Caesar Rodney: The Founding Father You've Never Heard Of

Caesar Rodney: The Founding Father You've Never Heard Of


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He was a founding father, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and an American hero—but most have probably not heard of Caesar Rodney or his dramatic 18-hour midnight horseback ride to Philadelphia to cast a critical, deciding vote in favor of separating from Great Britain.

One reason most may not know the Delaware delegate’s name could have to do with his face. Rodney suffered from a facial deformity, likely caused by a cancer, that he obscured with a green scarf or handkerchief. This could explain why there are very few portraits of Rodney—contributing to his lack of notoriety.

Despite his obscurity, Rodney played a critical role during the second Continental Congress meeting in 1776 at what is now Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Initially, Delaware’s two attending delegates were split in their votes of whether to declare independence from Great Britain, with George Read against separating, and Thomas McKean in favor. According to Jonathan S. Russ, a historian at the University of Delaware, Rodney was home tending to his own business affairs and the state militia when he received word of the tie vote.

“He then famously rode 80 miles toward Philadelphia, through a thunderstorm, entered into the convention and broke that deadlock, casting his vote in favor of Delaware declaring its independence from Great Britain with the other colonies,” Russ says.

Leigh Rifenburg, chief curator for the Delaware Historical Society, says Rodney was exhausted and ill, but his breaking of the tie was crucial, placing the colony firmly on the side of independence. “Despite the risks, all three delegates later signed the Declaration of Independence. Paul Revere’s ride is better known, but Rodney’s ride had the greater impact on the future of the colonies that would become free and independent states.”

A planter by trade, Rodney was an enslaver and held about 200 people on his plantation at the time of his death. His vote made the Congress’s decision to declare independence unanimous. “Delaware was not a place of great political grandstanding at the time,” Russ says. “If anything, Rodney was pragmatic for a man of his day and felt that he had long been involved in Delaware governance and that the time had come for independence.”

Rodney, who served as an assemblyman, delegate and state president, was also a critical part of the supply effort for the American Revolution cause, getting supplies up and down the peninsula, according to Mike DiPaolo, executive director of the Lewes Historical Society in Lewes, Delaware. “We often forget about the logistical elements in war; he may not have led people into battle but he kept them fed,” he says.

Rodney could not be characterized as a particularly fiery patriot in the way that John Adams, Richard Henry Lee and others were, but Rifenburg notes that Rodney worked quietly and steadily on the ground for the cause of independence. “He held countless public offices, served as Brigadier General of the Delaware Militia and often paid for troop supplies from his own pocket when they were not supplied by Congress,” she says. “He kept up an active correspondence with George Washington, whose letters reflect a great deal of respect for Rodney and his work.”

John Adams, according to the nonprofit Independence Hall Association in Philadelphia, once described Rodney (who never married) as “…the oddest looking man in the world; he is tall, thin and slender as a reed, pale; his face is not bigger than a large apple, yet there is sense and fire, spirit, wit and humor in this countenance.”

Rodney, Russo says, tried to cover the facial mass as well as possible, “but in so doing drew just as much attention to himself.” Among the most prominent representations of Rodney is a monument of the founding father on horseback that resides in Rodney Square in Wilmington, Delaware. Made more than a century after his 1784 death, the likeness was used on the 1999 Delaware state quarter.

“And, of course, everyone asked, ‘Why did Delaware put Paul Revere on its quarter?’” DiPaolo says. “There’s obviously a big disconnect—when there’s no representations of you and you come from a small state, despite the magnitude of what you did, sometimes it’s easy for your story to be lost amongst the larger players.”

In June 2020, during widespread protests over racial injustice, Wilmington, Delaware Rodney's statue was removed and placed in storage. "We cannot erase history, as painful as it may be," Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki said in a news release, "but we can certainly discuss history with each other and determine together what we value and what we feel is appropriate to memorialize,”


1776 (musical)

1776 is a musical with music and lyrics by Sherman Edwards and a book by Peter Stone. The show is based on the events leading up to the signing of the Declaration of Independence, telling a story of the efforts of John Adams to persuade his colleagues to vote for American independence and to sign the document.

The show premiered on Broadway in 1969, earning warm reviews, and ran for 1,217 performances. The production won three Tony Awards, including Best Musical. In 1972, it was made into a film adaptation. It was revived on Broadway in 1997 another Broadway revival is scheduled for 2021. [1]


Caesar Rodney: The Founding Father You've Never Heard Of - HISTORY

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Progressives have been extremely successful in degrading our country’s beginning and the Founding Fathers. They have vilified courageous and heroic men such as Caesar Rodney because the only way to rebuild the country as a socialist/communist utopia, they have to destroy its true foundation. To accomplish that, stories like Rodney’s must be exterminated. Which is why it is imperative we refuse to let them die. Truth will always win, Liberty. So, we can’t forget the men who pledged their lives, fortunes and sacred honor to give us freedom. If we do, then that shame is on us.

As Rodney raced through the night, Dickinson deeply contemplated his position. Word had reached Congress that Hessians had arrived, sent by King George to support the British. For America to gain any help from the French, it was imperative she break from Britain and they must do it now. Still holding to his principles, Dickinson appreciated the colonies’ dilemma. Therefore, when the delegates assembled at Independence Hall on July 2, 1776, he was not among the attendees. As a result, the remaining Pennsylvania delegates would place their colony in the “Independence” column. However, without Rodney, Delaware was still a concern.

McKean nervously waited as the time for the vote drew closer and closer. Strong storms plagued the night, so travel would have been extremely difficult, if not impossible. Then, like a knight arriving on his prized stallion, McKean looked out the window to notice Rodney riding up. Jumping up, he met Rodney at the door who was still “in his boots and spurs.”

Sick, exhausted and still in wet clothes, Rodney took his seat at his desk. As Rodney cast his vote, he declared, “As I believe the voice of my constituents and of all sensible and honest men is in favor of independence, my own judgment concurs with them. I vote for independence.”

With that, Congress achieved their unanimous vote for independence. It was essential those signing the Declaration of Independence agreed, because by doing so, they were signing their death warrant. If America had lost the war, they would have been executed for treason.

Inspired by the vote, John Adams wrote his wife, Abigail, "The second day of July 1776…ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever.” (see Happy Independence Day ) However, even though delegates voted to declare independence, they wanted some time to debate Thomas Jefferson’s document. Therefore, the party would have to wait until the final version, edited by the delegates and Jefferson himself, was approved on July 4. (see Inalienable Rights )

One of Jefferson’s original drafts included a detailed paragraph rejecting King George III forcing slavery on the colonies. He criticized the king for not only enslaving an innocent people, but for also terminating the colony’s every attempt to abolish it. Jefferson furthered his verbal thrashing by denouncing the king for then turning those people that he enslaved against the very persons desiring their freedom.

Unfortunately, it became apparent South Carolina and Georgia would never agree to this admonishment, threatening the “United Colonies” front and again jeopardizing the unanimous support for independence. Therefore, Jefferson reluctantly removed the paragraph regarding the king making the colonies slaves to slavery. Regardless, the document agreed upon by the founders still represented an unprecedented declaration, proclaiming man’s rights are from our Creator and “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” (see Happy Independence Day )

As with the vote for independence, Dickinson refused to vote on Jefferson’s Declaration as well, stating, “My conduct this day, I expect will give the finishing blow to my once too great and, my integrity considered, now too diminished popularity.” Benjamin Franklin expressed the seriousness of the situation, stating, “We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.” Therefore, any delegate who did not sign the Declaration could not remain in Congress, forfeiting their right to be a Founding Father. With integrity and grace, Dickinson resigned voluntarily and proceeded to join the Pennsylvania militia. Upon his departure, Adams commented, “Mr. Dickinson’s alacrity [cheerfulness] and spirit certainly become his character and sets a fine example.”

One of the most notable stories of the Revolutionary War is Paul Revere’s ride from Boston shouting, “The British are coming! The British are coming!” However, another midnight ride happened two years later that was just as impactful, if not more so.

Just before midnight, Caesar awoke to a pounding on his door. “Mr. Rodney, Mr. Rodney. You are needed immediately.” Caesar opened the door to see an exhausted young man trying to catch his breath.

“Mr. Rodney, Mr. McKean sent me. Your vote is desperately needed tomorrow. Please come as soon as you can.”

Within moments, Caesar was dressed and running out the door. Jumping on his horse, he wrapped his scarf around his neck, then took off into the night. He had 80 miles to cover from his Delaware home to Philadelphia and time was of the essence.

Caesar Rodney was one of three delegates from Delaware at the Continental Congress. It was no secret Delaware was split between Loyalists to the king and Patriots desiring independence. Regardless, Rodney had served with Thomas McKean and George Read in other governmental capacities and was convinced both of the other men would vote for independence. Rodney believed his absence during the Congressional session was inconsequential. However, Read changed his mind during the straw poll and voted against it. Without Rodney there, Delaware was left with a split delegation. Congress insisted on a unanimous decision from the colonies since the men were pledging their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor on the treasonous declaration. Therefore, Rodney’s vote became imperative.

McKean immediately dispatched a messenger to Rodney’s home in Delaware, as Rodney was tending to other obligations. Plus, Rodney not only suffered from severe asthma, he had a cancer on his face and jaw. He often wore a scarf to cover the marks it left. Regardless, even sickness and fatigue would not stop Rodney from getting to Philadelphia to cast his vote.

Colonies in New England and the South were solidly for independence. Several middle colonies had been a concern, yet following the release of Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, many changed their minds towards independence. (see It Just Takes Common Sense ) While Rodney raced to secure Delaware, John Dickinson of Pennsylvania was also putting Pennsylvania’s vote in jeopardy. (see Mutiny On The Congress ) Dickinson was an opponent of declaring independence at this time, still hoping for reconciliation. He advocated for finalizing the Articles of Confederation , allowing the government to set up foreign alliances before breaking from England. As part of the delegation that sent their written grievances to the king in October of 1774, Dickinson wanted to continue on the road of non-violence despite the Red Coats attacking Lexington and Concord and Lord Dunmore confiscating gunpowder at Williamsburg. (see The Forgotten Battle , The Shot Heard ‘Round The World and Give Me Liberty ) On the other hand, Rodney saw the events at Boston as, “Now one was neither Tory nor Whig it was either dependence or independence.”


The Founding Fathers and Slavery

Even though the issue of slavery is often raised as a discrediting charge against the Founding Fathers, the historical fact is that slavery was not the product of, nor was it an evil introduced by, the Founding Fathers slavery had been introduced to America nearly two centuries before the Founders. As President of Congress Henry Laurens explained:

I abhor slavery. I was born in a country where slavery had been established by British Kings and Parliaments as well as by the laws of the country ages before my existence. . . . In former days there was no combating the prejudices of men supported by interest the day, I hope, is approaching when, from principles of gratitude as well as justice, every man will strive to be foremost in showing his readiness to comply with the Golden Rule [“do unto others as you would have them do unto you” Matthew 7:12]. 1

Prior to the time of the Founding Fathers, there had been few serious efforts to dismantle the institution of slavery. John Jay identified the point at which the change in attitude toward slavery began:

Prior to the great Revolution, the great majority . . . of our people had been so long accustomed to the practice and convenience of having slaves that very few among them even doubted the propriety and rectitude of it. 2

The Revolution was the turning point in the national attitude–and it was the Founding Fathers who contributed greatly to that change. In fact, many of the Founders vigorously complained against the fact that Great Britain had forcefully imposed upon the Colonies the evil of slavery. For example, Thomas Jefferson heavily criticized that British policy:

He [King George III] has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating and carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. . . . Determined to keep open a market where men should be bought and sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce [that is, he has opposed efforts to prohibit the slave trade]. 3

Benjamin Franklin, in a 1773 letter to Dean Woodward, confirmed that whenever the Americans had attempted to end slavery, the British government had indeed thwarted those attempts. Franklin explained that . . .

