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John Janney
John Janney

Delegate to the House of Representatives of the Virginia General Assembly from Loudoun County
In office

Delegate to the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1850 from Loudoun County
In office
October 14, 1850 – October 25, 1851

Presiding officer to the Virginia Secession Convention of 1861 from Loudoun County
In office
February 13, 1861 – May 23, 1861

Born November 8, 1798
Alexandria, Virginia
Died January 5, 1872 (aged 73)
Loudoun County, Virginia
Political party Whig
Spouse(s) Alicia Marmaduke
Residence Leesburg, Virginia
Profession Law
Religion Episcopalian

John Janney (November 8, 1798-January 5, 1872) was an influential member of the Whig Party in Virginia prior to its demise, delegate to the Virginia General Assembly from Loudoun County and served as President of the Virginia Secession Convention in 1861.

Early life[]

John Janney was born November 8, 1798 in Alexandria, Virginia to devout Quaker parents. When Janney was still a boy his parents moved to Goose Creek (present day Lincoln) in Loudoun County where there was a thriving Quaker community. Janney attended school at the local meeting house until he was teenager when he left to study law at the county court in Leesburg under Richard Henderson. At 18 he was admitted to the bar of that court, where he quickly gained the respect of his peers and rose through the ranks of the local Whig Party.

Early career[]

In 1831, he helped to draft a bill to abolish slavery in Virginia for the General Assembly. Two years later Janney was elected to that body's lower chamber as a delegate from Loudoun, a seat he held until 1845.

Despite his work on the abolition bill, Janney bought his first slave in 1834. Because Quakers did not allow its members to own slaves, Janney broke with the church and joined the Episcopal Church.

In 1847, Janney was one of three lawyers to defend Nelson Talbott Gant,a freed slave from Leesburg, who was accused of stealing his wife, still a slave, from her owner after the owner had refused to allow Gant to buy her freedom. Janney and company were successful in obtaining Gant's acquittal by arguing that the bonds of marriage transcend those of slavery.

Vice Presidential Candidature[]

In 1839 the national Whig party held a convention to nominate its candidate for the upcoming Presidential election. The choice came down to two natives of Virginia; Henry Clay and William Henry Harrison. The Virginia delegation preferred Clay, but in his career he had made too many enemies in his own party and the nomination went to Harrison. The party was sensitive to the Virginia delegation given the states large population and political clout so they instructed the delegation to caucus and nominate their choice for vice president. When the delegation met, two men received nominations: John Janney of Loudoun and John Tyler of Charles City County. The vote ended in a tie, but the tidewater representatives used their political advantage to get Tyler, a tidewater aristocrat, the nomination over Janney, an upcountry Quaker. After Tyler got the nomination Janney confessed that, as was his custom, he voted not for himself but Tyler causing the tie. Harrison died just three months into office and Tyler became president.

Virginia Conventions[]

In 1850 Virginia held a Constitutional Convention and Loudoun sent Janney as a member of its delegation. As the Whig party collapsed under sectional strain in the 1850s Janney remained a committed Unionist, and because of that view along with his respect in the political arena Janney was again chosen to represent Loudoun and advocate for remaining in the Union in 1861 when the state called a special convention to decide its course in the coming conflict. When he arrived in Richmond he was chosen to serve as President of the body. He would vote twice against Secession, but after the second vote passed on April 17 he submitted to the will of the majority and reversed his vote to make it unanimous. From that point on despite his personal views he supported his native state and the course it chose, though he took no active part in the fight. As president of the convention he had the notable honor of giving Robert E. Lee command of the forces of the Commonwealth. After the convention adjourned Janney returned to his law practice in Loudoun which he continued until his death in 1872.


  • Nichols, Joseph V. Legends of Loudoun Valley Willow Bend Books; Lovettsville, Va. 1996.
  • Exploring Leesburg: Guide to history and architecture.

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