Jacob Burnet

From Ohio History Central
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Judge Jacob Burnet

Jacob Burnet was a political leader in Ohio in the first half of the nineteenth century.

Burnet was born in Newark, New Jersey, on February 22, 1770. He graduated from Princeton College in 1791 and studied the law for several years. He passed the bar in 1796 and established a law practice in Cincinnati. He became one of Ohio's leading citizens during the late 1790s and early 1800s, although he reportedly disliked public service. In 1799, President John Adams appointed Burnet to the Territorial Council. He served until 1802. Burnet was a committed member of the Federalist Party, while the majority of his colleagues favored the Democratic-Republican Party. Burnet strongly supported Governor Arthur St. Clair and his Federalist program. Burnet's support of St. Clair prompted Hamilton County voters to not elect Burnet to the Ohio Constitutional Convention of 1802. Although a strong supporter of St. Clair, Burnet also sometimes voted against important Federalist policies. He supported giving all adult male taxpayers the right to vote. He also favored town meetings as the official form of local government. He became well known for disagreeing with St. Clair about the secret ballot. Burnet preferred that voters state their vote publicly and not write it down secretly on a sheet of paper. During this same time period, Burnet also served as a judge of the Northwest Territory. The voters of Cincinnati elected him to the Ohio legislature in 1813. He served in this body from 1814 to 1815. By the time that he won election to the legislature, Burnet had switched his political allegiance to the Democratic-Republican Party. The primary reason for this was Burnet's and the Democratic-Republican Party's support of the War of 1812.

Burnet became a director and eventually president of the Cincinnati branch of the Second Bank of the United States. In this position, he became well aware of the hardships many Ohioans faced financially. Many people had bought land on credit from the federal government under the Land Act of 1800. Burnet called on the federal government to help people purchase land more easily. The result was the Land Act of 1820. He served on the Supreme Court of Ohio from 1821 to 1828 and was appointed in 1828 to fill the United States Senate seat of William Henry Harrison who had resigned that position. During his Senate term he helped make possible the construction of the Miami and Erie Canal from Dayton to Maumee. He also convinced the Congress to allow Ohio to place tollgates on the National Road to create revenue for additional internal improvements in the state. In 1839, Burnet nominated William Henry Harrison for the presidency at the Whig Party's national convention.

Burnet spent most of his adult life holding elected or appointed political offices. He worked for many years to make Cincinnati an important American city. He served as president of Cincinnati's chapters of the Astronomical Society and the American Colonization Society. He also was president of the Medical College of Ohio. Burnet died on May 10, 1853.

See Also


  1. Burnet, Jacob. Notes on the Early Settlement of the North-Western Territory. New York, NY: Arno Press, 1975.  
  2. Este, D.K. Discourse on the Life and Public Services of the Late Jacob Burnet, Delivered at Smith and Nixon's Hall. Cincinnati, OH: Press of the Cincinnati Gazette Co., 1853.  
  3. Howe, Henry. Historical Collections of Ohio in Two Volumes. Vol. II. Cincinnati, OH: C.J. Krehbiel & Co., Printers and Binders, 1902.