. . . a disposition to abolish slavery prevails in North America, that many of Pennsylvanians have set their slaves at liberty, and that even the Virginia Assembly have petitioned the King for permission to make a law for preventing the importation of more into that colony. This request, however, will probably not be granted as their former laws of that kind have always been repealed. 4

Further confirmation that even the Virginia Founders were not responsible for slavery, but actually tried to dismantle the institution, was provided by John Quincy Adams (known as the “hell-hound of abolition” for his extensive efforts against that evil). Adams explained:

The inconsistency of the institution of domestic slavery with the principles of the Declaration of Independence was seen and lamented by all the southern patriots of the Revolution by no one with deeper and more unalterable conviction than by the author of the Declaration himself [Jefferson]. No charge of insincerity or hypocrisy can be fairly laid to their charge. Never from their lips was heard one syllable of attempt to justify the institution of slavery. They universally considered it as a reproach fastened upon them by the unnatural step-mother country [Great Britain] and they saw that before the principles of the Declaration of Independence, slavery, in common with every other mode of oppression, was destined sooner or later to be banished from the earth. Such was the undoubting conviction of Jefferson to his dying day. In the Memoir of His Life, written at the age of seventy-seven, he gave to his countrymen the solemn and emphatic warning that the day was not distant when they must hear and adopt the general emancipation of their slaves. 5

While Jefferson himself had introduced a bill designed to end slavery, 6 not all of the southern Founders were opposed to slavery. According to the testimony of Virginians James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and John Rutledge, it was the Founders from North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia who most strongly favored slavery. 7

Yet, despite the support for slavery in those States, the clear majority of the Founders opposed this evil. For instance, when some of the southern pro-slavery advocates invoked the Bible in support of slavery, Elias Boudinot, President of the Continental Congress, responded:

[E]ven the sacred Scriptures had been quoted to justify this iniquitous traffic. It is true that the Egyptians held the Israelites in bondage for four hundred years, . . . but . . . gentlemen cannot forget the consequences that followed: they were delivered by a strong hand and stretched-out arm and it ought to be remembered that the Almighty Power that accomplished their deliverance is the same yesterday, today, and for ever. 8

Many of the Founding Fathers who had owned slaves as British citizens released them in the years following America’s separation from Great Britain (e.g., George Washington, John Dickinson, Caesar Rodney, William Livingston, George Wythe, John Randolph of Roanoke, and others). Furthermore, many of the Founders had never owned any slaves. For example, John Adams proclaimed, “[M]y opinion against it [slavery] has always been known . . . [N]ever in my life did I own a slave.” 9

Notice a few additional examples of the strong anti-slavery sentiments held by great numbers of the Founders:

[N]ever in my life did I own a slave. 10 John Adams, Signer of the Declaration, one of only two signers of the Bill of Rights, U. S. President

But to the eye of reason, what can be more clear than that all men have an equal right to happiness? Nature made no other distinction than that of higher or lower degrees of power of mind and body. . . . Were the talents and virtues which Heaven has bestowed on men given merely to make them more obedient drudges? . . . No! In the judgment of heaven there is no other superiority among men than a superiority of wisdom and virtue. 11 Samuel Adams, Signer of the Declaration, “Father of the American Revolution”

[W]hy keep alive the question of slavery? It is admitted by all to be a great evil. 12 Charles Carroll, Signer of the Declaration

As Congress is now to legislate for our extensive territory lately acquired, I pray to Heaven that they may build up the system of the government on the broad, strong, and sound principles of freedom. Curse not the inhabitants of those regions, and of the United States in general, with a permission to introduce bondage [slavery]. 13 John Dickinson, Signer of the Constitution Governor of Pennsylvania

I am glad to hear that the disposition against keeping negroes grows more general in North America. Several pieces have been lately printed here against the practice, and I hope in time it will be taken into consideration and suppressed by the legislature. 14 Benjamin Franklin, Signer of the Declaration, Signer of the Constitution, President of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society

That mankind are all formed by the same Almighty Being, alike objects of his care, and equally designed for the enjoyment of happiness, the Christian religion teaches us to believe, and the political creed of Americans fully coincides with the position. . . . [We] earnestly entreat your serious attention to the subject of slavery – that you will be pleased to countenance the restoration of liberty to those unhappy men who alone in this land of freedom are degraded into perpetual bondage and who . . . are groaning in servile subjection. 15 Benjamin Franklin, Signer of the Declaration, Signer of the Constitution, President of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society

That men should pray and fight for their own freedom and yet keep others in slavery is certainly acting a very inconsistent, as well as unjust and perhaps impious, part. 16 John Jay, President of Continental Congress, Original Chief Justice U. S. Supreme Court

The whole commerce between master and slave is a perpetual exercise of the most boisterous passions, the most unremitting despotism on the one part, and degrading submissions on the other. . . . And with what execration [curse] should the statesman be loaded, who permitting one half the citizens thus to trample on the rights of the other. . . . And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with His wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just that his justice cannot sleep forever. 17 Thomas Jefferson

Christianity, by introducing into Europe the truest principles of humanity, universal benevolence, and brotherly love, had happily abolished civil slavery. Let us who profess the same religion practice its precepts . . . by agreeing to this duty. 18 Richard Henry Lee, President of Continental Congress Signer of the Declaration

I have seen it observed by a great writer that Christianity, by introducing into Europe the truest principles of humanity, universal benevolence, and brotherly love, had happily abolished civil slavery. Let us, who profess the same religion practice its precepts, and by agreeing to this duty convince the world that we know and practice our truest interests, and that we pay a proper regard to the dictates of justice and humanity! 19 Richard Henry Lee, Signer of the Declaration, Framer of the Bill of Rights

I hope we shall at last, and if it so please God I hope it may be during my life time, see this cursed thing [slavery] taken out. . . . For my part, whether in a public station or a private capacity, I shall always be prompt to contribute my assistance towards effecting so desirable an event. 20 William Livingston, Signer of the Constitution Governor of New Jersey

[I]t ought to be considered that national crimes can only be and frequently are punished in this world by national punishments and that the continuance of the slave-trade, and thus giving it a national sanction and encouragement, ought to be considered as justly exposing us to the displeasure and vengeance of Him who is equally Lord of all and who views with equal eye the poor African slave and his American master. 21 Luther Martin, Delegate at Constitution Convention

As much as I value a union of all the States, I would not admit the Southern States into the Union unless they agree to the discontinuance of this disgraceful trade [slavery]. 22 George Mason, Delegate at Constitutional Convention

Honored will that State be in the annals of history which shall first abolish this violation of the rights of mankind. 23 Joseph Reed, Revolutionary Officer Governor of Pennsylvania

Domestic slavery is repugnant to the principles of Christianity. . . . It is rebellion against the authority of a common Father. It is a practical denial of the extent and efficacy of the death of a common Savior. It is an usurpation of the prerogative of the great Sovereign of the universe who has solemnly claimed an exclusive property in the souls of men. 24 Benjamin Rush, Signer of the Declaration

The commerce in African slaves has breathed its last in Pennsylvania. I shall send you a copy of our late law respecting that trade as soon as it is published. I am encouraged by the success that has finally attended the exertions of the friends of universal freedom and justice. 25 Benjamin Rush, Signer of the Declaration, Founder of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society, President of the National Abolition Movement

Justice and humanity require it [the end of slavery]–Christianity commands it. Let every benevolent . . . pray for the glorious period when the last slave who fights for freedom shall be restored to the possession of that inestimable right. 26 Noah Webster, Responsible for Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution

Slavery, or an absolute and unlimited power in the master over the life and fortune of the slave, is unauthorized by the common law. . . . The reasons which we sometimes see assigned for the origin and the continuance of slavery appear, when examined to the bottom, to be built upon a false foundation. In the enjoyment of their persons and of their property, the common law protects all. 27 James Wilson, Signer of the Constitution U. S. Supreme Court Justice

[I]t is certainly unlawful to make inroads upon others . . . and take away their liberty by no better means than superior power. 28 John Witherspoon, Signer of the Declaration

For many of the Founders, their feelings against slavery went beyond words. For example, in 1774, Benjamin Franklin and Benjamin Rush founded America’s first anti-slavery society John Jay was president of a similar society in New York. In fact, when signer of the Constitution William Livingston heard of the New York society, he, as Governor of New Jersey, wrote them, offering:

I would most ardently wish to become a member of it [the society in New York] and . . . I can safely promise them that neither my tongue, nor my pen, nor purse shall be wanting to promote the abolition of what to me appears so inconsistent with humanity and Christianity. . . . May the great and the equal Father of the human race, who has expressly declared His abhorrence of oppression, and that He is no respecter of persons, succeed a design so laudably calculated to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke. 29

Other prominent Founding Fathers who were members of societies for ending slavery included Richard Bassett, James Madison, James Monroe, Bushrod Washington, Charles Carroll, William Few, John Marshall, Richard Stockton, Zephaniah Swift, and many more. In fact, based in part on the efforts of these Founders, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts began abolishing slavery in 1780 30 Connecticut and Rhode Island did so in 1784 31 Vermont in 1786 32 New Hampshire in 1792 33 New York in 1799 34 and New Jersey did so in 1804. 35

Additionally, the reason that Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Iowa all prohibited slavery was a Congressional act, authored by Constitution signer Rufus King 36 and signed into law by President George Washington, 37 which prohibited slavery in those territories. 38 It is not surprising that Washington would sign such a law, for it was he who had declared:

I can only say that there is not a man living who wishes more sincerely than I do to see a plan adopted for the abolition of it [slavery]. 39

The truth is that it was the Founding Fathers who were responsible for planting and nurturing the first seeds for the recognition of black equality and for the eventual end of slavery. This was a fact made clear by Richard Allen.

Allen had been a slave in Pennsylvania but was freed after he converted his master to Christianity. Allen, a close friend of Benjamin Rush and several other Founding Fathers, went on to become the founder of the A.M.E. Church in America. In an early address “To the People of Color,” he explained:

Many of the white people have been instruments in the hands of God for our good, even such as have held us in captivity, [and] are now pleading our cause with earnestness and zeal. 40

While much progress was made by the Founders to end the institution of slavery, unfortunately what they began was not fully achieved until generations later. Yet, despite the strenuous effort of many Founders to recognize in practice that “all men are created equal,” charges persist to the opposite. In fact, revisionists even claim that the Constitution demonstrates that the Founders considered one who was black to be only three-fifths of a person. This charge is yet another falsehood. The three-fifths clause was not a measurement of human worth rather, it was an anti-slavery provision to limit the political power of slavery’s proponents. By including only three-fifths of the total number of slaves in the congressional calculations, Southern States were actually being denied additional pro-slavery representatives in Congress.

Based on the clear records of the Constitutional Convention, two prominent professors explain the meaning of the three-fifths clause:

While much progress was made by the Founders to end the institution of slavery, unfortunately what they began was not fully achieved until generations later. Yet, despite the strenuous effort of many Founders to recognize in practice that “all men are created equal,” charges persist to the opposite. In fact, revisionists even claim that the Constitution demonstrates that the Founders considered one who was black to be only three-fifths of a person. This charge is yet another falsehood. The three-fifths clause was not a measurement of human worth rather, it was an anti-slavery provision to limit the political power of slavery’s proponents. By including only three-fifths of the total number of slaves in the congressional calculations, Southern States were actually being denied additional pro-slavery representatives in Congress.

