William Few, Jr. – Signer of the Constitution – Georgia

william_fewWilliam Few, Jr., (William) who represented Georgia at the Constitutional Convention, was a self-made man. Born 8 June 1748, he was the third son of William, Sr., and Mary Wheeler Few. Other children born to that union were: Col. Benjamin Few (1744-1805), James Few (1746-1771), Capt. Ignatius Few (1750-1810), Hannah Few [Howard] (1753), and Elizabeth Few [Lee, Andrew, Bush] (1755-1829). The family struggled against the poverty and hardships that were the common lot of the small yeoman farmer. Few achieved both social prominence and political power. Exhibiting those characteristics of self-reliance vital for survival on the American frontier, he became an intimate of the nation’s political and military elite. The idea of a rude frontiersman providing the democratic leaven within an association of the rich and powerful has always excited the American imagination, nurtured on stories of Davy Crockett and Abe Lincoln. In the case of the self-educated Few, that image was largely accurate.

William’s inherent gifts for leadership and organization, as well as his sense of public service, were brought out by his experience in the Revolutionary War. Important in any theater of military operations, leadership and organizational ability were particularly needed in the campaigns in the south where a dangerous and protracted struggle against a determined British invader intimately touched the lives of many settlers. William’s dedication to the common good and his natural military acumen quickly brought him to the attention of the leaders of the Patriot cause, who eventually invested him with important political responsibilities as well.

The war also profoundly affected William’s attitude toward the political future of the new nation, transforming the rugged frontier individualist into a forceful exponent of a permanent union of the states. Men of his stripe came to realize during the years of military conflict that the rights of the individual, so jealously prized on the frontier, could be nurtured and protected only by a strong central government accountable to the people. This belief became the hallmark of his long public service.

The Few family might well serve as the prototype of those mobile Americans forever seeking better times down the road. Descendants of Quaker farmers who emigrated to Pennsylvania in the 1680s, the Fews lived in northern Maryland, where they eked out a modest living raising tobacco on small holdings. When a series of droughts struck the region in the 1750s, the Fews and their neighbors, actually a sort of extended family consisting of cousins and distant relations found themselves on the brink of ruin. The whole community decided to abandon its farms and try its luck among the more fertile lands on the southern frontier.

The group ultimately selected new home sites along the banks of the Eno River in Orange County, North Carolina. Here young William developed the skills expected of the eighteenth-century farmer. Such a life left little time for formal schooling, although the community hired an itinerant teacher for a brief time in the 1760s. From this experience Few obtained a rudimentary education that led to a lifelong love of reading. Essentially a self-educated man, William also found time to read law and qualify as an attorney despite a full-time commitment to the unrelenting demands of agricultural toil.

In time the Few family achieved a measure of prosperity, emerging as political leaders in rural Orange County. Like many other western settlers, however, the family became involved with the Regulators, a populist movement that grew up in reaction to the political and economic restrictions imposed on the frontier farmers by the merchants and planters of the tidewater area. By 1771 protest had become confrontation, and a large group of mostly unarmed westerners gathered to clash with North Carolina militia units at the “battle” of the Alamance. The uneven fight ended in total victory for the militia, although most of the frontiersmen’s demands for political representation and economic relief eventually would be met by the state legislature. More immediately, one of William’s brothers was hanged for his part in the uprising. The rest of the family fled to western Georgia, leaving William behind to settle their affairs and sell their property.

These antagonisms within North Carolina began to evaporate as American opinion turned against the imperial measures instituted by Great Britain in the 1770s. Both the eastern planters and the new settlers found repressive new taxes and restrictions on western expansion at odds with their idea of self-government, and Patriot leaders were able to unite the state against what they could portray as a threat to the liberties of all parties. By the time open warfare erupted in Massachusetts in 1775, North Carolina had begun to revitalize its militia formations, hastily training them in the linear tactics used by British regulars as well as in the techniques of frontier warfare employed by their traditional Indian foes.

William participated in this training as one of the first men to enlist in the volunteer militia company formed by Patriot leaders in Hillsborough. Typically, his unit received its tactical instruction from a veteran of the colonial wars, in this case a former corporal in the British Army who was Wed by the company as its drill sergeant. Citing the press of family business, William rejected the offer of a captaincy in one of the first units North Carolina raised for the Continental Army in the summer of 1775. But when he finally settled the family’s accounts the next year and joined his relatives in Augusta, Georgia, where he opened a law office, he quickly placed his newly acquired military knowledge at the service of the Patriot cause in his new state.

Georgia organized its citizen-soldiers on a geographical basis, forming local companies into a regiment in each county. William joined the Richmond County Regiment, which his older brother commanded. For the next two years William’s military duties consisted of attending military assemblies where he instructed his friends and neighbors in the skills he had acquired in the North Carolina militia. Only in 1778, when Georgia faced the threat of invasion by a force of Loyalist militia and British regulars based in Florida, was William finally called to active duty.

The Georgians’ first military campaign ended in disaster. A force of state and Continental units successfully combined to repulse an enemy raid on Sunbury near the states southeastern border, but a counterattack orchestrated by Major General Robert Howe of the Continental Army and Governor John Houston bogged down before the Patriots could reach St. Augustine. Few, now in command of a company of Georgia militia, watched the collapse of the campaign’s logistical support and then the disintegration of the force itself, as senior officers bickered among themselves and as disease began to decimate the units. Only half of the American soldiers survived to return home. At the end of the year a sudden amphibious invasion by British forces resulted in the capture of Savannah and the destruction of the rest of the Continental units under Howe and most of the eastern militia formations. Armed resistance to the British continued in the western part of the state, led by the Richmond County Regiment. Throughout 1779 the regiment, with Few now second in command, frequently turned out to skirmish with probing British units, eventually forcing the enemy to abandon Augusta, which the British had captured soon after the fall of Savannah.

The success of the citizen-soldiers in defending their own homes began to reverse the fortunes of war in Georgia, prompting the new Continental commander in the region, Major General Benjamin Lincoln, to take the offensive. Lincoln combined his continentals and militia units from Georgia and South Carolina with a French force newly arrived from the Caribbean to lay siege to Savannah. He immediately encountered difficulty, however, in coordinating the efforts of his diverse forces. The French, under pressure to terminate operations quickly in order to move on to other assignments, persuaded Lincoln to launch a full frontal attack. The result was a bloody defeat, but Few’s militiamen participated in a successful rear-guard action that shielded the retreat of the American units. In the aftermath of the battle his regiment was posted to the frontier where the Creek Indians, interpreting the defeat before Savannah as proof of the Georgians’ weakness, had taken to the field in support of British forces.

Enemy operations in Georgia in 1779 were part of a new “southern strategy” by which the British planned to use the state as a base for conquering the rebellious colonies in a sweep up from the south. Few’s military service in the later years of the war proved critical both in frustrating this strategy and in enhancing his credentials as a state leader. The western forces, in which Few’s regiment played a prominent role, kept the British from consolidating their position. The area never developed into a secure Loyalist base, and British troops needed for subsequent operations against the Carolinas and Virginia had to be diverted to counter the threat posed by the frontier militia units. Few emerged as a gifted administrator and logistician in this demanding and difficult effort to maintain a viable military force in Georgia. He also turned into a bold, innovative partisan commander. Experience and innate common sense enabled him to develop patience, preserve his forces for key attacks, and then pick his time and place to defeat small enemy parties without unduly risking the safety of his men. Most important, he displayed the raw physical stamina required to survive the serious hardships of guerrilla warfare.

Military success went hand in hand with political service. During the late 1770s Few also won election to the Georgia Assembly, sat on the states Executive Council, acted as state surveyor-general, represented Georgia in negotiations with the Indians that succeeded in minimizing the danger of frontier attacks, and served as Richmond County’s senior magistrate. William’s growing political prominence and undisputed talent for leadership prompted the state legislature in 1780 to appoint him to represent Georgia in the Continental Congress.

Few served in Congress less than a year when, in the wake of General Nathanael Greene’s successful effort to drive the British out of most of Georgia, Congress sent him home to help reassemble Georgia’s scattered government. This task accomplished, Few returned to Congress in 1782, where he remained to serve throughout most of the decade. While a member of that body, William was asked by his state to serve concurrently in the Constitutional Convention that met in Philadelphia in 1787. This dual responsibility caused him to split his time between the two bodies and therefore to miss portions of the constitutional proceedings. Nevertheless, he firmly supported the effort to create a strong national union and worked hard to secure the Continental Congress’ approval of the new instrument of government. He also participated in the Georgia convention in 1788 that ratified the document.

Georgia promptly selected Few to serve as one of its original United States senators. Planning to retire from politics at the expiration of his term in 1793, he bowed instead to the wishes of his neighbors and served yet another term in the state legislature. In 1796 the Georgia Assembly appointed him as a circuit court judge. During this three-year appointment he not only consolidated his reputation as a practical, fair jurist but became a prominent supporter of public education. His efforts to establish a state university indicated the importance this self-educated man gave to formal instruction.

At the urging of his wife, a native New Yorker, Few left Georgia in 1799 and moved to Manhattan. There, he embarked on yet another career of public service, while supporting his family through banking and the occasional practice of law. His new neighbors promptly elected him to represent them in the state legislature and later as a city alderman. He also served for nine years as New York’s inspector of prisons and one year as a federal commissioner of loans before finally retiring to his country home in Dutchess County, New York.

