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, October 3, 2011

Benjamin Harrison

                    Records show that Benjamin Harrison was born in Berkley, Virginia, but his date of birth is not known for certain.  He was a descendent of early settlers in Virginia who emigrated from England.  His ancestor on his father's side married into the family of the surveyor-general for the king.  As a member of the family he was given the opportunity to have his choice of the most fertile regions of Virginia for settlement.  He was thus able to obtain a large estate that was still in the family at the time the book was written.

                    Benjamin's father was instrumental in enrolling him in the college of William and Mary with the goal of obtaining a "classical education."  Benjamin was at the college when his father suddenly passed away.  The father and two of his four daughters were struck by lightning during a violent thunder storm and died at their mansion in Berkley.  Benjamin was in the midst of a dispute with one of his professors when he received the news.  He left the college before the end of the term and never returned to get a degree.  Benjamin was the eldest of six sons.  Even though he was still a minor at the death of his father, he took over the management of the estate.

                    While still quite young, Benjamin became a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses (about 1764).  There he won the confidence and respect of the other members because of his talents and sound judgment.   He was soon elected to be Speaker, and he became "one of the most influential men in that Assembly."  He remained a member of the House of Burgesses for the greater part of his life.  Benjamin's "great wealth, distinguished family connection, and personal worth" were noticed by the royal governor.  The governor wanted Benjamin on his side and offered him a position on the executive council during the problems caused by the Stamp Act.  Benjamin rejected the offer and joined the cause of liberty because he believed the government was trying to enslave the colonists.  He joined other patriotic members of the House of Burgess in opposing the oppressive acts of the British government.

                    Benjamin was chosen as one of the seven delegates to represent Virginia at the Continental Congress of 1774.  There he saw Peyton Randolph, a fellow Virginian and close relative, elected to be the president of the Congress.  When the delegates returned to Virginia, a convention was held in Richmond where all the acts of the General Congress were sanctioned by them.   Benjamin was re-elected to be a delegate to the Continental Congress of 1775 that met in May 1775.  During the autumn, Benjamin was appointed by Congress to be part of a committee to visit George Washington and the Continental Army at Cambridge near Boston and work with the Commander-in-Chief to devise future operating plans for the army.  Near the end of 1775, he was appointed as chairman of a foreign correspondence committee and held that position until the spring of 1777 when the committee was no longer needed.  A commissioner had been sent to Europe and another committee on foreign affairs organized with a salaried secretary.

                    As an active public servant, Benjamin was always among the first to seek "decisive and energetic measures.  He strongly favored independence and was chairman of the "committee of the whole" when the question about independence was being discussed.  He voted for the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, and signed the document on August 2, 1776.  Benjamin resigned his seat in Congress in 1777 in order to return home to take care of his private affairs and serve Virginia.  He was immediately elected to be a member of the House of Burgesses, and upon taking his seat there, he was chosen to be the Speaker.  He held that office continuously until 1782.

                    Benjamin was appointed to be the lieutenant of his county; as such, he held the rank of colonel and was the commander of the militia as well as the presiding judge over the civil courts of the county.  As lieutenant, he was very active in defending his county when the traitor Benedict Arnold invaded Virginia and also when General Cornwallis made incursions into Virginia.

                    In 1782, Benjamin was elected as the Governor of Virginia and handled the affairs of the office "with great ability and firmness."   He held that office for two successive terms and then retired to private life.  The people obviously were not ready for him to retire because they elected him immediately to be a member of the House of Burgesses where he again was elected to be the Speaker.

                    Nominated for governor again in 1790, Benjamin declined the nomination because the incumbent had served in that office for only two years.  Benjamin was active in promoting the governor's re-election.  Benjamin was again elected to be governor in 1791 and invited friends to dine with him in order to celebrate.  He had previously suffered from "gout in the stomach" but was nearly recovered.  He suffered a relapse the night of his party and died the next day - sometime in April 1791.

                    Benjamin married Miss Elizabeth Bassett, a niece of Martha Washington, when he was still quite young.  Mrs. Harrison lived about one year after her husband's death.  Benjamin and Elizabeth were parents of "numerous offspring" but saw only seven children live to "mature age."  One of their sons was William Henry Harrison who became President of the United States.

                    Facts and quotes are from Lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, pp. 184-187.

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