It was slavery’s opponents who succeeded in restricting the political power of the South by allowing them to count only three-fifths of their slave population in determining the number of congressional representatives. The three-fifths of a vote provision applied only to slaves, not to free blacks in either the North or South. 42 Walter Williams

Why do revisionists so often abuse and misportray the three-fifths clause? Professor Walter Williams (himself an African-American) suggested:

Politicians, news media, college professors and leftists of other stripes are selling us lies and propaganda. To lay the groundwork for their increasingly successful attack on our Constitution, they must demean and criticize its authors. As Senator Joe Biden demonstrated during the Clarence Thomas hearings, the framers’ ideas about natural law must be trivialized or they must be seen as racists. 43

While this has been only a cursory examination of the Founders and slavery, it is nonetheless sufficient to demonstrate the absurdity of the insinuation that the Founders were a collective group of racists.


The Second Most Amazing Thing To Happen July 2, 1776

Realizing they were not in the majority, Morris and Dickinson would go on to do something entirely unexpected on July 2nd, 1776.

Robert Morris and John Dickinson absented themselves from the meeting.

They stepped behind the famous rail of the Assembly Room, absent then from the ongoing proceedings and upcoming vote, allowing the remaining Pennsylvania delegates to vote 2 to 1 in favor of independence.

Dickinson immediately headed home to organize local militias. Morris stuck around and would eventually sign the Declaration of Independence. The vote for independence now had 11 colonies in favor.

Independence Hall – Behind the Rail.

Caesar Rodney – The Midnight Ride You’ve Never Heard of — Until Now

For the final curtain call, entering center stage, is Caesar Rodney. The journey Rodney embarked on is remarkable given the slow pace of communication and transportation. It’s also amazing given the health of the man now standing center stage. Rodney suffered from bouts of asthma and a cancerous lesion that covered the left side of his face.

Rodney had been absent on the day of the “unofficial” vote because, as a soldier-statesman, he was at home in Delaware trying to squash a Loyalist uprising.

The two remaining Delaware delegates, Thomas McKean and George Read, were deadlocked. McKean, realizing that Read was going to prevent Delaware from casting a vote for independence, dispatched a rider to travel the 80 miles to Rodney’s home with the urgent message to get his butt to Philadelphia.

Getting the message at nearly midnight, Rodney none the less saddled a horse straightaway to ride through the night and a raging thunderstorm to dramatically enter the Assembly Room just in time to cast a vote for independence.

“I met [Rodney] at the State-house door,” wrote McKean later, “in his boots and spurs, as the members were assembling.” Later, Rodney wrote his brother, “I arrived in Congress (tho detained by thunder and rain–) time enough to give voice in the matter of independence…”

Rodney put Delaware firmly in the plus column. The vote for independence now had 12 colonies in favor.

New York would again abstain, just as they did the day before.

The score now stood at 12 in favor, 1 abstained, and none against. It wasn’t exactly unanimous. However, the motion carried, and a new nation was born.

Seven days later, New York would approve the Declaration.

Immediately after the vote, Congress began refining the language contained in the Declaration of Independence to the chagrin of Thomas Jefferson. One of the most important passages to be deleted dealt with slavery. Had this passage been left in the Declaration, slavery would have soon been abolished.

For two days Congress continued to work on the document and on July 4 th the altered Declaration was formally adopted. Only two men signed the document on July 4 th , the President of Congress John Hancock and his secretary, Charles Thomson.

The document was then taken to a local printer, John Dunlap, who set the words to type and produced 200 copies. Dunlap affixed the date of July 4 th to the top of the broadsides he printed, and American’s mistakenly assumed that was the day of the crucial vote for independence. Three printed names were on the Dunlap Broadsides, John Hancock, President of Congress, Charles Thomson, who as Secretary attested to the document’s authenticity, and the printer’s name, John Dunlap.

Broadside Original – Declaration of Independence.

It wasn’t until August 2 nd , 1776 that the majority of the delegates who voted for independence actually signed the “unanimous” grandiose Engrossed Copy of the Declaration.

By August 1776, most Americans considered July 4 th the most important date in the newly formed nations history.

And, this is where things really get Wacky.

Engrossed Version of the Declaration of Independence signed in August 1776.

For reasons that escape us, Congress then decided not to correct the little white lie surrounding the date that would become our Independence Day and even went so far as to back-date some official records to show that all 56 men had signed on July 4 th , 1776.

Of course, this was not true.

The men who were in Philadelphia on July 2 nd and actually voted for independence, weren’t necessarily the same men who signed the Declaration at the August shindig. Some were already fighting in the war and others were working in their states to form new governments. Many signed when they could get around to it. One, we think, as late as 1781.

In fact, eight of the original delegates never signed the Declaration. These include John Alsop, George Clinton, John Dickinson, Charles Humphreys, Robert R. Livingston, John Rogers, Thomas Willing, and Henry Wisner.

Ever busy for the cause, Livingston, Clinton, and Wisner were attending to other matters away from Congress during the August signing.

Interestingly, Robert R. Livingston was on the Committee of Five that helped author the Declaration but as a delegate of New York had abstained from voting for independence. Years later, he would swear George Washington in as the first President of the United States. But, he never signed the Declaration.

Some of the men who voted on the measure in July had been replaced by new delegates for their state by the time of the August signing. Willing and Humphreys voted against the resolution for independence in July and were replaced in the Pennsylvania delegation before the August signing. Alsop, who had argued for reconciliation with Britain, resigned from Congress and refused to sign the document.

John Rogers had voted for the resolution but was no longer a delegate by August due to illness. Rogers is the only delegate to vote for independence and not sign the Declaration of Independence.

Dickinson, who was one of the most forceful voices against independence, arguing that the Declaration was premature, refused to sign the Declaration. However, he remained a delegate to Congress and fought in the Revolutionary War. It should be noted that Dickinson, on the crucial day of the vote, abstained from the vote which allowed Pennsylvania to vote in the affirmative for independence.

To add more confusion to the proceedings, Robert Morris – who along with Dickinson had abstained from voting in July – a month later, went ahead and signed the Declaration.

Two delegates, William Hooper and Samuel Chase, were away on other business when the Declaration was debated in July. Yet, they were back in Congress in August to sign the Declaration of Independence.

Six delegates who were present in July didn’t make it to the August signing but signed later. These include Lewis Morris, Thomas McKean, Elbridge Gerry, Oliver Wolcott, Richard Henry Lee and George Wythe. Remember, it was Richard Henry Lee who first proposed to Congress to break from England.

Eight men – new delegates – who joined Congress after July 2 nd , were also allowed to sign the Declaration. The new members of Congress allowed to sign were Matthew Thornton, William Williams, Benjamin Rush, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, George Ross, and Charles Carroll of Carrollton. Of these, Matthew Thornton didn’t take a seat in Congress until November. Because there was no space for him to sign next to the other New Hampshire delegates, he placed his signature at the end of the document.

And lastly, there’s George Read – the only person to vote against independence – who went on to sign the Declaration of Independence anyway.

Is your head spinning yet?

With all the confusion surrounding the signing of the Declaration of Independence, when they signed it, who was present and when, who voted in favor, and who didn’t – is it any wonder Congress decided to go with the July 4 th date?

Or, as John Adams insisted, do you think we should be celebrating July 2 nd , 1776 instead?

Then again, maybe we should be celebrating the freedom they gave us every single day. God Bless America!


The Founding Fathers and Slavery

Even though the issue of slavery is often raised as a discrediting charge against the Founding Fathers, the historical fact is that slavery was not the product of, nor was it an evil introduced by, the Founding Fathers slavery had been introduced to America nearly two centuries before the Founders. As President of Congress Henry Laurens explained:

I abhor slavery. I was born in a country where slavery had been established by British Kings and Parliaments as well as by the laws of the country ages before my existence. . . . In former days there was no combating the prejudices of men supported by interest the day, I hope, is approaching when, from principles of gratitude as well as justice, every man will strive to be foremost in showing his readiness to comply with the Golden Rule [“do unto others as you would have them do unto you” Matthew 7:12]. 1

Prior to the time of the Founding Fathers, there had been few serious efforts to dismantle the institution of slavery. John Jay identified the point at which the change in attitude toward slavery began:

Prior to the great Revolution, the great majority . . . of our people had been so long accustomed to the practice and convenience of having slaves that very few among them even doubted the propriety and rectitude of it. 2

The Revolution was the turning point in the national attitude–and it was the Founding Fathers who contributed greatly to that change. In fact, many of the Founders vigorously complained against the fact that Great Britain had forcefully imposed upon the Colonies the evil of slavery. For example, Thomas Jefferson heavily criticized that British policy:

He [King George III] has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating and carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. . . . Determined to keep open a market where men should be bought and sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce [that is, he has opposed efforts to prohibit the slave trade]. 3

Benjamin Franklin, in a 1773 letter to Dean Woodward, confirmed that whenever the Americans had attempted to end slavery, the British government had indeed thwarted those attempts. Franklin explained that . . .

. . . a disposition to abolish slavery prevails in North America, that many of Pennsylvanians have set their slaves at liberty, and that even the Virginia Assembly have petitioned the King for permission to make a law for preventing the importation of more into that colony. This request, however, will probably not be granted as their former laws of that kind have always been repealed. 4

Further confirmation that even the Virginia Founders were not responsible for slavery, but actually tried to dismantle the institution, was provided by John Quincy Adams (known as the “hell-hound of abolition” for his extensive efforts against that evil). Adams explained:

The inconsistency of the institution of domestic slavery with the principles of the Declaration of Independence was seen and lamented by all the southern patriots of the Revolution by no one with deeper and more unalterable conviction than by the author of the Declaration himself [Jefferson]. No charge of insincerity or hypocrisy can be fairly laid to their charge. Never from their lips was heard one syllable of attempt to justify the institution of slavery. They universally considered it as a reproach fastened upon them by the unnatural step-mother country [Great Britain] and they saw that before the principles of the Declaration of Independence, slavery, in common with every other mode of oppression, was destined sooner or later to be banished from the earth. Such was the undoubting conviction of Jefferson to his dying day. In the Memoir of His Life, written at the age of seventy-seven, he gave to his countrymen the solemn and emphatic warning that the day was not distant when they must hear and adopt the general emancipation of their slaves. 5

While Jefferson himself had introduced a bill designed to end slavery, 6 not all of the southern Founders were opposed to slavery. According to the testimony of Virginians James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, it was the Founders from North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia who most strongly favored slavery. 7

Yet, despite the support for slavery in those States, the clear majority of the Founders opposed this evil. For instance, when some of the southern pro-slavery advocates invoked the Bible in support of slavery, Elias Boudinot, President of the Continental Congress, responded:

[E]ven the sacred Scriptures had been quoted to justify this iniquitous traffic. It is true that the Egyptians held the Israelites in bondage for four hundred years, . . . but . . . gentlemen cannot forget the consequences that followed: they were delivered by a strong hand and stretched-out arm and it ought to be remembered that the Almighty Power that accomplished their deliverance is the same yesterday, today, and for ever. 8

Many of the Founding Fathers who had owned slaves as British citizens released them in the years following America’s separation from Great Britain (e.g., George Washington, John Dickinson, Caesar Rodney, William Livingston, George Wythe, John Randolph of Roanoke, and others). Furthermore, many of the Founders had never owned any slaves. For example, John Adams proclaimed, “[M]y opinion against it [slavery] has always been known . . . [N]ever in my life did I own a slave.” 9

Notice a few additional examples of the strong anti-slavery sentiments held by great numbers of the Founders:

[N]ever in my life did I own a slave. 10 John Adams, Signer of the Declaration, one of only two signers of the Bill of Rights, U. S. President

But to the eye of reason, what can be more clear than that all men have an equal right to happiness? Nature made no other distinction than that of higher or lower degrees of power of mind and body. . . . Were the talents and virtues which Heaven has bestowed on men given merely to make them more obedient drudges? . . . No! In the judgment of heaven there is no other superiority among men than a superiority of wisdom and virtue. 11 Samuel Adams, Signer of the Declaration, “Father of the American Revolution”

[W]hy keep alive the question of slavery? It is admitted by all to be a great evil. 12 Charles Carroll, Signer of the Declaration

