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, January 21, 2013

Roger Sherman

                Roger Sherman, one of our Founding Father, was also a businessman and an attorney who was very active in political affairs.  He was the very first mayor of New Haven, Connecticut; he was on the Committee of Five responsible for drafting the Declaration of Independence.  He was the only person to sign all four of the great papers of the United States of America; he signed the Continental Association, the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution.  After the Constitution was ratified he served as both a Representative and a Senator in Congress.  Thomas Jefferson said of him:  “That is Mr. Sherman, of Connecticut, a man who never said a foolish thing in his life.”

                The boy named Roger Sherman was born on April 19, 1721, in Newton, Massachusetts, which is located near Boston; however, his family moved to Stoughton, located 17 miles south of Boston, when he was two years old.  His old stomping grounds in Stoughton became part of Canton in 1797.  He was educated in his father’s library and grammar school and spent his early years as a maker of shoes.  Because “he was gifted with an aptitude for learning,” he was able to take advantage of his father’s “good library” and the aid of Rev. Samuel Dunbar, a Harvard-educated Parish minister.

                Mr. Sherman passed away in 1743, and Sherman, along with his mother and siblings, walked to New Milford, Connecticut, carrying their belongings.  There Sherman, in partnership with his brother, opened the first store in the town.  He quickly became involved in the civil and religious affairs of his new town; he became one of the leading citizens of the town, eventually becoming the town clerk.  He had good mathematical skills and used them as county surveyor of New Haven County in 1745; in 1788 he started providing astronomical calculations for almanacs.

                Even though he was not formally trained in law, a local lawyer urged Sherman to take the bar exam; he was admitted to the Bar of Litchfield, Connecticut in 1754.  While studying for the exam, he wrote Caveat Against Injustice.  He represented New Milford in the Connecticut House of Representatives (1755-1758 and 1760-1761) and was on the Governor’s Council of the Connecticut General Assembly (1766-1785). 

                Sherman was also appointed justice of the peace (1762), judge of the court of common pleas (1765), and justice of the Superior Court of Connecticut (1766-1789).  He resigned the latter position in order to become a member of the United States Congress.  This very busy man also served as treasurer of Yale College where he was awarded an honorary Master of Arts degree.  As a professor of religion for many years, he corresponded with “some of the greatest theologians of the time.”

                Along with Richard Law, Sherman was successful in his 1790 appointment to “massively revise the confused and archaic Connecticut statutes.”  He was elected Mayor of New Haven in 1784 and held that office until his death.  He has the distinction of being the only person who signed the United States Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Association, the Articles of Confederation, and the United States Constitution – considered the “four great papers of the United States.”   Robert Morris has the distinction of being the only other person to sign at least three of the documents; he did not sign the Articles of Association.  When John Trumbull painted his famous painting of the Committee of Five presenting its work to the Congress, he put Sherman literally in the front and center of the group.

                Sherman was active in the Constitutional Convention held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1787 to amend the Articles of Confederation.  Sherman and Oliver Ellsworth offered the Great Compromise or Connecticut Compromise; Sherman and James Wilson created the Three-Fifths Compromise.  The plan known as the Great Compromise was designed to unify the convention in their debate about representation.  In this plan, the people would be represented proportionally in the House of Representatives while the states would be represented equally in the Senate. 

Sherman is remembered for taking a stance against paper money and for writing Article I, Section 10 of the Constitution of the United States.  “Mr. Wilson & Mr. Sherman moved to insert after the word `coin money’ the words `nor emit bills of credit, nor make anything but gold & silver coin a tender in payment of debts’ making the prohibitions absolute, instead of making the measures allowable (as in the XIII art:) with the consent of the Legislature of the U.S. … Mr. Sherman thought this a favorable crisis for crushing paper money.  If the consent of the Legislature could authorize emissions of it, the friends of paper money would make every exertion to get into the Legislature in order to license it.”

Roger Sherman married twice, once to Elizabeth Hartwell and once to Rebecca Minot Prescott.  Several of his children and descendants achieved prominence:  1) His son, Roger Sherman, Jr. (1768-1856) graduated from Yale College (1787) and served in the Connecticut General Assembly (1810-1811).  2) His daughter, Rebecca Sherman, married Simeon Baldwin, who served in the U.S. Congress (1803-1806), as an Associate Judge of the Connecticut Superior Curt (1806-1817), and as Mayor of New Haven, Connecticut (1826).  3) A second daughter, Elizabeth Sherman Burr, married Baldwin after the death of Rebecca.  4) Another daughter, Sarah Sherman, married Samuel Hoar, a member of the Massachusetts state legislature and the U.S. Congress.  5) Another daughter, Martha Sherman, married Jeremiah Day, President of Yale University (1817-1846).  6) Three grandsons (Roger Sherman Baldwin, George F. Hoar, and William M. Evarts) served in the U.S. Senate.  Baldwin was Governor of Connecticut; Evarts was a U.S. Attorney General and was followed in that office by his first cousin, Ebenezer R. Hoar, a brother of George F. Hoar.

                Sherman died in his sleep on July 23, 1793, in New Haven, Connecticut, at age 72.  He had been sick for two months with what was diagnosed as typhoid fever; however, a newspaper reported an alternate diagnosis, “He was taken ill about the middle of May last, and from that time declined till his death.  His physician supposed his disorder to be seated in his liver” (The Gazette of the United States, Philadelphia, PA, August 17, 1793, p. 508).  He was interred in New Haven Green; when that cemetery was relocated in 1821, his remains were moved to the Grove Street Cemetery where his grave is the center of the city’s Independence Day celebrations.

                Roger Sherman has the distinction of having many places and things named in his honor.  1) Sherman Avenue in New Haven and Sherman Avenue in neighboring Hamden; 2) the town of Sherman, Connecticut; 3) Sherman Street in Canton, Massachusetts; 4) Sherman Avenue in central Madison, Wisconsin where most of the main streets carry the names of signers of the United States Constitution; 5) the policy debate team at Western Connecticut State University is official named the “Roger Sherman Debate Society.”  6) Roger Sherman Elementary School of Fairfield, Connecticut; 7) Roger Sherman Inn of New Canaan, Connecticut; 8) Roger Sherman House on Howe Street in New Haven; 9) the Town and Village of Sherman, New York; 10) Sherman House, residence hall on University of Connecticut Storrs campus; 11) Roger Sherman Street in the Orange Park, Florida, Heritage Hills neighborhood.  In addition, statues of Roger Sherman are located at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; the National Statuary Hall Collection in the U.S. Capitol (one of two allowed to the state of Connecticut in the collection), and the Connecticut State Capitol in Hartford.

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