaker’s House. http://www.speakershouse.org/, 2010.
[3] “The Uniquely American Life of Frederick Augustus Muhlenberg”.
Frederick Augustus Muhlenberg (part 2)

Around 1796, politics became intertwined with Frederick Muhlenberg’s personal life to a life-threatening extent.  Frederick’s brother-in-law, Bernard Scheaffer, had developed a reputation for having issues managing his rage – and this extended to politics.  As Jay’s Treaty came up for negotiation in the Senate, an effort by George Washington and members of his cabinet to clear up outstanding tensions with the British that remained after the Revolution caused a great deal of controversy.  Frederick Muhlenberg cast the vote which ratified this Treaty, thus taking a position of smoothing over American-British relations which had a highly contentious outcome. There was much public fury over this decision, and Bernard Schaeffer carried this out physically against his brother-in-law by stabbing him on May 4, 1796.  Muhlenberg survived the incident, but his vote had been so unpopular that he never regained the status which he had once held. When authorities attempted to punish Schaeffer for this attack on the former Speaker, Schaeffer stabbed the constable who was trying to arrest him.[1]

After this controversial move, Muhlenberg struggled in elections. Still, he is reputed as highly influential in early Pennsylvania and United States history.  Frederick Augustus Muhlenberg was the only Speaker of the House for Pennsylvania ever to go on to become Speaker of the House for the United States.  His portrait hangs in the Speaker’s Gallery in Washington, DC.[2]  When considering the history of our state and nation, it is easy to focus on the names that are never ignored – Benjamin Franklin, Andrew Hamilton, but it is important to remember names like Muhlenberg that shaped the course of the Legislature in the then-fledgling government just as significantly.  The importance of Muhlenberg’s contribution to national and state history has been gaining more acknowledgment in the past few years, and an organization called The Speaker’s House has dedicated its efforts to preserving the home in Trappe, PA in which Muhlenberg lived while serving in these notable public offices.  The house is currently being renovated in an attempt to return it to its appearance during Muhlenberg’s residence.  More information about the house can be found at www.speakershouse.org

[1] Wallace, Paul A. The Muhlenbergs of Pennsylvania, 1950.
[2] Muhlenberg, Frederick A.C., Gallery of Speaker’s Portraits, Pennsylvania House of Representatives. http://www.legis.state.pa.us/WU01/VC/visitor_info/gallery/gallery.pdf.
Walking on Moravian Tiles in the Capitol Building

When Joseph Huston was passing out commissions for the artwork of his Capitol, Henry Chapman Mercer approached him with plans for the building’s first floor. He thought his folk art Moravian tiles would be the perfect touch to complement the marble walls. He submitted a floor plan that traced the history of the Commonwealth from prehistory to the present with the north of the building as the beginning of the timeline, a design idea Huston loved. When the floor was completed, it became the largest piece of artwork in the building.

The Capitol Building holds the largest collection of Mercer tiles, but it is by no means the most famous. The Monte Carlo Casino, Rockefeller’s New York estate in Pocantico Hills, and Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood all boast floors comprised of Mercer tiles.