Pearce, James A.

Born: 1805-12-14 Alexandria, Virginia

Died: 1862-12-20 Chestertown, Maryland

James Pearce was a lawyer, farmer, state legislator, U.S. representative, and U.S. senator. Pearce graduated from the College of New Jersey (Princeton) in 1822, studied law, and gained admission to the bar in Cambridge, Maryland, in 1824. In 1829, he married Martha J. Laird and had three children. After his first wife died, he married Matilda Cox Ringgold with whom he had another child. He settled in Chestertown, Maryland, where he farmed and practiced law.

He served in the Maryland legislature from 1831-35 before winning election to Congress as a Whig. He served Maryland in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1835-38, and again from 1841-42, and in the U.S. Senate from 1843-1862. In 1850, he was practicing law in Kent County, Maryland and owned real property valued at $10,000. In 1854, he became a member of the Opposition Party and served one term in the Senate as a member of that short-lived party; but when he ran for re-election in 1856, he did so as a Democrat. Pearce was generally pro-slavery in his politics, but he only reluctantly supported the Kansas-Nebraska Act. By 1860, he had amassed $31,000 in real property, with a personal estate of $16,000, and was listed in the Maryland slave schedule as owning enslaved people. He was a strong Unionist during the Civil War. However, Pearce was an outspoken opponent of many policies of the Lincoln Administration, particularly the suspension of habeas corpus in Maryland and in Missouri. During his service in the Thirty-Seventh Congress, he took sick, and after a "long and painful illness," he died at his home in Maryland just before Christmas in 1862.

Addresses on the Death of Hon. James A. Pearce, Delivered in the Senate and House of Representatives, on Tuesday, January 13, 1863 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1863); Rodney P. Carlisle, "Pearce, James Alfred," American National Biography, ed. by John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 17:205-6; U.S. Census Office, Seventh Census of the United States (1850), Kent County, MD, 218; U.S. Census Office, Eighth Census of the United States (1860), Chestertown, Kent County, MD, 172; U.S. Census Office, Eighth Census of the United States (1860), Slave Schedule, Chestertown, Kent County, MD, 317.