William’s career clearly demonstrates the potential for economic and social advancement that existed for men of ability in colonial society. More importantly, it revealed the willingness, common among many of these self-made men, to place their talents at the service of the nation in war and in peace.

When Few died on 16 July 1828, at the age of 80 in Fishkill-on-the-Hudson (present Beacon), he was survived by his wife (born Catherine Nicholson) and three daughters. Originally buried in the yard of the local Reformed Dutch Church, his body was later reinterred at St. Paul’s Church, Augusta, GA.

Charles Pinckney – Signer of the Constitution – South Carolina

cpinckneyCharles Pinckney, born 26 October 1757 at Charles Town (now Charleston) South Carolina, was the oldest son of Colonel Charles and Frances Brewton Pinckney. He represented South Carolina at the Constitutional Convention, was an ardent apostle of the rights of man. He dedicated his considerable political and legal talents to the establishment of a strong national government so that, as he put it to his fellow South Carolinians, “the effects of the Revolution may never cease to operate,” but continue to serve as an example to others “until they have unshackled all the nations that have firmness to resist the fetters of despotism.”

These ringing sentiments, perhaps easily explained as the idealism of a youthful veteran of the Revolution, nonetheless represented a very serious concern on Pinckney’s part that his fellow citizens were growing complacent since their victory over Britain. While many politicians, enjoying the fruits of independence, celebrated the sovereignty of the individual states, Pinckney was among those who perceived a clear and present danger in allowing a weak confederation of the states to lead the new nation that had emerged from the Revolutionary War. He worked unceasingly for an effective and permanent union of the states because his own experiences in the Revolution and as a member of the Continental Congress had reinforced his conviction that only a strong central government could provide the economic and military strength essential to prosperity and security. Unlike some of his prominent colleagues, Pinckney saw little to fear in a powerful government. He agreed with the Federalists that the rights of the citizen would be protected under the Constitution since it recognized that the government’s power came from the people and that the government remained in all things accountable to the people.

The Pinckneys were one of South Carolina’s oldest and most distinguished families, and successive generations made a significant contribution to the development of the new nation. The family had arrived in America in 1692, and Pinckney’s great-grandfather, a wealthy English gentleman, quickly established an enduring base of political and economic power. Pinckney’s father, a rich planter and lawyer with an extensive practice in Charleston, rose to the rank of colonel in the state militia and was a prominent leader within the colonial assembly.

Unlike his famous cousins and fellow Patriots Charles Cotesworth and Thomas Pinckney, Charles Pinckney was not educated abroad. Instead, his parents arranged for his private tutoring under the direction of a noted South Carolina scholar and author, Dr. David Oliphant. Through Oliphant’s instruction, the new political currents circulating around Pinckney’s cousins at Oxford and at the Inns of Court also touched the young man in Charleston. Oliphant was among those Enlightenment scholars who were successfully and eloquently instilling in their students a political philosophy that viewed government as a solemn social contract between the people and their sovereign, with each possessing certain inalienable rights that government was obliged to protect. If government failed to fulfill the contract, the people had a right to form a new government.

Oliphant also imparted to Pinckney a love of scholarship that led over the years to a mastery of five languages, the accumulation of a personal library of over two thousand volumes, and, at the age of thirty, to an honorary degree from the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University). When Pinckney left Oliphant’s care, he concluded his formal education by studying law under his father’s personal direction. He was admitted to the South Carolina bar in 1779 while still in his twenty-first year.

Pinckney, however, never saw a career in the law as his major vocation. Coming of age in the midst of the Revolution, the gifted young scholar turned naturally to politics. His neighbors obliged by electing him to a seat in the South Carolina legislature. But where the elder Pinckney had been a cautious and somewhat hesitant member of various legislative and administrative bodies that led South Carolina into the Revolution, the son was a wholehearted Patriot. Again unlike his father, who would later repudiate the Revolution and seek a Royal pardon, Pinckney never wavered in his dedication to the cause.

By late 1778 the King’s ministers found themselves facing new difficulties in North America. George Washington’s main force of increasingly well trained and well supplied continentals had frustrated a series of British generals to produce a virtual military stalemate. Frances entry into the war on the colonial side had also forced the Royal Army to stretch resources to meet contingencies in other areas, not just in North America.

British leaders were forced to adopt a new plan of action, their “southern strategy.” They proposed to attack northward from a base of operations in Florida, while continuing to tie down Washington’s main force around Philadelphia. They would conquer the southern states one at a time, using local Loyalists to garrison newly captured areas as the Royal forces pushed ever further north. The first phase in this new plan began with a lightning attack on Savannah, which British forces captured in December 1778.

With the enemy approaching, Pinckney lost no time in taking up arms. In 1779 he accepted election as a lieutenant in the Charleston Regiment of South Carolina’s militia and quickly learned the responsibilities that went with serving as a citizen-soldier. His regiment turned out with other state units to meet and repulse the first tentative British move up from Georgia that summer, and then joined in a counterattack. It was an international campaign. French warships and troops under the command of the Comte d’Estaing sailed north from operations in the Caribbean in the early fall of 1779 to link up with a combined force of Continental regulars and mobilized militiamen under the command of Major General Benjamin Lincoln. These forces met outside Savannah and began a formal siege of the surrounded British garrison. Unlike the later victory at Yorktown, time ran out on the allies at Savannah. Under pressure to return to France, d’Estaing persuaded Lincoln to launch a direct assault on the enemy’s earthworks. Pinckney was in the heart of the doomed attack and witnessed the heavy casualties that resulted.

The British soon reinforced the garrison, and by early 1780 Lincoln’s men had been pushed back to Charleston. Redcoats, Hessians, and Loyalists then began a siege of their own, pounding the city with heavy artillery and choking off its food supply. On 12 May, Lincoln’s army surrendered in what was the single worst defeat suffered by Americans in the Revolution. Unlike the continentals, who were imprisoned in a disease-ridden camp in Charleston harbor, Pinckney and his fellow citizen-soldiers were allowed to return home after promising not to fight again until they were formally exchanged. Because of his family’s prominence and his own political importance, Pinckney came under intense pressure from the British, who hoped to induce him to renounce the Patriot cause. But the young officer resisted the British propaganda, and with the tide of war turning against them in 1781, his captors revoked his parole and incarcerated him and other militia officers who refused to swear allegiance to King George with the Continental officers. A general exchange of prisoners finally secured his repatriation.

Though retaining his position in the militia, Pinckney retired from active service to resume his duties in the South Carolina legislature, where he continued to represent various districts until 1796. Meanwhile, his colleagues called on him in 1784 to represent the state in the Continental Congress, a post he held for three successive terms. Pinckney’s service in the postwar Continental Congress served to reinforce the lessons he had learned as a militiaman during the Revolution-that the problems facing America were too large to be met by the states individually but demanded the close cooperation of all the states if they were to be overcome. He pressed ‘for measures that would strengthen the central government, traveling widely to preach the need for concerted action, especially in regard to commerce and the discharge of war debts. In 1786 he was among those in Congress to call for a strengthening of the federal authority to raise revenues, and in 1787 he led the fight for the appointment of a “general committee” to amend the Articles of Confederation, a move that led directly to the Constitutional Convention.

Chosen to represent South Carolina at the Convention, Pinckney arrived in Philadelphia with many specific proposals in hand. In fact, he was one of several members who submitted draft constitutions for the Convention’s deliberation. Although the second youngest of those who would sign the Constitution, Pinckney stood out as one of the most active members of the Convention-in formulating working procedures, in attending committee sessions, and in speaking frequently and, convincingly during the long process of hammering out compromises. Over thirty of the Constitution’s provisions can be traced directly to his pen, and his personal experience in the Revolution clearly influenced his support of others. Among the more important issues for which he fought was the subordination of the military to civil authority. This principle was made explicit in the provision that declared the President Commander in Chief and retained for Congress, the branch of government most directly representing the will of the people, the power to declare war and maintain military forces. Defending his position on this sensitive subject, Pinckney once expressed to South Carolina’s voters his inability to understand how anyone, considering the nation’s recent experiences, could fail to perceive the need for “regular military forces.” Only the timid would oppose it, he concluded, for although the Constitution made the President the Commander in Chief, it also guaranteed that “he can neither raise nor support forces by his own authority.” Pinckney also tried, unsuccessfully, to include in the Constitution some explicit guarantees concerning trial by jury and freedom of the press-measures that would later be enshrined in the Bill of Rights.

Pinckney returned to South Carolina to serve as the floor manager for the nationalist forces in the state’s convention that ratified the Constitution in 1788, and then chaired a second assembly that drafted a new state constitution along the lines laid out in Philadelphia. In between, he won the first of several terms as governor.

Although Pinckney associated in Philadelphia with many future leaders of the Federalist party, his nationalist sentiments were more compatible with those expressed by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. As a result, he served as the manager in South Carolina of Jefferson’s successful campaign for President in 1800 and supported Jefferson’s program during a brief term in the United States Senate before resigning in 1801 to become ambassador to Spain, where he helped negotiate the Louisiana Purchase.

Pinckney returned home in 1804 to resume an active political career in the state legislature and, in 1806, as governor for a fourth term. As governor he supported an amendment to the state constitution to increase representation from the frontier regions and pressed for measures that would eventually lead to universal white male suffrage. Pinckney retired from politics in 1814 to attend to his personal finances, which had been eroded by years of absence on public service, and to promote a number of educational and charitable endeavors. But in 1818 he responded to the pleas of his political allies and ran for office one last time, winning a seat in the House of Representatives.

