CORNELIUS P. VAN NESS was born in Kinderhook, New York, where he studied law. He settled in St. Albans, Vermont and in 1813 became a U.S. Collector of Customs in Burlington, a position that he held until the end of the War of 1812. He was named a commissioner under the Treaty of Ghent to settle boundary disputes between the United States and British possessions. He went on to represent Burlington in the Vermont General Assembly and was Chief Justice of the Vermont Supreme Court from 1821 to 1823. A Democratic-Republican, he became a follower of Andrew Jackson when his party split. As governor, he favored-though unsuccessfully-the abolition of imprisonment for debt and urged education for the poor as a means of fighting crime. He is also credited with establishing the state’s system for choosing presidential electors. After leaving office, he was appointed Minister to Spain by President Jackson, a position that he held for about ten years, after which he returned to Vermont to campaign unsuccessfully for Martin Van Buren, with whom he had studied law. He was then appointed Collector of the Port of New York by President John Tyler. Van Ness was interred in Philadelphia.
Sobel, Robert, and John Raimo, eds. Biographical Directory of the Governors of the United States, 1789-1978, Vol. 4. Westport, CT: Meckler Books, 1978. 4 vols.
The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Vol. 8. New York: James T. White & Company.