As Congress is now to legislate for our extensive territory lately acquired, I pray to Heaven that they may build up the system of the government on the broad, strong, and sound principles of freedom. Curse not the inhabitants of those regions, and of the United States in general, with a permission to introduce bondage [slavery]. 13 John Dickinson, Signer of the Constitution Governor of Pennsylvania

I am glad to hear that the disposition against keeping negroes grows more general in North America. Several pieces have been lately printed here against the practice, and I hope in time it will be taken into consideration and suppressed by the legislature. 14 Benjamin Franklin, Signer of the Declaration, Signer of the Constitution, President of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society

That mankind are all formed by the same Almighty Being, alike objects of his care, and equally designed for the enjoyment of happiness, the Christian religion teaches us to believe, and the political creed of Americans fully coincides with the position. . . . [We] earnestly entreat your serious attention to the subject of slavery – that you will be pleased to countenance the restoration of liberty to those unhappy men who alone in this land of freedom are degraded into perpetual bondage and who . . . are groaning in servile subjection. 15 Benjamin Franklin, Signer of the Declaration, Signer of the Constitution, President of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society

That men should pray and fight for their own freedom and yet keep others in slavery is certainly acting a very inconsistent, as well as unjust and perhaps impious, part. 16 John Jay, President of Continental Congress, Original Chief Justice U. S. Supreme Court

The whole commerce between master and slave is a perpetual exercise of the most boisterous passions, the most unremitting despotism on the one part, and degrading submissions on the other. . . . And with what execration [curse] should the statesman be loaded, who permitting one half the citizens thus to trample on the rights of the other. . . . And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with His wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just that his justice cannot sleep forever. 17 Thomas Jefferson

Christianity, by introducing into Europe the truest principles of humanity, universal benevolence, and brotherly love, had happily abolished civil slavery. Let us who profess the same religion practice its precepts . . . by agreeing to this duty. 18 Richard Henry Lee, President of Continental Congress Signer of the Declaration

I have seen it observed by a great writer that Christianity, by introducing into Europe the truest principles of humanity, universal benevolence, and brotherly love, had happily abolished civil slavery. Let us, who profess the same religion practice its precepts, and by agreeing to this duty convince the world that we know and practice our truest interests, and that we pay a proper regard to the dictates of justice and humanity! 19 Richard Henry Lee, Signer of the Declaration, Framer of the Bill of Rights

I hope we shall at last, and if it so please God I hope it may be during my life time, see this cursed thing [slavery] taken out. . . . For my part, whether in a public station or a private capacity, I shall always be prompt to contribute my assistance towards effecting so desirable an event. 20 William Livingston, Signer of the Constitution Governor of New Jersey

[I]t ought to be considered that national crimes can only be and frequently are punished in this world by national punishments and that the continuance of the slave-trade, and thus giving it a national sanction and encouragement, ought to be considered as justly exposing us to the displeasure and vengeance of Him who is equally Lord of all and who views with equal eye the poor African slave and his American master. 21 Luther Martin, Delegate at Constitution Convention

As much as I value a union of all the States, I would not admit the Southern States into the Union unless they agree to the discontinuance of this disgraceful trade [slavery]. 22 George Mason, Delegate at Constitutional Convention

Honored will that State be in the annals of history which shall first abolish this violation of the rights of mankind. 23 Joseph Reed, Revolutionary Officer Governor of Pennsylvania

Domestic slavery is repugnant to the principles of Christianity. . . . It is rebellion against the authority of a common Father. It is a practical denial of the extent and efficacy of the death of a common Savior. It is an usurpation of the prerogative of the great Sovereign of the universe who has solemnly claimed an exclusive property in the souls of men. 24 Benjamin Rush, Signer of the Declaration

The commerce in African slaves has breathed its last in Pennsylvania. I shall send you a copy of our late law respecting that trade as soon as it is published. I am encouraged by the success that has finally attended the exertions of the friends of universal freedom and justice. 25 Benjamin Rush, Signer of the Declaration, Founder of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society, President of the National Abolition Movement

Justice and humanity require it [the end of slavery]–Christianity commands it. Let every benevolent . . . pray for the glorious period when the last slave who fights for freedom shall be restored to the possession of that inestimable right. 26 Noah Webster, Responsible for Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution

Slavery, or an absolute and unlimited power in the master over the life and fortune of the slave, is unauthorized by the common law. . . . The reasons which we sometimes see assigned for the origin and the continuance of slavery appear, when examined to the bottom, to be built upon a false foundation. In the enjoyment of their persons and of their property, the common law protects all. 27 James Wilson, Signer of the Constitution U. S. Supreme Court Justice

[I]t is certainly unlawful to make inroads upon others . . . and take away their liberty by no better means than superior power. 28 John Witherspoon, Signer of the Declaration

For many of the Founders, their feelings against slavery went beyond words. For example, in 1774, Benjamin Franklin and Benjamin Rush founded America’s first anti-slavery society John Jay was president of a similar society in New York. In fact, when signer of the Constitution William Livingston heard of the New York society, he, as Governor of New Jersey, wrote them, offering:

I would most ardently wish to become a member of it [the society in New York] and . . . I can safely promise them that neither my tongue, nor my pen, nor purse shall be wanting to promote the abolition of what to me appears so inconsistent with humanity and Christianity. . . . May the great and the equal Father of the human race, who has expressly declared His abhorrence of oppression, and that He is no respecter of persons, succeed a design so laudably calculated to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke. 29

Other prominent Founding Fathers who were members of societies for ending slavery included Richard Bassett, James Madison, James Monroe, Bushrod Washington, Charles Carroll, William Few, John Marshall, Richard Stockton, Zephaniah Swift, and many more. In fact, based in part on the efforts of these Founders, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts began abolishing slavery in 1780 30 Connecticut and Rhode Island did so in 1784 31 Vermont in 1786 32 New Hampshire in 1792 33 New York in 1799 34 and New Jersey did so in 1804. 35

Additionally, the reason that Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Iowa all prohibited slavery was a Congressional act, authored by Constitution signer Rufus King 36 and signed into law by President George Washington, 37 which prohibited slavery in those territories. 38 It is not surprising that Washington would sign such a law, for it was he who had declared:

I can only say that there is not a man living who wishes more sincerely than I do to see a plan adopted for the abolition of it [slavery]. 39

The truth is that it was the Founding Fathers who were responsible for planting and nurturing the first seeds for the recognition of black equality and for the eventual end of slavery. This was a fact made clear by Richard Allen.

Allen had been a slave in Pennsylvania but was freed after he converted his master to Christianity. Allen, a close friend of Benjamin Rush and several other Founding Fathers, went on to become the founder of the A.M.E. Church in America. In an early address “To the People of Color,” he explained:

Many of the white people have been instruments in the hands of God for our good, even such as have held us in captivity, [and] are now pleading our cause with earnestness and zeal. 40

While much progress was made by the Founders to end the institution of slavery, unfortunately what they began was not fully achieved until generations later. Yet, despite the strenuous effort of many Founders to recognize in practice that “all men are created equal,” charges persist to the opposite. In fact, revisionists even claim that the Constitution demonstrates that the Founders considered one who was black to be only three-fifths of a person. This charge is yet another falsehood. The three-fifths clause was not a measurement of human worth rather, it was an anti-slavery provision to limit the political power of slavery’s proponents. By including only three-fifths of the total number of slaves in the congressional calculations, Southern States were actually being denied additional pro-slavery representatives in Congress.

Based on the clear records of the Constitutional Convention, two prominent professors explain the meaning of the three-fifths clause:

While much progress was made by the Founders to end the institution of slavery, unfortunately what they began was not fully achieved until generations later. Yet, despite the strenuous effort of many Founders to recognize in practice that “all men are created equal,” charges persist to the opposite. In fact, revisionists even claim that the Constitution demonstrates that the Founders considered one who was black to be only three-fifths of a person. This charge is yet another falsehood. The three-fifths clause was not a measurement of human worth rather, it was an anti-slavery provision to limit the political power of slavery’s proponents. By including only three-fifths of the total number of slaves in the congressional calculations, Southern States were actually being denied additional pro-slavery representatives in Congress.

It was slavery’s opponents who succeeded in restricting the political power of the South by allowing them to count only three-fifths of their slave population in determining the number of congressional representatives. The three-fifths of a vote provision applied only to slaves, not to free blacks in either the North or South. 42 Walter Williams

Why do revisionists so often abuse and misportray the three-fifths clause? Professor Walter Williams (himself an African-American) suggested:

Politicians, news media, college professors and leftists of other stripes are selling us lies and propaganda. To lay the groundwork for their increasingly successful attack on our Constitution, they must demean and criticize its authors. As Senator Joe Biden demonstrated during the Clarence Thomas hearings, the framers’ ideas about natural law must be trivialized or they must be seen as racists. 43

While this has been only a cursory examination of the Founders and slavery, it is nonetheless sufficient to demonstrate the absurdity of the insinuation that the Founders were a collective group of racists.

1. Frank Moore, Materials for History Printed From Original
Manuscripts, the Correspondence of Henry Laurens of South Carolina
(New York: Zenger Club, 1861), p. 20, to John Laurens on August 14, 1776.

2. John Jay, The Correspondence and Public Papers of John Jay, Henry P. Johnston, editor (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1891), Vol. III, p. 342, to the English Anti-Slavery Society in June 1788.

3. Thomas Jefferson, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Albert Ellery Bergh, editor (Washington, D. C.: Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association, 1903), Vol. I, p. 34.

4. Benjamin Franklin, The Works of Benjamin Franklin, Jared Sparks, editor (Boston: Tappan, Whittemore, and Mason, 1839), Vol. VIII, p. 42, to the Rev. Dean Woodward on April 10, 1773.

5. John Quincy Adams, An Oration Delivered Before the Inhabitants of the Town of Newburyport at Their Request on the Sixty-First Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1837 (Newburyport: Charles Whipple, 1837), p. 50.

6. Thomas Jefferson, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Albert Ellery Bergh, editor (Washington, D. C.: Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association, 1903), Vol. I, p. 4.

7. Thomas Jefferson, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Albert Ellery Bergh, editor (Washington, D. C.: Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association, 1903),Vol. I, p. 28, from his autobiography. See also James Madison, The Papers of James Madison (Washington: Langtree and O’Sullivan, 1840), Vol. III, p. 1395, August 22, 1787 James Madison, The Writings of James Madison, Gaillard Hunt, editor, (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1910), Vol. IX, p. 2, to Robert Walsh on November 27, 1819.

8. The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States (Washington, D. C.: Gales and Seaton, 1834), 1st Congress, 2nd Session, p. 1518, March 22, 1790. See also George Adams Boyd, Elias Boudinot, Patriot and Statesman (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1952), p. 182.

9. John Adams, The Works of John Adams, Charles Francis Adams, editor (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1854), Vol. IX, pp. 92-93, to George Churchman and Jacob Lindley on January 24, 1801.

10. John Adams, The Works of John Adams, Charles Francis Adams, editor (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1854) Vol. IX, p. 92, letter to George Churchman and Jacob Lindley on January 24, 1801.

11. Samuel Adams, An Oration Delivered at the State House, in Philadelphia, to a Very Numerous audience on Thursday the 1st of August, 1776 (London: E. Johnson, 1776), pp. 4-6.

12. Kate Mason Rowland, Life and Correspondence of Charles Carroll of Carrollton (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1898), Vol. II, p. 321, to Robert Goodloe Harper on April 23, 1820.

13. Charles J. Stille, The Life and Times of John Dickinson(Philadelphia: J. P. Lippincott Company, 1891), p. 324, to George Logan on January 30, 1804.

14. Benjamin Franklin, The Works of Benjamin Franklin, John Bigelow, editor (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904), Vol. 5. p. 356, letter to Mr. Anthony Benezet on August 22, 1772.