Few Founding Fathers could match Pinckney’s record of service to the nation and his state. Nor were many driven by so strong and clear a political philosophy. “We have already taught some of the oldest and wisest nations to explore their rights as men ‘ ” he once told his fellow citizens. The idea that a free citizenry should control its own destiny through a strong, elected government had served as the consistent guiding principle in the long and fruitful career of this citizen-soldier and statesman.

Charles Pinckney passed to another life on 29 October 1824, at Charleston, South Carolina and is buried at St. Philip’s Episcopal Churchyard, Charleston, South Carolina

James Madison, Jr. – Signer of the Constitution – Virginia

280px-James_MadisonBorn on March 16, 1751, in Port Conway, Virginia, James Madison was the son of James, Sr. and Eleanor Rose Conway Madison. He had three brothers and three sisters who lived to adulthood. James, Jr. wrote the first drafts of the U.S. Constitution, co-wrote the Federalist Papers and sponsored the Bill of Rights. He established the Democrat-Republican Party with President Thomas Jefferson, and became president himself in 1808. Madison initiated the War of 1812, and served two terms in the White House with first lady Dolley Madison. He died on June 28, 1836, at the Montpelier estate in Orange County, Virginia.

One of America’s Founding Fathers, James Madison helped build the U.S. Constitution in the late 1700s. He also created the foundation for the Bill of Rights, acted as President Thomas Jefferson’s secretary of state, and served two terms as president himself.

Born in 1751, Madison grew up in Orange County, Virginia. He was the oldest of 12 children, seven of whom lived to adulthood. His father, James, was a successful planter and owned more than 3,000 acres of land and dozens of slaves. He was also an influential figure in county affairs.

In 1762, Madison was sent to a boarding school run by Donald Robertson in King and Queen County, Virginia. He returned to his father’s estate in Orange County, Virginia—called Montpelier—five years later. His father had him stay home and receive private tutoring because he was concerned about Madison’s health. He would experience bouts of ill health throughout his life. After two years, Madison finally went to college in 1769, enrolling at the College of New Jersey—now known as Princeton University. There, Madison studied Latin, Greek, science and philosophy among other subjects. Graduating in 1771, he stayed on a while longer to continue his studies with the school’s president, Reverend John Witherspoon.

Returning to Virginia in 1772, Madison soon found himself caught up in the tensions between the colonists and the British authorities. He was elected to the Orange County Committee of Safety in December of 1774, and joined the Virginia militia as a colonel the following year. Writing to college friend William Bradford, Madison sensed that “There is something at hand that shall greatly augment the history of the world.”

The learned Madison was more of a writer than a fighter, though. And he put his talents to good use in 1776 at the Virginia Convention, as Orange County’s representative. Around that time, he met Thomas Jefferson, and the pair soon began what would become a lifelong friendship. When Madison received an appointment to serve on the committee in charge of writing Virginia’s constitution, he worked with George Mason on the draft. One of his special contributions was reworking some of the language about religious freedom.

In 1777, Madison lost his bid for a seat in the Virginia Assembly, but he was later appointed to the Governor’s Council. He was a strong supporter of the American-French alliance during the revolution, and solely handled much of the council’s correspondence with France. In 1780, he went to Philadelphia to serve as one of Virginia’s delegates to Continental Congress.

In 1783, Madison returned to Virginia and the state legislature. There, he became a champion for the separation of church and state and helped get Virginia’s Statute of Religious Freedom, a revised version of a document penned by Jefferson in 1777, passed in 1786. The following year, Madison tackled an even more challenging government composition—the U.S. Constitution.

In 1787, Madison represented Virginia at the Constitution Convention. He was a federalist at heart, thus campaigned for a strong central government. In the Virginia Plan, he expressed his ideas about forming a three-part federal government, consisting of executive, legislative and judicial branches. He thought it was important for this new structure to have a system of checks and balances, in order to prevent the abuse of power by any one group.

While many of Madison’s ideas were included in the Constitution, the document itself faced some opposition in his native Virginia and other colonies. He then joined Alexander Hamilton and John Jay in a special effort to get the Constitution ratified, and the three men wrote a series of persuasive letters that were published in New York newspapers, collectively known as The Federalist papers. Back in Virginia, Madison managed to outmaneuver such Constitution opponents as Patrick Henry to secure the document’s ratification.

In 1789, Madison won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, a legislative body that he had helped envision. He became an instrumental force behind the Bill of Rights, submitting his suggested amendments to the Constitution to Congress in June 1789. Madison wanted to ensure that Americans had freedom of speech, were protected against “unreasonable searches and seizures” and received “a speedy and public trial” if faced with charges, among other recommendations. A revised version of his proposal was adopted that September, following much debate.

While initially a supporter of President George Washington and his administration, Madison soon found himself at odds with Washington over financial issues. He objected to the policies of Secretary of Treasury Alexander Hamilton, believing that these plans lined the pockets of wealthy northerners, and was detrimental to others. He and Jefferson campaigned against the creation of a central federal bank, calling it unconstitutional. Still, the measure was passed by 1791. Around this time, the longtime friends abandoned the Federalist Party and created their political entity, the Democratic-Republican Party.

Eventually tiring of the political battles, Madison returned to Virginia in 1797 with his wife Dolley. The couple had met in Philadelphia in 1794, and married that same year. She had a son named Payne from her first marriage, who Madison raised as his own, and the couple retired to Montpelier. (Madison would officially inherit the estate after his father’s death in 1801.) But Madison didn’t stay out of government for long.

In 1801, Madison joined the administration of his longtime friend, Thomas Jefferson, serving as President Jefferson’s secretary of state.

He supported Jefferson’s efforts in expanding the nation’s borders with the Louisiana Purchase, and the explorations of these new lands by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark.

One of Madison’s greatest challenges played out on the high seas, with U.S. ships coming under attack. Great Britain and France were at war again, and American vessels were caught in the middle. Warships from both sides routinely stopped and seized American ships to prevent Americans from trading with the enemy. And the American crewmembers were forced into service for these feuding foreign powers. After diplomatic efforts failed, Madison campaigned for the Embargo Act of 1807, which prohibited American vessels from traveling to foreign ports and halted exports from the United States. Hugely unpopular, this measure proved to be an economic disaster for American merchants.

Running on the Democratic-Republican ticket, Madison won the 1808 presidential election by a wide margin. He defeated Federalist Charles C. Pinckney and Independent Republican George Clinton, securing nearly 70 percent of the electoral votes. It was a remarkable victory, considering the poor public opinion of the Embargo Act of 1807.

One challenge of Madison’s first term was growing tensions between the United States and Great Britain. There had already been issues between the two countries over the seizure of American ships and crews. The Embargo Act was repealed in 1809, and a new act reduced the trade embargo down to two countries: Great Britain and France. This new law, known as the Non-Intercourse Act, did nothing to improve the situation. American merchants disregarded the act and traded with these nations anyway. As a result, American ships and crews were still preyed upon.

In Congress, a group of vocal politicians started to call for a war against the British. These men, sometimes known as “War Hawks,” included Henry Clay of Kentucky and John Calhoun of South Carolina. While Madison worried that the nation couldn’t effectively fight a war with Great Britain, he understood that many American citizens would not stand for these continued assaults on American ships much longer.

The United States declared war on Britain in June of 1812. While his own party supported this move, Madison faced opposition from the Federalists, who nicknamed the conflict “Mr. Madison’s War.” In the early days of the war, it was apparent that the U.S. Navy was outmatched by British forces. Madison still managed to win the presidential election a few months later, beating out New York City Mayor DeWitt Clinton.

The War of 1812, as it is now known, dragged on into Madison’s second term. The conflict took a dark turn in 1814, when British forces invaded Maryland. As they made their way to Washington, Madison and his government had to flee the capital. British soldiers burned many official buildings once they reached Washington that August. The White House and the Capitol building were among the structures destroyed.

The following month, U.S. troops were able to stop another British invasion in the North.

And Andrew Jackson, though his soldiers were outnumbered, achieved an impressive victory over the British in the Battle of New Orleans in 1815. Both sides agreed to end the conflict later that year, with the signing of the Treaty of Ghent.

Leaving office in 1817, Madison and Dolley retired once again to Montpelier. Madison kept himself busy by running the plantation and serving on a special board to create the University of Virginia, with the help of Thomas Jefferson. The school opened in 1825, with Jefferson as its rector. The following year, after Jefferson’s death, Madison assumed leadership of the university.

In 1829, Madison briefly returned to public life, serving as a delegate to the state’s Constitutional Convention. He was also active in the American Colonization Society, which he had co-founded in 1816 with Robert Finley, Andrew Jackson and James Monroe. This organization aimed to return freed slaves to Africa. In 1833, Madison became the society’s president.

Madison died on June 28, 1836, at the Montpelier estate. After his death, his 1834 message, “Advice to My Country,” was released. He had specifically requested that the note not be made public until after his passing. In part of his final political comment, he wrote: “The advice nearest to my heart and deepest in my convictions is that the Union of the States be cherished and perpetuated. Let the open enemy to it be regarded as a Pandora with her box opened; and the disguised one, as the Serpent creeping with his deadly wiles into Paradise.”

Regarded as a small, quiet intellectual, Madison used the depth and breadth of his knowledge to create a new type of government. His ideas and thoughts shaped a nation, and established the rights that Americans still enjoy today.

