George Logan

George Logan (1753-1821) was one of the renais sance men who governed the republic in the early days of the United States. Though little known past his lifetime, he ably combined the professions of doctor, farmer, politician, and diplomat in a career that lasted more than 40 years.

Logan was born September 9, 1753, in "Stenton," the home his grandfather had built in 1728 and to which his parents, William and Hannah Logan, and older siblings had moved from Philadelphia only four months earlier. At the time the house was located in a rural area in Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, but it later became incorporated into the city itself. The Logans were a Quaker family; George Logan's grandfather, James, had been William Penn's secretary, who had made his fortune in fur trading. James's son, William, was a farmer who commanded the respect of the colonists and Native Americans.

Logan spent his first seven years entirely at Stenton. At age eight he attended the Friends School in Philadelphia, and in 1768 he began attending the Friends School in Worcester, England. Logan remained in Worcester for three years before returning to Stenton. This was to be the pattern for the rest of his life: no matter where his political and diplomatic careers took him, Logan always returned to his beloved Stenton.

Medical Education in Edinburgh

At this time Logan had his sights set on being a physician, but his older brother, William, had already graduated from medical school and his father thought it better that George apprentice as a merchant. Logan was temperamentally unfit for the life of business and never gave up hope of studying medicine. In 1772, William Logan, Jr., died suddenly and this, along with the coming war (Quakers being pacifists), cleared the way for Logan to study medicine at the University of Edinburgh. Ironically, Logan left for Great Britain in May 1775, a month after the Battle of Lexington and Concord; he spent the first year of the American Revolution in England, studying in preparation for entering the University of Edinburgh.

After his London stay and a tour of western England, Logan finally arrived in Edinburgh in November 1776. The following month he was selected to join the Medical Society, the prestigious student organization founded in 1734. Toward the end of his first spring term at the University of Edinburgh Logan received news that both his parents had died the previous winter. As the oldest surviving sibling he inherited Stenton but remained an absentee landlord the next three years while he pursued his medical studies. On January 27, 1779, when he was in his third and final year at the university, Logan was elected president of the Medical Society, which had only recently been granted a royal charter. He was the first American to hold the post. On June 24, 1779, having passed the rigorous oral and written examinations and published his thesis on poisons (titled Tentamen medicum inaugurale de venenis ), Logan was awarded an M.D. from the University of Edinburgh.

By the end of June Logan had abandoned Edinburgh and gone to Paris where he visited Benjamin Franklin, then an envoy to the court of Louis XVI. Though a freshly minted doctor, Logan's political education and career were about to begin. Over the next year Logan served as courier for Franklin and John Adams delivering letters from the two Americans to their contacts in England. He returned to Stenton late in 1780.

The mansion had fallen to ruin during the war (though it had been briefly used as headquarters by both generals Washington and Howe), yet Logan still used it as a hostel for war refugees. He also practiced philanthropy in other forms, as well as the usual avocations of an eighteenth-century gentleman. He set up his medical practice in Philadelphia and began a courtship with Deborah Norris. The courtship had a touch of Romeo and Juliet; the Logan and the Norris families had been estranged for 30 years, but that ended when Logan married Norris on September 6, 1781. Not too many months later Logan decided to quit his medical practice and take up farming at Stenton as a way of reviving the ancestral home. Over the next few years, and intermittently for the rest of his life, Logan devoted himself to scientific farming. He began employing, and later improving upon, the agrarian reforms first used in England. Logan was also a charter member of the Philadelphia Society for Promoting Agriculture.

Election to the Pennsylvania Legislature

On October 11, 1785, Logan entered the political arena when he was elected to the Pennsylvania state assembly as a member of the Republican party. (Though conservative, this was not the present-day Republican party as within two years most of its members would be known as Federalists.) At that time elections were annual, and Logan served in the state assembly from 1785 to 1789; again from 1795 to 1796; and finally in 1799.

The first political crisis in which Logan became involved was over the Bank of North America, located in Philadelphia. The bank's charter had been annulled by the previous session, which was controlled by the radical Constitutionalist party (referring to the Pennsylvania state constitution). Though a Republican, Logan maintained an open mind regarding the bank's recharter, and when he finally rose to speak exerted a moderating influence over the increasingly rancorous debate. He came out in favor of re-chartering the bank, but the motion was defeated when a vote was taken. Logan, though, had staked out the political middle in the state assembly. The bank was rechartered when the Republicans gained power.

In 1787 Logan, who was very much a political protégé of Benjamin Franklin, spoke out if favor of ratifying the new federal constitution that would replace the Articles of Confederation. Partly for his efforts, Pennsylvania became the second state to ratify the Constitution by a vote of 43 to 23.

The assembly's, and Logan's, next political conflict was over the reforming of the state penal code. In this Logan took a more conservative stance than most of his Quaker class by opposing the idea of incarceration as a means of reforming criminals—though Logan meant people whom, centuries later, would be classified as "career criminals." In 1788 Logan began publishing essays in the Pennsylvania Mercury and Universal Advertiser under the pen name Cato, in which he argued that justice was interwoven throughout the fabric of society, specifically in the relationship of rights and duties. The penal code debates marked the beginning of Logan's independent political streak. Thereafter less and less would he align himself along party and class affiliations. In the late 1780s he opposed Republican measures of protectionism in the state assembly and in his writings spoke of the dangers of the new American aristocracy. The Pennsylvania state constitution of that time forbade any member of the assembly from serving more than four consecutive terms, so with the close of the 1789 session Logan returned to Stenton to resume scientific farming full time.