15. Annals of Congress, Joseph Gales, Sr., editor (Washington: Gales and Seaton, 1834), Vol. 1, pp. 1239-1240, Memorial from the Pennsylvania Abolition Society from February 3, 1790 presented to Congress on February 12, 1790.

16. John Jay, The Life and Times of John Jay, William Jay, editor (New York: J. & S. Harper, 1833), Vol. II, p. 174, to the Rev. Dr. Richard Price on September 27, 1785.

17. Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia(Philadelphia: Matthew Carey, 1794), Query XVIII, pp. 236-237.

18. Richard Henry Lee, Memoir of the Life of Richard Henry Lee, Richard Henry Lee, editor (Philadelphia: H. C. Carey and I. Lea, 1825), Vol. I, p. 19, the first speech of Richard Henry Lee in the House of Burgesses of Virginia.

19. Richard H. Lee (Grandson), Memoir of the Life of Richard Henry Lee (Philadelphia: H. C. Carey and I. Lea, 1825), Vol. 1, pp. 17-19, the first speech of Richard Henry Lee in the House of Burgesses of Virginia.

20. William Livingston, The Papers of William Livingston, Carl E. Prince, editor (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1988), Vol. V, p. 358, to James Pemberton on October 20, 1788.

21. Luther Martin, The Genuine Information Delivered to the Legislature of the State of Maryland Relative to the Proceedings of the General Convention Lately Held at Philadelphia (Philadelphia: Eleazor Oswald, 1788), p. 57. See also Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution, Jonathan Elliot, editor (Washington, D. C.: 1836), Vol. I, p. 374.

22. Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution, Jonathan Elliot, editor (Washington, D. C.: 1836), Vol. III, pp. 452-454, George Mason, June 15, 1788.

23. William Armor, Lives of the Governors of Pennsylvania(Norwich, CT: T. H. Davis & Co., 1874), p. 223.

24. Benjamin Rush, Minutes of the Proceedings of a Convention of Delegates from the Abolition Societies Established in Different Parts of the United States Assembled at Philadelphia (Philadelphia: Zachariah Poulson, 1794), p. 24.

25. Benjamin Rush, Letters of Benjamin Rush, L. H. Butterfield, editor (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1951), Vol. 1, p. 371, to Richard Price on October 15, 1785.

26. Noah Webster, Effect of Slavery on Morals and Industry (Hartford: Hudson and Goodwin, 1793), p. 48.

27. James Wilson, The Works of the Honorable James Wilson, Bird Wilson, editor (Philadelphia: Lorenzo Press, 1804), Vol. II, p. 488, lecture on “The Natural Rights of Individuals.”

28. John Witherspoon, The Works of John Witherspoon (Edinburgh: J. Ogle, 1815), Vol. VII, p. 81, from “Lectures on Moral Philosophy,” Lecture X on Politics.

29. William Livingston, The Papers of William Livingston, Carl E. Prince, editor (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1988), Vol. V, p. 255, to the New York Manumission Society on June 26, 1786.

30. A Constitution or Frame of Government Agreed Upon by the Delegates of the People of the State of Massachusetts-Bay (Boston: Benjamin Edes and Sons, 1780), p. 7, Article I, “Declaration of Rights” and An Abridgement of the Laws of Pennsylvania, Collinson Read, editor, (Philadelphia: 1801), pp. 264-266, Act of March 1, 1780.

31. The Public Statue Laws of the State of Connecticut (Hartford: Hudson and Goodwin, 1808), Book I, pp. 623-625, Act passed in October 1777 and Rhode Island Session Laws (Providence: Wheeler, 1784), pp. 7-8, Act of February 27, 1784.

32. The Constitutions of the Sixteen States (Boston: Manning and Loring, 1797), p. 249, Vermont, 1786, Article I, “Declaration of Rights.”

33. Constitutions of the Sixteen State (Boston: Manning and Loring, 1797), p. 50, New Hampshire, 1792, Article I, “Bill of Rights.”

34. Laws of the State of New York, Passed at the Twenty-Second Session, Second Meeting of the Legislature (Albany: Loring Andrew, 1798), pp. 721-723, Act passed on March 29, 1799.

35. Laws of the State of New Jersey, Compiled and Published Under the Authority of the Legislature, Joseph Bloomfield, editor (Trenton: James J. Wilson, 1811), pp. 103-105, Act passed February 15, 1804.

36. Rufus King, The Life and Correspondence of Rufus King, Charles King, editor (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1894), Vol. I, pp. 288-289.

37. Acts Passed at a Congress of the United States of America (Hartford: Hudson and Goodwin, 1791), p. 104, August 7, 1789.

38. The Constitutions of the United States (Trenton: Moore and Lake, 1813), p. 366, “An Ordinance for the Government of the Territory of the United States Northwest of the River Ohio,” Article VI.

39. George Washington, The Writings of George Washington, John C. Fitzpatrick, editor (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1932), Vol. XXVIII, pp. 407-408, to Robert Morris on April 12, 1786.

40. Richard Allen, The Life Experience and Gospel Labors of the Right Rev. Richard Allen (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1983), p. 73, from his “Address to the People of Color in the United States.”

41. Principles: A Quarterly Review for Teachers of History and Social Science (Claremont, CA: The Claremont Institute Spring/Summer, 1992), Thomas G. West, “Was the American Founding Unjust? The Case of Slavery,” p. 5.

42. Walter E. Williams, Creators Syndicate, Inc., May 26, 1993, “Some Fathers Fought Slavery.”

43. Walter E. Williams, Creators Syndicate, Inc., May 26, 1993, “Some Fathers Fought Slavery.”


Contents

Wilson was born at Carskerdo, near Ceres, Fife, Scotland on September 14, 1742. He was the fourth of the seven children of Alison Landall and William Wilson, a Presbyterian farming family. [2] He studied at the universities of St Andrews, Glasgow and Edinburgh, but never obtained a degree. [3] While he was a student, he studied Scottish Enlightenment thinkers, including Francis Hutcheson, David Hume and Adam Smith. [4] He also played golf. [5] Imbued with the ideas of the Scottish Enlightenment, he moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in British America in 1765, carrying letters of introduction that enabled him to begin tutoring and then teaching at The Academy and College of Philadelphia (now the University of Pennsylvania). He petitioned there for a degree and was awarded an honorary Master of Arts several months later. [6] In 1790, the university awarded him the honorary degree of LL.D. [6]

While tutoring and teaching, Wilson began to study law in the office of John Dickinson. He attained admission to the bar in Philadelphia in 1767, and established a practice in Reading, Pennsylvania. His office was very successful and he earned a small fortune in a few years. By then he had a small farm near Carlisle, Pennsylvania, was handling cases in eight local counties, became a founding trustee of Dickinson College, and was lecturing at The Academy and College of Philadelphia. During this time in 1768 he was elected to membership of the American Philosophical Society and a few years later from 1781-1783 he was the vice-president of the society. [7] Wilson's religious beliefs evolved throughout his life, and have been the subject of some dispute, as there are writings from various points of his life from which it can be argued that he leaned towards Presbyterianism, Anglicanism, Thomism, or Deism, although it has been deemed likely that he eventually favored some form of Christianity. [8]

On November 5, 1771, he married Rachel Bird, daughter of William Bird and Bridget Hulings they had six children together: Mary, William, Bird, James, Emily, and Charles. Rachel died in 1786, and in 1793 he married Hannah Gray, daughter of Ellis Gray and Sarah D'Olbear the marriage produced a son named Henry, who died at age three. After Wilson's death, Hannah married Thomas Bartlett, M.D. [9]

In 1774, Wilson published "Considerations on the Nature and Extent of the Legislative Authority of the British Parliament." [9] In this pamphlet, Wilson argued that the Parliament had no authority to pass laws for the American colonies because the colonies had no representation in Parliament. It presented his views that all power derived from the people. Yet, he wrote that the people owed their allegiance to the British king: "A denial of the legislative authority of the British parliament over America is by no means inconsistent with that connexion, which ought to subsist between the mother country and her colonies." Scholars considered his work on par with the seminal works of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams of the same year. However, it was actually penned in 1768, perhaps the first cogent argument to be formulated against the authority of the Crown. Some scholars see Wilson as a leading revolutionary while others see him as a reluctant, elite revolutionary reacting to the stream of events determined by the radicals on the ground. [10]

In 1775, he was commissioned Colonel of the 4th Cumberland County Battalion [3] and rose to the rank of Brigadier General of the Pennsylvania State Militia. [11]

As a member of the Continental Congress in 1776, Wilson was a firm advocate for independence. Believing it was his duty to follow the wishes of his constituents, Wilson refused to vote until he had caucused his district. Only after he received more feedback did he vote for independence. While serving in the Congress, Wilson was clearly among the leaders in the formation of French policy. "If the positions he held and the frequency with which he appeared on committees concerned with Indian affairs are an index, he was until his departure from Congress in 1777 the most active and influential single delegate in laying down the general outline that governed the relations of Congress with the border tribes." [12]

Wilson also served from June 1776 on the Committee on Spies, along with Adams, Jefferson, John Rutledge, and Robert R. Livingston. [13]

On October 4, 1779, the Fort Wilson Riot began. After the British had abandoned Philadelphia, Wilson successfully defended at trial 23 people from property seizure and exile by the radical government of Pennsylvania. A mob whipped up by liquor and the writings and speeches of Joseph Reed, president of Pennsylvania's Supreme Executive Council, marched on Congressman Wilson's home at Third and Walnut Streets. Wilson and 35 of his colleagues barricaded themselves in his home, later nicknamed Fort Wilson. In the fighting that ensued, six died, and 17 to 19 were wounded. The city's soldiers, the First Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry [14] and Baylor's 3rd Continental Light Dragoons, eventually intervened and rescued Wilson and his colleagues. [15] The rioters were pardoned and released by Joseph Reed. [16]

Wilson closely identified with the aristocratic and conservative republican groups, multiplied his business interests, and accelerated his land speculation. He became involved with the Illinois-Wabash Company during the War for Independence and was made its president in 1780. [9] He became the company's largest single investor, owning one and a half shares outright and two shares by proxy, totaling over 1,000,000 acres (400,000 ha) of land. Wilson further expanded his land holdings by cofounding the Canna Company with Mark Bird, Robert Lettis Hooper, and William Bingham in order to sell land along the Susquehanna River in New York. Additionally, Wilson individually bought huge quantities of land in Pennsylvania in 1784 and 56,000 acres (23,000 ha) of land in Virginia during the 1780s. To round out his holdings, Wilson, in conjunction with Michael and Bernard Gratz, Levi Hollingsworth, Charles Willing, and Dorsey Pentecost purchased 321,000 acres (130,000 ha) of land south of the Ohio River. He also took a position as Advocate General for France in America (1779–83), dealing with commercial and maritime matters, and legally defended Loyalists and their sympathizers. He held this post until his death in 1798. [9]

One of the most prominent lawyers of his time, Wilson was the most learned of the Framers of the Constitution. [18] He was one of the most prolific speakers at the Constitutional Convention, with James Madison's notes indicating that Wilson spoke 168 times, second only in number to Gouverneur Morris. [19] [20] Like Roger Sherman, Wilson wished the Constitution to make clear that the Federal Government (like the State Governments) had no power to make anything other than gold or silver a tender in payment of debts, formally forbidding the Federal government from issuing paper money. Wilson argued in support of greater popular control of governance, a strong national government, and for legislative representation to be proportional to population he championed the popularly elected House of Representatives, opposed the Senate (and unable to prevent its inclusion, advocated for the direct election of senators), supported a national popular vote for the selection of the President, and argued that the Constitution should be ratified directly by citizens in state conventions rather than by state legislatures. [21] [22] Wilson also advocated for broader suffrage (he was, for instance, one of the few delegates who believed the vote should not be restricted only to property owners [23] ) and was one of the only major Founders to articulate a belief in the principle of one man, one vote (that is, the belief that districts should each contain approximately the same number of people so that each person's vote has equal power), which would not become a feature of American constitutional law until Baker v. Carr (1962). [24] As historian Nicholas Pederson puts it: [25]

Wilson, more than any other delegate, consistently advocated placing as much power as was feasible with the people themselves—giving them as direct control as was possible over operation of the federal government's machinery. Wilson alone, who wielded formidable intellect on behalf of democracy throughout the Convention, is a major part of the reason why the Constitution ended up as democratic a document as it did.

