Pennsylvania and the Federal Constitution, 1787-1788: Chapter VIII
Pennsylvania and the Federal Constitution, 1787-1788
Edited by John Bach McMaster and Frederick D. Stone
CHAPTER VIII: SKETCHES OF THE MEMBERS OF THE FEDERAL CONVENTION
PENNSYLVANIA was represented in the federal convention by a larger delegation than any of the other states. This was no doubt owing to the fact that Philadelphia had been chosen as the place where the sessions of the convention were to be held, and it imposed no hardship or expense on her citizens to attend. Travelling in those days on horseback or by stage wagon was attended by fatigue and expense, and so closely were expenses watched that when the Pennsylvania Assembly declined to provide compensation for its delegates, representatives from the rural districts declined to serve.
Not only was the delegation the largest in the convention, but it was one of the most distinguished. Of the fifty-six men who signed the Declaration of Independence but six signed the constitution, and of these four were from Pennsylvania. Gouverneur Morris and James Wilson led the debate in the convention. The former spoke one hundred and seventy-three times, the latter one hundred and sixty-eight times. But Wilson must be regarded as the father of the constitution in Pennsylvania. His advocacy of it before the people, his clear and forcible explanation of its meaning in the state convention, clearly entitle him to this. The attacks made upon him in the public press show how he was recognized as its chief advocate by those who opposed it. For months his time was entirely devoted to the work, and it is doubtful if without his earnest effort, the constitution would have been ratified by Pennsylvania.
We print the sketches of the Pennsylvania members in the order in which they signed the constitution.
BENJAMIN FRANKLIN was the oldest member of the convention, being at that time eighty-one years of age. A philosopher whose wisdom was world-renowned, he exceeded in practical knowledge every one of his associates. With no pretensions as a speaker, he disposed of every question with extraordinary brevity, sometimes by a happy allegory, some-times by a single sentence. No man in the convention, save Washington, was more revered. No man could boast of such a remarkable career. To give more than a bare outline of this here would be the work of supererogation.
He was the son of Josiah Franklin and Mary Folger; was born at Boston, Mass., January 17, 1706. Apprenticed to his brother James as a printer, after a few years, owing to a disagreement, he left home and established himself in Philadelphia. He worked as a journeyman printer in London in 1725, but returned the next year to Pennsylvania, subsequently becoming editor and proprietor of the Pennsylvania Gazette, and publisher of Poor Richard’s Almanac. In 1731 he assisted in founding the Philadelphia Library; became clerk to the Assembly in 1736; postmaster of Philadelphia in 1737; and in 1753 was deputy postmaster-general of the British Colonies. On October 4, 1748, he was chosen one of the Common Councilmen of the city of Philadelphia; and on October 1, 1751, alderman. In 1752 he made the discovery of the identity of lightning with the electric fluid. In 1754, as a commissioner from Pennsylvania to the Albany Congress, he prepared the plan of union for the common defence adopted by that body. During the French and Indian wars he was commissioned a Colonel in the provincial service, and in 1755 superintended the furnishing of transportation for the supplies of Braddock’s army. He served as a member of the Assembly from 1751 to 1763, the latter year being speaker; from 1757 to 1762, and again from 1765 to 1775, he was the agent of the province to Great Britain, spending most of his time in England, and while there aided in securing the repeal of the obnoxious stamp act. In 1762 the Universities of Oxford and Edinburgh conferred on him for his scientific discoveries the degree of LL. D., he having been previously honored with a membership in the Royal Society, and by being the recipient of the Copley gold medal. From 1773 to 1775 he was again elected to the Assembly. Returning to Philadelphia in the spring of 1775, he was chosen a member of the continental Congress. He was a member of the provincial conference at Carpenters’ Hall, June 18, 1775, and of the Committee of Safety from June 30, 1775, to July 22, 1776. While in Congress he was one of the committee to prepare, as he was also a signer of the Declaration of Independence. He was a member of the constitutional convention of July 15, 1776, and chosen its President. From the close of 1776 to September, 1785, he was the American Ambassador to France, and secured the treaty of alliance with that country, signed February 6, 1778, which greatly assisted in securing the independence of the colonies. He took a prominent part in negotiating the preliminary treaty of peace with England, which was signed at Paris, November 30, 1782, and with Adams and Jay signed that at Ghent, September 3, 1783. He was President of Pennsylvania from October 17, 1785, to November 5, 1788, declining on account of his advanced years to continue in office. In May, 1787, he was a delegate to the convention which framed the constitution of the United States. He died in the city of Philadelphia; April 17, 1790.
