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John Nelson was a prominent U.S. lawyer, congressman, and diplomat who served as attorney general of the United States under President John Tyler.
Nelson was born on June 1, 1791 (some sources say 1794), in Frederick County, Maryland. As a young boy, he was educated by private tutors; subsequently, he entered the College of William and Mary at Williamsburg, Virginia. He graduated in 1811 and went on to study law with attorneys in both Virginia and Maryland. He was admitted to the bar in 1813 and established a practice in his hometown.
In 1820 Nelson was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives as a Democrat. He took the oath of office on March 4, 1821, and served until March 3, 1823. He did not run for reelection but did support Andrew Jackson's presidential bid in 1828.
Over the next two decades, Nelson served the U.S. government in a number of unofficial capacities. He received the first of his official appointments from President Jackson in 1831, when he was named to a diplomatic post in Naples. He served as U.S. charge d'affaires (charge d'affaires is a title accorded lower-level diplomats) to Two Sicilies from October 24, 1831, to October 15, 1832. (The Two Sicilies was an independent Bourbon/Spanish-ruled kingdom located in southern Italy prior to that country's unification in the mid-1860s. The kingdom's capital was Naples.)
When Tyler assumed the presidency following the death of President william h. harrison, he named Nelson attorney general of the United States. Nelson held a cabinet post as Secretary of State ad interim at the same time. (The position of attorney general was not a cabinet-level post at the time.) Nelson served in both capacities from 1843 to 1845.
In his later years, Nelson resumed the Practice of Law in Baltimore, Maryland. He died there on January 8, 1860 and is buried at Baltimore's Greenmount Cemetery.
Monroe, Dan. 2002. The Republican Vision of John Tyler. San Antonio: Texas A&M Univ. Press.
Peterson, Normal. 1989. The Presidencies of William Henry Harrison and John Tyler. Lawrence: Univ. Press of Kansas.