Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Constitution Series Part 33: Signatures (Georgia, New Hampshire)

Today we're going to cover the representatives from two states: Georgia and New Hampshire, the northernmost and southernmost of the original 13 colonies. Er, not counting Maine, which was still part of Massachusetts at the time.


William Few came from a poor family that moved around the colonies seeking opportunities, which gradually took them further south and west. It was during one of these moves from North Carolina to the frontiers of Georgia that William received training from the North Carolina militia before he went to Georgia and joined the war effort. A patient, calculating, and tough man, he kept the pressure on the British throughout their attempted "southern strategy," in which they attempted to conquer Georgia before sweeping north. They never quite got established in Georgia, thanks in part to William Few's command of guerilla forces in the territory.

Due to his prominence and effectiveness in the military, William was elected to participate in the Continental Congress during and after the war. His duties in Congress took him away from the Constitutional Convention for much of the time, though he supported the Federalists while he was there. Unlike many southern delegates, he didn't seem to advocate for slavery. His position in the Continental Congress helped the Constitution reach the states, and he helped get the Constitution ratified in Georgia.

Afterward, William continued to serve in politics as a U.S. Senator, then as a judge in Georgia, where he advocated for a public school system. Later he moved to New York, where he continued to serve in public life and, for a time, as president of the bank currently known as Citigroup. He retired in 1815 and died in 1828 at the age of 80.
Abraham Baldwin was the son of a blacksmith in Connecticut. He studied at Yale to be a minister, and served as a chaplain for the Connecticut forces through the Revolutionary War. After the war, Baldwin was recruited by the governor of Georgia to help establish an educational system in the state. The result was the University of Georgia, which Baldwin oversaw as its president through the initial planning years. He was active in politics during this time, as the school would require significant support from the state to be established. To that end, Baldwin was instrumental in wrangling the Georgia legislature, and his management of the government made him popular.

He didn't say much during the Constitutional Convention, having been absent for the beginning, but he supported the Constitution, offering advice based on his experience in both Connecticut and Georgia. Afterward, Baldwin served as a Congressman in the House of Representatives and, later, the Senate until his death in 1807 at the age of 52.
Georgia selected six delegates to attend the Constitutional Convention. Two never showed up, so I won't mention them. Two did not sign the Constitution: William Houston and William J. Pierce. Houstoun attended for only a short time before he left, for reasons that I haven't been able to clarify. Pierce stayed longer and was more active in the debates, but he left about half-way through the proceedings when he received word that his business back home was failing. He died two years later, bankrupt.


New Hampshire only had two delegates to the Constitutional Convention, both of which signed the Constitution.

John Langdon was the son of a farmer, and as an adult he took to the sea, participating in the trade out of Portsmouth. He eventually became captain of a ship, then bought his own ship, and eventually became one of the wealthiest men in Portsmouth. He started fighting British influence early, as British trade policies hurt Langdon's business. In the war he oversaw the building of warships and led a cavalry into battle.

After the war, leading up to the Constitutional Convention, Langdon served as the President of New Hampshire for a time. New Hampshire refused to pay for the trip for the delegates to the Constitutional Convention, so Langdon financed the trip both for himself and for his fellow delegate, Nicholas Gilman. They arrived in late July, months into the proceedings. When he arrived, though, he became a vocal proponent of a strong national government, speaking as often as he was able.

Afterward, Langdon was elected to the U.S. Senate, and was the first President pro tempore. Later he served as Governor of New Hampshire for a while. In 1812 he was offered the opportunity to run as James Madison's Vice President in Madison's incumbent election, but he declined. In 1798, Langdon assisted Oney Judge Staines, a slave who had escaped from Mount Vernon a few years before, helping her evade capture by George Washington's nephew. Staines was never returned to the Washington estate, living the rest of her life as a fugitive slave.
Nicholas Gilman was born to a merchant family, which quickly rallied against the British during the Revolution. Gilman himself served with the New Hampshire militia, defending the key passage from New York to Canada. After some great victories on that front (including the pivotal Battles of Saratoga), the New Hampshire regiment was called down to join the main army in Valley Forge, and Gilman proved himself repeatedly in the remaining battles with the main Continental Army, including the battles of Monmouth and Yorktown. Gilman's exposure to the likes of George Washington and Alexander Hamilton left him with a decidedly nationalistic perspective after the war, and he soon entered politics. At the Constitutional Convention, he did not speak much but voted critically on many matters, and he participated in the committee that worked to find compromises on the key issues that needed to be hammered out if the Constitution was to be ratified by all of the states. Afterward, Gilman continued to serve as a politician, as a member of the House of Representatives for a while and then in the Senate until his death in 1814.
Continue to Part 34: Signatures (Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York)