THOMAS MIFFLIN was born in Philadelphia in 1744. It was the intention of his father that he should be a merchant, and after he had graduated at the College of Philadelphia he was placed in the counting-house of William Coleman. When he was 21 years of age he visited Europe to improve his knowledge of commercial affairs and after his return home entered into business with his brother, the connection continuing until after the commencement of the Revolution. His interest in public affairs began while he was quite a young man, and in 1765 he signed the famous non-importation agreement, opposing the stamp act. In 1772 he was chosen one of the two representatives of Philadelphia in the Assembly, and was so continued until 1776. He was a delegate to the Congress of 1774, that met in Carpenters’ Hall. In 1775 he was Colonel and Adjutant-General of the continental army, Brigadier General in 1776, Major General in 1777. In the latter part of that year he resigned his position and was chosen a member of the Board of War. In 1780 he was again engaged in mercantile pursuits. He was a member of the continental Congress in 1782 and 1783, serving as President during the latter year. He was Speaker of the Assembly in 1785-88; member of the Federal Convention 1787; President of the Supreme Executive Council 1788-90; President of the constitutional Convention of Pennsylvania in 1790; Governor of Pennsylvania from 1790-9; member of the Legislature 1799-1800, dying in January of the latter year.
Mifflin was a fluent speaker, and used his powers to the utmost in organizing an opposition to the Boston Port Bill and similar measures. In the darkest days of the Revolution, when Washington’s army reduced to a handful was retreating through Jersey, Mifflin, at the request of Congress, went through the State, addressing the people at all the principal points, urging them to join Washington with as little delay as possible. So successful was he that some of the militia reached the army before it had crossed the Delaware, and the thousands that soon poured into camp, made the advance that resulted in the victory at Princeton a necessity. Unfortunately for the reputation of Mifflin, he after-wards associated with Gates and Conway, and his name has come down in history as one who sought to remove Washington from command of the army. While he left on record a solemn protest that his action was dictated by the purest patriotism, it is impossible not to believe that his judgment was warped by jealousy excited by the preference Washington showed for others. While Mifflin was President of Congress the war closed and Washington resigned his commission. It was tendered personally to Mifflin, whose reply to the few words uttered by Washington were dignified and eloquent. “We join you,” he said, “in commending the interests of our dearest country to the protection of Almighty God, beseeching Him to dispose the hearts and minds of its citizens to improve the opportunity afforded them to become a happy and respectable nation. And for you we address to Him our earnest prayers that a life so beloved may be fostered with all His care; that your days may be as happy as they have been illustrious ; and that He will finally give you that reward which this world cannot give.”
Whatever Mifflin’s sentiments were at one time regarding Washington, the latter harbored no ill feelings in return, and on several subsequent occasions was Mifflin’s guest. Although a warm advocate of the adoption of the constitution, Mifflin subsequently belonged to the republican or anti-federal party, but this did not prevent him from supporting the general government in the suppression of the Whisky Insurrection. The elder Rawle, who knew him personally, says: “In person he was remarkably handsome, though his stature did not exceed five feet eight inches. His frame was athletic, and seemed capable of bearing much fatigue.”
ROBERT MORRIS, the financier of the American Revolution, was born in Liverpool on the 31st of January, 1734. Prior to 1740 he came with his father, also Robert Morris, to America, and settled in Oxford county, Maryland. While quite young, Robert, the son, was sent to Philadelphia, and entered the counting house of Charles Willing, and in 1754 formed a partnership with his son, Thomas Willing, which lasted until 1793. In 1765 he vigorously opposed the Stamp Act, and signed the non-importation agreement. Upon the formation of the Committee of Safety in 1775, he was made its Vice-President, and continued in that office until its dissolution in 1776. He was a member of the second continental Congress that met in Philadelphia in 1775, and served on committees for furnishing the colonies with a naval armament and for procuring money for Congress. When the question of Independence came up for final action on July 2, 1776, Morris voted against it, and on the FOURTH, when the Declaration was submitted for approval, absented himself from Congress, as in his opinion it was “an improper time” for such a measure. He subsequently, however, signed the engrossed Declaration.
