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Thomas Clayton

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Thomas Clayton
Thomas Clayton US.jpg
United States Senator
from Delaware
In office
January 9, 1837 – March 4, 1847
Preceded byJohn M. Clayton
Succeeded byPresley Spruance
In office
January 8, 1824 – March 4, 1827
Preceded byCaesar A. Rodney [1]
Succeeded byLouis McLane
Chief Justice of Delaware
In office
January 18, 1832 – January 9, 1837
Preceded bySamuel M. Harrington
Succeeded byJohn M. Clayton
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Delaware's First At-large district
In office
March 4, 1815 – March 4, 1817
Preceded byHenry M. Ridgely
Succeeded byLouis McLane
5th Attorney General of Delaware
In office
GovernorGeorge Truitt
Joseph Haslet
Preceded byEdward W. Gilpin
Succeeded byGeorge P. Fisher
Member of the Delaware Senate
In office
January 3, 1821 – January 6, 1824
Member of the Delaware House of Representatives
In office
January 4, 1803 – January 19, 1808
January 1, 1811 – January 3, 1815
Personal details
BornJuly 1777
Cecil County, Maryland
DiedAugust 21, 1854(1854-08-21) (aged 77)
New Castle, Delaware
Political partyFederalist
Spouse(s)Jennette Macomb
ResidenceDover, Delaware
Alma materNewark Academy

Thomas Clayton (July 1777 – August 21, 1854) was an American lawyer and politician from Dover in Kent County, Delaware. He was a member of the Federalist Party and later the Whig Party. He served in the Delaware General Assembly, as Attorney General of Delaware, as Secretary of State of Delaware, as Chief Justice of the Delaware Supreme Court, as U.S. Representative from Delaware, and as U.S. Senator from Delaware. In 1846 he was one of two members of the United States Senate to vote against declaring war on Mexico.

Early life and family

Clayton was born at Massey in Kent County, Maryland, son of the former Governor of Delaware, Dr. Joshua Clayton, and Rachael McCleary Clayton. It is said he was born while his mother was fleeing invading British troops on the way from their Elk River landing to the Battle of Brandywine. While the Clayton's were natives of Kent County, Delaware, Rachael McCleary was the niece and adopted daughter of Richard Bassett, the aristocratic heir to the expansive Bohemia Manor estates. The family lived at Bohemia Manor and through this connection, Joshua Clayton later acquired his homestead from these estates, in Pencader Hundred, New Castle County.

Thomas Clayton graduated from the Newark Academy, now the University of Delaware, studied law under Nicholas Ridgely in Dover, Delaware, and began a law practice there in 1799. His wife's name was Jennette Macomb, they had four children, and belonged to the Presbyterian Church. He was the cousin of U.S. Senator John M. Clayton.

Professional and political career

While pursuing his practice of the law, Clayton began his public career as the clerk of the Delaware House of Representatives in 1800. He then served as a member of that body for 8 years, between the 1803 session and the 1814 session. He was elected to the Delaware Senate for the 1808 session, but resigned to become the Delaware Secretary of State for 2 years. Subsequently, he was appointed the Delaware Attorney General and served in that office from 1810 until 1815.

In 1814 Clayton was elected as a Federalist to one of two at-large seats Delaware had in the U.S. House of Representatives, and served one term there, from March 4, 1815 until March 3, 1817. While he was in Congress, it was proposed that the compensation given U.S. Representatives be increased $6 a day to $1,500 a year. Clayton supported the change, but it became very controversial, and his support of it caused him to lose the nomination of the Federalist Party to Louis McLane, beginning a long rivalry between the two men.

Clayton narrowly failed in an attempt to return to the U.S. House of Representatives in the 1818 election, but was returned to the Delaware Senate again in 1821. Then, when Caesar A. Rodney resigned as U.S. Senator from Delaware, the General Assembly elected him to serve out the term, from January 8, 1824 to March 3, 1827. This was the time when the old party system of Federalists and Jeffersonian Republicans was giving way to the Jacksonian Democrats, and those opposed to Jackson. Clayton, his family, and much of the old Federalist following in Delaware, aligned themselves with John Quincy Adams, and those who would later become Whigs.

