William Paca, signer of the Declaration of Independence, descended from a wealthy Maryland planter. He was born in 1740 at Wye Hall, his father's residence. He was carefully and properly educated morally and intellectually before enrolling at Philadelphia College. There he studied diligently through a difficult course of study; he began a study of law after graduating. He was joined in his law studies by Samuel Chase, who was later a colleague at the General Congress. William was admitted to the bar in 1760 at age 21.
Paca was elected as a member of the Maryland Assembly, and he joined Samuel Chase and others in opposition to the Stamp Act in 1765. He was fearless in fighting against every effort by Great Britain to assert its right to tax the colonists. He was very popular with the people because of his patriotic zeal, but the British government and loyalists did not like his behavior.
William approved and actively promoted the proposition for a General Congress in 1774. Maryland appointed him to be one of its five representatives at the Congress and instructed the delegates to "agree to all measures which might be deemed necessary to obtain a redress of American grievances." He was re-elected to the General Congress in 1775 and continued in that position until 1778.
Both William and Samuel Chase were embarrassed by the fact that the people of Maryland were opposed to independence and insistent on remaining loyal to Great Britain. Maryland did not chase the delegates' instructions until May 28, 1776, when their opinions changed drastically. When Maryland withdrew the restrictions on the representatives, William and his fellow representatives actively joined the effort to declare independence. They voted to sever the political bond with England on July 4, 1776, and signed the Declaration of Independence on August 4, 1776.
William retired from Congress in 1778 when he was appointed as Chief Justice of the Maryland Supreme Court. He continued in that position until he was elected to be President (or Governor) of Maryland under the Articles of Confederation. He held that executive position for one year before retiring to private life.
Paca was a member of the Maryland convention given the responsibility to ratify the Federal Constitution in 1788. He was a strong supporter of ratification. Maryland ratified the Constitution in November 1788. After the Constitution was in effect and national officers selected, President George Washington nominated William to be a Judge for the Maryland District, an office he held until his death. He died at his ancestral home, Wye Hall, in Harford County, in 1799 at age 60.
William was considered to be a "pure and active patriot, a consistent Christian, and a valuable citizen, in every sense of the word. His death was mourned as a public calamity; and his life, pure and spotless, active and useful, exhibited a bright exemplar for the imitation of the younger men of America."
Facts and quotes are from Lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, pp. 154-156.
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