Name:  George Hunt Pendleton

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Born:  July 29, 1825
Died:  November 24, 1889
Complete HarpWeek Biography:
George Pendleton, U.S. representative, senator, and 1864 Democratic vice-presidential nominee, was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, the oldest child of Nathaniel Greene Pendleton and Jane Frances Hunt Pendleton. After studying at Cincinnati College until 1841, he continued his studies on a Grand Tour of Europe and the Middle East, matriculating for a while at the University of Heidelberg. When he returned to America in 1846 he married Alice Key, the daughter of Francis Scott Key (author of "The Star-Spangled Banner") and niece of Chief Justice Roger B. Taney. Admitted to the Ohio bar the next year, Pendleton practiced law until 1853 when he won a commanding victory to the state senate as a Democrat. Impressing colleagues with his legislative skill, he was nominated for Congress in 1854. Although unsuccessful, he was subsequently elected in 1856 and served until 1865. During the crisis over the issue of slavery in Kansas, Pendleton opposed the pro-slavery Lecompton Constitution, allying himself with Senator Stephan Douglas against President James Buchanan.

In 1860 Pendleton endorsed Douglas for president, then favored the Crittendon Compromise during the secession winter. During the Civil War, Pendelton was a principled critic of Lincoln administration policies and a leader of the peace wing of the Democratic party. He particularly opposed the suppression of civil liberties, such as the suspension of habeas corpus and the replacement of civilian with military authority, and considered the legal tender act (making paper currency legal) to be unconstitutional. He served on the House Judiciary Committee, the Ways and Means Committee, and as one the House managers of the impeachment of Judge West Humphreys. Despite policy differences, Pendleton's skill and diplomacy won respect on both sides of the political aisle. His mannerly dignity was reflected in the nickname "Gentleman George." In 1864 the Democratic party nominated him for vice president. He was defeated for reelection to Congress in 1866.

In the post-war era Pendleton became a Greenbacker, an abrupt change of his monetary views in which he had previously opposed paper money as unconstitutional. Thereafter he supported the "Ohio Idea" of paying government bonds in paper currency ("greenbacks"), rather than in gold coins ("hard money"). His new "soft money" position lost him support among Democrats from the Northeast, which kept him from securing the party's presidential nomination in 1868. Ohio Democrats chose him as their gubernatorial candidate the next year, but he lost to Rutherford B. Hayes. After that electoral defeat, Pendleton became president of the Kentucky Central Railroad.

In 1878, the Ohio state legislature elected him to the United States Senate, where he championed civil service reform. As chair of the Senate committee on civil service, he steered through Congress legislation for merit appointments and advancement in the federal bureaucracy, which became known as the Pendleton Act of 1883. His stance on the issue angered Democratic supporters of the old patronage system, who denied renomination to him in 1884. President Grover Cleveland named him minister to Germany in 1885, where he served until his death in Brussels, Belgium, in 1889.

Source consulted: American National Biography.











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