After his term in the U.S. Senate ended, Clayton was appointed Chief Justice of the Delaware Court of Common Pleas in 1828. This court ceased to exist with the new Delaware Constitution of 1831, and Clayton was appointed Chief Justice of the new Delaware Superior Court in 1832. In 1833, Chief Justice Clayton became one of the initial trustees of Newark College in Newark, Delaware, which would later become the University of Delaware.

In 1837, Clayton's cousin, U.S. Senator John M. Clayton, resigned his office. Thomas Clayton was once again elected to the U.S. Senate to finish the term. After it ended, he was reelected in 1841 and served from January 9, 1837 to March 3, 1847. During this second period of service in the Senate, Clayton was at various times the Chairman of the Committee on Printing and a member of the Committee of Revolutionary Claims.

Death and legacy

Clayton died of pneumonia at his retirement home at New Castle and is buried in the Old Presbyterian Cemetery, which is at Dover, on the grounds of the Delaware State Museum.

"A handsome man with polished manners, he was a stickler for dignity, decorum and punctuality at court session, and once ordered himself fined $10 for being 10 minutes late in appearing in court."[2]

Thomas Scharf comments: "Chief Justice Clayton was profoundly versed in the principles of the law. He had a marvelous skill in perceiving the vital points of a case, largely due to his almost intuitive grasp of fundamental principles. He was prompt in deciding the merits of an issue and felicitous in the precision with which he formulated facts and conclusions. His words were few but masterly in force and point. Judge Clayton was eminently impartial in his judicial capacity. Neither distinction of the person nor relationships swayed his judgments. With respect to the lawyers at the Bar, he made no difference in the administration of rules between the eminent John M. Clayton and his own son who was a practitioner at the same bar. He meted out to all the same even-handed justice, and required of all the same respectful regard for the law and for decorum." [3]


Elections were held the first Tuesday of October. Members of the General Assembly took office on the first Tuesday of January. State Senators had a three-year term and State Representatives had a one-year term. The Secretary of State and Attorney General were appointed by the Governor and took office on the third Tuesday of January for a five-year term. U.S. Representatives took office March 4 and have a two-year term.

The General Assembly chose the U.S. Senators, who also took office March 4, but for a six-year term. In this case, he was initially completing the existing term, the vacancy caused by the resignation of Caesar A. Rodney. However, the General Assembly failed to fill the position for nearly a year.

