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 16, 2012

Gunning Bedford, Jr.

                    Gunning Bedford, Jr. was born on April 13, 1747, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  He was the fifth of seven children born into a "distinguished family that originally settled in Jamestown,VA.   He received his education at the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University), where he was a classmate of James Madison and graduated in 1771 with honors.

                    Bedford apparently married Jane B. Parker while he was still in school, and the couple became parents of at least one daughter.  He "read" law with Joseph Read in Philadelphia, passed the bar, and opened a law office.  He later moved to Dover and then Wilmington, New Castle County, Delaware.  He is sometimes confused with his cousin, Col. Gunning Bedford, Sr., who was an officer in the Continental Army during the American Revolution and Governor of Delaware.

                    Gunning Bedford, Jr. "apparently served in the Continental Army" and was "possibly as an aide to General Washington."
His first political position was serving in the Legislative Council of the Delaware General Assembly, later known as the Delaware House of Representatives, where he served four terms (1783/84 until 1786/87).   His next public service was one three-year term (1788/89 through 1790/91) in the Legislative Council, later known as the State Senate.  Bedford also served as a Continental Congressman from Delaware, as the first Attorney General of Delaware (1778-1790), and as a Delaware delegate to Constitutional Convention in 1787.

At the Constitutional Convention, Bedford "was the most vocal supporter of giving small states equal power in the federal government to large states.  His experience in local politics, along with his service in the Continental Congress, taught him much about the political and economic vulnerabilities of states like Delaware.  Unlike some other small-state representatives who looked to the creation of a strong central government to protect their interests against more powerful neighbors, Bedford sought to limit the powers of the new government.  But when the conflict over representation threatened to wreck the Constitutional Convention, he laid regional interests aside and, for the good of the country, sought to compromise." 

Bedford even went so far as to "warn" the other delegates that the small states might seek protection with alliances with foreign governments.  He at first was aligned with the delegates "who sought merely to amend the Articles of Confederation" but later "supported the New Jersey Plan, a scheme that provided equal representation for the states in the national legislature, a point on which the Delaware legislature had instructed its delegates not to compromise."  He sat on "the committee that drafted the Great Compromise, which settled the thorny question of representation and made possible the Convention's acceptance of the new plan of government."

Gunning Bedford, Jr. was also a delegate to the convention in 1787 when Delaware ratified the Constitution.  Bedford, John Dickinson, Richard Bassett, and others assisted Delaware to become "the first state to approve the Constitution."

Bedford was so "respected for his knowledge of the law" that he was "asked by Delaware's senators and fellow signers George Read and Richard Bassett to review a bill, then under consideration, on the organization of the federal judiciary system."  He considered the document (later the Judiciary Act of 1789 and "one of the most important pieces of legislation of the period) to be a "noble work."  He did, however, have some concerns with it and "admitted that the common law of the United States was difficult to define."  He claimed, "Yet the dignity of America requires that it [a definition] be ascertained, and that where we refer to laws they should be laws of our own country.  If the principles of the laws of any other country are good and worthy of adoption, incorporate them into your own."  He considered the ratification of the Constitution to be "legal emancipation" and declared that "as the foundation is laid so must the superstructure be built."

President George Washington nominated Bedford on September 24, 1789, to be the first judge for the United States Court for the District of Delaware.  The U.S. Senate confirmed the appointment on September 26, 1789, and Bedford received his commission that same day.  He continued in that position until his death but resigned the office of attorney general for Delaware in 1790.

Bedford had a continuing interest in local education and believed that establishing schools "is, on all hands, justly acknowledged to be an object of first importance."  He worked at improving the education system in Wilmington and was president of the Board of Trustees of Wilmington Academy.  After the academy became Wilmington College, he became its first president.  In addition, he was also the first Grand Master of the Delaware Masonic Lodge.

Gunning Bedford, Jr. died at age 64 on March 30, 1812, in Wilmington and was buried in the Presbyterian Cemetery there.  When the Wilmington Institute Library was located where the cemetery stood, his remains were moved to the Masonic Home Cemetery at Christiana, Delaware.  His legacy includes Bedford Street in Madison, Wisconsin, being named in his honor.       

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