Thomas FitzSimmons – Signer of the Constitution – Pennsylvania

thC57XERATThomas Fitzsimons, born in Ireland, approximately October 1741, represented Pennsylvania in the Constitutional Convention, viewed government as a logical extension of the relationship that existed among families, ethnic communities, and business groups. His own immigrant family, Philadelphia’s Irish-Catholic community, and the city’s fraternity of merchants all figured prominently in Fitzsimons’ rise to wealth and status, and he sought a government strong enough to protect and foster the natural interplay of these elements in a healthy society.

Experiences in the Revolution reinforced Fitzsimons’ nationalist sympathies. Like many immigrants, he demonstrated his devotion to his adopted land by springing to its defense. Participation at the battle of Renton and the later defense of Philadelphia convinced him of the need for central control of the nation’s military forces. Similarly, his wartime association with Robert Morris and the other fiscal architects of the nation convinced him that an effective national government was essential for the prosperity of the country. Though his talents brought him great wealth, Fitzsimons never lost sight of the aspirations and concerns of the common people. He retained their respect and affection because his career reflected not only a sense of civic duty but also a profound honesty. He judged each political issue on ethical grounds. “I conceive it to be a duty,” he said, “to contend for what is right, be the issue as it may.” Using this standard, he concluded with justifiable pride that the Constitution he helped devise was a “treasure to posterity.”

Fitzsimons’ family came to Philadelphia from Ireland in the mid-1750s. His father died soon after settling in the New World, but not before providing an adequate education for his five children. Both Thomas and his twin sister Ann married into the city’s growing community of Irish merchants. In 1763 Thomas went into business with his new brother-in-law, George Meade (the grandfather of the Civil War general), specializing in trade with the West Indies.

The new firm’s emergence coincided with Parliament’s attempt to restructure the British Empire in the aftermath of the Seven Years War. Old laws designed to regulate commerce were supplemented by new revenue measures such as a Stamp Act in 1765 to fund troops stationed in the colonies. Merchants felt the burden directly and emerged as leaders of the resulting storm of protest. When Parliament reacted to the 1773 Boston Tea Party with punitive measures, which the Americans called the Coercive Acts, Philadelphia merchants, including the partners in the prosperous George Meade & Co., were infuriated. They felt that if British warships could close the port of Boston, no city in America was truly safe.

Such economic concerns thrust the young Fitzsimons into politics and the Patriot cause. In 1771 the city’s merchants and tradesmen of Irish heritage had elected him as the first vice president of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick, a politically powerful fraternal association. Popular respect for his political judgment and economic acumen led in 1774 to his election to a steering committee organized to direct the protest over the Coercive Acts and to the city’s Committee of Correspondence, the Patriots’ shadow government. In choosing him for these posts, the voters ignored a law that barred Catholics from elective office. Fitzsimons went on to represent the city in a special colony-wide convention held to discuss the crisis. Its deliberations led Pennsylvania to issue a call for a meeting of all the colonies, the First Continental Congress, which met in Philadelphia in September 1774.

Pennsylvania’s Quaker pacifist traditions had resulted in a unique military situation on the eve of the Revolution. Lacking a militia, the local Patriots had to organize a military force from the ground up by forming volunteer units, called Associators. Thanks to his wealth and wide-ranging connections in the community, Fitzsimons contributed significantly to this speedy mobilization. When Philadelphia’s contingent of infantry (today’s 111th Infantry, Pennsylvania Army National Guard) was organized, Fitzsimons, as a captain, raised and commanded a company in Colonel John Cadwalader’s 3d Battalion.

During the summer of 1776 these citizen-soldiers faced their first crisis. A large British army, supported by the Royal Navy, attacked New York City, and Congress asked the nearby states to reinforce Washington’s outnumbered Continental Army regulars. Pennsylvania sent the Associators to the Flying Camp, a mobile reserve stationed in northern New Jersey to prevent any sudden diversion of Redcoats toward Philadelphia, the national capital. Fitzsimons’ company served in the cordon of outposts that under Colonel John Dickinson guarded the New Jersey shoreline. Although a month of active duty passed without incident, the assignment provided Fitzsimons valuable time in which to train his men.

In November, with New York secured, the British suddenly invaded New Jersey. This move caught the Americans with their forces geographically divided and badly outnumbered. While Washington began a slow withdrawal of his main force to safe positions on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware River, Congress again called on the state for reinforcements. Fitzsimons’ company went on duty on 5 December to cover the continentals’ retreat. For the remainder of the month it guarded the river’s Pennsylvania shore. Complaining in his diary of the hardships the company was enduring in the bitter cold of that famous winter campaign, a company sergeant noted that Captain Fitzsimons was “very kind to our men.” Concern for the well-being of others, a hallmark of Fitzsimons’ military career that echoed through his later life, formed the basis of his broad political appeal.

Aware that a symbolic victory was needed to bolster civilian morale, Washington launched a counterattack on Christmas night. He chose Trenton, the winter quarters for a Hessian brigade, as his target. Plans called for a three-pronged dawn attack, with a large body of militia under Cadwalader crossing downstream to cut British reinforcement routes. Fitzsimons’ company was in Cadwalader’s column, but like most of the militia force, was unable to cross the river because of deteriorating weather. It thus did not share in Washington’s great surprise victory, but it joined Washington several days later, in time to deal with a British counterattack. When General Charles Cornwallis reached Trenton on 2 January, the Americans slipped away in the dark and at dawn struck the enemy’s rear guard at Princeton, smashing a second British brigade. Cadwalader’s militiamen played a key role in the engagement, although Fitzsimons’ company appears to have served in a reserve force. Washington moved on to northern New Jersey, forcing the British to abandon most of the state. Fitzsimons finally retired from active duty at the end of the month.

Pennsylvania authorities then asked him to serve on an eleven-member board to oversee the Pennsylvania navy, which formed the primary defense of Delaware Bay and the river approaches to Philadelphia. In this role Fitzsimons not only helped plan the capital’s defenses, but organized logistics, coordinated defense with neighboring states, and negotiated with a sometimes reluctant Continental Congress over regional strategy. The assignment also provided him with an important lesson when the British captured Philadelphia. Finding Pennsylvania’s defenses too formidable along the river approaches to the city, the enemy sailed up the Chesapeake Bay, and, marching through poorly defended sections of Maryland and Delaware, attacked the capital from the south. Even then, the defenses Fitzsimons had worked so hard to create held out for several months. With Philadelphia, along with his home and business, in enemy hands, Fitzsimons came to understand that no matter how well organized and defended one state might be, its safety depended ultimately on the united strength of all the states.

When France entered the war on the American side in 1778, British strategy changed. The field commander, Sir Henry Clinton, evacuated Pennsylvania and turned his attention to the conquest of the southern states, thus ending Pennsylvania’s need for frequent militia mobilizations. Although Fitzsimons was involved in supplying the French naval forces that occasionally called at Philadelphia, he was now free to concentrate on politics.

Fitzsimons was concerned about the inflation and other serious economic problems that marked the latter years of the Revolution. Pennsylvania, burdened with a weak government, was unable to cope with these issues. Fitzsimons’ experiences both in uniform and on the states Navy Board convinced him that stronger central authority did not pose a threat to liberty and was in fact the only solution to the new crisis. Many leaders who felt this way were unpopular in Philadelphia because of their wealth, but Fitzsimons’ reputation as a caring officer, as well as his work for the poor on numerous local relief committees, sustained his popularity. At this time he also became associated with the Patriot financier Robert Morris, helping to organize the banking facilities that Morris used to support the Continental Army and Navy in the last years of the war. In fact, Fitzsimons served as a director of the Bank of North America from its founding in 1781 until 1803.

Pennsylvania sent Fitzsimons to the Continental Congress in 1782. There he concentrated on financial and commercial matters, working closely with Morris and the nationalist faction led by Hamilton and Madison on developing a centralized economy. He supported the growth of domestic industry and the payment of the nation’s debts, particularly those owed to the soldiers of the Continental Army, but he argued that it was essential “that the weight of the taxes fall not too heavily upon any particular part of the community.” Although his integrity impressed Madison, his political evenhandedness did not sit so well with the voters, who began to criticize his stand on fiscal matters. Chagrined by the criticism and distracted by business obligations, Fitzsimons resigned in 1783.

But Fitzsimons could not abandon politics. He accepted election to Pennsylvania’s Council of Censors, a unique group that reviewed the constitutionality of executive and legislative actions. In 1786 he began the first of three terms in the state legislature, where he was a floor leader of the more conservative forces. He also represented Pennsylvania in a commission that met in 1785 with Delaware and Maryland to try to work out interstate commerce issues.

In 1787 the state selected Fitzsimons to represent it at the Constitutional Convention. There he spoke often on issues relating to commerce and finance, arguing that the central government should have the right to tax both exports and imports to raise revenue and regulate commerce-reiterating a position that he had advocated with little success in the Continental Congress. Following the completion of the Convention’s work, Fitzsimons resumed his seat in the Pennsylvania legislature, where he led the fight for a special convention to ratify the Constitution, arguing that since the document derived its power from the people, the people must approve it through representatives elected solely for that purpose.

