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Joseph Bradley Varnum: Wikis


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Joseph Bradley Varnum

In office
October 26, 1807 – March 4, 1811
President Thomas Jefferson
James Madison
Preceded by Nathaniel Macon
Succeeded by Henry Clay

Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Massachusetts's 9th district
In office
March 4, 1795 – March 3, 1803
Preceded by None; first
Succeeded by Phanuel Bishop

Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Massachusetts's 4th district
In office
March 4, 1803 – March 4, 1811
Preceded by Seth Hastings
Succeeded by William M. Richardson

In office
June 29, 1811 – March 3, 1817
Preceded by Timothy Pickering
Succeeded by Harrison Gray Otis

In office
December 6, 1813 – February 3, 1814
Preceded by William H. Crawford
Succeeded by John Gaillard

Born January 29, 1751 (1751-01-29)
Dracut, Massachusetts
Died December 21, 1821 (1821-12-22) (aged 70)
Dracut, Massachusetts
Political party Democratic-Republican
Military service
Service/branch Massachusetts Militia
Battles/wars American Revolutionary War

Joseph Bradley Varnum (January 29, 1751–September 21, 1821) was a U.S. politician of the Democratic-Republican Party from Massachusetts.


Joseph Bradley Varnum was born in Dracut, Massachusetts, Middlesex County, January 29, 1750 or 1751, a farmer with little formal education.

After serving in the Massachusetts militia during the American Revolutionary War, Varnum helped to destroy the Shays insurrection before he was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives (1780–1785) and then the Massachusetts State Senate (1786–1795). He also served as a Justice of the Massachusetts Court of Common Pleas and as Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Court of General Sessions.

In 1794, Varnum was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, where he served from March 4, 1795 until his resignation on June 29, 1811. During his last four years in the House, he served as its Speaker.

Varnum was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1811 to fill the vacancy in the term. June 29, 1811, to March 3, 1817; served as President pro tempore of the Senate during the Thirteenth Congress; chairman, Committee on Militia (Fourteenth Congress); after returning to Massachusetts in 1817, he again served in the Massachusetts State Senate, until his death September 21, 1821.

Varnum died in Dracut, and his body is interred in Varnum Cemetery. His brother was James Mitchell Varnum.

Slave Trade

In the 1786 US Constitution there was a provision in Article I – the part of the document dealing with the duties of the legislative branch:

Section 9. The migration or importation of such persons as any of the states now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a tax or duty may be imposed on such importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each person.

In other words, the government could not ban the importation of slaves for 20 years after the adoption of the Constitution. And as the designated year 1808 approached, those opposed to slavery began making plans for legislation that would outlaw the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

On March 3, 1805, Congressman Joseph Bradley Varnum [1751-1821], Dracut, MA [now Lowell] submitted the follow Massachusetts Proposition to amend the Constitution and Abolish the Slave Trade. This proposition was table until 1807, when under Joseph Bradley Varnum leadership the amendment moved through Congress and passed both houses on March 2, 1807. Slave owner and President Thomas Jefferson signed it into law on March 3, 1807. Due to the restriction imposed by Article I, Section of the Constitution, the law did not become effective until January 1, 1808.


Congressman Joseph Bradley Varnum, one of the members for the State of Massachusetts, presented to the House a letter from the Governor of the said State, enclosing an attested copy of two concurrent resolutions of the Senate and House of Representatives of the State of Massachusetts, passed the fifteenth of February, in the present year, "instructing the Senators, and requesting the Representatives in Congress, from the said State, to take all legal and necessary steps, to use their utmost exertions, as soon as the same is practicable, to obtain an amendment to the Federal Constitution, so as to authorize and empower the Congress of the United States to pass a law, whenever they may deem it expedient, to prevent the further importation of slaves from any of the West India Islands, from the coast of Africa, or elsewhere, into the United States, or any part thereof:" Whereupon,

A motion was made and seconded that the House do come to the following resolution:

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, two-thirds of both Houses concurring, That the following article be proposed to the Legislatures of the several States, as an amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which, when ratified by three-fourths of the said Legislatures, shall be valid to all intents and purposes, as a part of the said Constitution, to wit:

"That the Congress of the United States shall have power to prevent the further importation of slaves into the United States and the Territories thereof."

The said proposed resolution was read, and ordered to lie on the table.


  • Varnum, Joseph. “Autobiography of General Joseph B. Varnum.” Edited by James M. Varnum. Magazine of American History 20 (November 1888): 405-14.

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
none-new position
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Massachusetts's 9th congressional district

1795 – 1803
Succeeded by
Phanuel Bishop
Preceded by
Seth Hastings
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Massachusetts's 4th congressional district

1803 – 1811
Succeeded by
William M. Richardson
Political offices
Preceded by
Nathaniel Macon
Speaker of the United States House of Representatives
October 26, 1807–March 4, 1809;
May 22, 1809–March 4, 1811
Succeeded by
Henry Clay
Preceded by
William H. Crawford
President pro tempore of the United States Senate
December 6, 1813–February 3, 1814
Succeeded by
John Gaillard
United States Senate
Preceded by
Timothy Pickering
United States Senator (Class 2) from Massachusetts
June 29, 1811–March 4, 1817
Served alongside: James Lloyd, Christopher Gore, Eli P. Ashmun
Succeeded by
Harrison Gray Otis


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