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John Norvell
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John Norvell

John Norvell (December 21, 1789April 24 (sometimes given as April 11), 1850) was a newspaper editor and one of the first U.S. Senators from Michigan.

He was born in Danville, Kentucky, though it was then still a part of Virginia. He was the son of Lipsocomb Norvell, an officer in the American Revolutionary War. He attended the common schools.

In 1807, Norvell received a reply to a letter he had written to U.S. President Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson first recommended authors to read on government and history, then issued a scathing critique of newspapers:

''To your request of my opinion of the manner in which a newspaper should be conducted, so as to be most useful, I should answer, `by restraining it to true facts & sound principles only.' Yet I fear such a paper would find few subscribers. It is a melancholy truth, that a suppression of the press could not more compleatly deprive the nation of it's benefits, than is done by it's abandoned prostitution to falsehood. Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle. . . . I will add, that the man who never looks into a newspaper is better informed than he who reads them; inasmuch as he who knows nothing is nearer to truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods & errors. He who reads nothing will still learn the great facts, and the details are all false.

Despite Jefferson's highly skeptical appraisal, Norvell apparently took his words as a challenge to reform newspapers and decided to learn the printing trade.

Norvell edited the Baltimore Whig 1813-14. He also studied law, was admitted to the bar in 1814, and began a private practice in Baltimore, Maryland. He enlisted as a private in the War of 1812, serving in the Battle of Bladensburg.

After the war, he worked at various newpapers in several cities, including: the Baltimore Patriot 1815-17, the Lexington Kentucky Gazette 1817-19, and the Philadelphia Franklin Gazette 1819-28. In June 1829, Norvell and John R. Walker co-founded the Pennsylvania Inquirer, which was to become the Philadelphia Inquirer, although they had to sell the paper in November to Jesper Harding. Norvell continued to work in newspapers until 1831, when he moved to Michigan Territory after being appointed postmaster of Detroit by U.S. President Andrew Jackson. He served as postmaster until 1836. The people in the Michigan Territory had approved a constitution and elected state officials in 1835, although it was not admitted as a state until 1837 because of a conflict known as the Toledo War with neighboring Ohio. Norvell was selected to be Senator in 1835. However, because the state of Michigan had not been recognized, he was only granted "spectator" status.

He was an influential and active participant in the first constitutional convention in 1835 also in the convention at Detroit in 1837 that accepted the compromise offered by Congress in which Michigan could become a state if it dropped its claims over the Toledo Strip in exchange for the western portion of the upper peninsula. He was a member of the Board of Reagents of the university of Michigan from 1837 to 1839.

Upon the admission of Michigan as a State into the Union, Norvell entered the U.S. Senate with the Jacksonian wing of the Democratic-Republican Party. He served one term in the 24th, 25th, and 26th Congresses from January 26, 1837, to March 3, 1841. He did not seek reelection and resumed the practice of law in Detroit.

He was a member of the State senate in 1841 and of the State house of representatives in 1842. He served as United States district attorney in Michigan from 1846-1849. Norvell married Sarah Dewees and had at least one daughter and five sons, three of whom fought in the Mexican-American War. One, Colonel Freeman Norvell, fought at the Battle of Gettysburg and his younger brother Lt. Dallas Norvell served on the staff of General George Custer.

Norvell died in Detroit and is interred in Elmwood Cemetery.

Norvell Township in Jackson County, Michigan is named for him.

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