Public offices
Office Type Location Began office Ended office notes
State Representative Legislature Dover January 4, 1803 January 3, 1804
State Representative Legislature Dover January 3, 1804 January 1, 1805
State Representative Legislature Dover January 1, 1805 January 7, 1806
State Representative Legislature Dover January 7, 1806 January 6, 1807
State Representative Legislature Dover January 6, 1807 January 5, 1808
State Senator Legislature Dover January 5, 1808 January 19, 1808 resigned
Secretary of State Executive Dover January 19, 1808 January 16, 1810 Delaware
Attorney General Executive Dover January 16, 1810 January 17, 1815 Delaware
State Representative Legislature Dover January 1, 1811 January 7, 1812
State Representative Legislature Dover January 5, 1813 January 4, 1814
State Representative Legislature Dover January 4, 1814 January 3, 1815
U.S. Representative Legislature Washington March 4, 1815 March 3, 1817
State Senator Legislature Dover January 3, 1821 January 6, 1824
U.S. Senator Legislature Washington January 8, 1824 March 3, 1827 [4]
Chief Justice Judiciary Dover February 8, 1828 January 18, 1832 Court of Common Pleas
Chief Justice Judiciary Dover January 18, 1832 January 9, 1837 Superior Court
U.S. Senator Legislature Washington January 9, 1837 March 3, 1841 [5]
U.S. Senator Legislature Washington March 4, 1841 March 3, 1847
Delaware General Assembly service [6]
Dates Congress Chamber Majority Governor Committees Class/District
1803 27th State House Federalist David Hall Kent at-large
1804 28th State House Federalist David Hall Kent at-large
1805 29th State House Federalist Nathaniel Mitchell Kent at-large
1806 30th State House Federalist Nathaniel Mitchell Kent at-large
1807 31st State House Federalist Nathaniel Mitchell Kent at-large
1808 32nd State Senate Federalist George Truitt Kent at-large
1811 35th State House Federalist Joseph Haslet Kent at-large
1813 37th State House Federalist Joseph Haslet Kent at-large
1814 38th State House Federalist Daniel Rodney Kent at-large
1821 45th State Senate Federalist John Collins Kent at-large
1822 46th State Senate Federalist John Collins
Caleb Rodney
Kent at-large
1823 47th State Senate Republican Joseph Haslet
Charles Thomas
Kent at-large
United States Congressional service
Dates Congress Chamber Majority President Committees Class/District
1815–1817 14th U.S. House Republican James Madison 1st at-large
1823–1825 18th U.S. Senate Republican James Monroe class 1
1825–1827 19th U.S. Senate National Republican John Quincy Adams class 1
1835–1837 24th U.S. Senate Democratic Andrew Jackson class 2
1837–1839 25th U.S. Senate Democratic Martin Van Buren class 2
1839–1841 26th U.S. Senate Democratic Martin Van Buren class 2
1841–1843 27th U.S. Senate Whig William Henry Harrison
John Tyler
Printing class 2
1843–1845 28th U.S. Senate Whig John Tyler class 2
1845–1847 29th U.S. Senate Democratic James K. Polk Revolutionary Claims class 2
Election results
Year Office Subject Party Votes % Opponent Party Votes %
1814 U.S. Representative Thomas Clayton
Thomas Cooper
Federalist 3,964
Willard Hall
George Read, Jr.
Republican 2,547
1818 U.S. Representative Thomas Clayton
Louis McLane
Federalist 2,902
Willard Hall
George Read, Jr.
Republican 3,007


  1. ^ This seat was vacant from January 29, 1823 until January 8, 1824.
  2. ^ Wilson, W. Emerson (1969). Forgotten Heroes of Delaware. Cambridge, MA: Deltos Publishing Company.
  3. ^ Scharf, John Thomas. History of Delaware 1609–1888. 2 vols.
  4. ^ He was elected to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of Caesar A. Rodney in the preceding Congress. There was a vacancy in this class from January 29, 1823 until January 8, 1824.
  5. ^ He was elected to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of John M. Clayton.
  6. ^ Clayton was Attorney General of Delaware during the 1811, 1813 and 1814 General Assembly sessions, and while there was no prohibition to holding both offices, there were many Claytons in Kent County, and it seems a reasonable possibility that the person in the General Assembly may have been another relative with the same name.


  • Conrad, Henry C. (1908). History of the State of Delaware, 3 vols. Lancaster, Pennsylvania: Wickersham Company.
  • Martin, Roger A. (2003). Delawareans in Congress. Middletown, DE: Roger A. Martin. ISBN 0-924117-26-5.
  • Martin, Roger A. (1995). Memoirs of the Senate. Newark, DE: Roger A. Martin.
  • Munroe, John A. (1954). Federalist Delaware 1775-1815. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University.
  • Scharf, John Thomas (1888). History of Delaware 1609–1888. 2 vols. Philadelphia: L. J. Richards & Co.
  • Wilson, W. Emerson (1969). Forgotten Heroes of Delaware. Cambridge, MA: Deltos Publishing Company.

External links

Legal offices
Preceded by
Outerbridge Horsey
Attorney General of Delaware
Succeeded by
James Rogers
U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by
Henry M. Ridgely
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Delaware's at-large congressional district

Succeeded by
Louis McLane
U.S. Senate
Preceded by
Caesar A. Rodney
 U.S. senator  from Delaware
Succeeded by
Louis McLane
Preceded by
John M. Clayton
 U.S. senator  from Delaware
Succeeded by
Presley Spruance
This page was last edited on 25 December 2020, at 03:18
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