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Martin Russell Thayer was born in Dinwiddie County, Virginia, near the city limits of Petersburg, Virginia. He attended the Mount Pleasant Classical Institute in Amherst, Massachusetts, and Amherst College. He moved with his father to Philadelphia in 1837. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1840. He studied law, was admitted to the bar in 1842 and commenced practice in Philadelphia.
Thayer was a commissioner to revise the revenue laws of Pennsylvania in 1862. He was elected as a Republican to the Thirty-eighth and Thirty-ninth Congresses, during which he served on the committee on the bankrupt law and was the chairman of the United States House Committee on Private Land Claims. He declined to be a candidate for re-election in 1866, and resumed the practice of law.
While in Congress, Thayer criticized the use of portraits of living persons on US currency, suggesting that the Treasury's privilege of portrait selection for currency was being abused.[nb 1] Spearheaded by Thayer, on April 7, 1866 Congress enacted legislation specifically stating "that no portrait or likeness of any living person hereafter engraved, shall be placed upon any of the bonds, securities, notes, fractional or postal currency of the United States."
Thayer was judge of the district court of Philadelphia from 1867 to 1874, and served as president judge of the court of common pleas of Philadelphia from 1874 until his resignation in 1896. In 1873 he was appointed on the board of visitors to West Point, and wrote the report. (Some 40 years earlier, his cousin Sylvanus Thayer had been superintendent of West Point.) He was elected by the judges of the common pleas court prothonotary of Philadelphia in 1896. He also engaged in literary pursuits. He died in Philadelphia in 1906 and is buried in the churchyard of Church of St. James the Less in Philadelphia.
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Martin Russell Thayer
|U.S. House of Representatives|
William M. Davis
|Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
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