Logan had been working his fields even while a legislator, but he now spent the next six years farming and working out methods to improve agriculture. These methods included crop rotation. Since 1783 he had been making notes on the best rotation for the fields, and he wrote a report for the Philadelphia Society for Promoting Agriculture. Unfortunately for Logan, the Society and the committee it set up to review his report after it had received a less than hearty welcome when he read it, were dominated by conservatives, many of whom came from the mercantile rather than the agricultural class. Though it was recommended the report be published, it was not fully supported by the Society. This led to Logan's rupture with the Society. After publishing his report and agricultural experiments in the Independent Gazetteer he resigned from the Society.

Logan's wariness toward the newly minted aristocracy of the mercantile class did not end there. He saw the new United States Constitution as an extension of their power in the nation. More than most, Logan keenly felt the threat to the country's agrarian lifestyle. In the early 1790s Logan's radical opposition to the new federal government—which he was able to observe firsthand since the capital had moved from New York to Philadelphia at the end of 1790— ostracized him from the Quaker community, which felt compelled to take action by issuing a "testimony" against him. Not dissuaded by this, Logan continued publishing anti-Federalist essays in the Independent Gazetteer (under the collective title Letters to the Yeomanry ; they were also later published by the National Gazette, edited by Philip Freneau) as well as pamphlets, written under the simple byline "a farmer." These essays and letters argued against the new economic system being set in place by Secretary of State Alexander Hamilton. In this Logan had a powerful ally—Thomas Jefferson. His activity made Logan one of the leading anti-Federalists in Philadelphia and Stenton the seat of discontent in the area.

By 1793 Logan had become so anti-Federalist in outlook that no Federal policy could appease him, including the plan to build a turnpike linking the western Pennsylvania farmlands with the eastern part of the state. That same year Logan joined the Philadelphia-based Société française des amis de la liberté et de l'égalité, which supported the new French Republic. Following a summer which he spent in the company of none other than Citizen Genêt, Logan's political fires were temporarily tamped in the fall of 1793 by an outbreak of yellow fever in Philadelphia. He returned to his medical practice to treat the sick and also published his ideas on treatment, which entailed a brief controversy of its own.

In January 1794 Logan joined the Democratic Society of Philadelphia, hoping it and the other Democratic societies throughout the nation would serve as a rudimentary national opposition to the Federalists. He was soon one of the firebrands of the organization—the societies were even attacked by Washington. Having thrown his lot in with the Jacobin French, Logan opposed the 1794 treaty with Britain which John Jay, minister to London and one of the authors of the Federalist Papers, had negotiated. In 1795 Logan again won a seat in the state assembly, but this time he was a changed man politically. He was no longer content to be seen as a moderate. He was reelected in 1796 and proved locally influential in the presidential election that year: Jefferson, around whom the national opposition had coalesced, received 13 of Pennsylvania's 15 electoral votes. However he lost the election to John Adams.

Secret Trip to France

Logan was mistrustful of Federalist policy toward France, but not even he could sway public opinion when the XYZ Affair (in which three French agents attempted to solicit a bribe and an extortionary loan from three American ministers who were sent to negotiate a commercial treaty) became common knowledge in April 1798. In the United States, as calls for war against the former ally began coming from different quarters and preparations made (these resulted in minor naval skirmishes), Logan chose a different tack. Bearing a letter from Vice President Jefferson as his credentials, Logan traveled to France in a roundabout way with the assistance of the Marquis de Lafayette.

By the time Logan reached Paris on August 7, 1798, the American ministers had all left their posts for the United States. France, they had been assured would negotiate. However France had also placed an embargo on American shipping and imprisoned a number of United States sailors. Logan met with French Foreign Minister Talleyrand and others and the result was a lifting of the embargo and the release of the imprisoned seamen. While Logan appeared to have single-handedly staved off war, the fact was the French Directory (which governed France at the time) was considering those very steps. Logan's secret diplomacy was the final and convenient evidence they considered. Logan was at once a hero and the source of embarrassment to the Federalist administration.

As a result Federalists in both houses of Congress sought revenge and they managed to exact it in a bill, since known as the Logan Act, which was passed in January 1799 and quickly signed by President Adams. The new law made it a crime for a private citizen to begin or hold "verbal or written correspondence with a foreign government … in relation to any disputes or controversies of the United States."

In July 1801 Logan was appointed by Governor McKean of Pennsylvania to replace Senator J.P.G. Muhlenberg, who had resigned. In December 1801 he was elected by the Pennsylvania legislature by a large majority. (Until 1913 United States senators were elected by state legislatures rather than popular vote.) By then Jefferson was president and the Republicans had gained power. Logan served as Senator until 1807, thus his term coincided with Jefferson's administration. By the end of his term Logan's early support of party policy—he had voted in favor of the Louisiana Purchase—gave way to misgivings about the path, especially the foreign policy of Jefferson and Secretary of State James Madison. Furthermore, Logan had grown weary of politics and declined to stand for reelection. When his term was up he retired to Stenton.

By 1810 Logan was again on a private diplomatic mission, in violation of the law that bore his name. He went to London to avert the ongoing crisis between the United States and Great Britain. As the War of 1812 attests, Logan was unsuccessful. However, throughout the war Logan sought out others who might play the peacemaker, including Tsar Alexander I; he wrote President Madison and Jefferson, and was politely rebuffed. His influence was nil.

Logan spent the remainder of his years at Stenton where he continued farming and writing. He died there on April 9, 1821.


Logan, Deborah Norris, Memoir of Dr. George Logan of Stenton, The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 1899.

Tolles, Frederick B. George Logan of Philadelphia, Oxford University Press, 1953.


"Logan, George, 1753-1821," (February 25, 2003).