We the People: The Citizen & the Constitution, Level 3
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Howard Chandler Christy, Signing of the Constitution, Architect of the Capitol, House wing, east stairway
Lesson 10 Biographies

Pierce Butler (1744-1822) Butler was born in Ireland, the son of a member of the House of Lords. He served in the British Army until 1771, when he resigned after marrying a colonial girl. He served with the South Carolina militia in the Revolutionary War, during which he lost much of his property. Butler spoke often at the Philadelphia Convention, arguing for a strong national government and for the interests of southern slaveholders. Although he later served in the U.S. Senate, he devoted most of his time to his plantation.

Oliver Ellsworth (1745-1807) Ellsworth was a member of a well-to-do Connecticut family. He graduated from the College of New Jersey, taught school, and served as a minister before going into law. He was soon considered one of Connecticut's best lawyers. Ellsworth served in the Continental Congress and was a delegate to the Philadelphia Convention. He played an important role at the convention and was one of the authors of the Great Compromise. Elected to the U.S. Senate, he was responsible for the Judiciary Act of 1789. In 1796 Ellsworth was appointed Chief Justice of the United States. His opinions helped to shape admiralty and treaty law.

Elbridge Gerry (1744-1814) Gerry was born to a wealthy merchant family in Massachusetts. He graduated from Harvard and was a staunch supporter of Samuel Adams. Gerry was active in protests against British policies and was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. He often changed his mind about political issues. For example, after Shays' Rebellion, he spoke against giving the common people too much power, but he still argued for yearly elections and against giving the Senate, which was not accountable to the people, too much power. Gerry refused to sign the Constitution and worked against ratification. Throughout his life, he served in a variety of offices including that of vice president.

Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804) Hamilton was a senior aide-de-camp to General Washington and an artillery captain during the Revolutionary War. He was a delegate from New York to the Philadelphia Convention and one of three authors of The Federalist, written to urge ratification of the U.S. Constitution. He later served as the first secretary of the treasury, put the nation's finances on a firm footing and advocated a strong national government.

Rufus King (1755-1827) King was born in what is now Maine. He was the eldest son of a wealthy farmer-merchant and graduated from Harvard. He studied the law and entered practice in Massachusetts. An excellent speaker and early opponent of slavery, King served in the Massachusetts legislature and the Continental Congress. One of the youngest delegates to the Philadelphia Convention, King was also one of the best speakers, arguing for a stronger national government. His notes on the events at the convention have been of interest to historians. In 1788, King moved to New York, where he became active in state politics and was chosen as a U.S. senator several times. He also served as a director of the First Bank of the United States and as minister to Great Britain. He ran for vice president twice and president once, but lost all three times.

John Locke (1632-1704) John Locke, a physician and philosopher, worked with famous scientists, including Robert Boyle and Robert Hooke. In contrast to Hobbes, Locke used state of nature and social contract theory to justify limited government and the preservation of individual rights, particularly life, liberty, and property. Locke is sometimes called "America's philosopher" because his Second Treatise of Government (1690) was widely read by the colonists and important ideas found in it (as well as in works of English republican writers) are found in the Declaration of Independence, especially his theories of natural rights and his defense of violent revolution after "a long train of abuses" of power by rulers. Two verbatim phrases of Locke's are found in the Declaration.

James Madison (1751-1836) The "Father of the Constitution" was born to a wealthy Virginia family. He was taught at home and in private schools, then graduated from the College of New Jersey. While deciding whether to become a lawyer or minister, Madison became involved in the revolutionary cause, thereby entering state and local politics. His poor health kept him from serving in the military. In 1780, Madison was chosen to serve in the Continental Congress, where he played a major role. He was one of the most influential voices calling for a constitutional convention. He came to the Philadelphia Convention with a plan for the new government, took extensive notes on the proceedings, spoke more than 150 times, and worked tirelessly on various committees. As one of the authors of The Federalist, Madison was also a key figure in the battle for ratification. Following the convention, Madison served as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, helping to frame the Bill of Rights and organize the executive department. Under Jefferson, Madison served as secretary of state. He then succeeded Jefferson as president. In retirement, Madison continued to speak out on public issues.

George Mason (1725-1792) George Mason wrote the Virginia Declaration of Rights. Later, as a delegate to the Philadelphia Convention (see Lessons 9-12) Mason led the movement against ratification of the U.S. Constitution because it lacked a bill of rights (see Lesson 13). Mason did not want government in America to become like government in England, and he believed declarations of rights as limits on government were one way to prevent this.

William Paterson (1745-1806) Born in Ireland, Paterson was brought to the colonies when he was two years old. The family moved often-from Delaware to Connecticut to New Jersey, where they finally settled. Paterson graduated from the College of New Jersey and studied law. He supported the patriots in the Revolutionary War. Paterson served as attorney general of New Jersey from 1776-1783. At the Philadelphia Convention, he argued strongly for the rights of the small states, putting forth the New Jersey Plan in opposition to Madison's Virginia Plan. Although he left the convention in July, he returned to sign the Constitution. Later, Paterson served as a U.S. senator, governor of New Jersey, and a Supreme Court justice.

Roger Sherman (1721-1793) Born in 1721 in Massachusetts, Sherman spent most of his boyhood helping his father with farming and shoe-making chores. However, he read in whatever spare time he could find. In 1743, he moved to Connecticut, purchasing a store and winning a variety of local political offices. Although Sherman had not formally studied the law, he became a lawyer. His career was distinguished, including service in the state legislature, and work as a judge. Although he gave up the practice of law in 1761, he continued his political career, serving in the Continental Congress. Sherman was one of the members of the committee that drafted the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation. He attended nearly every session of the Philadelphia Convention and was an important contributor to the Great Compromise. He also worked hard to get Connecticut to ratify the Constitution. Sherman later served as a member of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

James Wilson (1741-1798) Wilson was born and educated in Scotland. He arrived in America in 1765, where he taught and studied law. He set up a legal practice in Pennsylvania. He was active in the revolutionary effort, voting for independence and signing the Declaration. After the war, he defended loyalists and their sympathizers. His shift to conservatism angered many people in Pennsylvania, but by the 1780s, Wilson was again elected to the Continental Congress. He was an influential delegate to the Philadelphia Convention, where he spoke even more often than Madison. Wilson led the ratification effort in Pennsylvania. In 1789, he was appointed to the Supreme Court.

Lesson 10      Why Was Representation a Major Issue at the Philadelphia Convention?
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