Thursday, May 26, 2016

Constitution Series Part 35: Signatures (New Jersey)

New Jersey is one of the few states whose delegates were all in support of the Constitution to some degree. Only one of their delegates didn't sign the Constitution, but he has a pretty good excuse.


William Livingston is from the prominent Livingston family. William himself entered law despite the expectations of his parents, establishing a practice in New York City. He entered politics and spoke out in the press against the Anglican factions that controlled King's College and the city at large at the time. Eventually, though, Livingston and his allies lost control of the New York Assembly as Britain's taxation of the colonies heated up, and in the early 1770s Livingston and his family moved to Elizabethtown, New Jersey.

Livingston soon found himself pulled back into politics as the Revolution heated up, attending the First and Second Continental Congress starting in 1774 and joining the New Jersey militia in 1775, where he was immediately commissioned as a brigadier general. I can't find any evidence of prior military service, though, so I can only assume that politics and name recognition did him many favors. In 1776, Livingston was elected governor of new Jersey, a position he held until his death, so clearly he was a popular man in his new state. Despite these duties, he still found time during the next few years to oppose slavery and develop agricultural innovations at his estate, Liberty Hall, which still stands today.

As New Jersey's governor, Livingston couldn't spend much time at the Constitutional Convention, though he did chair the committee that found a compromise on the issue of slavery, and after signing the Constitution he was instrumental in its rapid ratification in New Jersey. He died shortly afterward, though, in 1790, so he didn't get to see the Constitution in action very much.

David Brearly dropped out of college and joined the Revolution early, which led to him being arrested by the British for high treason. His fellow revolutionaries helped him escape custody, though, and he eventually joined the New Jersey militia, eventually achieving the rank of colonel. He was appointed to the New Jersey Supreme Court in 1779, and his decision in the 1780 case Holmes v. Walton set an early precedent for what eventually became judicial review (ruling a law unconstitutional).

At the Constitutional Convention Brearly wasn't hugely influential, though he chaired the Committee on Postponed Matters, which decided a lot of the more contentious aspects of the Constitution. Like Livingston, though, Brearly didn't have much time to enjoy this new government, dying in 1790 after serving as a district judge in the new federal courts for about a year. He was 45 when he died.

William Paterson is the son of an Irish immigrant whose success as a merchant allowed him to send his son to get an education at Princeton. Paterson graduated from Princeton and opened a law practice, eventually becoming New Jersey's first attorney general in 1776. Paterson held other positions throughout the Revolutionary War, but his duties as attorney general kept him too occupied to focus on anything else. After the war, Paterson retired from public office for a while, but returned to become a delegate to the Constitutional Convention.

Paterson helped create what was known as the New Jersey Plan, which proposed a unicameral legislature in which each state gets equal representation. The plan was opposed by the Virginia Plan, which proposed a unicameral legislature with representation based on population. (This eventually resulted in the Great Compromise.) Paterson did not stick around for all of the debates, though, leaving in July for reasons I couldn't quite figure out. He returned at the end of the convention only to sign the document.

After helping the Constitution get ratified, Paterson was elected to the First Class of Senators, and he helped to create the Judiciary Act of 1789, which established the federal court system (the first several pages are in his handwriting). He then returned to New Jersey to take over as governor for a few years after the death of William Livingston. Paterson was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1793, a position he held until his death in 1806.

Jonathan Dayton was classmates with Alexander Hamilton at a preparatory academy for admittance into Princeton. Unlike Hamilton, though, Dayton actually attended Princeton, but dropped out in order to join the Revolutionary War at the age of 16. He achieved rank of Captain by the age of 19, serving at different times under Washington, the marquis de Lafayette, and his father, General Elias Dayton. He fought and survived many battles, including the Battle of Yorktown.

After the war, Dayton finished his education and divided his time between land speculation, politics, and practicing law. He was the youngest delegate to the Constitutional Convention, at the age of 26, in part because his influential father declined to attend. Dayton participated moderately in the debates and signed the Constitution despite some misgivings.

After continuing in New Jersey politics for a while, Dayton joined Congress as a Federalist, first in the House of Representatives (serving as Speaker of the House from 1795 to 1799) and then in the Senate. He invested heavily in lands in Ohio (the city of Dayton, OH was named for him), and he became quite wealthy.

Dayton lent a significant amount of money to Aaron Burr around this time, which Burr allegedly used in a conspiracy to commit treason. Though Burr was acquitted, he and everyone even loosely involved in the conspiracy (including Dayton) found their political careers tarnished. Thereafter, Jonathan Dayton stuck to local and state-wide politics.

In 1824, the marquis de Lafayette was touring the United States and stayed with Dayton a while. The exertion and excitement of the visit is considered to be one of the causes of Dayton's death a few days later. He was 63 years old.

The only New Jersey delegate who did not sign the Constitution was William C. Houston. He only attended the Convention for about a week before he had to leave due to illness. He supported the Constitution as much as he could, but he can be forgiven for not signing it. He died the following year from tuberculosis.

Continue to Part 36: Signatures (Pennsylvania)

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