MACLAY, William
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[p 178, 181-182 in original]

MACLAY, WILLIAM, son of Charles Maclay, was born July 20, 1737, in New Garden township, Chester county, Pa.; died Monday, April 16, 1804, at Harrisburg, Pa.; buried in Paxtang church graveyard. In 1742 his father removed to now Lurgan township, Franklin county, where his boyhood days were spent upon the paternal farm. When the French and Indian war broke out he was at Rev. John Blair's classical school, in Chester county, and, desiring to enter the service of the Province, his tutor gave him a recommendation "as a judicious young man and a scholar," which secured him the appointment of ensign in the Pennsylvania battalion; he was promoted lieutenant in the Third battalion, Lieut. Col. Hugh Mercer, May 7, 1758. Accompanied General Forbes' expediton that year, and especially distinguished himself at the battle of Loyalhanna. In Bouquet's expedition of 1763, he was in the fight of Bushy Run; while in the subsequent campaign of that gallant officer, he was stationed, with the great portion of the Second Pennsylvania, on the line of the stockade forts on the route to Fort Pitt as lieutenant commanding the company. For these services he participated in the Provincial grant of land to the officers connected therewith, located on the West Branch of the Susquehanna, and most of which he assisted in surveying. He studied law and was admitted to the York county bar, April 28, 1760, but it is doubtful if he ever practiced at that court, the continued Indian war, and his subsequent duties as surveyor, engrossing his entire time, although, from a letter of John Penn's, it would seem that he was afterwards admitted to the Cumberland county bar, and had acted for the prothonotary of that county. At the close of the French and Indian war he visited England and had an interview with Thomas Penn, one of the Proprietaries, relative to the surveys in the middle and northern parts of the Province, and was the assistant of Surveyor Lukens on the frontiers. In 1772 he laid out the town of Sunbury and erected for himself a stone house, which was standing a few years since. Upon the organization of the county of Northumberland he was appointed prothonotary and clerk of the courts. He also acted as the representative of the Penn family, and took a prominent part in the so-called Pennamite war. In writing to the secretary of the Province, in April, 1773, he says, "If hell is justly considered as the rendezvous of rascals, we cannot entertain a doubt of Wioming [sic] being the place;" but, much as he was prejudiced against the Connecticut settlers, he foresaw the future value of the land in that valley, and advised Penn not to sell his reservation there. At the outset of the Revolution, although an officer of the Proprietary government, William Maclay took a prominent and active part in favor of independence, not only assisting in equipping and forwarding toops [sic, troops, presumably] to the Continental army, but marched with the associators, participating in the battles of Trenton and Princeton. During the Revolution he held the position of assistant commissary of purchases. In 1781 he was elected to the Assembly, and from that time forward he filled the various offices of the Supreme Executive Council, judge of the Courts of Common Pleas, deputy surveyor, and one of the commissioners for carrying into effect the act respecting the navigation of the Susquehanna river. About this period he visited England in the interest of the Penn family. In January, 1789, he was elected to the United States Senate, taking his seat there as the first senator from Pennsylvania. He drew the short term, and his position terminated March 3, 1791, his colleague, Robert Morris, securing the long term. His election to this body raised him upon a higher plane of political activity, but contact with the Federal chiefs of the Senate only strengthened his political convictions, which, formed by long intercourse with the people of Middle Pennsylvania, were intensely democratic. He began to differ with the opinions of President Washington very early in the session; he did not approve of the state and ceremony attendant upon the intercourse of the President with Congress--he flatly objected to the presence of the President in the Senate while business was being transacted, and in the Senate boldly spoke against his policy in the immediate presence of President Washington. The New England historians, Hildreth and Good rich, repute Thomas Jefferson as the "efficient promoter at the beginning and founder of the Democratic party." Contemporary records, however, show beyond the shadow of a doubt that this responsibility or honor, in whatever light it may be regarded, cannot be shifted from the shoulders or taken from the laurels of Pennsylvania statesmanship. Before Mr. Jefferson's return from Europe, William Maclay assumed an independent position, and in his short career of two years in the Senate propoiunded ideas and gathered about him elements to form the opposition which developed with the meeting of Congress at Philadelphia, on the 24th of October, 1791, in a division of the people into two great parties, the Federalists and Democrats, when, for the first time, appeared an open and organized opposition to the administration. The funding of the public debt, chartering the United States Bank, and other measures championed necessarily by the administration, whose duty it was to put the wheels of government in motion, engendered opposition. Mr. Maclay, to use his own language, "no one else presenting himself," fearlessly took the initiative, and with his blunt common sense (for he was not much of a speaker) and Democratic ideas, took issue with the ablest advocate of the administration. Notwithstanding the prestige of General Washington, and the ability of the defenders of the administration on the floor of the Senate, such was the tact and resolution of Mr. Maclay, that when, after his short service, he was retired from the Senate and succeeded by James Ross, a pronounced Federalist, their impress was left in the distinctive lines of an opposition party, a party which, taking advantage of the warm feeling of our people toward the French upon the occasion of Jay's treaty with Great Britain, in 1794, and of the unpopularity of the alien and sedition laws, passed under the administration of President John Adams, in 1798, compassed the final overthrow of the Federal party in 1800. While in the Senate, Mr. Maclay preserved notes of its discussions, both in open and secret sessions, with observations upon the social customs of the first statesmen of the Republic, which have been published and edited by George Washington Harris. Upon his retirement, he resided permanently on his farm adjoining Harrisburg, where he erected the stone mansion for may years occupied by the Harrisburg Academy. In the year 1795 he was elected a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, and again elected in 1803. He was a presidential elector in 1796, and, from 1801 to 1803, one of the associate judges of the county of Dauphin. Mr Harris, who edited his journal, gives us this summary of Mr. Maclay's character: "He was a man of strict integrity, of positive opinions, having implicit confidence in his own honesty and judgment; he was inclined to be suspicious of the integrity of others whose sentiments or action in matters of importance differed from his own, and the journal, to which reference has been made, is evidence of the strength of his intellect." "In personal appearance Mr. Maclay is said to have been six feet three inches in height, and stout and musclar [sic]; his complexion was light, and his hair, in middle age, appears to have been brown, and was worn tied behind or clubbed." Mr. Maclay married, April 11, 1769, Mary McClure Harris, daughter of John Harris, the founder of Harrisburg, and Elizabeth McClure, his wife; born April 13, 1750, at Harris' Ferry; died April 20, 1809, at Harrisburg, and buried in Paxtang church graveyard.