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the first U.S. Senator to keep a record of Senate proceedings
William Maclay was born in New Garden, Chester County, Pennsylvania, on July 20, 1734. As a Lieutenant in the French and Indian War, he took part in an expedition against Fort Duquesne in 1758. After the war he studied law, and was admitted to the bar in 1760. In the 1770's he served as a surveyor for the Penn family and clerk of the courts of Northumberland County. During the Revolutionary War he served as a commissary in the Continental Army. During the 1780's held a variety of public offices in Pennsylvania including State Legislator, Indian Commissioner, Judge of the Court of Common Pleas, and member of the Executive Council.
Maclay was elected to the first session of the Senate, and served from March 4, 1789 to March 3, 1791. As a Senator, Maclay was an opponent of the financial policies of Alexander Hamilton, supporting instead the interests of small farmers who wanted a weak central government. He is best remembered, however, for the diary he kept while in the Senate -- the only continuous account of the activities of the Senate's first session. First published in 1880, the journal provides insights into the early disputes over the Constitution and debt and tariff laws.
After leaving the Senate, Maclay retired to his farm in Dauphin, Pennsylvania. He became a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in 1795, was re-elected in 1796 and 1797, and again in 1803. He also served as a presidential elector in 1796, and as County Judge from 1801 to 1803.
Maclay died in Harrisburg on April 16, 1804; he is buried in Old Paxtang Church Cemetery.
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This page was last updated on April 15, 2017.