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Born in Louisville, Kentucky, to a family long important in Virginia and Kentucky politics. His parents were Lieutenant Colonel William Pope (1745 in Westmoreland County, Virginia - 1826 in Louisville), Virginia colonel in the Revolutionary War and later a founder of Louisville, and Penelope Edwards (1740–1825), granddaughter of Sir Humphrey and Rebecca Walker Sanford.
Pope graduated from Transylvania University in Lexington in 1804, then read law under his brother John Pope before being admitted to the bar. Pope soon moved to Ste. Genevieve, near the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, and started practicing law in the Louisiana Territory, which had recently become part of the United States as part of the Louisiana Purchase.
However, Pope soon realized economic opportunities were greater in Kaskaskia on the eastern bank of the Mississippi River, and planned to move there. Furthermore, Kaskaskia became the seat of government when Congress organized the Illinois Territory in 1809, splitting off what became Ohio and the Indiana Territory. Pope's Democratic-Republican  leanings and family connections, especially his brother John who became U.S. Senator from Kentucky in 1807, mattered. President James Madison on 23 February 1809 appointed Pope as Secretary of the Illinois Territory. When Kentucky Judge John Boyle declined appointment as the new territory's governor, Pope's cousin, Ninian Edwards, accepted. Pope, Edwards and Illinois' new judges resolved that laws previously in effect in Indiana would remain in force in Illinois unless repealed.
During the War of 1812, Pope served on Governor Edwards' staff during an expedition to fight hostile native tribes near Peoria Lake. Reappointed as Territorial Secretary in 1813, Pope also published a volume of legal cases decided in the territorial courts, and with his nephew and clerk Daniel Pope Cook published a volume of the new territory's laws. After being elected on September 5, 1816 as Territorial Delegate to the United States Congress, Pope resigned as territorial Secretary. Meanwhile, Pope moved to Vandalia and then to Springfield to follow transfers of the territorial capital.
Pope returned East in 1817 to serve as the Territory's Delegate in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth United States Congress. As such, Pope was instrumental both in securing the new territory's admission as the 21st State on December 3, 1818 (the statehood resolution passed regardless of the creative counting to achieve the former minimum of 60,000 persons) as well as in adjusting the new state's northern boundary from the southern extremity of Lake Michigan to 42° 30'. Adding the land now included in the thirteen northern counties became very important for Illinois' development, because it included what was to become its largest city (Chicago), although it also retarded Wisconsin's qualification for admission to the Union.  Furthermore, Pope drafted the statehood resolution to ensure that 2% of land sales would be used to fund roads and 3% to fund schools, unlike the previous statehood resolutions which required 5% to be used to fund roads.
Upon leaving Congress, Pope was appointed register of the land office at Edwardsville, Illinois, on November 30, 1818, and served until March 3, 1819. On that date, he was nominated by President James Monroe to a new seat on the United States District Court for the District of Illinois, and was immediately confirmed by the United States Senate. When Ninian Edwards resigned as Illinois' Senator in 1824, Pope was an unsuccessful candidate for that seat, perhaps tainted by his association with the anti-slavery views of Governor Edward Coles as well as his nephew Daniel Pope Cook. Pope later was an unsuccessful candidate for a seat on the United State Supreme Court ( John McLean received that appointment). Pope continued to serve as a federal judge until his death in 1850.
Pope died at his daughter's home in St. Louis, Missouri, and was interred at Colonel O'Fallon Burying Ground, and reburied at Bellefontaine Cemetery.  His son became a Union General, John Pope. His nephew, Daniel Pope Cook, was also prominent in Illinois politics.
- Lusk, David W. (1887). Politics and Politicians of Illinois. Springfield, IL: H. W. Rokker. p. 377.
- Nathaniel Pope at Find a Grave.
- "Nathaniel Pope:From Connections and Factional Politics to Champion of Statehood" from Illinois History, December 1993
- "Nathaniel Pope". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.
- Nathaniel Pope at the Biographical Directory of Federal Judges, a public domain publication of the Federal Judicial Center.
- Angle, Paul M. McClelland. Nathaniel Pope from 1784 to 1850, A Memoir. [Springfield, Ill.]: Privately printed, 1937. OCLC 5844104
- Bloom, Jo Tice. "Peaceful Politics: The Delegates from Illinois Territory from 1809 to 1818." The Old Northwest 6 (Fall 1980): 203-15.
- Illinois (Ter.) Laws, Statutes, etc. Laws of the Territory of Illinois, revised and digested, under the authority of the legislature. By Nathaniel Pope. Kaskaskia: Printed by Matthew Duncan Printer to the Territory, 1815.
|U.S. House of Representatives|
| Delegate to the
U.S. House of Representatives
from Illinois Territory
March 4, 1817 – November 30, 1818
Judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Illinois
March 3, 1819 – January 22, 1850