In December, 1776, when the Congress retired to Baltimore, he was one of the committee left behind to attend to public business, and it was at that time on his personal credit he raised the money that kept the army together and enabled Washington to follow up his advantage at Trenton with his victory at Princeton. On July 9, 1778, he signed the Articles of Confederation, and in 1780 organized the Bank of Pennsylvania to supply the army with provisions for two months, to which he subscribed £10,000. On May 14, 1781, he accepted the office of Superintendent of Finance, a position he held until November 1, 1784. His success in bringing order out of the chaotic state into which the finances of the country had fallen is too well known to require more than mention. “The Bank of North America,” the first incorporated bank in the United States, was organized by him to aid him in the work, and his own fortune was frequently risked for the cause of his adopted country.
In accepting the position of financier he wrote: “The United States may command everything I have except my integrity, and the loss of that would effectually disable me from serving them more.”
As a member of the federal convention, Mr. Morris urged that Senators should be chosen for life, and that they should be “men of great and established property.” Entertaining such views, he had naturally many opponents, and in the discussions of the clay he was vigorously attacked. He was one of the first senators from Pennsylvania under the constitution. After his retiring from public life he entered into vast speculations in unimproved lands, that eventually wrecked his immense fortune, and for a period of over three years and a half he was an inmate of a debtors’ prison. He was released on the 16th of February, 1798, and died on May 7, 18o6, in his seventy-third year.
GEORGE CLYMER was the son of Christopher and Deborah Clymer. He was born in Philadelphia June 1, 1 739. His parents died in 1740, and he was adopted by his uncle, WilIiam Coleman, a prominent merchant of Philadelphia. He was educated at the College of Philadelphia, but not formally graduated, and entered the counting house of his uncle, where he obtained an extensive knowledge of mercantile affairs. In 1765 he opposed the stamp act and signed the non-importation agreement. After having occupied a number of positions of honor and trust of a public character, and having served on many of the committees appointed at the outbreak of the Revolution, Mr. Clymer, on July 20, 1775, was chosen one of the treasurers of the Continental Congress, his colleague being Michael Hillegas. From October 20, 1775, until July 22, 1776, Mr. Clymer was a member of the Committee of Safety, and was also a delegate to the constitutional convention of 1776. By that body he was chosen a delegate to the continental Congress, and on August 2d signed the engrossed copy of the Declaration of Independence. He was also elected to Congress in 1778, 80 and 81, and was repeatedly chosen a member of the Assembly of Pennsylvania.
Few men served the public more faithfully or in more diversified ways. Well educated, with refined tastes, and ample fortune to indulge them, he shrank from no responsibility Iaid upon him, although at utter variance with his re-tiring disposition. As captain of a company of militia he took part in several campaigns. As a member of a Committee of Congress when that body fled in panic to Baltimore, he remained, in Philadelphia with Robert Morris to attend public business. He visited Fort Pitt to pacify the savages in that quarter during the Revolution, and after the adoption of the constitution assisted in forming a treaty with the Creeks and Cherokees in Georgia. He was active in organizing the temporary Bank of Pennsylvania in 1780, and sub-scribed £5,000 to its capital. He was one of the first directors of the Bank of North America, and subsequently president of the Philadelphia Bank. When it is remembered how the need of a Federal government was made manifest through the disordered condition of the finances of the country, it is not surprising that a person so versed in monetary affairs as Mr. Clymer, should have been selected as a delegate to the general convention. In that body be bore a conspicuous part, and when the constitution was submitted to the States it was he who, in the assembly, moved the calling of a convention for its consideration, thus securing the early support of Pennsylvania, the first large State that ratified the constitution, and second only in point of time to Delaware. Under the constitution Mr. Clymer served as a representative from Pennsylvania during the first Congress. In the Legislature of the State he urged a revision of the penal code, and a lessening of its rigorous measures, contending successfully that capital punishment should only be inflicted in extreme cases. He was the first president of the Academy of the Fine Arts; Vice-President of the American Philosophical Society and of the Philadelphia Agricultural Society. He died at the residence of his son, near Morrisville, Bucks county, June 24, 1813, in the seventy-fourth year of his age.
