On this day in 1789, the first U.S. House of Representatives, meeting in New York City, reaches quorum and elects Pennsylvania Representative Frederick Augustus Conrad Muhlenberg as its first speaker.
Muhlenberg, a Lutheran minister and the former president of the Pennsylvania convention to ratify the U.S. Constitution, was the son of Henry Augustus Muhlenberg and grandson of Johann Conrad Weiser, two of the leading Germans in colonial Pennsylvania. His brother, Major General John Peter Gabriel Muhlenberg, also served in the first House of Representatives.
Like his father, Frederick Muhlenberg studied theology at Germany’s University of Halle. He returned to Pennsylvania to be ordained in 1770 at the age of 20 and preached in Stouchsburg and Lebanon until 1774. Muhlenberg began preaching in New York City later that year, but returned to Pennsylvania upon the British invasion of New York in 1776. For three years, he served as pastor to congregations in New Hanover, Oley and New Goshenhoppen before embarking on a political career.
Muhlenberg was a member of the Continental Congress from 1779 to 1780 and speaker of Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives from 1780 to 1783. He presided over the Pennsylvania ratifying convention of 1787, and then served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1789 to 1797. He was speaker during the first and third Congresses.
Frederick did not enter into military service during the American Revolution. His brother, John Peter, however, earned renown for removing his pastoral robes to reveal a military uniform underneath while proclaiming his support for the war from his pulpit in Virginia.