Roger Sherman

Jul 9th, 2008 3:57:08 pm - Subscribe
Mood: argumentative

Connecticut's Roger Sherman was the only American, who placed his signature on all four of the great state papers, in the formative years of our country. He was a signer of the Declaration of 1774; the Declaration of Independence 1776; the Articles of Confederation 1781, and the Federal Constitution of 1788.
Born on April 19, 1721 in Newtown, Massachusetts, he was the son of William and Mehetabel (Wellington) Sherman. He was descended from Captain John Sherman of Dedham, Essex, who settled in Watertown, Massachusetts about 1636. Sherman's father moved to Stoughton, Massachusetts and the family lived there until 1743. From his lather, he learned the trade of Cordwainer, and he also worked on the farm. He received no formal education except that offered by the common school, under the influence of the classically trained, Reverend Samuel Dunbar. He early acquired a habit of study, that lead him to read widely in history, theology, mathematics, and particularly law and politics. One pictures him at his cobbler's bench, with an open book always before him.
Sherman's father died in 1741. In 1743, Roger Sherman moved to New Milford, Connecticut, where his elder brother, William, had already settled. The story goes that he walked the entire distance, with his cobbler's tools upon his back.
Two years later, he was appointed surveyor of New Haven County, and he continued in office, when Litchfield County was organized in 1752, serving in this capacity until 1758. The position was a successful one, as Sherman became a considerable owner of land. At this time, he became active in the town affairs of New Milford, serving as juryman, town clerk, church deacon, school committee-man, and agent to the Assembly of Town business.
In 1756, he became the sole owner of New Milford's first store, which he and his brother had been operating. He also found time to publish a caveat against injustice, or "Enquiry into the evil consequences of a fluctuating medium of Exchange." Added to this, was his publication of a series of Almanacs between 1750-1761, which were based on his own astronomical calculations, and contained quotations from such literary men as Milton, Dryden and Pope. To these he added some verses of his own composition.
February 1754 saw him admitted to the Litchfield Bar. In the following year, he represented New Milford in the General Assembly, which appointed him Justice of the Peace. Sherman's experience in the General Assembly prepared him for the many legislative duties that he engaged in during the Revolutionary War, especially in the matters of military finance and supplies.
At the age of 40, when he had become a man of property and some political standing, he gave up his law practice, and embarked upon wider mercantile enterprises by moving to New Haven. Here he gathered merchandise, as well as books and other paraphernalia, for Yale students, He began another store in nearby Wallingford. He was a liberal contributor to the Yale chapel for eleven years, 1765-1776, he was Treasurer of Yale, and received an honorary degree of M.A. for that college.
Because of public pressure and duties, he retired from his business ventures in 1772. During the years, 1764-1766, he represented New Haven in the lower house of the legislature;he was elected to the upper house in 1766, and held office in that legislative body for 19 years. At this time he became a judge in the Superior Court of Conn., being annually reappointed for 23 years.
In 1774, Sherman was a member of the Continental Congress, and as a member of the Committee on the Declaration of Rights he frequently voiced his opinions "often and long but very heavily and clumsily". He remained a member of the Congress from 1774-1781, and again in 1781-1783. He was on the committee for drafting the Declaration of Independence, along with Jefferson, Adams, Franklin, and Livingston. He was a signer of this famous document. He served on various committees, dealing with ways and means, Native American affairs, the treasury, war and ordinance. He worked so earnestly hard, that he spoke of retirement, in a letter to Governor Trumbull. It was at this time that John Adams spoke of him as "an old Puritan, as honest as an angel, and as firm in the cause of Americium Independence as Mt. Atlas." Sherman, toward the end of the Revolution was, perhaps, the most influential and well versed man in Congress.
The years 1784-1786 were among Sherman's relatively quiet years. His chief offices were that of Judge of the Superior Court, and Mayor of New Haven.
In the year 1787 he entered the Constitutional ( Federal ) Convention in Philadelphia as a delegate from the State of Connecticut. He spoke frequently on many issues-a speaker for the small states, on legislative power. The people should have as little to do as may be out government. The want (lack) information and are constantly misled." He spoke, also on democracy, executive power, on the courts, on ratification, on senators' term, on the admission of new states, on slave trade, and on the Bill of Rights.
Perhaps his most noteworthy achievement was the apportionment of votes in Congress. Sherman proposed that "the proportion of suffrage in the first branch (the house) should be according to the respective numbers of free inhabitants, and that in the second branch ( the senate ) each state should have one vote." In time, with changes, this came to be known as the Connecticut, the Great or the Sherman Compromise. In all, Sherman spoke 138 times at the Convention.
Sherman was 66 at the time of this Convention. He was a New Englander, and looked like one. He was tall, his hair cut straight across his forehead. He dressed plainly. His manner, and bearing were often stiff, stern, rustic, and yet dignified. Thomas Jefferson pointing him out to a visitor remarked " that is Mr. Sherman of Connecticut, who never said a foolish thing in his life". He was an able politician and successful in accomplishing all he undertook. There is a good portrait of Sherman painted by Ralph Earl around 1774 at the Yale Gallery of Fine Arts. His contemporaries recognized his ability and honesty. His long record of service attests industry, integrity and devotion to public duty.
In his last years, he was elected to the first Congress (1789-1791). He became a member of the Senate, filling the vacancy caused by the resignation of William S. Johnson. There he served until his death, in New Haven, July 23, 1793. He is buried in the Grove Street Cemetery of that city.
There are not many who achieved in a life-time, what Roger Sherman achieved; and few who accomplished as much for our country as he did in these formative years.


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