THOMAS FITZSIMONS was born in Ireland in 1741. The victim of oppression, he came to this country between the years 1762 and 1765 and settled in Philadelphia, where he engaged in mercantile pursuits. Not long after, he married the daughter of Mr. Robert Meade, the great-grandfather of the late Gen. George G. Meade, and formed a partnership with his brother-in-law, who was one of the prominent merchants and ship-owners of Philadelphia. He warmly espoused the cause of the Colonies in their contest with the mother country, and raised and commanded a military company. He was with General Cadwalader at Bristol and Burlington, in the movements contemporary with the battles of Trenton and Princeton, and was also a member of the Council of Safety, and of the Navy Board. His house subscribed, in 1780, £5,000 to supply the necessities of the army. In 1782, he was elected a member of the continental Congress, and took a leading part in the debates on the financial situation. After the peace he was for several years a member of the General Assembly of Pennsylvania, and in 1787 he became a member of the Federal Convention. He opposed universal suffrage and contended that the privilege of voting should be restricted to freeholders. He favored giving Congress the power to tax exports as well as imports, and argued that the House of Representatives should be united with the President, as well as the Senate, in making treaties. In the great federal procession in Philadelphia, July 4th, 1788, by which the ratification of the constitution by ten States was celebrated, Mr. Fitzsimons appeared, representing the French alliance, mounted on a horse formerly owned by Count Rochambeau, and carrying a flag of white silk, emblazoned with the ensigns of France and the United States. When the National Government was organized, Mr. Fitzsimons was elected by the city of Philadelphia a member of Congress, and remained so until 1795. His views upon all questions of commerce, finance and exchange were highly valued. He also was a conspicuous advocate of a protective tariff. In 1794, he failed of a re-election, that year proving disastrous to the Federalists. With his retirement from Congress, his political career closed. He was a trustee of the University of Pennsylvania; a founder and di-rector of the Bank of North America; a director and subsequently President of the Insurance Company of North America. He was a member of the Catholic church. He is described as a man of commanding figure, and of agreeable, though stately and reserved manners. He died August 26th, 1811.
JARED INGERSOLL1 was the only child of Jared Ingersoll, of Connecticut, who represented that colony as commissioner in England when Franklin resided there in a similar capacity for Pensylvania. The family was altogether and exclusively English, without Scotch, Irish, German, Swiss, French, Spanish, or any others of the foreign lineage common in so many other Americans, and had been Americanized by more than a century’s descent in New England, when Jared Ingersoll, the second, was born. In 1761-2, his father returned from England with the obnoxious appointment, which his friend Franklin there induced him to undertake, of Stamp-Master General for the New England Colonies. Compelled by a tumultuous assemblage of his fellow colonists forcibly to relinquish that place, Jared Ingersoll the elder was then appointed Admiralty Judge for the colony of Pennsylvania, whereupon he removed to Philadelphia, where he resided till the Revolution.
His son Jared, after graduating at Yale College, chose Philadelphia for his residence and the Bar for his profession. Repairing to England to accomplish his professional education, he was entered of the Middle Temple; and during five years, passed in London, diligently studied the science of law, and attended its practice in the courts. Mansfield, Blackstone, Chatham, Garrick and other luminaries of that period were objects of his constant attention, and of his correspondence, and ever after among the pleasures of his memory. Literature, as well as law, was his study; polite society his enjoyment. He formed acquaintances with the distinguished lawyers and members of Parliament.
Soon after the American Revolution was completely pronounced he espoused its cause with the considerate preference of youthful patriotism. Although the only child of a loyalist, he did not hesitate, without filial offence, to side with his own against the mother country, where he had for several years resided.
Taking, therefore, his departure from a country to which he disclaimed allegiance, he passed over to France, and spent a year and a half in Paris. There he added the French language to his acquirements. His father’s friend, Franklin, living at Passy, as Minister of the United States, kindly welcomed Mr. Ingersoll there. With Ralph Izard, appointed Minister to Italy, but staying in Paris, John Julius Pringle, of South Carolina, and other afterwards distinguished Americans, Mr. Ingersoll likewise formed intimacies in Paris, which subsisted during life. These southern associations, without diminishing his native eastern attachments, liberalized his patriotism, freed him from local and sectional prejudices, and imbued his politics with that spirit of enlarged nationality in which, following Washington, he always abided.
Returning by a winter-passage in a small schooner, he escaped the perils of the sea and hostile capture, and attained as a superior lawyer, the place he ever after occupied at the Bar of Philadelphia. Philadelphia was then the seat of Government, both Federal and State. The Supreme Court of the United States and of the State held their sessions there, where the most elevated jurisprudence in every branch of law was dispensed. In these courts Jared Ingersoll soon rose to the first rank. His practice was larger than that of any others. His opinions were taken on all important controversies, his services engaged in every great litigation.