Fitzsimons sat for six years as a Federalist in the new House of Representatives. He served on several important committees and was chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. He also chaired the committee that organized the government of the Northwest Territory, and, in the aftermath of the Army’s defeat by Indians in 1791, presided over a select committee that investigated the matter. That committee set an important precedent by asserting that the Congress, under the powers vested in the first article of the Constitution, had the right to oversee the President’s handling of military affairs.

Defeated in 1794, Fitzsimons devoted the rest of his life to business and charitable affairs. Financial reverses in old age did not shake his faith in the common man, nor his sense of obligation to those less fortunate than himself. In a fitting tribute to Fitzsimons’ abiding sense of civic duty, a contemporary noted the fact that “he died (on 26 August 1811, at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) in the esteem, affection and gratitude of all classes of his fellow citizens.” He is buried at St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church Cemetery, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was the 2nd Catholic to sign the Constitution.

William Livingston – Signer of the Constitution – New Jersey

thHCB5YE1PWilliam Livingston, US Constitution signator, Continental Congressman, 1st New Jersey Governor, Revolutionary War Brigadier General of the New Jersey Militia, was born on November 30, 1732, at Albany, New York, the fifth son of Catharina (Van Brugh) and Philip Livingston. He was a brother of Philip Livingston, signer of the Declaration of Independence. He spent much of his time growing up with his Dutch maternal grandmother and at age fourteen he left home to minister to the Mohawk Indians. He would boast that he had no English blood in him, only a mixture of Scottish and Dutch. He was graduated from Yale in 1741 after which he studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1748. He practiced law in New York and married Susanna French. They had thirteen children. “As many children as there are states in the Union,” he would boast. He had simple tastes and he a love of the country. He never wore a wig and was described as “plain and genteel.” His own description of himself was “a long nosed, long chinned, ugly looking fellow.” He was elected to the New York Legislature in 1759, but started buying land near Elizabethtown, New Jersey in 1760. He did not move there until 1772 and then lived in the village until 1733 until “Liberty Hall” was completed and he could move in with his family. As the revolution approached he said “We have crossed the Rubicon. We cannot recede nor should I wish we could.” He was soon appointed Brigadier General of the New Jersey Militia. He once wrote, “I can assure you I never was more sensible of my own ‘nothingness’ in military affairs…the fatigue I have lately undergone; constantly rising at two o’clock in the morning to examine our lines which are very extensive, till daybreak.” He did not regret that this would only last for three months when on August 31, 1776 he was elected Governor of New Jersey.

Twice his home “Liberty Hall” was attacked by the British with the objective of capturing him, but each time he was forewarned and he eluded them. Once when he was warned that nine fellows were without arms and “dressed like countrymen” to try and capture him he wrote in reply “They are as great blockheads as they are rascals for taking so much pain and running such risk to assassinate an old fellow whose place might instantly be supplied by a successor of greater ability and greater energy.” He was a prolific writer, often using pseudonyms for articles, but his writing was such that George Washington would at times enlist his aides to read his dispatches.

After his wife’s death his health declined rapidly and he would live just another year when he passed to another realm on July 25, 1790. He was followed as governor, by his friend William Paterson, whose daughter would marry his brother’s grandson. His wife and he were both buried first in the family vault in Trinity Churchyard, in Manhattan, New York City and were reinterred with their son Brockholst Livingston in a vault at Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, Kings County, New York, USA, Plot: Section 98, Lot 564/565, on May 7, 1844.

Roger Sherman – Signer of the Constitution – Conneticut

th - ShermanRoger Sherman, the subject of the present article, was a native of Newton, Massachusetts, where he was born on the 19th of April 1721. His ancestors were from Dedham, in England, whence they removed to America about the year 1635, and settled at Watertown in the same state. The father of Mr. Sherman, whose name was William, was a respectable farmer, but from his moderate circumstances was unable to give his son the advantages of an education, beyond those which were furnished by a parochial school.

He was early apprenticed to a shoemaker, which occupation he followed for some time after he was twenty-two years of age. It is recorded of him, however, that he early, evinced an uncommon thirst for knowledge, and was wont, even while at work on his seat, to have a book open before him, upon which he would employ every moment, not necessarily devoted to the duties of his calling.

The father of Mr. Sherman died in the year 1741, leaving his family, which was quite numerous, in circumstances of dependence. The care of the family devolved upon Roger, his older brother having sometime before removed to New-Milford, Connecticut. This was a serious charge for a young man only nineteen years of age. Yet, with great kindness and cheerfulness did he engage in the duties which devolved upon him. Towards his mother, whose life was protracted to a great age, be continued to manifest the tenderest affection, and assisted two of his younger brothers to obtain a liberal education. These, afterwards, became clergymen of some distinction in Connecticut.

It has already been observed, that an older brother had established himself in New-Milford, Connecticut. In 1743, it was judged expedient for the family, also, to remove to that place. Accordingly, having disposed of their small farm, they became residents of New-Milford, in June of that year. This journey was performed by young Roger on foot, with his tools on his back.

At New-Milford, he commenced business as a shoemaker but not long after he relinquished his trade, having entered into partnership with his older brother, in the more agreeable occupation of a country merchant.

Mr. Sherman early evinced, as has already been observed, an unusual thirst for knowledge. This led him to seize with avidity every opportunity to acquire it. The acquisitions of such a mind, even with the disadvantages under which he labored, must have been comparatively easy, and his improvement was rapid. The variety and extent of his attainments, even at this early age, are almost incredible. He soon became known in the County of Litchfield, where he resided, as a man of more than ordinary talents, and of unusual skill in the science of mathematics. In 1745, only two years after his removal into the above county, and at the age of twenty-four, he was appointed to the office of county surveyor. At this time it appears, also, he had made no small advance in the science of astronomy. As early as 1748, he supplied the astronomical calculations for an almanac, published in the city of New-York, and continued this supply for several succeeding years.

In 1749, he was married to Miss Elizabeth Hartwell, of Stoughton, Massachusetts. After her decease, in 1760, he married Miss Rebecca Prescot, of Danvers, in the same state. By these wives he had fifteen children, seven by the former, and eight by the latter.

In 1754, Mr. Sherman was admitted as an attorney to the bar. It is a trite remark, that great effects often proceed from small causes, and that not infrequently some apparently trivial occurrence, exercises a controlling influence over the whole after life of an individual. Both these remarks are eminently verified in the history of Mr. Sherman. While yet a young man, and, it is believed before he had relinquished his mechanical occupation, he had occasion to go to a neighboring town to transact some business for himself. A short time previous to this, a neighbor of his, in settling the affairs of a person deceased, became involved in a difficulty which required the assistance of legal counsel. The neighbor stated the case to young Sherman, and authorized him to seek the advice of the lawyer of the town to which he was going.

As the subject was not without intricacy, Sherman committed the case to paper, and on his arrival in the town, proceeded with his manuscript to the lawyer’s office. In stating the case to the lawyer, he had frequent occasion to recur to his manuscript. This was noticed by the lawyer, and, as it was necessary to present a petition in the case to some court, Sherman was requested to leave the paper, as an assistance in framing the petition. The modesty of young Sherman would scarcely permit him to comply with this request. “The paper,” he said, “was only a memorandum drawn by himself to assist his memory.” He gave it, however, into, the hands of the lawyer, who read it with surprise. He found it to contain a clear statement of the case, and remarked, that with some slight verbal alterations, it would be equal to any petition which he himself could draft.

The conversation now passed to the situation and circumstances of young Sherman. The lawyer urged him seriously to think upon the profession of law. At this time, he was deeply involved in the care of his father’s family, which, as before noticed, were left in a great measure destitute at his decease. The suggestion, however, appears not to have been lost upon him. A new direction was given to his thoughts. A stronger impulse was added to his energies. His leisure hours were devoted to the acquisition of legal knowledge, and in 1754, as already remarked, he entered upon a professional career, in which few have attained to greater honor and distinction.

From this date, Mr. Sherman soon became distinguished as a judicious counselor, and was rapidly promoted to offices of trust and responsibility. The year following his admission to the bar, he was appointed a justice of the peace for New-Milford, which town he also represented the same year in the colonial assembly. In 1759, he was appointed judge of the court of common pleas for the county of Litchfield, an office which he filled with great reputation for the two following years.

At the expiration of this time that is in 1761 he became a resident of New-Haven, of which town he was soon after appointed a justice of the peace, and often represented it in the colonial assembly. To these offices was added, in 1765, that of judge of the court of common pleas. About the same time he was appointed treasurer of Yale College, which institution bestowed upon him the honorary degree of Master of Arts.

In 1766, he was elected by the freemen of the colony a member of the upper house, in the general assembly of Connecticut. The members of the upper house were called assistants. This body held their deliberations with closed doors. The precise rank, therefore, which Mr. Sherman held among his colleagues, or the services which he rendered his country, cannot now be ascertained. Few men, however, were better fitted for a deliberative assembly. During the same year, the confidence of his fellow-citizens was still further expressed, by his appointment to the office of judge of the superior court. The offices, thus conferred upon him, during the same year, were not then considered as incompatible. He continued a member of the upper house for nineteen years, until 1785, at which time the two offices which he held being considered as incompatible, he relinquished his seat at the council board, preferring his station as a judge. This latter office he continued to exercise until 1789, when he resigned it, on being elected to congress under the federal Constitution.

