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 24, 2011

Carter Braxton

                    Carter Braxton, signer of the Declaration of Independence, was born on September 10, 1736, in King and Queen County, Virginia.  His father, George Braxton, was a wealthy farmer who was well respected by the Virginian planters, and his mother was the daughter of Robert Carter.  Both parents died when Carter and his brother George were young.

                    Carter received his education at William and Mary College, leaving at age nineteen just prior to marriage.  His bride was Miss. Judith Robinson whose father was a wealthy farmer in Middlesex County.  Carter was considered to be one of the wealthiest men in his county.  Not yet twenty-one years old, Judith died giving birth to her second child.  Four years after Judith's death, Carter married Elizabeth Corbin with whom he had sixteen children.

                    In 1757 Carter went to England, returning in 1760 just prior to his second marriage.  Carter had enough wealth and such excellent connections that he could have become part of the aristocracy, but he instead became a Virginian patriot, raising his voice in the cause of liberty.  We do not know when he became active in public life, but he was a member of the House of Burgesses in 1765.  He was in attendance when Patrick Henry made his resolutions concerning the Stamp Act, and he courageously voted in favor of them.  Patrick Henry was an eloquent orator and won Carter to his side:  "The eloquence of Henry on that occasion, fell like successive thunderbolts on the ears of the timid Assembly.  `It was in the midst of the magnificent debate on those resolutions,' says Mr. Wirt, `while he was descanting on the tyranny of the obnoxious Act, that he exclaimed, in a voice of thunder, and with the look of a God;  "Caesar had his Brutus, Charles the First his Cromwell - and George the Third" - "Treason!" cried the Speaker - "treason, treason," echoed from every part of the House.  It was one of those trying moments which are decisive of character.  Henry faltered not for an instant; but rising to a loftier altitude, and fixing on the Speaker an eye of the most determined fire, he finished the sentence with the firmest emphasis - `and George the Third - may profit by their example.  If that be treason, make the most of it.'"

                    Braxton was a member of the Virginia Convention at the time Lord Botetourt dissolved it for acts he thought could be treasonous.  Braxton joined other members of the Convention who immediately went to another location and signed a "non-importation agreement.  After the death of Lord Botetourt in 1770, Lord Dunmore succeeded him and increased the spirit of opposition in Virginia.  During the time between the death of Botetourt and the arrival of Dunmore, Braxton served as county high sheriff but resigned when Dunmore came.

                    Carter Braxton was a member of the Assembly when Dunmore dissolved it in the summer of 1774; he was one of the eighty-nine members who recommended that Virginia hold a general convention at Williamsburg.  The convention was held, and Braxton was elected as one of Virginia's delegates to the Continental Congress scheduled to meet in Philadelphia the next month.

                    In 1777 Dunmore attempted to take the ammunition from the public magazines and put it on board the Fowey ship-of-war that was just off of Williamsburg.  The people became very upset and "threatened open rebellion and armed resistance."   Patrick Henry gathered a military company and led it toward Williamsburg with the plan to demand the return of the powder.  The company grew rapidly as it traveled and was very large as it approached Williamsburg.

                    Meanwhile the captain on board the Fowey declared that he would fire upon the town and destroy it if the governor encountered violence.  The captain then turned the broadside of the ship parallel to the shore and prepared the guns for firing.  Braxton was instrumental in "quelling the disturbance" and making arrangements that satisfied all parties.  The governor agreed to pay for the powder and then was allowed to take his family on board the Fowey in the river.  Williamsburg was saved from destruction.

                    When Governor Dunmore refused to return to his palace and the legislature refused to meet with him on board the ship, a Provincial Government was formed by a convention of Virginians.  Braxton was active as a member of the last House of Burgesses in Virginia convened under royal authority, and he was chosen as a delegate to the new Assembly.

                    Carter was chosen as a delegate to the Continental Congress in December 1775 to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Peyton Randolph.  Carter was active in the cause for independence; he voted for the Declaration of Independence and signed it.  He was a member of the Continental Congress for only one session before returning to his seat in the Virginia Legislature.  From 1786 until 1791 Carter served as a member of the council of the State.  He was again elected to the office in 1794, and he held the office until just shortly before he died.  Four days after leaving office, he passed away on October 10, 1797, at age 61.

                    "Mr. Braxton was not a brilliant man, but he was a talented and very useful one.  He possessed a highly cultivated mind, and an imagination of peculiar warmth and vigor, yet the crowing attribute of his character, was sound judgment and remarkable prudence and forethought.  These, in a movement like the American Revolution, were essential elements in the characters of those who were the prominent actors, and well was it for them and for posterity, that a large proportion of not only the Signers to the Declaration of Independence, but those who were called to act in the councils of the nation, possessed these requisites to a remarkable degree.  While fiery spirits were needed to arouse, and bold, energetic men were necessary to control and guide, the success of that rebellion, … depended upon the calm judgment and well directed prudence of a great body of the patriots.
                    "Of this class Mr. Braxton was a prominent one.  His oratory, though not brilliant, was graceful and flowing, and it was persuasive in the highest degree.  He always fixed the attention of his auditors and seldom failed to convince and lead them.  In public, as well as in private life, his virtue and morality were above reproach, and as a public benefactor, his death was widely lamented."
                    Facts and quotes are from Lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, pp. 197-200.

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