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The election of House Chaplain William Henry Hammett

December 12, 1832

On this date, the House of Representatives elected William Henry Hammett Chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives. Born in Dunmanway, County Cork, Ireland on March 25, 1799, Hammett immigrated to the United States and became a Methodist preacher, ministering to congregations in Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee. He also studied medicine, practicing in Pennsylvania and Mississippi. The House elected Hammett Chaplain in the 22nd Congress (1831–1833), but in the 23rd Congress (1833–1835), he lost re-election to Reverend Thomas H. Stockton after two rounds of balloting. Hammett later served as chaplain for the University of Virginia from 1833–1834, the first elected by the faculty. He subsequently served as chaplain to the Virginia state house of delegates. In 1835, Hammett moved to Mississippi, married, and drifted away from the ministry and toward politics. In 1843, he won a seat representing Mississippi in the House of Representatives for the 28th Congress (1843–1845). Representative Hammett wrote a letter to President Martin Van Buren asking the President’s opinion on annexing Texas. Van Buren replied that he was not against incorporating Texas into the United States, though he believed  the immediate annexation would draw the country into a war with Mexico.  Hammet read Van Buren's remarks on the House Floor and submitted the letter to the Congressional Record.  The President's position was unacceptable to many Southern Democrats who were in favor of the annexation. The issue proved to be an important factor in Van Buren's defeat for re-nomination at the 1844 Democratic Convention. As a Member, Hammett received acclaim for trying to maintain the peace on the House Floor.  In one instance, he broke up a fight on the House Floor between Representatives Joshua Giddings of Ohio and Edward Black of Georgia. Representative John Quincy Adams recalled that Hammett “threw his arms round Black and bore him off as he would a woman from a fire.” Hammett died in Mississippi on June 9, 1861. “As an orator his abilities were of the highest order,” his stepson eulogized in the Weekly Mississippian, “and whether on the hustings or in the forum, he excelled as he touched with delicate skill each chord of the human heart.” Hammett is one of two Representatives who have served the House as its Chaplain. The Reverend Oliver Cromwell Comstock was a Representative from New York in the 13th–15th Congresses (1813–1819) and Chaplain during the 24th Congress (1835–1837).

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William Henry Hammett served as House Chaplain in the 22nd Congress (1831–1833), before serving as an elected Representative in the 1840s. The Register of Debates, 22nd Congress, 1st sess., (December 12, 1832): 849.

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