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, July 9, 2012

George Read

                    George Read was an attorney and a politician from New Castle, New Castle County, Delaware.  He was also a signer of the Declaration of Independence as well as the United States Constitution.  In addition, he was President of Delaware, the first U.S. Senator from Delaware, and the Chief Justice of Delaware.

                    Read was born on September 18, 1733, in Cecil County, Maryland, one of six sons of John (from Ireland) and Mary Howell Read (from Wales).  The family moved to New Castle County, Delaware, when he was just an infant, and settled near a village named Christiana.  He studied at the Rev. Francis Allison's Academy at New London, Pennsylvania, with Thomas McKean and then studied law in Philadelphia with John Moland.  George was admitted to the Pennsylvania Bar in 1753; the next year he established a law practice in his home town of New Castle, Delaware.

                    George married Gertrude Ross Till in 1763. Gertrude was the daughter of the Rev. George Ross, the Anglican rector of Immanuel Church in New Castle, as well as the widowed sister of George Ross, a future signer of the Declaration of Independence.  George and Gertrude became parents of five children:  John, George Jr., William, John, and Mary.  (Mary married Matthew Pearce and was often confused with her aunt Mary Read who in 1769 married Gunning Bedford, Sr., a future Governor of Delaware.)  The Read family lived on The Strand in New Castle, and their house at that time was in what became the garden of the present Read House and Gardens, owned by the Delaware Historical Society.  The Reads were members of Immanuel Episcopal Church.

                    In 1763 Read was appointed by John Penn, the Proprietary Governor, to the office of Crown Attorney for the three Delaware counties; he served in that position until he left for the Continental Congress in 1774.  Read also served in the Colonial Assembly of the Lower Counties for twelve sessions, from 1764/65 through 1775/76.  On June 15, 1776, the General Assembly of the Lower Counties declared its separation from the British government in anticipation of the Declaration of Independence.  After the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, Read was elected as a delegate to a Delaware constitutional convention called to draft a constitution for the new state of Delaware.  George was elected/appointed as President of the convention and led in the passage of the Delaware Constitution of 1776; his associate Thomas McKean had drafted the document.

                    George Read was elected as a representative to the first Legislative Council of the Delaware General Assembly and was then chosen as the Speaker in both the 1776/77 and the 1777/78 sessions.  "At the time of the capture of President John McKinly, Read was in Philadelphia attending Congress, and after narrowly escaping capture himself while returning home, he became President on October 20, 1777, serving until March 31, 1778."  At that time British soldiers occupied Philadelphia and controlled the Delaware River.  Read tried to recruit more soldiers to protect Delaware but was not very successful. 

                    Caesar Rodney replaced Read as President of the Assembly, but Read continued to serve in the Legislative Council until 1788 except for one year of ill health and two years of service in the House of Assembly (1780-1782).  Read was appointed in 1782 as Judge of the Court of Appeals in admiralty cases.

                    In 1786 George Read was again called to national service when he represented Delaware at the Annapolis Convention.  Due to the small number of states represented, the sole business conducted was "a report calling for a broader convention to be held in Philadelphia the next year."  Read represented Delaware the next year in Philadelphia at the meeting we know as the Constitutional Convention. 

                    The following quote comes from Soldier-Statesmen of the Constitution written by Wright and Morris:  "Read immediately argued for a new national government under a new Constitution, saying `to amend the Articles was simply putting old cloth on a new garment.'  He was a leader in the fight for a strong central government, advocating, at one time, the abolition of the states altogether and the consolidation of the country under one powerful national government.  `Let no one fear the states, the people are with us,' he declared to a Convention shocked by this radical proposal.  With no one to support his motion, he settled for protecting the rights of the small states against the infringements of their larger, more populous neighbors who, he feared, would `probably combine to swallow up the smaller ones by addition, division or impoverishment.'  He warned that Delaware `would become at once a cipher in the union' if the principle of equal representation embodied in the New Jersey (small-state) Plan was not adopted and if the method of amendment in the Articles was not retained.  He favored giving Congress the right to vote state laws, making the federal legislature immune to popular whims by having senators hold office for nine years or during good behavior, and granting the U.S. President broad appointive powers.  Outspoken, he threatened to lead the Delaware delegation out of the Convention if the rights of the small states were not specifically guaranteed in the new Constitution."

                    When Read was assured that the small states were guaranteed these rights, Read led the ratification movement in Delaware, resulting in Delaware becoming the first state to ratify the new Constitution.

                    After the new Constitution was adopted, the Delaware General Assembly elected George Read as one of the state's two U.S. Senators.  His term in the Senate began March 4, 1789; he was reelected in 1791 and resigned on September 18, 1793, to accept an appointment as Chief Justice of the Delaware Supreme Court.  He served in that position until his death on September 21, 1798, at New Castle.  He is buried in the Immanuel Episcopal Church Cemetery in New Castle.

                    George Read was described as "tall, slightly and gracefully formed, with pleasing features and lustrous brown eyes.  His manners were dignified, bordering upon austerity, but courteous, and at times captivating.  He commanded entire confidence, not only from his profound legal knowledge, sound judgment, and impartial decisions, but from his severe integrity and the purity of his private character" (Life and Correspondence by William T. Reid).

                    Read was also described by a fellow delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 as follows:  "his legal abilities are said to be very great, but his powers of oratory are fatiguing and tiresome to the last degree; his voice is feeble and his articulation so bad that few can have patience to attend him."

                    "Historians like John Munroe have generally recognized that all in all, Read was the dominating figure in Delaware politics during his career, directly or indirectly providing consistent and reliable leadership to the new state."

                    Stonum, the home of George Read, is now a historic landmark.  His son, George Read II, built the house that is currently on The Strand in New Castle.  This house is owned by the Delaware Historical Society, restored and opened to the public.  His legacy includes a school in New Castle and a dorm at the University of Delaware named for him.

                    The following is written on the tombstone of George Read:  "George Read born A.D. 1732, Died 21 Sept. 1798, Member of the Congress of the Revolution, the Convention that framed the Constitution of the U.S. and of the first Senate under it, Judge of the Admiralty, President and Chief Justice of Delaware, and a signer of the Declaration of Independence…."

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