Friday, May 20, 2016

Constitution Series Part 29: Signatures (Maryland)

Let's continue exploring the lives of the people who signed the Constitution! Today we're tackling Maryland.


James McHenry was a military surgeon in the Continental Army during the American Revolution, serving under Washington and Lafayette over the course of the war. Afterward, he started getting involved with politics, which led to his nomination to the Maryland delegates to the Constitutional Convention. He didn't add much to the deliberations, and he was absent much of the time, but his private journal provided another account of the proceedings there. After the convention, McHenry served as a senator for a while and was eventually nominated by Washington to be the Secretary of War, a position he held for most of the Adams Administration as well. He did not get along with John Adams very well, though, and apparently (after being asked to resign in 1800) he goaded Alexander Hamilton into slamming Adams in the press and sabotaging Adams' reelection campaign. The plan succeeded in causing Adams to lose the election, but the split also severely damaged the Federalist Party as a whole, and the party never recovered.
Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer was a prominent member of the Maryland government for a long time before the American Revolution. He was quite wealthy, and he resented Parliamentary intrusion on colonial affairs. When the Revolution began, he threw a significant portion of his considerable wealth into the revolutionary cause. By the time the Constitutional Convention came along, Jenifer was 64 years old, one of the oldest delegates at the convention. As such, he often acted as an arbiter, finding compromise within some of the most heated debates. For his own part, he fought hard for a strong central government with the ability to tax its citizens. He died in 1790, just a few years after the Constitutional convention.
Daniel Carroll was a member of a prominent Roman Catholic family, uncommon in the colonies, especially since Catholics were often prevented from holding public office. Still, Carroll was one of the few people who signed both the Articles of Confederation and the United States Constitution. At the Constitutional Convention, he fought both for a strong central government and for a clear limitation on the Federal government. He proposed that the President should be chosen by the people rather than by Congress. After the Convention he lobbied hard to get the Constitution ratified in Maryland, and eventually he became one of the state's first Congressmen. When the time came to choose a location for the District of Columbia, Carroll helped acquire the land since part of that land was to come from the Maryland side of the Potomac River. He died shortly thereafter, in 1796. The fact that he and one other Catholic signed the Constitution set a precedent for religious freedom in the United States.
Two delegates from Maryland refused to sign the Constitution: Luther Martin and John Francis Mercer. Both disagreed with the idea of a strong central government strongly enough to walk out before the convention was over. Since they didn't sign the Constitution, I won't go into too much detail about their lives. Suffice to say, though, that they both continued to serve in public office for many years in the government they fought to prevent from happening.

Continue to Part 30: Signatures (Virginia)

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