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David Rittenhouse Porter
9th Governor of Pennsylvania
In office
January 15, 1839 – January 21, 1845
Preceded byJoseph Ritner
Succeeded byFrancis R. Shunk
Member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives
In office
Member of the Pennsylvania Senate for the 8th district
In office
Preceded byJohn Harper
Succeeded byIsaac Slenker
Personal details
BornOctober 31, 1788
Norristown, Pennsylvania, U.S.
DiedAugust 6, 1867(1867-08-06) (aged 78)
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Spouse(s)Josephine McDermott (m. September 28, 1820 – 18??)

David Rittenhouse Porter (October 31, 1788 – August 6, 1867) was the ninth Governor of Pennsylvania and served from 1839 to 1845. He is the father of Horace Porter, the United States Ambassador to France from 1897 to 1905.

Early life and education

Porter, the first governor under the State Constitution of 1838 was born October 31, 1788, near Norristown, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, spending his boyhood at Selma Mansion, a home built by his father in 1794. He was the son of Elizabeth (née Parker) and Andrew Porter, the Revolutionary War officer. He was the brother of George Bryan Porter who became the Territorial Governor of Michigan from 1831 to 1834 and James Madison Porter who became the Secretary of War from 1843 to 1844.

Porter received a classical education at Norristown Academy. In 1813, he moved to Huntingdon where he studied law with Edward Shippen and eventually purchased an iron works.[1]


Due to the recession that followed the War of 1812 and his resulting business failure his life was changed by 1819. He turned to politics and served as a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in 1819. He married Josephine McDermott in 1820.

He also served in row offices in Huntingdon County and then as a member of the Pennsylvania Senate for the 8th district from 1835 to 1838.[2] In 1838 Porter was nominated for governor by the Jacksonian Democrats in order to mend the split between former Governor George Wolf and the Rev. Henry A. P. Muhlenberg, as well as defeat incumbent Governor Joseph Ritner's bid for a second term.

By then the public had grown tired of the Anti-Masonic Party's "witch hunts," giving Porter a slim 5,500-voter margin of victory. The election result was bitterly contested by Ritner's supporters nearly to the point of violence. Known as the "Buckshot War", Governor Ritner was forced to order militia intervention in Harrisburg for the peaceful transition of government. Porter's victory was certified by the legislature only a few days before his inauguration.

Upon taking office, Porter was immediately challenged with heavy state spending, coupled with a recession that began in 1837. Affable, eloquent, but succinct in expression, his statements often moralized against the improvident profusion in spending. He obtained a tax on persons in professions and the trades that was much like an income tax, and the first tax on capital stock shares. He cut state spending and hiring, although his administration continued the work on the expansion of canals and railroads.

The governor also promoted the economic benefits of connecting canals and railroads between Pittsburgh and points west to the capitals of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, and to the Mississippi River at St. Louis. Although the total state debt rose twenty-five percent under Porter, the state eventually had more than enough revenue to pay the interest.

Porter resisted attempts of the General Assembly to encroach upon constitutional separations of the executive and judicial branches and refused to recognize some demands of the legislature. Porter easily won re-election in 1841 over John Banks, the first Whig gubernatorial candidate to run without a coalition with the Anti-Masonic Party.

During his second term, the imprisonment of people for debts was abolished, but he faced difficult decisions with a rise of anti-foreign prejudice. During "Nativist riots" in Philadelphia in 1844, Porter acted firmly to suppress violence. The new state constitution no longer allowed a third term as governor and acrimony with the assembly - including attempts to impeach him - and his own party's position against protective tariffs, which Porter favored, caused the governor to retire from politics.

After 1844, he resumed his private business in iron making, returning to public life only briefly in 1856 to endorse his longtime friend James Buchanan for president. Porter became involved in promoting a transcontinental railroad through Texas and adapting anthracite coal to iron making. In 1860 he was an associate in the incorporation of the New Mexican Railway Company. He built the first anthracite coal furnace for iron in south central Pennsylvania at Harrisburg.

Speaking out against Southern secession from the Union, he lived long enough to see his son, Lt. Col. Horace Porter, later a general, gain honor through many Civil War battles. As the aide-de-camp for General Grant, Horace Porter was present to witness the surrender of General Lee. It is said that Horace Porter’s book on the subject was the definitive account of the events at Appomattox Court House.


David R. Porter died August 6, 1867, aged 78, from a long illness contracted the previous winter after attending a night church meeting in Harrisburg. He is buried in Harrisburg Cemetery.

Porter Street in Philadelphia is named in his honor. His grandson William Wagener Porter was a prominent Philadelphia attorney and legal author.


  1. ^ "Governor David Rittenhouse Porter". Retrieved 9 March 2019.
  2. ^ "Pennsylvania State Senate - David Rittenhouse Porter Biography". Retrieved 9 March 2019.
Party political offices
Preceded by
Henry A. P. Muhlenberg
Democratic nominee for Governor of Pennsylvania
1838, 1841
Succeeded by
Francis R. Shunk
Political offices
Preceded by
Member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Succeeded by
Preceded by
John Harper
Member of the Pennsylvania Senate, 8th district
Succeeded by
Isaac Slenker
Preceded by
Joseph Ritner
Governor of Pennsylvania
Succeeded by
Francis R. Shunk