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36th Congress (1859–1861)

Congressional Profile

Total Membership:

  • 238 Representatives
  • 5 Delegates

Party Divisions:*

  • 83 Democrats
  • 116 Republicans
  • 19 Opposition
  • 8 Anti-Lecompton Democrats
  • 7 Independent Democrats
  • 5 Americans

*Party division totals are based on election day results.

William Pennington/tiles/non-collection/s/speaker_Pennington_2005_16_23_1.xml Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
In his first and only term in the House, William Pennington of New Jersey was elected Speaker as a compromise candidate.

Congress Overview

Slavery was never more politically divisive than during the 36th Congress (1859–1861), and Democrats could do little to bridge the widening sectional gap in their party. It took 44 ballots before New Jersey’s William Pennington won election as House Speaker. Both the House and Senate investigated John Brown’s failed 1859 raid the arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia), and tried unsuccessfully to pass compromise legislation before the country erupted in civil war. Amid a tense lame-duck session in the winter of 1860–1861, southern states, led by South Carolina, began seceding from the Union.

Member Information

  • Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress, (1774–2005), Official Annotated Membership Roster by State with Vacancy and Special Election Information for the 36th Congress [PDF]
  • Learn more about the House of Representatives with an interactive map

Learn more about the People of the People's House

Leadership & Officers

Speaker of the House:
William Pennington (R–New Jersey)
Democratic Caucus Chairman:
George S. Houston (D–Alabama)
Clerk of the House:
James C. Allen
John W. Forney 1
Sergeant at Arms:
Adam J. Glossbrenner
Henry W. Hoffman 2
Chaplain of the House:
N/A 3
George Marston
Messenger to the Speaker:
Thaddeus Morrice
Josiah M. Lucas

To view complete lists of individuals who have served in these leadership and official positions since the 1st Congress, visit the People section


1Elected February 3, 1860.

2Elected February 3, 1860.

3From 1855 to 1861 the local clergy in the District of Columbia conducted the opening prayer. Thereafter, the House has elected a Chaplain at the beginning of each Congress.