While Wilson was an opponent of slavery (despite owning a slave himself), and would forcefully argue that the Constitution laid the foundation for "banishing slavery out of this country", he remained relatively quiet on the issue at the convention, taking only minor steps like objecting to the fugitive slave clause on technical grounds so as to prevent roiling pro-slavery delegates, whose support was needed to ratify the new constitution. [26] Accompanied with his flaccid opposition to slavery, Wilson himself proposed the Three-fifths Compromise, which counted slaves as three-fifths of a person for the purpose of representation in the House of Representatives, in an effort placate southern antipathy towards the House of Representatives as the Convention proceeded, however, he would come to disavow the compromise. [22] [19]

Designing the presidency Edit

James Wilson has been variously called by scholars the "principal architect of the executive branch", [1] "probably the single most important author of Article II", [27] and the man whose "conception of the presidency. was in the final analysis the presidency we got". [28] Using his understanding of civic virtue as defined by the Scottish Enlightenment, Wilson was active in the construction of the presidency's structure, its power, and its manner of selection. He spoke 56 times, [28] calling for a chief executive who would be energetic, independent, and accountable. [29] He was the first to propose a unitary executive (a proposal which initially provoked concern—having only recently won independence from the British Crown, many delegates were concerned vesting executive power in a single individual would lead to monarchy), and was its strongest proponent. Rival proposals included a triumvirate or leaving the composition of the executive to the legislature. Wilson, however, maintained that a single chief executive would provide for greater public accountability than a group, and hence protect against tyranny by making it plain who was responsible for executive actions. He also submitted that a singular chief executive was necessary to ensure promptness and consistency, and guard against deadlock, which could be essential in times of national emergency. [30] Wilson's unitary executive was ultimately adopted by the Convention.

One of the issues that most divided the Convention was the method of selecting the president, with Wilson observing that the issue had "greatly divided" the Convention and was "in truth the most difficult". [31] For his part, Wilson forthrightly supported the direct election of the president through a national popular vote. He believed that a popular election would make the presidency accountable to the people [23] and he believed, more broadly, that direct elections would make each branch of government "as independent as possible of each other, as well as of the states". [32] This proposal, however, received only a tepid response, in part because some delegates wanted the selection of the president to be insulated from the popular will and in part because it would not count southern states' slave populations towards their voting power (which had been the major concern leading to the infamous Three-fifths Compromise). [33] [34] In an attempt to accommodate these objections, Wilson proposed selection by an electoral college, which would divide the states into districts in number proportional to their population, from which voters would choose electors who would in turn cast ballots for the president on their behalf. [35] But this, too, was greeted unenthusiastically. The proposal that at first received the greatest traction was one that Wilson disliked: selection by the legislature (Wilson had tried to accommodate the desires of these "congressionalists" in his electoral college proposal by including a contingent election, which would hand the selection of the president to Congress if no candidate received a majority of electoral votes). [35] Yet further discussion uncovered consequences of legislative selection that many delegates considered objectionable in particular, they worried that if the president was allowed to seek a second term (a widely supported notion), then legislative selection would make the President dependent on the legislature for re-eligibility, imperiling the principle of separation of powers. [36] Deadlocked on the method for selecting the president, the issue was ultimately left to the Committee of Unfinished Parts (also called the Committee of Postponed Parts or the Committee of Eleven [37] ), which near the end of the months-long Constitutional Convention was tasked with resolving the remaining unfinished portions of the constitution. It was in this committee that an "eleventh-hour compromise", as Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan has described it, [38] was struck, which settled on the use an electoral college very similar to the one Wilson had earlier proposed. The committee constructed a complex structure that, with few alterations, would become the Electoral College. In this system, each state would be awarded a number of electors equal to its number of House Representatives and Senators (this encoded within it the three-fifths compromise, boosting the slave state's representation in the Electoral College above their voting populations). Each state's legislature would decide upon the manner in which that state's electors would be chosen, and the electors would cast votes for the presidency. In the case that no presidential candidate received a majority of electoral votes, a contingent election would be triggered, handing the selection of the president to the Senate. After the Committee released their proposal, and at Wilson's urging, the contingent election was shifted from the Senate to the House of Representatives. [39] With this alteration, the Electoral College—embodying a "web of compromises" that functioned as a "consensus second choice, made acceptable, in part, by the remarkably complex details of the electoral process"—was accepted by the Convention. [40]

Wilson believed that the moderate level of class conflict in American society produced a level of sociability and inter-class friendships that could make the presidency the symbolic leader of the entire American people. Wilson did not consider the possibility of bitterly polarized political parties. He saw popular sovereignty as the cement that held America together linking the interests of the people and of the presidential administration. The president should be a man of the people who embodied the national responsibility for the public good and provided transparency or accountability by being a highly visible national leader, as opposed to numerous largely anonymous congressmen. [41] [42] [43]

Committee of Detail Edit

Wilson's most lasting impact on the country came as a member of the Committee of Detail, which wrote out the first draft of the United States Constitution. He wanted senators and the president to be popularly elected. He also proposed the Three-Fifths Compromise, which made only three-fifths of the South's slave population total to be counted for purposes of distributing taxes and apportioning representation in the House and Electoral College. Along with James Madison, he was perhaps the best versed of the framers in the study of political economy. He understood clearly the central problem of dual sovereignty (nation and state) and held a vision of an almost limitless future for the United States. Wilson addressed the Convention 168 times. [44] A witness to Wilson's performance during the convention, Dr. Benjamin Rush, called Wilson's mind "one blaze of light." [45] Madison and Wilson not only far outdistanced the others at the Convention as political theorists, they were also two of the closest allies in both the convention debates and ratification effort afterward. [46]

Though not in agreement with all parts of the final, necessarily compromised Constitution, Wilson stumped hard for its adoption, leading Pennsylvania, at its ratifying convention, to become the second state (behind Delaware) to accept the document. [9]

Statehouse Yard speech Edit

His October 6, 1787, "speech in the statehouse yard" (delivered in the courtyard behind Independence Hall) has been seen as particularly important in setting the terms of the ratification debate, both locally and nationally. During the debates, it was more influential than the The Federalist Papers. It was printed in newspapers and copies of the speech were distributed by George Washington to generate support for the ratification of the Constitution. [47] [48]

In particular, it focused on the fact that there would be a popularly elected national government for the first time. He distinguished "three simple species of government": monarchy, aristocracy, and "a republic or democracy, where the people at large retain the supreme power, and act either collectively or by representation." [49] During the speech, Wilson also had harsh criticism for the proposed Bill of Rights. Powers over assembly, the press, search and seizure, and others covered in the Bill of Rights were, according to Wilson, not granted in the Enumerated Powers so therefore were unnecessary amendments. [50] [51] [52] [53]

Wilson was later instrumental in the redrafting of the Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776, leading the group in favor of a new constitution, and entering into an agreement with William Findley (leader of the Constitutionalist Party) that limited the partisan feeling that had previously characterized Pennsylvanian politics.

After the ratification of the Constitution, James Wilson, a learned legal mind, desired to be the first Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. [54] President George Washington, however, ultimately selected John Jay to be the Chief Justice. On September 24, 1789, Washington nominated Wilson to be an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court. Wilson accepted the nomination, and on September 26, 1789 Wilson was confirmed by the United States Senate. [55]

Wilson and the other early judges spent most of their time circuit riding, overseeing cases on the circuit courts rather than on the Supreme Court bench. [17] Only nine cases were heard by the court from his appointment in 1789 until his death in 1798. Important among these were Chisholm v. Georgia (1793), which granted federal courts the affirmative power to hear disputes between private citizens and states (this ruling was superseded by the Eleventh Amendment, which conflicted with Wilson's view that states did not enjoy sovereign immunity from suits made by citizens of other states in federal court) Hylton v. United States (1796), which clarified the power of Congress to levy taxes (Wilson concurred with the unanimous majority) and Ware v. Hylton (1796), which held that treaties take precedence over state law under the U.S. Constitution (Wilson concurred with the majority). [56] During Wilson's last two years on the court, he largely abdicated his role on the Supreme Court bench and rode circuit in the South to avoid creditors (he was a notorious speculator of land). [19] His untimely death in 1798 ended his tenure as a Supreme Court justice.

Wilson became the first professor of law at the College of Philadelphia in 1790—only the second at any academic institution in the United States. [57] Wilson mostly ignored the practical matters of legal training like many of his educated contemporaries, he viewed the academic study of law as a branch of a general cultured education, rather than solely as a prelude to a profession.

Wilson broke off his first course of law lectures in April 1791 to attend to his duties as Supreme Court justice on circuit. He appears to have begun a second-year course in late 1791 or in early 1792 (by which time the College of Philadelphia had been merged into the University of Pennsylvania), but at some unrecorded point the lectures stopped again and were never resumed. They were not published (except for the first) until after his death, in an edition produced by his son, Bird Wilson, in 1804. The University of Pennsylvania Law School in Philadelphia officially traces its foundation to Wilson's lectures.

Wilson's final years were marked by financial failures. He assumed heavy debts investing in land that became liabilities with the onset of the Panic of 1796–1797. Of note was the failure in Pennsylvania with Theophilus Cazenove. In debt, Wilson was briefly imprisoned in a debtors' prison in Burlington, New Jersey. His son paid the debt, but Wilson went to North Carolina to escape other creditors. He was again briefly imprisoned, but continued his duties on the Federal judicial circuit. In 1798, he suffered a bout of malaria and then died of a stroke at the age of 55, while visiting a friend in Edenton, North Carolina. He was buried in the Johnston cemetery on Hayes Plantation near Edenton, but was reinterred in 1906 at Christ Churchyard, Philadelphia. [58]

In the lectures mentioned above, James Wilson, among the first of American legal philosophers, worked through in more detail some of the thinking suggested in the opinions issuing at that time from the Supreme Court. He felt, in fact, compelled to begin by spending some time in arguing out the justification of the appropriateness of his undertaking a course of lectures. But he assures his students that: "When I deliver my sentiments from this chair, they shall be my honest sentiments: when I deliver them from the bench, they shall be nothing more. In both places I shall make―because I mean to support―the claim to integrity: in neither shall I make―because, in neither, can I support―the claim to infallibility." (First lecture, 1804 Philadelphia ed.)

With this, he raises the most important question of the era: having acted upon revolutionary principles in setting up the new country, "Why should we not teach our children those principles, upon which we ourselves have thought and acted? Ought we to instil into their tender minds a theory, especially if unfounded, which is contradictory to our own practice, built on the most solid foundation? Why should we reduce them to the cruel dilemma of condemning, either those principles which they have been taught to believe, or those persons whom they have been taught to revere?" (First lecture.)

That this is no mere academic question is revealed with a cursory review of any number of early Supreme Court opinions. Perhaps it is best here to quote the opening of Justice Wilson's opinion in Chisholm v. State of Georgia, 2 U.S. 419 (1793), one of the most momentous decisions in American history: "This is a case of uncommon magnitude. One of the parties to it is a State certainly respectable, claiming to be sovereign. The question to be determined is, whether this State, so respectable, and whose claim soars so high, is amenable to the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of the United States? This question, important in itself, will depend on others, more important still and, may, perhaps, be ultimately resolved into one, no less radical than this 'do the people of the United States form a Nation?'"

