Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Joseph Kent (1779-1837)
MSA SC 3520-1450

Governor of Maryland, 1826-1829

The following essay is taken from Frank F. White, Jr., The Governors of Maryland 1777-1970 (Annapolis:  The Hall of
Records Commission, 1970), 87-89.

"JOSEPH KENT, 'A Mugwump, or former Federalist who had been on various sides of political controversies, but possessed the nimbleness to jump correctly,' was born in Calvert County on January 14, 1779, the son of Daniel and Anne (Wheeler) Kent.1

"In his youth, he had the opportunity to obtain a good education, so by the time he was twenty years of age, he was able to secure a license to practice medicine. By May 1799, he had become associated with a Doctor Parran of Lower Marlboro. This partnership lasted only for two years, and in September 1801, the two dissolved their association because they had a political disagreement. In 1806, after he had moved to Bladensburg, where he purchased 'Rosemount,' an estate of over three hundred acres, he was both physician as well as farmer. In the meantime, he had entered the militia as Surgeonís Mate in 1807, later becoming Surgeon, Major, Lieutenant-Colonel and Colonel of Cavalry.

"Dr. Kent entered politics as a Federalist by being elected a member of the U. S. House of Representatives in 1810. He took his seat on November 4, 1811 , was re-elected in 1812 and served until March 3, 1815. During this period, even though as a Federalist he had actively opposed war with Great Britain, he voted with the Republicans on the declaration of war. Within a few years, he had completely broken with his Federalist Party and had become a Republican. In 1816, he was a Republican presidential elector for James Monroe, and by that time a confirmed Republican. Dr. Kent again was a candidate for Congress in 1818, this time as a Republican, beginning his service on December 6, 1819. He served in the 16th, 17th, 18th and 19th Congresses, resigning on January 6, 1826, following his election as Governor.

"Governor Kentís administration was devoted to a program of internal improvements. Having been a director of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, he urged state support both for it as well as for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, chartered in 1827. On January 2, 1828, he announced that when [p. 88] both of these projects were completed, Maryland would begin Ďto realize those commercial advantages, which from her geographical position, the fertility of her soil, the variety of her productions, the value of her fisheries, and the abundance and richness of her minerals, she is so justly entitled to.'2 His program had far-reaching consequences, for in slightly over a decade, the State had to face the problem of paying or repudiating the debt, so that his administration possessed doubtful merits. The canal and the railroad helped Marylandís economy to compete for the western trade at the time, but the State never fully realized its investment in either.

"Governor Kent also favored prison reform, aid to schools and colleges, as well as popular presidential vote by districts. 'Our government,' he announced, 'instituted solely for the general good, ought to be plain and simple in its provisions; and in the attainment of this great, first object, we cannot be too studious in avoiding all appearance of mystery, and unnecessary parade.'3

"Kent, like so many others who had occupied the governorís office, expressed great interest in the care and collection of the Stateís records. Terming them 'so indispensably necessary to its correct history,' he praised the legislatureís efforts to preserve them by the purchase of the votes and proceedings of the various Revolution conventions by claiming that nothing is 'more gratifying or useful to a people than a thorough knowledge of their ancestors.'  He hoped the General Assembly would continue in the attainment and preservation of the means by which this desirable information may be acquired.'4

"Joseph Kent continued as governor until January 15, 1829, having been re-elected in 1827 and 1828, virtually by unanimous vote. When his administration ended, his services were held in such high esteem that about fifty members of the legislature gave him a public dinner in Annapolis. On being toasted, Kent returned his thanks 'chiefly to encourage an improvement of the natural advantages enjoyed by the State and promote harmony in all its population.'5 Hezekiah Niles characterized him as a governor whose 'open and manly rectitude of conduct, sound discretion, liberal feelings, and kind and accomplished manners' were such as to endear 'him to his political friends.' These attributes 'won [him] the sincere respect of his political opponents.' Niles went on to comment that 'the executive business of the state has been highly improved under his administration, and his messages have established a new era in our political history.'6

"Kent possessed the ability to change political parties at will, by seeming to sense the advantages lie would gain from endorsing the popular political movements of the day. After his term ended, he again changed his political affiliation. Having identified himself with the National Repub- [p. 89] licans or Whigs, he became a member and vice president of the Baltimore Convention which nominated Henry Clay to the presidency. In 1832, he was again nominated as a presidential elector, but he was unable to attend the meeting of the electoral college. In the same year, he was elected to the United States Senate, but because of increasingly ill health, he attended only four sessions. 'He delivered his sentiments on the questions of the removal of the deposits [from the U. S. Bank] concisely, but with force, in a speech which was well received, though made under disadvantageous circumstances.'7 In May 1836, he offered a resolution which asked the President to open negotiations with France on behalf of lower tobacco taxes and restriction of tobacco imports. The resolution passed, hut it did not create any widespread interest at the time.

"Kent had been elected to a six-year term in the Senate in 1833. He did not finish his term, however, for he died on November 24, 1837, at 'Rosemount,' as the result of a fall from his horse. He was buried at 'Rosemount' where he lies today in an unmarked grave.  'A body of sincere mourners never assembled to celebrate the funeral obsequies of a beloved friend, snatched from life in the midst of a career of unsullied honor, unimpeachable probity, and widely extended usefulness.'8 He was eulogized by Governor Veazey as a man in whom 'Maryland has suffered a severe loss in his demise, and her citizens who mourn over this bereavement will long cherish his name in grateful remembrance.'9

"Kent had been twice married. His first wife was Eleanor Lee Wallace who died in 1826. His second wife, Alice Contee, survived him. He left an estate valued at over $30,000 including sixty-five slaves."10

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© Copyright February 27, 2009Maryland State Archives