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, April 11, 2011

Richard Stockton

The great-grandfather of Richard Stockton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, emigrated from England some time in the 1660-1670 period of time and settled on Long Island in New York. He later moved into New Jersey and purchased a nice tract of land near Princeton where he joined a few other people in building a new settlement.

Richard was born on the Stockton manor on October 1, 1730. He took a college preparatory course at a Maryland academy for two years and then entered New Jersey College at Newark. He graduated in 1748 and began studying law in Newark. He was admitted to the bar in 1754 and did so well that in 1763 he received the degree of sergeant-at-law, the highest degree taken in England in the common law and recognized in the American Colonies.

Stockton traveled to London in June 1766 to live for fifteen months and to improve his legal abilities. He spent much of his time observing the higher courts in London. He was also received with respect by the most important men in England. Through his efforts in England, New Jersey College received much patronage, for which they gratefully acknowledged his work. Since the British people were so interested in the affairs in the American colonies, Richard received many invitations to visit distinguished English homes. He spent a week at the country seat of the Marquis of Rockingham, the Earl of Leven and other noblemen in Edinburgh, and a Doctor Witherspoon at Paisley. Stockton convinced John Witherspoon to move to the American Colonies to be the president of New Jersey College. Witherspoon joined Stockton in signing the Declaration of Independence. (See my post on March 19, 2011.)

Richard returned to America in September 1767 and was lovingly escorted to his residence by the people. In 1768 he became a member of the royal executive council of New Jersey and was given a seat on the New Jersey Supreme Court in 1774. Even though Richard was wealthy and was personally honored by the King, he understood that principles were more important than self-interest and so joined the cause of liberty.

Stockton was elected to the General Congress in 1776 and joined the debate about independence. At first, he was doubtful as to the need to declare independence, but he was convinced of the expediency by the comments of other delegates, particularly the conclusive arguments of John Adams. He voted in favor of the Declaration of Independence and joyfully signed the document.

In September 1776, he tied for votes for Governor of New Jersey, but the position went to a Mr. Livingston. He was elected as Chief Justice of New Jersey but declined the position to return to the General Congress.

Following a trip with George Clymer to General Schuyler and the northern army, Richard quickly moved his family to prevent their capture by the British army, which was pursuing General George Washington and his army across New Jersey. He moved his family about thirty miles to the house of a friend, but he was betrayed by a neighbor there and captured by some refugees. He spent some time as a prisoner and was treated harshly because he was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Stockton's hardships weakened his spirits, and he became despondent when he saw the vandalism to his estate by the British and the devaluing of the continental paper currency. After a fight with cancer in his neck, he died on February 28, 1781, at age 51.

Facts came from Lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, pp. 77-80.

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