In order to arrive at an answer to this question, one that would provide the foundation for the United States of America, Wilson knew that legal thinkers had to resolve in their minds clearly the question of the difference between "the principles of the constitutions and governments and laws of the United States, and the republics, of which they are formed" and the "constitution and government and laws of England." He made it quite clear that he thought the American items to be "materially better." (First lecture.)


Meet the Founders

At some point you have probably heard somebody bring up the subject of the founding fathers in a conversation, perhaps saying something such as “The founders would roll over in their graves if they could see what is going on today”. Though you probably have heard the phrase “founding fathers”, perhaps in a history class or on t.v., you may never have put much energy into finding out who they really are and what they did and believed.

“Lessons from the Founders” is an organization dedicated to educating the American people about the lives of the men who were influential in establishing our republic. However, before the works of these men can be discussed, it is important to identify just who exactly we are talking about.

The phrase “founding fathers” is a reverential term used to identify the men who drafted and signed the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States, and the Articles of Confederation. Many of these men attended the First Continental Congress, the Second Continental Congress, and the Constitutional Convention.

The First Continental Congress met on September 5, 1774 in Philadelphia in response to the Intolerable Acts, which were passed by the British Parliament in response to the Boston Tea Party. The Second Continental Congress began meeting on May 10, 1775 in Philadelphia and continued to meet until March 1, 1781 when the Articles of Confederation were ratified after Maryland became the last state to send delegates to sign the articles. In addition to signing the Articles of Confederation, which became the nation’s first constitution, the Second Continental Congress also created the Continental Army, created a committee to draft the Declaration of Independence, and ran the country during the Revolutionary War. The Constitutional Convention, which also met in Philadelphia from May 25, 1787 to September 17 of that same year, moved the nation from being governed under the Articles of Confederation to the new United States Constitution. To say these men were active in the political scene during the era of the American Revolution is an understatement their belief in the American cause was so strong that they were willing to commit treason in order to secure man’s liberties and to make sure a successful independent government was formed. They certainly deserve our respect and admiration!

Signers of the Declaration of Independence (56 Total)

Connecticut: Samuel Huntington, Roger Sherman, William Williams, Oliver Wolcott

Delaware: Thomas McKean, George Read, Caesar Rodney

Georgia: Button Gwinnet, Lyman Hall, George Walton

Maryland: Charles Carroll of Carrollton, Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone

Massachusetts: John Adams, Samuel Adams, Elbridge Gerry, John Hancock, Robert Treat Paine

New York: William Floyd, Francis Lewis, Philip Livingston, Lewis Morris

New Jersey: Abraham Clark, John Hart, Francis Hopkinson, Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon

New Hampshire: Josiah Bartlett, Matthew Thornton, William Whipple

North Carolina: Joseph Hewes, William Hooper, John Penn

Pennsylvania: George Clymer, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Morris, John Morton, George Ross, Benjamin Rush, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson

Rhode Island: William Ellery, Stephen Hopkins

South Carolina: Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, Jr., Thomas Lynch, Jr., Arthur Middleton

Virginia: Carter Braxton, Benjamin Harrison, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Francis Lightfoot Lee, Thomas Nelson, Jr., George Wythe

The Articles of Confederation: (48 total)

Connecticut: Andrew Adams, Titus Hosmer, Samuel Huntington, Roger Sherman, Oliver Wolcott

Delaware: John Dickinson, Nicholas Van Dyke, Thomas McKean

Georgia: Edward Langworthy, Edward Telfair, John Walton

Maryland: Daniel Carroll, John Hanson

Massachusetts Bay: Samuel Adams, Francis Dana, Elbridge Gerry, John Hancock, Samuel Holten, James Lovell

New Hampshire: Josiah Bartlett, John Wentworth Jr.

New Jersey: Nathaniel Scudder, John Witherspoon

New York: James Duane, William Duer, Francis Lewis, Gouverneur Morris

North Carolina: Cornelius Harnett, John Penn, John Williams

Pennsylvania: William Clingan, Robert Morris, Joseph Reed, Daniel

Roberdeau, Jonathan Bayard Smith

Rhode Island and Providence Plantations: John Collins, William Ellery, Henry Marchant

South Carolina: William Henry Drayton, Thomas Heyward Jr., Richard Hutson, Henry Laurens, John Mathews

Virginia: Thomas Adams, John Banister, John Harvie, Richard Henry Lee, Francis Lightfoot Lee

Members of the Constitutional Convention:

Signers of the Constitution (40 total)

Connecticut: William Samuel Johnson, Roger Sherman

Delaware: Richard Bassett, Gunning Bedford, Jr, Jacob Broom, John Dickinson, George Read

Georgia: Abraham Baldwin, William Few

Maryland: Daniel Carroll, James McHenry, Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer

Massachusetts: Nathaniel Gorham, Rufus King

New Hampshire: Nicholas Gilman, John Langdon

New Jersey: David Brearley, Jonathan Dayton, William Livingston, William Paterson

New York: Alexander Hamilton

North Carolina: William Blount, Richard Dobbs Spaight, Hugh Williamson

Pennsylvania: George Clymer, Thomas Fitzsimons, Benjamin Franklin, Jared Ingersoll, Thomas Mifflin, Gouverneur Morris, Robert Morris, James Wilson

South Carolina: Pierce Butler, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, Charles Pinckney, John Rutledge

Virginia: John Blair, James Madison, George Washington

Attest: William Jackson, Secretary

Non-signing Delegates: (16 total)

Connecticut: Oliver Ellsworth

Georgia: William Houstoun, William Pierce

Maryland: Luther Martin, John Francis Mercer

Massachusetts: Elbridge Gerry, Caleb Strong

New Jersey: William Houston

New York: John Lansing Jr., Robert Yates

North Carolina: William Richardson Davie, Alexander Martin

Virginia: George Mason, James McClurg, Edmund Randolph, George Wythe

The First U. S. Congress met in 1789, and the members of this congress are also considered “founding fathers”.

The First U. S. Congress: Members of the Senate

Connecticut: Oliver Ellsworth, William Samuel Johnson

Delaware: Richard, Bassett, George Read

Georgia: William Few, James Gunn

Maryland: Charles Carroll, John Henry

Massachusetts: Tristram Dalton, Rufus King, Caleb Strong

New Hampshire: John Langdon, Paine Wingate

New Jersey: Philemon Dickinson, Jonathan Elmer, William Paterson

North Carolina: Benjamin Hawkins, Samuel Johnston

Pennsylvania: William Maclay, Robert Morris

Rhode Island: Theodore Foster, Joseph Stanton Jr.

South Carolina: Pierce Butler, Ralph Izard

Virginia: William Grayson, Richard Henry Lee, James Monroe, John Walker

The First U. S. Congress: Members of the House of Representatives

Connecticut: Benjamin Huntington, Roger Sherman, Jonathan Sturges, Jonathan Trumbull, Jeremiah Wadsworth

Georgia: Abraham Baldwin, James Jackson, George Mathews

Maryland: Daniel Carroll, Benjamin Contee, George Gale, Joshua Seney, William Smith, Michael Jenifer Stone

Massachusetts: Fisher Ames, Elbridge Gerry, Benjamin Goodhue, Jonathan Grout, George Leonard, George Partridge, Theodore Sedgwick, George Thatcher

New Hampshire: Abiel Foster, Nicholas Gilman, Samuel Livermore

New Jersey: Elias Boudinot, Lambert Cadwalader, James Schureman, Thomas Sinnickson

New York: Egbert Benson, William Floyd, John Hathorn, John Laurance, Jeremiah Van Rensselaer, Thomas Scott, Peter Silvester

North Carolina: John Baptista Ashe, Timothy Bloodworth, John Sevier, John Steele, Hugh Williamson

Pennsylvania: George Clymer, Thomas Fitzsimons, Thomas Hartley, Daniel Hiester Jr., Frederick A. Muhlenberg, Peter Muhlenberg, Henry Wynkoop

Rhode Island: Benjamin Bourne

South Carolina: Aedanus Burke, Daniel Huger, William L. Smith, Thomas Sumter, Thomas Tudor Tucker

Viriginia: Theodorick Bland, John Brown, Isaac Coles, William Branch Giles, Samuel Griffin, Richard Bland Lee, James Madison Jr., Andrew Moore, John Page, Josiah Parker, Alexander White

The Judiciary: The Supreme Court

John Blair Jr., Samuel Chase, William Cushing, Gabriel Duvall, Oliver Ellsworth, James Iredell, John Jay, Thomas Johnson, William Johnson, Henry Brockholst Livingston, John Marshall, Alfred Moore, William Paterson, John Rutledge, Joseph Story,Thomas Todd, Bushrod Washington, James Wilson

Other Notable Founding Fathers

John Quincy Adams, Nathaniel Greene, Patrick Henry, Henry Knox, Jonathan Meyhew, David Ramsey, Thomas Paine, Paul Revere, Benjamin Tallmadge, Daniel Webster, Noah Webster


Our view: Statues and a late day newsletter

As you might have heard, a couple of pieces of sculpture in Wilmington are no longer on public view.

Gone is the majestic tribute to founding father Caesar Rodney riding a horse on his way to signing the Declaration of Independence.

Throughout the nation, Christopher Columbus statues, including the one on Delaware Avenue, went into storage.

Tempers flared, at least when it came to one person, as the Rodney statue was carefully loaded into a lowboy truck trailer. Another critic, commenting on social media, said she wanted to leave the state.

The smaller Columbus statue was quickly sent on its way around the time that Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki announced that both statues would be removed for public safety reasons.

Rumors of attacks on the statues had been making the rounds. Chances of vandalism and a police presence around sculpture were the last thing the city needed.

Earlier, the law enforcement memorial statue in Dover was severely damaged, with the suspect arrested after a cell phone was left at the scene.It turned out that protesters had told police to keep an eye on the suspect, who was not part of the group.

In his announcement, Purzycki said the removal of the statue should lead to a discussion on their place in history.

Taking a cue from the mayor, I took some time to read up on Rodney and Columbus.

Rodney was a product of his times and like many of the founding fathers owned slaves, 200 to be exact.

Some historians doubt that he rode a horse, Paul Revere style, to Philadelphia. It was a rainy night and men of means rode in carriages. Not that there is anything wrong with the depiction in the statue. After all, George Washington did not stand up in that boat while crossing the Delaware.

Rodney went on to serve as a general in the war of independence and held key positions in the young government of Delaware.

He remains largely forgotten outside of Delaware. Disfigured by facial cancer, Rodney never got the majestic paintings accorded to Franklin, Washington, and Jefferson. Much of the time, he wore a scarf to cover his face.

A more fascinating story is how we ended up with Rodney Square in the first place, thanks to DuPont and efforts to spiff up the area around the headquarters, hotel and new library.

Columbus is a more brutish figure when it comes to his treatment of native peoples but over the years emerged as a symbol of the heroic and sometimes painful journey of Italian immigrants.

We did learn that the statue has been quietly controversial for decades. Actress and comedienne Aubrey Plaza tweeted that she was part of demonstrations protesting the statue while a student at Ursuline Academy.

Along the way, I also read about Louis Redding, the heroic Wilmington lawyer, whose tireless efforts led to the end of segregation in Delaware and the nation. Much work remains in living up to his legacy when it comes to education.

In an era of teaching to tests, history is often an afterthought. If the removal of statues leads to people learning more about the state’s history, the exercise will have been well worth the effort.

A final note

You may have noticed this newsletter has been coming out a little later this summer.

Last week, we had some technical problems with the newsletter’s RSS feed that sends over stories from, the website.

By the time the problem was resolved, the best option was to post the newsletter at 4 p.m.

It turned out that the percentage of newsletter opens was higher at 4 p.m. than earlier in the afternoon.

