Saturday, May 28, 2016

Constitution Series Part 37: Signatures (Pennsylvania, continued)

This time we're covering the final four signatures of the Constitution. As such, this will be the final part of the Constitution Series--at least, for the original document.


Thomas Fitzsimons was yet another merchant out of Philadelphia who took umbrage early on against Britain's sanctions. He helped to organize the Irish community in Pennsylvania in opposition to the Stamp and Coercive Acts, and when the war broke out in earnest he joined with the Pennsylvania militia, ending up in command of a troop. His trading firm helped supply the Revolutionaries, and he also donated a significant amount of his personal money to the cause.

After the war, Fitzsimons became active in politics, serving in both the Continental Congress and at the Constitutional Convention. He was a strong nationalist, but apparently he didn't speak much at the convention.

Afterward, Fitzsimons served several terms in the House of Representatives as a Federalist, though he lost his seat as public opinion started turning against his party. He spent the rest of his life maintaining his business, which kept him fairly prominent even if he wasn't directly involved in politics. He continued his philanthropy, donating especially toward the Catholic Church. He was one of only two Catholics to sign the Constitution. He also contributed to the creation of colleges and helped to finance the building of ships during the Quasi-War.

He died in 1811, after years of clashing with Jeffersonian policies.

Jared Ingersoll was the son of a prominent British officer whose loyalist leanings eventually resulted in his being tarred and feathered. Ingersoll admired his intelligent father, but he renounced his family's loyalist views and joined the revolution. During the war he focused on practicing law and serving in the Continental Congress. There, he recognized the weakness of the government under the Articles and pushed for change, resulting in the Constitutional Convention. At the Constitutional Convention, though, Ingersoll did not participate heavily in the debates.

Afterward, though, Ingersoll was instrumental in helping the country come to understand their new government. Rather than focusing on a career in politics, he became a prominent lawyer, taking on several cases that reached the Supreme Court. His arguments there helped to clarify how the courts would interpret the Constitution. Also, if you recall the impeachment of William Blount (who served as a delegate from North Carolina at the Constitutional Convention), it was Ingersoll who defended him at the impeachment proceedings.

Ingersoll ran for Vice President under Dewitt Clinton in the presidential election of 1812, losing to fellow Constitutional Convention delegates James Madison and Elbridge Gerry. Ingersoll died in 1822.
James Wilson was born and raised in Scotland. He traveled to Philadelphia in his 20s and finished his education, eventually starting a very successful law practice while also helping to found Dickinson College and giving lectures at the College of Philadelphia.

In 1768, Wilson wrote a pamphlet that suggested that the British Parliament should have no jurisdiction over the American colonies since the colonies had no representation in Parliament. The pamphlet still recognized the sovereignty of the king, however.

When the fighting began, Wilson joined the Pennsylvania militia, eventually attaining the rank of brigadier general. However, his primary focus seemed to be on politics. He pushed for independence as a member of the Continental Congress, but only when he was sure that the district he represented felt the same way. He firmly believed in representing the people.

When the British forces abandoned Philadelphia and allowed Congress to return, Wilson proceeded to defend 23 people from having their property seized for allegedly aiding the British. Eventually, due to economic hardship and food shortages, the radicals swarmed upon Wilson and several of his colleagues, forcing them to barricade themselves in Wilson's home. There was some fighting and bloodshed, but eventually the rioting ended and pardons were issued to the rioters.

By the time of the Constitutional Convention, Wilson was extremely prominent. The only other delegate at the convention considered Wilson's equal in terms of insight into political theory was James Madison, and the two tended to reinforce each other. Wilson fought for popular election of the Senate and President, though these ideas were defeated. He also proposed the famous and controversial Three-Fifths Compromise. After the Convention, Wilson's influence and support helped Pennsylvania to be the second state to ratify the Constitution.

Afterward, Wilson was nominated by George Washington as an associate justice to the Supreme Court, and Wilson held that position until his death. Despite how promising he seemed at the Constitutional Convention, Wilson's tenure as a Supreme Court Justice was marked by scandal and failure. Like his friend Robert Morris, Wilson engaged heavily in land speculation, and allegedly used his position to influence legislation that favored land speculators. As with many speculators, his prospects did not pan out, and he ended up deeply in debt. He fled debtors and eventually died of a stroke in 1798, ostensibly from the overwhelming stress.
Gouverneur Morris was a gifted child from New York, entering King's College at the age of 12. Like Ingersoll, Morris's involvement in the revolution divided him from his Loyalist family. He signed the Articles of Confederation and was assigned to oversee the Continental Army, which he attempted to reform through better training and finances. He also helped to prevent George Washington from being removed from his position as Commander in Chief by an anti-Washington cabal.

When his nationalist views led him to fall out of favor with the political establishment in New York, Morris lost his seat in Congress and moved to Philadelphia, where he became a merchant. Eventually he was elected as a Pennsylvania delegate to the Constitutional Convention.

Morris gave 173 speeches at the Constitutional Convention, which was more than anyone else. He argued for a strong national government and aristocratic rule. He was definitely classist, believing that common people could not be trusted to rule themselves, and that voting should be restricted to property owners. On the other hand, he was one of the few delegates who spoke openly about abolishing slavery at the Convention. From the notes of James Madison:
     He [Morris] never would concur in upholding domestic slavery. It was a nefarious institution. It was the curse of heaven on the states where it prevailed. Compare the free regions of the Middle States, where a rich & noble cultivation marks the prosperity & happiness of the people, with the misery & poverty which overspread the barren wastes of Va. Maryd. & the other States having slaves. ... Proceed southwardly, and every step you take, through the great regions of slaves, presents a desert increasing with the increasing proportion of these wretched beings.
     Upon what principle is it that the slaves shall be computed in the representation? Are they men? Then make them citizens, and let them vote. Are they property? Why, then, is no other property included? The Houses in this city [Philadelphia] are worth more than all the wretched slaves which cover the rice swamps of South Carolina.      ...
     The admission of slaves into the Representation when fairly explained comes to this: that the inhabitant of Georgia and S. C. who goes to the Coast of Africa, and in defiance of the most sacred laws of humanity tears away his fellow creatures from their dearest connections & damns them to the most cruel bondages, shall have more votes in a Govt. instituted for protection of the rights of mankind, than the Citizen of Pa. or N. Jersey who views with a laudable horror, so nefarious a practice.
Morris was the man who actually penned the final Constitution (the final document is in his handwriting), and he's said to be the one who wrote the Preamble.

After the Constitutional Convention, Morris moved back to New York and then went to Europe, where he stayed for a decade and watched the French Revolution unfold. He sympathized with the deposed Queen Marie-Antoinette, whose entire family was ripped apart by the revolutionaries as radicalism grew.

After he returned from Europe, he served the Federalist cause, opposing the War of 1812. He also chaired the Eerie Canal Commission, which helped to turn New York City into the nation's premiere port. He died in 1816 at the age of 64.

So ends my Constitution Series; on the death of the man who penned it.

Technically this isn't quite the end, though. There are still 27 amendments to the Constitution to cover, ten of which were adopted within a few years of the Constitution's creation. However, I believe that will have to be another series. This series has been incredibly fun and enlightening for me, but I believe it's time for me to write about something else for a while.

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