At an early stage of the controversy between Great Britain and her American colonies, Mr. Sherman warmly espoused the cause of his country. This was to be expected of him. The man of so much integrity and consistency of character, of such firmness and solidity, would not be likely to be wanting in the day of trial. It was fortunate for America that she had some such men in her councils, to balance and keep in check the feverish spirits which, in their zeal, might have injured, rather than benefited the cause. Mr. Sherman was no enthusiast, nor was he to be seduced from the path of duty by motives of worldly ambition, or love of applause. He early perceived that the contest would have to be terminated by a resort to arms. Hence, he felt the paramount importance of union among the colonies. He felt the full force of the sentiment, “United we stand, divided we fall.” From the justice or clemency of Great Britain, he expected nothing; nor, at an early day, could he perceive any rational ground to hope that the contest could be settled, but by the entire separation of American and British interests. He was, therefore, prepared to proceed, not rashly, but with deliberate firmness, and to resist, even unto blood, the unrighteous attempts of the British parliament to enthrall and enslave the American colonies.

Of the celebrated congress of 1774, Mr. Sherman was a conspicuous member. He was present at the opening of the session; and continued uninterruptedly a member of that body for the long space of nineteen years, until his death in 1793.

Of the important services which he rendered his country, during his congressional career, it is difficult and even impossible to form an estimate. He served on various committees, whose deliberations often involved the highest interest of country. During the continuance of the war of the revolution, the duties of committees were frequently arduous and fatiguing. No man adventured upon these duties with more courage; no one exercised a more indefatigable zeal than did Mr. Sherman. He investigated every subject with uncommon particularity, and formed his judgment with a comprehensive view of the whole. This, together with the well known integrity of his character, attracted universal confidence. He naturally became, therefore, one of the leading and most influential members of congress, during the whole period of his holding a seat in that body.

Of the congress of 1775, Mr. Sherman was again a member; but of this day of clouds and darkness, when the storm which had long lowered, began to burst forth on every side, we can take no further notice than to mention, with gratitude and admiration, the firmness of those assembled sages who with courage, breasted themselves to the coming shock. They calmly and fearlessly applied themselves to the defense of the liberties of their country, having counted the cost, and being prepared to surrender their rights only with their lives.

In the congress of 1776, Mr. Sherman took a distinguished part. He assisted on committees appointed to give instructions for the military operations of the army in Canada; to establish regulations and restrictions on the trade of the United States; to regulate the currency of the country; to furnish supplies for the army; to provide for the expenses of the government; to prepare articles of confederation between the several states, and to propose a plan of military operations for the campaign of 1776.

During this year, also, he received the most flattering testimony of the high estimation in which he was held by congress, in being associated with Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, and Livingston, in the responsible duty of preparing the Declaration of Independence.

The reputation of Mr. Sherman abroad, was cordially reciprocated in the state in which he resided. Few men were ever more highly esteemed in Connecticut. The people understood his worth. They respected him for his abilities, but still more for his unbending integrity. During the war, he belonged to the governor’s council of safety; and from the year 1784 to his death, he held the mayoralty of the city of New-Haven. In 1783, he was appointed, with the honorable Richard Law, both of whom were at this time judges of the superior court, to revise the statutes of the state. This service, rendered doubly onerous to the committee from their being instructed to digest all the statutes relating to the same subject into one, and to reduce the whole to alphabetical order was performed with great ability. Many useless statutes were omitted; others were altered to correspond to the great changes which had then recently taken place in the state of the country, and the whole reduced to comparative order and simplicity.

Another expression of the public confidence awaited Mr. Sherman in 1787. Soon after the close of the war, the inefficacy of the old confederation between the states was apparent. The necessity of a federal constitution, by which the powers of the state governments and of the general government should be more nicely balanced, became everyday more obvious. Accordingly, in 1787, a general convention of the states, for forming a new constitution, was called, and Mr. Sherman, in connection with the learned Mr. Ellsworth and Dr. Johnson, were appointed to attend it, on the part of Connecticut. In this assemblage of patriots, distinguished for their political wisdom, Mr. Sherman was conspicuous, and contributed, in no small degree, to the perfection of that constitution, under which the people of America have for more than forty years enjoyed as much civil liberty and political prosperity as is, probably, compatible with the lapsed condition of the human race. Many of the convention, who warmly advocated the adoption of the constitution, were not, indeed, well pleased with every feature of that instrument. To this number Mr. Sherman belonged. He was of the opinion, however, as were others that it was the best which, under existing circumstances, the convention could have framed. On his return to Connecticut, when the question respecting the adoption of the Constitution came before the convention of that state, its adoption, according to the testimony of the late Chief Justice Ellsworth was, in no small degree, owing to the influence of Mr. Sherman. On that occasion, he appeared before the convention, and, with great plainness and perspicuity, entered into an explanation of the probable operation of the principles of the Constitution.

Under this new Constitution, he was elected a representative to congress, from the state of Connecticut. At the expiration of two years, a vacancy occurring in the senate, he was elevated to a seat in that body, an office which he continued to hold, and the duties of which he continued to discharge with honor and reputation to himself, and with great usefulness to his country, until the 23rd day of July, 1793, when he was gathered to his fathers, in the 73d year of his age.

In estimating the character of Mr. Sherman, we must dwell a moment upon his practical wisdom. This, in him, was a predominant trait. He possessed, more than most men, an intimate acquaintance with human nature. He understood the springs of human action in a remarkable degree, and well knew in what manner to touch them, to produce a designed effect. This practical wisdom, another name for common sense, powerfully contributed to guide him to safe results, on all the great political questions in which he was concerned; and assisted him to select the means which were best adapted to accomplish the best ends. With the habits and opinions, with the virtues and vices, the prejudices and weaknesses of his countrymen, he was also well acquainted. Hence, he understood, better than many others, who were superior to him in the rapidity of their genius, what laws and principles they would bear, and what they would not bear, in government. Of the practical wisdom of Mr. Sherman, we might furnish many honorable testimonies and numerous illustrations. We must content ourselves, however, with recording a remark of President Jefferson, to the late Dr. Spring, of Newburyport. During the sitting of Congress at Philadelphia, the latter gentleman, in company with Mr. Jefferson, visited the national hall. Mr. Jefferson pointed out to the doctor several of the members, who were most conspicuous. At length, his eye rested upon Roger Sherman. “That,” said he, pointing his finger, “is Mr. Sherman of Connecticut, a man who never said a foolish thing in his life.” Not less complimentary was the remark of Mr. Macon, the aged and distinguished senator, who has recently retired from public life: “Roger Sherman had more common sense than any man I ever knew.”

Another distinguishing trait in the character of Roger Sherman was his unbending integrity. No man, probably, ever stood more aloof from the suspicion of a selfish bias, or of sinister motives. In both his public and private conduct, he was actuated by principle. The opinion which appeared correct, he adopted, and the measure which appeared the best, he pursued, apparently uninfluenced by passion, prejudice, or interest. It was probably owing to this trait in his character, that he enjoyed such extraordinary influence in those deliberative bodies of which he was a member. In his speech, he was slow and hesitating. He had few of the graces of oratory; yet no man was heard with deeper attention. This attention arose from the solid conviction of the hearers, that he was an honest man. What he said, was indeed always applicable to the point, was clear, was weighty; and, as the late President Dwight remarked, was generally new and important. Yet the weight of his observations, obviously, sprung from the integrity of the man. It was this trait in his character, which elicited the observation of the distinguished Fisher Ames. “If I am absent,” said he, “during the discussion of a subject, and consequently know not on which side to vote, I always look at Roger Sherman, for I am sure if I vote with him I shall vote right.”

To the above excellent traits in the character of Mr. Sherman, it may be added, that he was eminently a pious man. He was long a professor of religion, and one of its brightest ornaments. Nor was his religion that which appeared only on occasions. It was with him a principle and a habit. It appeared in the closet, in the family, on the bench, and in senate house. Few men had a higher reverence for the Bible; few men studied it with deeper attention; few were more intimately acquainted with the doctrines of the gospel, and the metaphysical controversies of the day. On these subjects, he maintained an extended correspondence with some of the most distinguished divines of that period, among whom were Dr. Edwards, Dr. Hopkins, Dr. Trumbull, President Dickenson, and President Witherspoon, all of whom had a high opinion of him as a theologian, and derived much instruction from their correspondence with him.

If the character of a man’s religion is to be tested by the fruits it produces, the religion of Mr. Sherman must be admitted to have been not of this world. He was naturally possessed of strong passions; but over these he at length obtained an extraordinary control. He became habitually calm, sedate, and self-possessed. The following instance of his self-possession is worthy of being recorded.

Mr. Sherman was one of those men who are not ashamed to maintain the forms of religion in his family. One morning he called them together, as usual, to lead them in prayer to God: the “old family Bible” was brought out, and laid on the table. Mr. Sherman took his seat and beside him placed one of his children, a small child, a child of his old age; the rest of the family were seated round the room; several of these were now grown up. Besides these, some of the tutors of the college, and it is believed, some of the students, were boarders in the family, and were present at the time alluded to. His aged, and now superannuated mother, occupied a corner of the room, opposite to the place where the distinguished judge of Connecticut sat. At length he opened the Bible, and began to read. The child which was seated beside him, made some little disturbance, upon which Mr. Sherman paused, and told it to be still. Again he proceeded, but again he paused, to reprimand the little offender, whose playful disposition would scarcely permit it to be still. At this time, he gently tapped its ear. The blow, if it might be called a blow, caught the attention of his aged mother, who now with some effort rose from her seat, and tottered across the room.

