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, August 20, 2012

Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer

                    Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer was a Maryland delegate to the Constitutional Convention and signed the United States Constitution.  He was born in 1723 at Coates Retirement, an estate west of Port Tobacco, Charles County, Maryland.  He was the son of a colonial planter who descended from both Swedish and English lines.  While he was still quite young he worked as a receiver-general or financial agent for Maryland's last two proprietors.  He never married.

                    Jenifer was the justice of the peace for Charles County; he later held the same position on the western circuit of Maryland.  He was part of a commission appointed to settle a boundary dispute between Pennsylvania and Maryland in 1760.  He also served on Governor's Council - the upper house of the legislature in Maryland - which was also the court of appeals for the colony; he also served on a board of advisors to the governor (1773-76).

                    Daniel was a leader for many years in the colonial government of Maryland.  In spite of these ties to the colonial government, he resented the "arbitrary interference" with the affairs of the colonies; he especially resented the "laws concerning taxation and trade regulation.  Long before the battle for independence started, Daniel was active in fighting against the tyranny of Great Britain when they tried to turn Maryland into a Royal colony.

                    When serious conflict with Great Britain arose, Jenifer embraced the cause of the liberty and used much of his wealth to support the Patriots.  Jenifer served as president of the Council of Safety in Maryland; this council was established to organize the military forces of Maryland for the Revolution (1775-77).  He did not support the new Maryland Constitution in 17776 because it neglected popular sovereignty or the power of the people.

                    Jenifer served as a Maryland delegate in the Continental Congress (1778-82) while he was serving as president of the state's first senate (1777-80).  He managed Maryland's finances (1782-1785) and used his experiences in his personal life to help his state survive the economic depression following the Revolutionary War.

                    Along with James Madison, John Dickinson, and George Washington, Jenifer "grew increasingly concerned with national affairs" and joined his friends exploring "ways to solve the economic and political problems that had arisen under the weak Articles of Confederation.  As part of this group of men, "he attended the Mount Vernon Conference, a meeting that would lead eventually to the Constitutional Convention.

                    Jenifer was a good friend of Benjamin Franklin and enjoyed the status of elder statesman at the Convention, but his participation in the day-to-day proceedings was restricted by his advanced age.  He was convinced by his experience of managing his large plantation that an active central government was needed for financial and commercial stability.  He was in favor of "a strong and permanent union of the states in which a Congress representing the people had the power to tax."  He "favored a three-year term for the United States House of Representatives" in order to have continuity in the nation.  He felt that frequent elections would cause "indifference" and lead prominent men to stop seeking public office.   Even though he was outvoted on this point, he marveled "at the delegates' ability to come to agreement on a plan of government:  `The first month we only came to grips, and the second it seemed as though we would fly apart forever, however we came as close as friends of eighty years in but days.'"

                    Franklin and Jenifer were not only among the oldest delegates at the Convention, but they "used laughter to help reconcile the opposing views of the delegates and to formulate the compromises that made the Convention a success."  Jenifer's "good humor and pleasant company" "won him many friends at the Convention.

                    Jenifer retired to Stepney, his great plantation near Annapolis after leaving the Convention.  He died at Stepney on November 16, 1790.  In his will, he left his property of 16,000 acres to his nephew Daniel Jenifer; he also left instructions for his slaves to be set free six years after his death.  His family home was Retreat located in Charles County, Maryland.  Jenifer Street in Madison, Wisconsin, bears his name.

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