Andrew Gregg Curtin (AGC) was Roland Curtin’s first son by his second wife, Jane Gregg Curtin. Andrew had a distinguished career as an attorney, two-time governor of Pennsylvania and key Lincoln ally, minister to Russia, and three-term US congressman. Did you know, however, that before he won the governor’s office, AGC fell just one vote short of being elected to the US Senate? It’s true, and in fact there was quite a controversy about that election in 1855.
It was not the first time that electing a US senator stirred up trouble in Pennsylvania. Adopted in 1913, the 17th Amendment to the US Constitution determined that US senators were elected by popular vote, but before this uniform system was put in place throughout the country, senators were chosen by the State legislatures. Unfortunately, the Pennsylvania Constitution of 1790 was ambiguous concerning procedures. It was unclear if a candidate required a majority in each house of the legislature, or if the winner would require a majority of a joint meeting of both houses of the legislature. There was a deadlock over this question straightaway in 1791. Pennsylvania had only one sitting US Senator until the issue was resolved two years later in favor of requiring a majority vote of the joint legislature.
So it was in early 1855 when Simon Cameron and Andrew Gregg Curtin both sought election to the US Senate. Cameron, ever the wheeler-dealer, lobbied heavily to drum up enough votes among an unlikely coalition of factions. AGC at the time was a traditional member of the Whig Party.
Cameron won the election by a single vote. Someone quickly realized, however, that the number of ballots cast outnumbered the number of legislators present. Chaos ensued, and the dispute was not resolved easily. Cameron was publicly accused of bribery. The controversy persisted for months, and Pennsylvania again had a single US senator until October, 1855. By then, control of the legislature had changed and a third person, ex-Governor Bigler, was sent to Washington.
Cameron and AGC became bitter political enemies, and probably intensely disliked each other on a personal level. They clashed frequently during the Civil War, when Cameron was Secretary of War and AGC’s interactions with the War Department were frequent and strained. Lincoln had to act as peacemaker and arbiter on more than one occasion.
Reference -- Klein PS and Hoogenboom A: A History of Pennsylvania 2nd Edition, Penn State University Press, University Park, 1980 pp 114-115; pp 168-169.
Jerry is a retired general surgeon and a new Board Member of the Roland Curtin Foundation. He has Curtin roots extending back to 1831, through four previous generations.