At length, she reached the chair of Mr. Sherman, and in a moment most unexpected to him, she gave him a blow on the ear, with all the power she could summon. “There,” said she, “you strike your child, and I will strike mine.”

For a moment, the blood was seen rushing to the face of Mr. Sherman; but it was only for a moment, when all was as mild and calm as usual. He paused — he raised his spectacles — he cast his eye upon his mother — again it fell upon the book, from which he had been reading. Perhaps he remembered the injunction, “honor thy mother,” and he did honor her. Not a word escaped him; but again he calmly pursued the service, and soon after sought in prayer ability to set an example before his household, which should be worthy their imitation. Such self-possession is rare. Such a victory was worth more than the proudest victory ever achieved in the field of battle.

Rufus King – Signer of the United States Constitution – Massachusetts

2009-12-2-rufus-kingRufus King was an American lawyer, politician, and diplomat. He was a delegate for Massachusetts to the Continental Congress. He also attended the Constitutional Convention and was one of the signers of the United States Constitution on September 17, 1787, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He represented New York in the United States Senate, served as Minister to Britain, and was the Federalist candidate for both Vice President (1804, 1808) and President of the United States (1816).

He was born on March 24, 1755 at Scarborough which was then a part of Massachusetts but is now in the state of Maine. He was a son of Richard and Sabilla Blagden King. His father, a prosperous farmer-merchant, who had settled at Dunstan Landing in Scarborough, near Portland, Maine, and had made a modest fortune by 1755, the year Rufus was born.

His financial success aroused the jealousy of his neighbors, and when the Stamp Act 1765 was imposed, and rioting became almost respectable, a mob ransacked his house and destroyed most of the furniture. Nobody was punished, and the next year the mob burned down his barn. It was not surprising that Richard King became a loyalist. All of his sons, however, became patriots in the American War of Independence.

Rufus King attended Dummer Academy (now The Governor’s Academy) and Harvard College, graduating in 1777. He began to read law under Theophilus Parsons, but his studies were interrupted in 1778 when King volunteered for militia duty in the American Revolutionary War. Appointed a major, he served as an aide to General Sullivan in the Battle of Rhode Island. After the campaign, King returned to his apprenticeship under Parsons.

He was admitted to the bar in 1780 and began a legal practice in Newburyport, Massachusetts. King was first elected to the Massachusetts state assembly in 1783, and returned there each year until 1785. Massachusetts sent him to the Confederation Congress from 1784 to 1787. He was one of the youngest at the conference.

In 1787, King was sent to the Federal constitutional convention at Philadelphia where he worked closely with Alexander Hamilton on the Committee of Style and Arrangement to prepare the final draft. He returned home and went to work to get the Constitution ratified and to position himself to be named to the U.S. Senate. He was only partially successful. Massachusetts ratified the Constitution, but his efforts to be elected to the Senate failed.

At Hamilton’s urging, he moved to New York City, and was elected to the New York State Assembly in 1789. When the United States Constitution took effect, the State Legislature disagreed on who should be chosen besides Philip Schuyler for U.S. Senator from New York. Alexander Hamilton endorsed Rufus King as a candidate, thwarting the plans of the prominent Livingston family, who had hoped to place one of their own, James Duane, on the seat. Governor George Clinton, looking to cause a rift between the Livingstons and the Schuyler family (Hamilton was Philip Schuyler’s son-in-law), discreetly supported King, and as a result he was elected in 1789. He was re-elected in 1795 but resigned on May 23, 1796, having been appointed U. S. Minister to Great Britain. Before becoming Minister to Britain, King was offered the post of Secretary of State by President George Washington but declined it.

King played a major diplomatic role as Minister to the Court of St. James from 1796 to 1803, and again from 1825 to 1826. Although he was a leading Federalist, Thomas Jefferson kept him in office until King asked to be relieved. He successfully settled disputes that the Jay Treaty had opened for negotiation. His term was marked by friendship between the U.S. and Britain; it became hostile after 1805. While in Britain, he was in close personal contact with South American revolutionary Francisco de Miranda and facilitated Miranda’s trip to the United States in search of support for his failed 1806 expedition to Venezuela.

He was the unsuccessful Federalist Party candidate for Vice President in 1804 and 1808. In 1813, he was elected again to the U.S. Senate, and served until March 4, 1819. In April 1816, he lost the election for Governor of New York to the incumbent Daniel D. Tompkins of the Democratic-Republican Party. Later that year, King was nominated by the Federalists in the United States presidential election, 1816, but lost again. King was the last presidential candidate to be nominated by the Federalists before their collapse at the end of the First Party System of the United States.

In 1819, he ran for re-election as a Federalist, but the party was already disbanding and had only a small minority in the New York State Legislature. Due to the split of the Democratic-Republicans, no successor was elected to the U.S. Senate, and the seat remained vacant until January 1820 when King was elected again. Trying to attract the former Federalist voters to their side at the next gubernatorial election in April 1820, both factions of the Democratic-Republican Party supported King, who served another term in the U.S. Senate until March 4, 1825.

In 1822 he was admitted as an honorary member of the New York Society of the Cincinnati.

King had a long history of opposition to the expansion of slavery and the slave trade. This stand was a product of moral conviction which coincided with the political realities of New England federalism. While in Congress, he successfully added provisions to the 1785 Northwest Ordinance which barred the extension of slavery into the Northwest Territory. But he also said he was willing “to suffer the continuance of slaves until they can be gradually emancipated in states already overrun with them.” He did not press the issue very hard at this time. At the Constitutional Convention, he indicated that his opposition to slavery was based upon the political and economic advantages it gave to the South, but he was willing to compromise for political reasons.

In 1817, he supported Senate action to abolish the domestic slave trade and, in 1819, spoke strongly for the antislavery amendment to the Missouri statehood bill. In 1819, his arguments were political, economic, and humanitarian; the extension of slavery would adversely affect the security of the principles of freedom and liberty. After the Missouri Compromise, he continued to support gradual emancipation in various ways.

At the time of his death, King had a library of roughly 2,200 titles in 3,500 volumes. In addition, King had roughly 200 bound volumes containing thousands of pamphlets. King’s son John Alsop King inherited the library and kept them in Jamaica, Queens, until his death in 1867. The books then went to John’s son Dr. Charles Ray King of Bucks County, Pennsylvania. They remained in Pennsylvania until donated to the New-York Historical Society in 1906, where most of them currently reside. Some books have extensive marginalia. In addition, six commonplace books survive in his papers at the New-York Historical Society

His wife Mary Alsop was born in New York on October 17, 1769, and died in Jamaica, New York, on June 5, 1819. She was the only daughter of John Alsop, a wealthy merchant and a delegate for New York to the Continental Congress from 1774 to 1776. She was also a great niece of Governor John Winthrop of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. She married Mr. King in New York City on March 30, 1786, he being at that time a delegate from Massachusetts to the Continental Congress then sitting in that city.

Mrs. King was a lady of remarkable beauty, gentle and gracious manners, and well cultivated mind, and adorned the high station, both in England and at home, that her husband’s official positions and their own social relations entitled them to occupy. The latter years of her life, except while in Washington, were passed in Jamaica, Queens, New York.

King died on April 29, 1827, and his funeral was held in NY in Jamaica, Queens. He is buried in the Grace Church Cemetery in Jamaica, Queens, New York. The home that King purchased in 1805 and expanded thereafter and some of his farm make up King Park in Queens. The home, called King Manor, is now a museum and is open to the public.

John Langdon – Signer of the United States Constitution – New Hampshire

John_langdonLangdon was born on June 26, 1741 at or near Portsmouth, N.H. His father, whose family had emigrated to America before 1660, was a prosperous farmer who sired a large family. The youth’s education was intermittent. He attended a local grammar school, worked as an apprentice clerk, and the captain of a cargo ship, a wealthy international trader. Eventually he went into the mercantile business for himself and prospered.

Langdon, a vigorous supporter of the Revolution, sat on the New Hampshire committee of correspondence and a non-importation committee. He also attended various patriot assemblies. In 1774 he participated in the seizure and confiscation of British munitions from the Portsmouth fort.

The next year, Langdon served as speaker of the New Hampshire assembly and also sat in the Continental Congress (1775-76). During the latter year, he accepted a colonelcy in the militia of his State and became its agent for British prizes on behalf of the Continental Congress, a post he held throughout the war. In addition, he built privateers for operations against the British—a lucrative occupation.

Langdon also actively took part in the land war. In 1777 he organized and paid for Gen. John Stark’s expedition from New Hampshire against British Gen. John Burgoyne and was present in command of a militia unit at Saratoga, N.Y., when the latter surrendered. Langdon later led a detachment of troops during the Rhode Island campaign, but found his major outlet in politics. He was speaker of the New Hampshire legislature from 1777 to 1781. In 1777, meantime, he had married Elizabeth Sherburne, who was to give birth to one daughter.

In 1783 Langdon was elected to the Continental Congress; the next year, to the State senate; and the following year, as president, or chief executive, of New Hampshire. In 1784 he built a home at Portsmouth. In 1786-87 he was back again as speaker of the legislature, and during the latter year for the third time in the Continental Congress.

Langdon was forced to pay his own expenses and those of Nicholas Gilman to the Constitutional Convention because New Hampshire was unable or unwilling to pay them. The pair did not arrive at Philadelphia until late July, by which time much business had already been consummated. Thereafter, Langdon made a significant mark. He spoke more than 20 times during the debates and was a member of the committee that struck a compromise on the issue of slavery. For the most part, his sympathies lay on the side of strengthening the national Government. In 1788, once again as State president (1788-89), he took part in the ratifying convention.