At any rate, let us know what you think about the late afternoon timeframe pro or con. – Doug Rainey, chief content officer.


The Founding Fathers and Slavery

Even though the issue of slavery is often raised as a discrediting charge against the Founding Fathers, the historical fact is that slavery was not the product of, nor was it an evil introduced by, the Founding Fathers slavery had been introduced to America nearly two centuries before the Founders. As President of Congress Henry Laurens explained:

I abhor slavery. I was born in a country where slavery had been established by British Kings and Parliaments as well as by the laws of the country ages before my existence.… In former days there was no combating the prejudices of men supported by interest the day, I hope, is approaching when, from principles of gratitude as well as justice, every man will strive to be foremost in showing his readiness to comply with the Golden Rule [“do unto others as you would have them do unto you” Matthew 7:12]. 1 

Prior to the time of the Founding Fathers, there had been few serious efforts to dismantle the institution of slavery. John Jay identified the point at which the change in attitude toward slavery began:

Prior to the great Revolution, the great majority … of our people had been so long accustomed to the practice and convenience of having slaves that very few among them even doubted the propriety and rectitude of it. 2 

The Revolution was the turning point in the national attitude–and it was the Founding Fathers who contributed greatly to that change. In fact, many of the Founders vigorously complained against the fact that Great Britain had forcefully imposed upon the Colonies the evil of slavery. For example, Thomas Jefferson heavily criticized that British policy:

He [King George III] has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating and carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither.… Determined to keep open a market where men should be bought and sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce [that is, he has opposed efforts to prohibit the slave trade]. 3 

Benjamin Franklin, in a 1773 letter to Dean Woodward, confirmed that whenever the Americans had attempted to end slavery, the British government had indeed thwarted those attempts. Franklin explained that …

… a disposition to abolish slavery prevails in North America, that many of Pennsylvanians have set their slaves at liberty, and that even the Virginia Assembly have petitioned the King for permission to make a law for preventing the importation of more into that colony. This request, however, will probably not be granted as their former laws of that kind have always been repealed. 4 

Further confirmation that even the Virginia Founders were not responsible for slavery, but actually tried to dismantle the institution, was provided by John Quincy Adams (known as the “hell-hound of abolition” for his extensive efforts against that evil). Adams explained:

The inconsistency of the institution of domestic slavery with the principles of the Declaration of Independence was seen and lamented by all the southern patriots of the Revolution by no one with deeper and more unalterable conviction than by the author of the Declaration himself [Jefferson]. No charge of insincerity or hypocrisy can be fairly laid to their charge. Never from their lips was heard one syllable of attempt to justify the institution of slavery. They universally considered it as a reproach fastened upon them by the unnatural step-mother country [Great Britain] and they saw that before the principles of the Declaration of Independence, slavery, in common with every other mode of oppression, was destined sooner or later to be banished from the earth. Such was the undoubting conviction of Jefferson to his dying day. In the Memoir of His Life, written at the age of seventy-seven, he gave to his countrymen the solemn and emphatic warning that the day was not distant when they must hear and adopt the general emancipation of their slaves. 5 

While Jefferson himself had introduced a bill designed to end slavery, 6  not all of the southern Founders were opposed to slavery. According to the testimony of Virginians James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and John Rutledge, it was the Founders from North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia who most strongly favored slavery. 7 

Yet, despite the support for slavery in those States, the clear majority of the Founders opposed this evil. For instance, when some of the southern pro-slavery advocates invoked the Bible in support of slavery, Elias Boudinot, President of the Continental Congress, responded:

[E]ven the sacred Scriptures had been quoted to justify this iniquitous traffic. It is true that the Egyptians held the Israelites in bondage for four hundred years, … but … gentlemen cannot forget the consequences that followed: they were delivered by a strong hand and stretched-out arm and it ought to be remembered that the Almighty Power that accomplished their deliverance is the same yesterday, today, and for ever. 8 

Many of the Founding Fathers who had owned slaves as British citizens released them in the years following America’s separation from Great Britain (e.g., George Washington, John Dickinson, Caesar Rodney, William Livingston, George Wythe, John Randolph of Roanoke, and others). Furthermore, many of the Founders had never owned any slaves. For example, John Adams proclaimed, “[M]y opinion against it [slavery] has always been known … [N]ever in my life did I own a slave.” 9 

Notice a few additional examples of the strong anti-slavery sentiments held by great numbers of the Founders:

[W]hy keep alive the question of slavery? It is admitted by all to be a great evil. 10  Charles Carroll, Signer of the Declaration

As Congress is now to legislate for our extensive territory lately acquired, I pray to Heaven that they may build up the system of the government on the broad, strong, and sound principles of freedom. Curse not the inhabitants of those regions, and of the United States in general, with a permission to introduce bondage [slavery]. 11  John Dickinson, Signer of the Constitution Governor of Pennsylvania.

That men should pray and fight for their own freedom and yet keep others in slavery is certainly acting a very inconsistent, as well as unjust and perhaps impious, part. 12  John Jay, President of Continental Congress Original Chief Justice U. S. Supreme Court.

The whole commerce between master and slave is a perpetual exercise of the most boisterous passions, the most unremitting despotism on the one part, and degrading submissions on the other.… And with what execration [curse] should the statesman be loaded, who permitting one half the citizens thus to trample on the rights of the other.… And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with His wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just that his justice cannot sleep forever. 13  Thomas Jefferson.

Christianity, by introducing into Europe the truest principles of humanity, universal benevolence, and brotherly love, had happily abolished civil slavery. Let us who profess the same religion practice its precepts … by agreeing to this duty. 14  Richard Henry Lee, President of Continental Congress Signer of the Declaration.

I hope we shall at last, and if it so please God I hope it may be during my life time, see this cursed thing [slavery] taken out.… For my part, whether in a public station or a private capacity, I shall always be prompt to contribute my assistance towards effecting so desirable an event. 15  William Livingston, Signer of the Constitution Governor of New Jersey.

[I]t ought to be considered that national crimes can only be and frequently are punished in this world by national punishments and that the continuance of the slave-trade, and thus giving it a national sanction and encouragement, ought to be considered as justly exposing us to the displeasure and vengeance of Him who is equally Lord of all and who views with equal eye the poor African slave and his American master. 16  Luther Martin, Delegate at Constitutional Convention.

As much as I value a union of all the States, I would not admit the Southern States into the Union unless they agree to the discontinuance of this disgraceful trade [slavery]. 17 

Honored will that State be in the annals of history which shall first abolish this violation of the rights of mankind. 18  Joseph Reed, Revolutionary Officer Governor of Pennsylvania.

Domestic slavery is repugnant to the principles of Christianity.… It is rebellion against the authority of a common Father. It is a practical denial of the extent and efficacy of the death of a common Savior. It is an usurpation of the prerogative of the great Sovereign of the universe who has solemnly claimed an exclusive property in the souls of men. 19  Benjamin Rush, Signer of the Declaration

Justice and humanity require it [the end of slavery]–Christianity commands it. Let every benevolent … pray for the glorious period when the last slave who fights for freedom shall be restored to the possession of that inestimable right. 20  Noah Webster, Responsible For Article I, Section 8, ¶ 8 of the Constitution.

Slavery, or an absolute and unlimited power in the master over the life and fortune of the slave, is unauthorized by the common law.… The reasons which we sometimes see assigned for the origin and the continuance of slavery appear, when examined to the bottom, to be built upon a false foundation. In the enjoyment of their persons and of their property, the common law protects all. 21  James Wilson, Signer of the Constitution U. S. Supreme Court Justice.

[I]t is certainly unlawful to make inroads upon others … and take away their liberty by no better means than superior power. 22  John Witherspoon, Signer of the Declaration

For many of the Founders, their feelings against slavery went beyond words. For example, in 1774, Benjamin Franklin and Benjamin Rush founded America’s first anti-slavery society John Jay was president of a similar society in New York. In fact, when signer of the Constitution William Livingston heard of the New York society, he, as Governor of New Jersey, wrote them, offering:

I would most ardently wish to become a member of it [the society in New York] and … I can safely promise them that neither my tongue, nor my pen, nor purse shall be wanting to promote the abolition of what to me appears so inconsistent with humanity and Christianity.… May the great and the equal Father of the human race, who has expressly declared His abhorrence of oppression, and that He is no respecter of persons, succeed a design so laudably calculated to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke. 23 

Other prominent Founding Fathers who were members of societies for ending slavery included Richard Bassett, James Madison, James Monroe, Bushrod Washington, Charles Carroll, William Few, John Marshall, Richard Stockton, Zephaniah Swift, and many more. In fact, based in part on the efforts of these Founders, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts began abolishing slavery in 1780 24  Connecticut and Rhode Island did so in 1784 25  Vermont in 1786 26  New Hampshire in 1792 27  New York in 1799 28  and New Jersey did so in 1804. 29 

Additionally, the reason that Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Iowa all prohibited slavery was a Congressional act, authored by Constitution signer Rufus King 30  and signed into law by President George Washington, 31  which prohibited slavery in those territories. 32  It is not surprising that Washington would sign such a law, for it was he who had declared:

I can only say that there is not a man living who wishes more sincerely than I do to see a plan adopted for the abolition of it [slavery]. 33 

The truth is that it was the Founding Fathers who were responsible for planting and nurturing the first seeds for the recognition of black equality and for the eventual end of slavery. This was a fact made clear by Richard Allen.

Allen had been a slave in Pennsylvania but was freed after he converted his master to Christianity. Allen, a close friend of Benjamin Rush and several other Founding Fathers, went on to become the founder of the A.M.E. Church in America. In an early address “To the People of Color,” he explained:

Many of the white people have been instruments in the hands of God for our good, even such as have held us in captivity, [and] are now pleading our cause with earnestness and zeal. 34 

While much progress was made by the Founders to end the institution of slavery, unfortunately what they began was not fully achieved until generations later. Yet, despite the strenuous effort of many Founders to recognize in practice that “all men are created equal,” charges persist to the opposite. In fact, revisionists even claim that the Constitution demonstrates that the Founders considered one who was black to be only three-fifths of a person. This charge is yet another falsehood. The three-fifths clause was not a measurement of human worth rather, it was an anti-slavery provision to limit the political power of slavery’s proponents. By including only three-fifths of the total number of slaves in the congressional calculations, Southern States were actually being denied additional pro-slavery representatives in Congress. Based on the clear records of the Constitutional Convention, two prominent professors explain the meaning of the three-fifths clause:

[T]he Constitution allowed Southern States to count three-fifths of their slaves toward the population that would determine numbers of representatives in the federal legislature. This clause is often singled out today as a sign of black dehumanization: they are only three-fifths human. But the provision applied to slaves, not blacks. That meant that free blacks–and there were many, North as well as South–counted the same as whites. More important, the fact that slaves were counted at all was a concession to slave owners. Southerners would have been glad to count their slaves as whole persons. It was the Northerners who did not want them counted, for why should the South be rewarded with more representatives, the more slaves they held? 35  Thomas West.

It was slavery’s opponents who succeeded in restricting the political power of the South by allowing them to count only three-fifths of their slave population in determining the number of congressional representatives. The three-fifths of a vote provision applied only to slaves, not to free blacks in either the North or South. 36  Walter Williams.

Why do revisionists so often abuse and misportray the three-fifths clause? Professor Walter Williams (himself an African-American) suggested:

Politicians, news media, college professors and leftists of other stripes are selling us lies and propaganda. To lay the groundwork for their increasingly successful attack on our Constitution, they must demean and criticize its authors. As Senator Joe Biden demonstrated during the Clarence Thomas hearings, the framers’ ideas about natural law must be trivialized or they must be seen as racists. 37 

While this has been only a cursory examination of the Founders and slavery, it is nonetheless sufficient to demonstrate the absurdity of the insinuation that the Founders were a collective group of racists.


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