Declaration of Independence

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. - That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Nicholas Gilman

                    Nicholas Gilman served Americans in numerous ways for many years.  He first served as a soldier in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War; he represented New Hampshire as a delegate to the Continental Congress and signed the Constitution of the United States.  He later served as a member of the United States House of Representatives during the first four Congresses and then served in the U.S. Senate from 1804 until his death.  Nicholas was not the only member of his family involved in public service; he was joined by his brother John Taylor Gilman who served as Governor of New Hampshire for 14 years as well as being a principal benefactor of Phillips Exeter Academy.

                    Nicholas was born on August 3, 1755, in Exeter, New Hampshire.  He was the second son of eight children.  His family home in Exeter is now the American Independence Museum.

Since he was born during the French and Indian War, Nicholas was soon aware that citizenship and military responsibilities went hand in glove.  He attended local public schools and then went to work as a clerk in his father's trading house.  The merchants in New England resented the many tax increases imposed by Parliament, and Nicholas's father emerged as one of the local leaders in the cause of patriot liberty.  As his son, Nicholas was involved in the patriot cause very early. 

Nicholas was a representative for Exeter in the New Hampshire Provincial Congresses.  These congresses began meeting after the first shots of the revolution were fired at Lexington and Concord in 1775.  Nicholas served as treasurer for New Hampshire during the Revolutionary War.  His oldest son, John, served as a sergeant in Exeter militia and marched with them to fight the Redcoats in the Boston area.  Nicholas, as a strong supporter of the cause of liberty, probably trained with the local militia, but he remained behind as the administrative officer in the 3rd New Hampshire Regiment.  The New Hampshire legislature appointed young Nicholas Gilman in November 1776 to serve as adjutant, or administrative officer, of the 3rd New Hampshire Regiment.  Colonel Alexander Scammel was already in the process of making a complete reorganization of his unit and made good use of Gilman's administrative talents.  The two leaders created a "potent fighting force out of the limited manpower resources;" these resources came from raw recruits as well as veterans of the Trenton-Princeton campaign.  The 3rd New Hampshire was later "recognized as one of the mainstays of General Washington's Continental Army."

The 3rd New Hampshire was probably could have been motivated to become a strong unit because "New Hampshire lay along the major invasion route from Canada to New York."  General George Washington recognized both the position and the qualities of the unit and "assigned its regiments a key role in the strategic defense of the northern states.

Gilman was among the officers and men of the 3rd New Hampshire when they marched in the spring of 1777 to Fort Ticonderoga on Lake Champlain to stop the advance of a powerful army made up of British regulars, German soldiers, and Indian auxiliaries under the direction of General John Burgoyne.  Problems in coordination between state units caused a military defeat, but the Americans escaped.  He did not this defeat destroy his confidence and supervised the recruitment and training of more soldiers - which eventually led to victory in the battles at Freeman's Farm.

The American retreat continued until the British army was slowed by transportation difficulties and colonial attempts to delay the enemy advance.  This delay allowed time for "a mass mobilization of New England militia, including a New Hampshire Regiment of volunteers led by John Langdon and Gilman's father.  It also provided Major General Horatio Gates with time to establish new positions new Saratoga, New York, to block Burgoyne's further advance and to block the British line of retreat to Canada.  Young Gilman was busy supervising the training and readiness of the unit and participated in two important battles at Freeman's Farm where Burgoyne surrender his entire army.

Less than a week later, the 3rd New Hampshire marched to reinforce the main part of Washington's army near Philadelphia.  A larger British army had taken the capital city of Philadelphia, and the Americans spent a miserable winter in the snows of Valley Forge.  The American soldiers were sorely tried during this winter encampment, but they emerged from it as a tougher, more professional army.  Gilman's administrative skills were fully recognized, and he became the assistant to the Adjutant General and promoted to the rank of captain in June 1778.

Gilman was in close proximity to the leaders of the Continental Army for the remainder of the war because of his many tasks in keeping the army in the field.  "He personally saw action in the remaining battles fought by Washington's main army, including Monmouth and Yorktown, while continuing to hold his captain's commission in the New Hampshire Line. The death of Colonel Scammell in the preliminary skirmishing before Yorktown robbed him of much of the joy of that great victory."  After his father died in late 1783, Gilman retired from military service and assumed the family's business.

A career of statesman brought a quick end to Gilman's career as a merchant.  Because of his service in the Continental Army, he was "exposed … to many of the ideas of such prominent nationalists as Washington and Alexander Hamilton.  Their influence, his family's own tradition of service, and his special skill at organization all combined to divert the young veteran into a political career."  He was appointed by the legislature in 1786 to represent the New Hampshire at the Continental Congress, and he was also selected to represent his state at the Annapolis Convention.  He was not able to attend the latter, but his selection recognized his leadership in the new nation and his ability to help solve the many economic problems.

Gilman felt strongly that the Articles of Confederation needed to be changed and was pleased to be appointed as a New Hampshire delegate to the Constitutional Convention in July 1787.  Although Gilman and John Langdon, the two delegates from New Hampshire, arrived at the convention "after the proceedings were well under way, they both immediately joined the debates and helped hammer out the compromises needed to produce a document that might win approval in every state and region."

Nicholas Gilman was in New York at the Continental Congress during the ratification process in New Hampshire, but his brother John was one of the leaders in the ratification forces and kept Nicholas informed of the proceedings.  The brothers worked in tandem to use all their political influence to win a narrow 57-47 margin of victory in the final vote.

Gilman attended the First Congress of the new United States of America convened in New York in 1789; he was a member of the House of Representatives and served for four terms.  While Nicholas was serving in Congress, his brother John became Governor of New Hampshire and held the post for fourteen terms.  A younger brother began his career in the state legislator.  Nicholas serve a term as state senator in 1800.

"During this time Gilman's political loyalties began to change.  Ever a staunch nationalist, he had support the Federalists while that party led the fight for a more binding union of the states.  But once that concept was firmly established, Gilman became increasingly concerned with the need to protect the common man from abuses of power by government.  As a consequence, he gave his support to the Democratic-Republican party that was beginning to form around Thomas Jefferson.  In 1801 he accepted appointment from Jefferson as a federal bankruptcy commissioner.  Following one unsuccessful attempt, he was then elected to the United States Senate in 1804 as a Jeffersonian.  Although the New Hampshire Yankee rarely spoke at length in legislative debate, his peers recognized his political prowess.  He remained an influential member of the Senate until his death…."

Gilman believed in the importance of a strong national government on the day after he signed the U.S. Constitution.  He called the new supreme law of the land "the best that could meet the unanimous concurrence of the States in Convention; it was done by bargain and Compromise, yet, notwithstanding its imperfections, on the adoption of it depends (in my feeble judgment) whether we shall become a respectable nation, or a people torn to pieces … and rendered contemptible for ages."  Gilman's words illustrate the modesty of "this eminently practical Soldier-Statesman" but failed to hide "the justifiable pride he obviously felt in the accomplishment of the Founding Fathers" in which he "had played no small part."

Nicholas Gilman died on May 2, 1814, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, at age 58, on his way home from Washington after the 1814 senate recess.  He was interred in the Exeter Cemetery in Exeter, New Hampshire.  I found no record of spouse or children.

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