Sunday, May 22, 2016

Constitution Series Part 31: Signatures (North Carolina)

More signatures! Today we're covering North Carolina.


William Blount was the son of a North Carolina plantation owner, and his fortunes rose through the Revolutionary War as he gained both financial and political power through his position as one of the army's paymasters in North Carolina. He invested his money into new land that gradually opened up as the country spread west. He was prominent in North Carolina politics, serving as one of their delegates in the Continental Congress and, eventually, the Constitutional Convention, but he was even more significant in the expansion, governance, and eventual statehood of the territory that eventually became Tennessee.

Honestly, it didn't seem like Blount was terribly interested in the Constitutional Convention, as he only popped in for a brief spell in June before returning to the Continental Congress. He returned just in time for the final debates and the signing, which he participated in with some reservations.

Blount eventually became the first person to ever be impeached by the U.S. government after they uncovered Blount's plot to sabotage the French takeover of the Louisiana purchase by conspiring with the British. However, Blount was a Tennessee senator at the time, and during the trial the senate decided that senators could not be impeached. Still, Blount became a national disgrace, though he remained very popular in Tennessee. He died in the year 1800 due to an illness that swept through Tennessee at that time.

Richard Dobbs Spaight, Sr. fought in the Revolutionary War, and he was sent to the Constitutional Convention at the age of 29. He didn't participate much as a speaker, though he did attend every session. Later, he went on to become the governor of North Carolina for as long as he could (three one-year terms) before becoming a Congressman. He died in 1802 after a duel with the man who usurped his Congressional seat in the election of 1800.
Hugh Williamson was one of the older attendees at the Constitutional Convention, and the story of his life is yet another fascinating story that few get to hear. Trust me when I say I'm being brief here:

Born in the frontier of what became western Pennsylvania, Williamson's parents sent him off to school since his fragile health at the time meant he wasn't well-suited to the family business. He learned Spanish, sought a career in the clergy, studied mathematics, and taught as a college professor for several years before starting to study medicine.

On a random trip to London he stopped by Boston and happened to witness the Boston Tea Party. In London, he was questioned by the government about the colony's rebellious activities, and his response (which defended the colonies' demands) spread around and caught the attention of Americans in England, including Benjamin Franklin. Williamson and Franklin became buddies, thanks to their mutual interests in science and the patriot cause.

Williamson continued to drum up support for the colonies in Europe until he heard that the colonies had declared independence. He rushed back to America and tried to enlist in the Continental army as a medic, but was told they "didn't have any openings." So, far from discouraged, he started smuggling supplies into the states from the West Indies, slipping through the British blockade. His efforts were recognized, and soon he became Surgeon General of the U.S. forces in the South. His exploits through the war are fascinating, but suffice to say that his medical and scientific knowledge saved many lives.

After the war, Williamson became a statesman, serving North Carolina for a while, including as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, where he fought for a strong national government. His influence was instrumental in getting the Constitution ratified in North Carolina. Eventually he retired to New York City, where he continued to teach, to learn, and to do good works. He died in New York City in 1819, at the age of 83.
Finally, there were two North Carolina delegates who did not sign the Constitution: William Richardson Davie and Alexander Martin. Both left the Convention before the end, though Davie especially was very much in favor of the Constitution, and promoted it heavily during the ratification debates.

Continue to Part 32: Signatures (South Carolina)

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