Governor Simon Snyder



December 20, 1808 - December 16, 1817


New School Jeffersonian Democrat
(also known as the Family Party)


November 5, 1759


November 9, 1819


Photo of Gov. Simon Snyder
Photo courtesy of Capitol Preservation
Committee and John Rudy Photography


The son of Anthony and Mary Elizabeth (Knippenberg) Snyder, Simon Snyder was born November 5, 1759, in Lancaster where he was baptized in the Moravian Church. He was Pennsylvania's first governor of German descent. In 1776, two years after his father died, Snyder moved to York where he apprenticed as a leather worker for four years, while he received an education by attending night classes at a Society of Friends (Quakers) school. In 1784 he opened a store and gristmill in Selinsgrove, now Snyder County (the county so named in his honor when it was formed on March 2, 1855). In 1790 he married Elizabeth Michael, with whom he had two children. After Elizabeth died in 1794, Snyder married Catherine Antes and together they had five children. While governor, Catherine died in 1810 and in 1814, Snyder married Mary Slough Scott, a widow.

His career in politics began as a justice of the peace. In 1789, Snyder was elected delegate to the state convention that revised Pennsylvania's constitution in 1790. He served in the state House of Representatives from 1797 to 1807 (except 1805 when he ran for governor) and was three times its speaker, in 1804, 1805, and 1807. By 1805, Snyder had risen to such regard among Jeffersonians that he was selected to oppose incumbent Governor McKean, who had lost the endorsement of the same party. McKean opposed attempts to limit the powers of the governor and offended legislators and other officials with charges of incompetence. Snyder, who personified common folk, led the Jeffersonians' campaign to limit executive and judicial powers and unseat McKean, portraying him as an elitist. McKean formed a coalition with the Federalist Party and, because Snyder was relatively unknown among voters, successfully defeated Snyder.

By 1808, the Jeffersonians were united behind Snyder, linking him to James Madison's presidential campaign. Snyder defeated John Ross of the declining Federalist Party and McKean's kind of Jeffersonian Democrats. Snyder's personal friend, newspaper editor John Binns, led his campaign and was labeled New School Democrats. They campaigned for government involvement in the economy and, although based in Philadelphia, a better future for the western counties. In 1811 and 1814, Snyder easily won reelections against Federalists William Tilghman and Isaac Wayne, respectively.

Snyder became a strong governor who repudiated the power of the Old School Democrats led by Philadelphia's William Duane and Dr. Michael Leib. In the 1809 Gideon Olmstead Case, Snyder at first resisted the power of a federal marshal to serve a writ that contradicted a Pennsylvania court decision. The governor ordered the state militia to uphold Pennsylvania's sovereignty against a federal force, but Snyder backed down at the last moment and decided to pay the federal government the money that was the subject of the dispute.

Snyder directed the state's full mobilization for the War of 1812, despite criticism from the Federalists who temporarily regained strength. The victorious conclusion of the War of 1812 dissolved criticism of President Madison's leadership and also vindicated Snyder. The nominating caucus in the Congress, however, squelched Binns' proposal of Snyder as a vice-presidential candidate on James Monroe's ticket. His nomination for a third term in 1814 came from a caucus within the General Assembly, but at the same time the legislature overrode his veto of an act chartering forty-one new banks. These wildcat banks pushed Pennsylvania into an unstable financial era.

During his final term the Federalist opposition disappeared, but Snyder's alliance with John Binns dissolved because the editor wanted too many patronage favors. Snyder's New School Democratic wing was tied to aggressive federal activities—the Tariff of 1816, the Second Bank of the United States, and spending for many internal improvements.

In 1812 the legislature approved Snyder's proposal to move the state capital from Lancaster to Harrisburg, which was effective with the administration of Snyder's preferred successor, William Findlay. Elected to the Pennsylvania Senate in 1818, Snyder died of typhoid fever in Selinsgrove on November 9, 1819, and is buried there in Old Lutheran Cemetery.