Aristotle (384-322) Aristotle was a student of the philosopher Plato and the teacher of Alexander the Great. Considered one of the great philosophers in the Western intellectual tradition, he wrote treatises on subjects as diverse as government, logic, rhetoric, ethics, poetry, and biology. Aristotle continued an effort begun by Plato to place objects and ideas in categories based on similar properties. After Alexander's death, Aristotle fled Athens.
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.
Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) Franklin was the oldest delegate to the Philadelphia Convention. With the possible exception of George Washington, Franklin was the best-known man in America. Born into a poor family, Franklin became an inventor, scientist, diplomat, and publisher. His Poor Richard's Almanac was read nationwide. His career in public service was long and varied, and included service as ambassador to England and France and as governor of Pennsylvania. At the Philadelphia Convention, Franklin was a compromiser, using wit to bring delegates together. A staunch advocate of colonial rights, he helped draft the Declaration of Independence and the Treaty of Paris (1783). He played an important role in creating the Great Compromise. He favored a strong national government and argued that the Framers should trust the judgment of the people. Although he was in poor health in 1787, he missed few sessions, being carried to and from the meeting place in a special chair. Although he did not agree with everything in the Constitution, he believed that no other convention could come up with a better document.
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.
Patrick Henry (1736-1799) A prominent political leader and supporter of the Revolutionary cause, Henry opposed the Philadelphia Convention and refused to attend. Henry argued against the development of a strong national government. He was suspicious of what might happen at the convention and is reported to have said "I smell a rat." Henry led opposition in Virginia to ratification of the Constitution and later worked to include the Bill of Rights in the Constitution.
John Jay (1745-1829) Jay was the first chief justice of the United States, serving from 1789 to 1795. He wrote New York's first constitution. Jay served as president of the Continental Congress and as minister to Spain and England. He was a strong supporter of the Constitution and one of the authors of The Federalist. Jay was appointed chief justice by President Washington but resigned in 1795 when he was elected governor of New York.
Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) Thomas Jefferson was the third president of the United States. He was a scientist, philosopher, diplomat, and architect. He supported the revolutionary cause and served as governor of Virginia. Between June 11 and June 28, 1776, Jefferson wrote the initial draft of the Declaration of Independence, which was amended by John Adams and Benjamin Franklin and submitted to Congress. Jefferson supported the Constitution but was critical of its lack of a bill of rights. He was the first secretary of state in Washington's cabinet and the leader of the Republican Party. Jefferson was elected vice president in 1796 and was chosen president four years later. He was reelected to the presidency in 1804.
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.
Luther Martin (1748-1826) Luther Martin was born in New Jersey around 1748. After graduating from the College of New Jersey, he moved to Maryland where he began practicing law. He served as state attorney general and in the Continental Congress. At the Philadelphia Convention, he opposed increasing the power of the federal government. Martin believed in the rights of the states and of the people and wanted each state to have an equal vote in Congress. He also wanted a bill of rights. Although he owned six slaves, Martin opposed slavery, speaking out against it. Because he lost the battles on the issues he thought were important, Martin left the convention and did not sign the Constitution. He fought against ratification in Maryland. After 27 years in office, Martin resigned as Maryland attorney general in 1805. He served in several other positions, but returned as attorney general in 1818.
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.
Gouverneur Morris (1752-1816) Morris was born in New York to a wealthy family with a history of public service. Early in life, he lost a leg in a carriage accident. He graduated from King's College in New York City and studied law. Many of his family and friends were loyalists, but Morris sided with the patriots. He served in the militia as well as in the New York legislature and the Continental Congress. When he was defeated for Congress in 1779, Morris moved to Philadelphia to practice law. At the Philadelphia Convention, Morris gave more speeches than anyone else. He favored a strong national government ruled by the upper classes. He served on many committees and was the primary author of the actual document. After the convention, Morris spent ten years in Europe. He served briefly in the Senate, but then retired.
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.
Daniel Shays (1747-1825) Revolutionary soldier and postwar rebel. One of several leaders of the revolt in western Massachusetts against the state government. In 1786, he led armed farmers in a raid on the Springfield arsenal. Fled to Vermont when his band was defeated and later settled in New York.
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.
Mercy Otis Warren (1728-1814) An author and Anti-Federalist, she knew most of the Revolutionary leaders personally and spent much of her life at the center of events. Her vantage point, combined with her literary talents, made her a well-known historian and poet. She wrote several plays and a three-volume history of the Revolution.
George Washington (1732-1799) George Washington was born in Virginia in 1732. He grew up there on several plantations along the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers. He was not particularly well educated, but did learn surveying. In 1753, he began his service to the country, which was to continue throughout his life, despite his desire to live a more private existence. Washington's efforts as commander of the Continental Army are well known. After the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1783, Washington returned to his home, Mount Vernon. Although he did not initially want to attend the Philadelphia Convention, his friends convinced him that his presence was necessary. He was elected president of the convention but spoke little. His presence and approval, however, were important. Nearly everyone assumed that Washington would be the first president of the United States, which, of course, he was, serving from 1789-1797.
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.
Robert Yates (1738-1801) Yates was born and educated in New York. He became a lawyer and set up practice in Albany. He spent the greatest amount of time as a justice of the New York Supreme Court, serving eight years as chief justice. Yates left the Philadelphia Convention because he believed it had exceeded its authority. A strong Anti-Federalist, he worked against ratification, writing several essays attacking the document. Yates kept notes of the convention which have been useful to historians.