Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
Grant Wilson, John Fiske and Stanley L. Klos. Six volumes, New York: D. Appleton
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ROBERTS, Jonathan, senator, born in Upper Merion, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, 16 August, 1771; died in Philadelphia, 21 July, 1854. His father, of the same name, served many years in the assembly, and was one of the delegates to the convention that ratified the constitution of 1787. The son developed unusual literary taste, but, on the completion of his education in his seventeenth year, was apprenticed to a wheelwright. On attaining his majority he returned home and assisted his father in the work of the farm, devoting his leisure time to study. In 1798-'9 he was chosen to the assembly, and in 1807 to the state senate. He was then elected to congress, serving from 4 November, 1811, till 28 February, 1814, and attaining note, particularly in his support, of measures relating to the war of 1812. Pending the consideration of a declaration of war he made an able speech, closing with the words: " I repose safely on the maxim, 'Never to despair of the republic.'" Mr. Roberts had the entire confidence of Mr. Madison, who availed himself of his services in many important emergencies. During this period he wrote largely for public journals, many of his letters appearing in the "Aurora," his writings, notably a series of letters addressed to John Randolph, of Roanoke, attracting general public attention. When, in May, 1812, the president informed congress that there was no hope that Great Britain would abandon her aggressions, and an effort was made to adjourn congress, it was largely due to Mr. Roberts that an adjournment was prevented, and his call for the previous question forced the vote on the war bill, 18 June, 1812. He urged a vigorous prosecution of the war, was a member of the committee of ways and means, and came to be regarded as the representative of Albert Gallatin, secretary of the treasury, on the floor of the house. While serving his second term he was chosen to the senate, and entered on his duties, 28 February, 1814. In the senate tie became notable for the part that he took in the famous controversy growing out of the bill to admit Maine, into the Union. When the bill was reported with an amendment admitting Missouri also, Mr. Roberts moved the further amendment that slavery should be prohibited in the latter state. The debate on this motion, which lasted through three weeks, is historic. On its defeat came that of Mr. Thomas, of Illinois, known as the "Missouri compromise," which Mr. Roberts ably and determinedly opposed. After completing a full term of service in the senate, he was chosen again to the state assembly, and he was subsequently appointed by the governor one of the canal commissioners. For twenty years he took a chief part, in Pennsylvania in the opposition to Andrew Jackson, both before and after the latter became president. Mr. Roberts was an early and an active supporter of the protective tariff. In this interest he was a member of the national conventions that met at Harrisburg in 1827 and at New York in 1830. He was a delegate in 1840 to the convention that nominated General Harrison for the presidency, giving his support to Henry Clay, and on behalf of the Pennsylvania delegation he nominated John Tyler for the vice-presidency. When, on the death of Harrison, Tyler succeeded to the presidency, he appointed Mr. Roberts collector of the port of Philadelphia, which post he filled from April, 1841, till the following year. In the contest that arose between Mr. Tyler and the Whig party, the president asked Roberts to remove about thirty officials in tire customs department and to replace them with partisaus of the president. This Mr. Roberts refused to do, nor would he resign. Mr. Roberts had been a member of the Society of Friends, but, was disowned by them because of the part he had taken in furthering the war of 1812. --His son, Jonathan Manning, investigator, born in Montgomery county, Pennsylvania, 7 December, 1821; died in Burlington, New Jersey, 28 February, 1888, studied law, was admitted to the bar at Norristown, Pennsylvania, in 1850, and practised his profession for about a year, but abandoned it and engaged in commercial pursuits. These proving financially successful, he found time to gratify his desire for metaphysical investigations. He also took an interest in politics, being an enthusiastic Whig and strongly opposed to slavery. He was a delegate to the Free-soil convention at Buffalo, New York, that nominated Martin Van Buren for president in 1848, and subsequently canvassed New Jersey for that candidate. When the so-called spiritual manifestations at Rochester, New York, first attracted public attention, Mr. Roberts earnestly protested against the possibility of their having a supernatural origin. After several years of patient inquiry he came to the conclusion that they were facts that could be explained on scientific principles and resulted from the operation of natural causes. This conviction led to his establishing an organ of the new faith at Philadelphia in 1878 under the title of "Mind and Matter." His fearless advocacy of his peculiar views involved him in litigation and caused his imprisonment. Finding the publication of a journal too great a tax on his resources, he abandoned it, and devoted the rest of his life to study and authorship. Among his manuscript, of which he left a large amount, is "A Life of Apollonius of Tyana" and "A History of the Christian Religion," which tie completed just before his death.
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