From 1789 to 1801 Langdon sat in the U.S. Senate, including service as the first President pro tem for several sessions. During these years, his political affiliations changed. As a supporter of a strong central Government, he had been a member of the Federalist Party, but by the time of Jay’s Treaty (1794) he was opposing its policies. By 1801 he was firmly backing the Democratic-Republicans.

That year, Langdon declined Jefferson’s offer of the secretaryship of the Navy. Between then and 1812, he kept active in New Hampshire politics. He sat again in the legislature (1801-5), twice holding the position of speaker. After several unsuccessful attempts, in 1805 he was elected as Governor and continued in that post until 1811 except for a year’s hiatus in 1809. Meantime, in 1805, Dartmouth College had awarded him an honorary doctor of laws degree.

In 1812 Langdon refused the Democratic-Republican Vice-Presidential nomination on the grounds of age and health. He enjoyed retirement for another 7 years before he died on September 18, 1819 at the age of 78. His grave is at Old North Cemetery in Portsmouth.

James McHenry – Signer of the United States Constitution – Maryland

James_McHenry2James McHenry was born at Ballymena, County Antrim, Ireland, on 16 November 1753. He enjoyed a classical education at Dublin, and emigrated to Philadelphia in 1771. The following year, the rest of his family came to the colonies, and his brother and father established an import business at Baltimore. During that year, James continued schooling at Newark Academy in Delaware and then studied medicine for 2 years under the well-known Dr. Benjamin Rush in Philadelphia.

During the War for Independence, McHenry served as a military surgeon. Late in 1776, while he was on the staff of the 5th Pennsylvania Battalion, the British captured him at Fort Washington, NY. He was paroled early the next year and exchanged in March 1778. Returning immediately to duty, he was assigned to Valley Forge, PA, and in May became secretary to George Washington. About this time, McHenry apparently quit the practice of medicine to devote himself to politics and administration; he apparently never needed to return to it after the war because of his excellent financial circumstances.

McHenry stayed on Washington’s staff until 1780, when he joined that of the Marquis de Lafayette, and he remained in that assignment until he entered the Maryland Senate (1781-86). During part of this period, he served concurrently in the Continental Congress (1783-86). In 1784 he married Margaret Allison Caldwell.

McHenry missed many of the proceedings at the Philadelphia convention, in part because of the illness of his brother, and played an insubstantial part in the debates when he was present. He did, however, maintain a private journal that has been useful to posterity. He campaigned strenuously for the Constitution in Maryland and attended the state ratifying convention.

From 1789 to 1791, McHenry sat in the state assembly and in the years 1791-96 again in the senate. A staunch Federalist, he then accepted Washington’s offer of the post of Secretary of War and held it into the administration of John Adams. McHenry looked to Hamilton rather than to Adams for leadership. As time passed, the latter became increasingly dissatisfied with McHenry’s performance and distrustful of his political motives and in 1800 forced him to resign. Subsequently, the Democratic-Republicans accused him of maladministration, but a congressional committee vindicated him.

McHenry returned to his estate near Baltimore and to semiretirement. He remained a loyal Federalist and opposed the War of 1812. He also held the office of president of a Bible society. He died on 3 May 1816, at “Fayetteville,” Baltimore County, Maryland at the age of 62, survived by two of his three children. His grave is in Baltimore’s Westminster Presbyterian Cemetery.

George Read – Signer of the United States Constitution – Delaware

ReadGeorgeGeorge Read was a native of the province of Maryland, where he was born on September 18, 1733 to John and Mary (Howell) Read. His grandfather was an Irishman, who resided in the city of Dublin, and was possessed of a considerable fortune. His son, John Read, the father of the subject of the present article, having emigrated to America, took up his residence in Cecil County, where he pursued the occupation of a planter. Not long after the birth of his eldest son, he removed with his family into the province of Delaware, and settled in the county of Newcastle. Mr. Read designing his son for one of the learned professions placed him in a seminary at Chester, in the province of Pennsylvania. Having there acquired the rudiments of the learned languages, he was transferred to the care of that learned and accomplished scholar, the Rev. Dr. Allison, a gentleman eminently qualified to superintend the education of young men. With this gentleman young Mr. Read continued his studies until his seventeenth year, when he entered the office of John Moland, Esq. a distinguished lawyer in the city of Philadelphia, for the purpose of acquiring a knowledge of the legal profession. The intense applications, and the sober habits of Mr. Read, were at this time highly honorable to him. While yet a student, he gave promise of future eminence in his profession. Mr. Moland reposed so great confidence in his abilities, that even before he had finished his preparatory studies, he entrusted to him a considerable share of his attorney business.

In 1753, at the early age of nineteen years, Mr. Read was admitted to the bar. On this event he performed an act of singular generosity in favor of the other children of the family. As the eldest son, he was entitled, by the existing laws, to two shares of his father’s estate, but he relinquished all his rights in favor of his brothers, assigning as a reason for this act, his belief that he had received his proper portion in the education which had been given him.

In the following year, he commenced the practice of law, in the town of Newcastle, and although surrounded by gentlemen of high attainments in the profession, he soon acquired the confidence of the public, and obtained a respectable share of business. In 1763, he was appointed to succeed John Ross, as attorney general of the three lower counties on the Delaware. This office, Mr. Read held until the year 1775, when, on being elected to congress, he resigned it.

During the same year, Mr. Read was connected by marriage with a daughter of the Rev. John Ross, a clergyman, who had long presided over an Episcopal church, in the town of Newcastle. The character of Mrs. Gertrude Ross Read was in every respect excellent. She possessed a vigorous understanding. In her person she was beautiful, and to elegant manners was added a deep and consistent piety. She was also imbued with the spirit of a pure patriotism. During the revolutionary war, she was often called to suffer many privations, and was frequently exposed with her infant family to imminent danger, by reason of the predatory incursions of the British. Yet, in the darkest hour, and amidst the most appalling danger, her fortitude was unshaken, and her courage undaunted.

In the year 1765, Mr. Read was elected a representative from Newcastle County to the general assembly of Delaware, a post which he occupied for twelve years. In this station, and indeed through his whole political course, he appears to have been actuated neither by motives of self-interest nor fear. By an adherence to the royal cause, he had reason to anticipate office, honor, and wealth. But his patriotism and integrity were of too pure a character to be influenced by worldly preferment, or pecuniary reward. The question with him was, not what a worldly policy might dictate, but what reason and justice and religion would approve.

On the first of August, 1774, Mr. Read was chosen a member of the continental congress, in connection with Caesar Rodney, and Thomas McKean. To this station he was annually re-elected, during the whole revolutionary war, and was indeed present in the national assembly, except for a few short intervals, during the whole of that period.

It has already been noticed, that when the great question of independence came before congress, Mr. Read was opposed to the measure, and ultimately gave his vote against it. This he did from a sense of duty: not that he was unfriendly to the liberties of his country, or was actuated by motives of selfishness or cowardice. But he deemed the agitation of the question, at the time, premature and inexpedient. In these sentiments, Mr. Read was not alone. Many gentlemen in the colonies, characterized for great wisdom, and a decided patriotism, deemed the measure impolitic, and would have voted, had they been in congress, as he did. The idle bodings of these, fortunately, were never realized. They proved to be false prophets, but they were as genuine patriots as others. Nor were they, like some in similar circumstances, dissatisfied with results, differing from those which they had predicted. On the contrary, they rejoiced to find their anticipations were groundless. When, at length, the measure had received the sanction of the great national council, and the time arrived for signing the instrument, Mr. Read affixed his signature to it, with all the cordiality of those who had voted in favor of the declaration itself.

In the following September, Mr. Read was elected president of the convention which formed the first constitution of the state of Delaware. On the completion of this, he was offered the executive chair, but chose at that time to de-cline the honor. In 1777, the governor, Mr. McKinley, was captured by a detachment of British troops, when Mr. McKean was called to take his place in this responsible office, the duties of which he continued to discharge, until the release of the former gentleman.

In 1779, ill health required him to retire for a season from public employment. In 1782, however, he accepted the appointment of judge of the court of appeals in admiralty cases, an office in which he continued till the abolition of the court.

In 1787, he represented the state of Delaware in the convention which framed the Constitution Of The United States, under which he was immediately elected a member of the Senate. The duties of this exalted station he discharged till 1793, when he accepted of a seat on the bench of the Supreme Court of the state of Delaware, as chief justice. In this station he continued till the autumn of 1798, his death at New Castle 5 years later, just 3 days after he celebrated his 65th birthday, when he was suddenly summoned to another world. His grave is there in the Immanuel Episcopal Churchyard.

In all the offices with which Mr. Read was entrusted by his fellow citizens, he appeared with distinguished ability; but it was as a judge that he stood pre-eminent. For this station he was peculiarly fitted, not only by his unusual legal attainments, but by his singular patience in hearing all that council might deem important to bring forward, and by a cool and dispassionate deliberation of every circumstance which could bear upon the point in question. To this day his decisions are much respected in Delaware, and are often recurred to, as precedents of no doubtful authority.

In private life, the character of Mr. Read was not less estimable and respectable. He was consistent in all the relations of life, strict in the observance of his moral duties, and characterized by an expanded benevolence towards all around him.