In 1787 he was chosen one of the Pennsylvania delegates to assist in forming the constitution of the United States. Twice Attorney General of the State at different periods, for a short time District Attorney of the United States for Pennsylvania, and offered the Chief Judgeship of the Federal Court created in 1801, his large practice prompted him to decline all these eminent stations. During a long career he had no superior at the Bar. Eminent for wisdom and eloquence, he was equally so for probity and honor. Contributing liberally to every improvement introduced for the city of Philadelphia and the State of Pennsylvania, he ended his useful and exemplary life as President Judge of the District Court of Philadelphia, October 31st, 1822, in the seventy-third year of his age.
JAMES WILSON.For a sketch of James Wilson see page 757.
GOUVERNEUR MORRIS was a grandson of Richard Morris, the first of the family to come to America, and who purchased a large estate in West Chester county, New York, invested with manorial privileges, which he called Morrisania. He was the youngest son, by a second marriage, of Lewis Morris, for some time Governor of New jersey, and was born 31st January, 1752. Graduating from Kings, now Columbia College, in 1768, he began to read law under William Smith, Esq., who was subsequently Chief Justice of the Province of New York, and in October of 1771 was admitted to practice, being not quite twenty years of age.
From the beginning of his career, Gouverneur Morris took a lively interest in public affairs, and in 1775 he was elected a delegate to represent the county of West Chester in the congress convened on 22d May in the city of New York. He continued almost without interruption a member of this body under its different names of congress, convention and Committee of Safety; was a member of the committee which drafted the State constitution of 1776; and when the resolution of the continental Congress recommending a new form of government came up for consideration, he spoke with force and ability. ".;Sir,".; said he, ".;these and ten thousand other reasons will serve to convince me that to make a solid and lasting peace, with liberty and security, is utterly impracticable. My argument, therefore, stands thus: As a connection with Great Britain cannot again exist without enslaving America, an independence is absolutely necessary. I cannot balance between the two. We run a hazard in one path, I confess; but then we are infallibly ruined if we pursue the other.".;
New York was the last State to sign the Declaration of Independence, her delegates to Congress not being empowered to act independently of the New York convention. But no time was lost. The convention met on the 9th of July, and on that day a copy of the act was received and a resolution of approval passed. To Mr. Morris was entrusted the drafting of the reply to the delegates from New York in the continental Congress. It should also be noted, that he endeavored to introduce an article recommending the future Legislature to take measures for the abolishment of domestic slavery.
In 1778, Gouverneur Morris was sent to the continental Congress, then seated at York, Pennsylvania, and on the day his credentials were approved, he was appointed a member of the committee to investigate the condition of the army at Valley Forge. From this date began the friendship with Washington, which continued through life. He also served on many standing and special committees, and was chairman of three. His ardent interest in the cause of the Colonies did not meet with the approbation of his mother and other members of the family, and he also incurred the displeasure of his early friend and adviser, judge William Smith. Not being returned to Congress, after a service of five years, Gouverneur Morris began the practice of his profession in Philadelphia, and became a citizen of Pennsylvania. In May of 178o, by a fall from his carriage, Mr. Morris received an injury that resulted in the loss of a leg. Robert Morristo whom he was not relatedappointed him, in 1781, Assistant Superintendent of the Finances, in which position he served with ability for three years and a half. General Washington appointed Morris and Gen. Knox, on behalf of the United States, to consult with the British Commissioners with regard to the exchange of prisoners, the first meeting taking place in March of 1782. Gouverneur Morris was a delegate from Pennsylvania to the convention called for framing the constitution of the United States, which met in Philadelphia in May of 1787, and to his pen is due the clear and forcible language in which the constitution is expressed. Although dissenting from the majority of his colleagues on many important points, when the Constitution was adopted he signed it with entire willingness.
In December of 1788, Mr. Morris sailed for Europe, with confidential letters from Washington, and while abroad was appointed Minister Plenipotentiary to the Court of France. On the recall, in 1793, of M. Genet, the Minister of France, being demanded by the United States, that of Mr. Morris was requested by France, and in 1794 he was succeeded by James Monroe. On his return to America, he established himself at Morrisania, intending never again to enter upon public life, but in 1800 he was chosen to the Senate of the United States to fill a vacancy, and served three years. In politics he was a federalist, but during the ".;Tie Controversy,".; he differed with his party and approved the choice of Jefferson.
Gouverneur Morris was a man of strong convictions. In political life he was too independent to be trammelled by the dictates of party, and in private life his integrity was above suspicion; in neither was he influenced by low aims or selfish ambitions. He lived not for fame, but for duty; not for self, but for his country. He died 6th November, 1816.