Friday, May 27, 2016

Constitution Series Part 36: Signatures (Pennsylvania)

Since the Constitutional Convention took place in Philadelphia, naturally a bunch of Pennsylvanians had no trouble attending. They had eight delegates, all of whom signed the Constitution. With so many delegates you might think Pennsylvania had a disproportionate voice in the proceedings, and certainly having that many delegates gave them more people who could voice their opinions. However, when it came time to actually vote and make decisions, remember that all of these delegates amounted to a single vote to represent Pennsylvania as a whole. So, in a sense the two delegates from Massachusetts each had a proportionately larger voice in the voting than the Pennsylvanians did.

Anyway, eight delegates is too much for one post. Pennsylvania gets a disproportionate number of blog posts, at least.


Benjamin Franklin is one of the few men for whom creating the Constitution may not in fact be the defining moment in their lives. Rather, it was a great final touch on a fascinating life. Born in Boston in 1706, Franklin largely educated himself, as his family couldn't afford to put him all the way through school. His brother James started the first independent newspaper in the colonies, and Franklin served as his brother's apprentice. When his brother was arrested for publishing something the governor didn't like, Franklin took over and quoted the following, from Cato's Letters: "Without freedom of thought there can be no such thing as wisdom and no such thing as public liberty without freedom of speech."

He ran away from Boston and his apprenticeship when he was 17 years old, but he was forever after a printer at heart. Whether establishing newpapers or publishing his incredibly popular "Poor Richard's Almanack," print was the means by which Benjamin Franklin would spread his ideas and influence.

Franklin was also a prolific inventor, and he refused to patent his inventions, believing that scientific advancement and innovation was to be shared freely so that we could, as a people, continue to build and improve on each other's ideas. His scientific pursuits ranged wide, from electricity and refrigeration to ocean currents and sociology. For ostensibly being a mere author and printer, his contributions to science are pretty astounding.

After establishing early fire departments and libraries, Franklin took to politics and established the colonies' first hospital and helped to create a new type of college that was less overtly religious in nature.

Starting in the 1750s, Franklin spent much of his time overseas, traveling around England and Europe and generating support for the American colonies. Like many Americans at the time, Franklin simply wanted Britain to treat the colonies fairly, but by the mid-1770s it was evident that this wasn't to be the case. Franklin returned to Pennsylvania and helped draft the Declaration of Independence.

After signing the Declaration of Independence, Franklin immediately returned to Europe, this time as the United States' Ambassador to France. There he charmed the French through the Revolutionary War, and was quite the celebrity. When he returned to the United States, he immediately freed his slaves, having become an ardent abolitionist over the course of his time in France.

Benjamin Franklin was a celebrity like no other at the Constitutional Convention, eclipsing even George Washington. It was this celebrity that was likely the most important contribution he made to the document. Franklin was the oldest delegate there, too old and in too much pain to participate actively in the debates. The best he could do was help the younger men find some compromises here and there, and by signing the document he lent it all the power and prestige he'd built up over the course of his legendary life.

His final years were spent trying to convince the country to abolish slavery. He died in 1790 at the age of 84.
Thomas Mifflin was from a wealthy family of Quakers, though he was expelled from the faith due to his participation in the military. He became the Continental Army's first Quartermaster General, though his failure to provide provisions to the army at Valley Forge drove him to attempt to resign... but he couldn't, because they couldn't find anyone else willing to take that job. By the end of the war he had achieved the rank of Major General, and he had so much charisma that he was known for persuading many soldiers out of abandoning the army.

In politics, Mifflin rose to prominence in the Pennsylvania government, both before and after the war. He was serving as President of Pennsylvania during the Constitutional Convention, succeeding Ben Franklin in that position. At the Constitutional Convention Mifflin was neither talkative nor influential, but he later chaired the convention that created Pennsylvania's 1790 constitution. From then he served as the governor of Pennsylvania from 1790 to 1799. He was yet another victim of the grim year of 1800.
Robert Morris was a successful merchant who began a career in politics when the merchants bound together to oppose the Stamp Act in 1765. He join the Continental Congress during the revolution, and he lent significant resources to the revolutionary cause, including ships, money, and information gathered from Morris's vast trading network.

Despite this, Morris actually voted against declaring Independence in 1776. However, in order to present a united front against Britain, he abstained from the vote, allowing the vote to be unanimous in favor of the Declaration of Independence, which he signed saying, "I am not one of those politicians that run testy when my own plans are not adopted. I think it is the duty of a good citizen to follow when he cannot lead."

Morris signed the Articles of Confederation and served in Congress, eventually serving as the Superintendent of Finance--a woeful position under the Articles of Confederation, which had basically no power to secure funds. When Morris couldn't collect enough revenue from the states to finance the war, he often dipped into his own personal fortune to finance the war effort. He was also accused of profiteering during the war, but the Continental Congress found him innocent in that regard.

At the Constitutional Convention, Morris was relatively silent. Afterward, George Washington naturally offered Morris the position of Secretary of the Treasury, but Morris declined and suggested Alexander Hamilton in his place. Many of Hamilton's financial plans were adapted from Morris's theories.

Afterward, Morris invested in many risky ventures, all on credit. As a result, his debts climbed as many of those investments failed to deliver in rapid succession. Eventually Morris was chased down and thrown into debtor's prison, where he spent several years and emerged destitute, broken-spirited, and in poor health. He died in 1806.

George Clymer was orphaned almost immediately after his birth, but his merchant uncle took him in, raised him, and eventually left his mercantile business to him. Like Robert Morris, Clymer turned against Britain around the time of the Stamp Act, but unlike Morris, Clymer was an early advocate for independence. During the Revolutionary War, Clymer helped fund the military by exchanging all of his money for the nation's paper currency, which most people were unwilling to do (for good reason). When the British took Philadelphia, Clymer was one of only thee members of Congress to stay in the city and conduct congressional business.

At the Constitutional Convention, Clymer apparently spoke little, but he had an impact on the final document. I'm not sure of the extent, though. Afterward, he served in the new Congress for a while, brokered a peace between the United States and the Native Americans in Georgia, and served as the first president of the Philadelphia Bank.

It feels like he did a lot and was pretty influential, but I couldn't find a lot of detail about him. He died in 1813 at the age of 73.
Continue to Part 37: Signatures (Pennsylvania, continued)

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