John Langdon

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Founding Fathers
John Langdon.jpg
John Langdon
State New Hampshire
Religion Congregationalist
Founding Documents United States Constitution

John Langdon (June 26, 1741 – September 18, 1819) was a Governor and United States Senator from New Hampshire and the first President pro tempore of the Senate. He was also a member of the Continental Congress and a signer of the United States Constitution.

Early life

Langdon was born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, on June 26, 1741. His father was a prosperous landowner, and his older brother, Woodbury Langdon, would also go on to serve in the Continental Congress. John attended the local grammar school, and later served an apprenticeship as a clerk.[1] Rather than follow his father into farming, he went to sea, and became captain of his own ship the Andromache by the age of 22. He eventually built a small fleet of merchant vessels, and established himself as one of Portsmouth's wealthiest citizens.[2]

Revolutionary War

Langdon was elected to the New Hampshire legislature in 1774 on a platform of strong opposition to British taxation and support for the boycott of British goods established by the Continental Association. (Ironically, his brother was also elected to the legislature the same year as a voice for merchants who opposed the boycott.) Recognizing that more direct action would be needed, Langdon joined a group of militiamen in a raid to remove the gunpowder from Fort William and Mary[3] before it could be seized by the Crown.[4]

Shortly before the Battle of Bennington, Langdon recognized the financial shortfall of New Hampshire and pledged funds to help raise and arm the troops necessary to defend against the advancing British.[5] This enabled General John Stark to raise 1500 militiamen in six days.[6] In a speech, Langdon said:

I have a thousand dollars in hard money; I will pledge my plate for three thousand more. I have seventy hogsheads of Tobago rum which will be sold for the most they will bring. They are at the service of the state. If we succeed in defending our firesides and our homes I may be remunerated; if we do not then the property will be of no value to me. Our friend, John Stark, who so nobly maintained the honor of our state at Bunker Hill, may safely be entrusted with the honor of the enterprise and we will check the progress of Burgoyne.[7]

During the battle at Bennington and later at the Battle of Saratoga,[8] he led Langdon's Company of Light Horse Volunteers[9]

Continental Congress and Constitutional Convention

In 1775, on the heels of the gunpowder raid, Langdon was appointed to the Continental Congress. He immediately became a strong voice for independence. He served through 1776, and then resigned to take a more direct hand in the war effort and in outfitting ships of war such as the America, the Raleigh, and the Ranger, with John Paul Jones as captain.[10]

He was appointed to the Continental Congress again in 1787, and he and Nicholas Gilman served as New Hampshire's delegates to the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia.

Later political service

Langdon was elected to the United States Senate, one of New Hampshire's first two Senators, serving first with Paine Wingate and then Samuel Livermore. He served from March 4, 1789, to March 3, 1801. On April 6, 1789, he was elected the first President pro tempore of the Senate, presiding over the electoral vote that made George Washington the first President of the United States. He remained pro tempore into the Second Congress.

Retiring from the Senate in 1801, Langdon rejected President Thomas Jefferson's offer to become Secretary of the Navy. Instead he returned to his business interests in New Hampshire. He continued to lead an active political life, both as legislator and governor. He declined a nomination as candidate for Vice President of the United States[11] and retired in 1812.


Langdon died in Portsmouth, New Hampshire on September 18, 1819. He was interred in the family tomb in the North Cemetery.


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