Early Career and Stamp Act Congress

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Thomas McKean: Early Career and Stamp Act Congress

Thomas McKean began his education at the Reverend Francis Allison’s New London Academy.  At the age of 16, McKean made a decision to begin the study of law in New Castle, Delaware.  From 1762 to 1763, McKean was the member of General Assembly of Delaware.  His judicial service started as the customs collector at New Castle in 1771.  Due to McKean’s efforts, the Court of Common Pleas became the first court in the colonies to require recording of all proceedings on un-stamped paper. 
In 1770s, Delaware was politically divided into two parties known as “Country Party” and “Court Party” (Conrad 1908).  Members of the Court Party were Anglicans who worked well with the colonial Proprietary government. They supported reconciliation with the government of Great Britain.  The Country Party was in minor position and did not have the support of people.  McKean, as the member of the Country Party, advocated independence from the British.  He assumed the leadership role and managed to convince population in the need to oppose the British rule. 

McKean and Caesar Rodney represented Delaware State at the Stamp Act Congress of 1765.  McKean’s proposition of “one state – one vote” was adapted by the Congress of the Articles of Confederation and McKean quickly became one of the most influential and powerful members of the Congress. He was a member of the committee that drafted and revised the memorial to Parliament.  On the last of Congress session, the president of the body Timothy Ruggles refused to sign the memorial of grievances and rights (Martin 1995). Nevertheless, McKean was not ready to accept the refusal and asked the president to give his reasons for it. The president noted that he had no duty to state the cause of objections.  McKean insisted and the president eventually noted that it was “against his conscience” (Vinci 2005).  This answer did not satisfy McKean as well and he rung changes on the word so loud that president has eventually challenged to fight him.  McKean accepted the challenges but the president escaped New York the next morning. 

The objective of congress was “to obtain relief of the British government from the grievances generally under which the colonies were suffering, and of the stamp act in particular” (Vinci 2005).  Members of the congress appeared timid but also were suspected of hostility to the adapted measures.  Nevertheless, there was only one member who refused to sign the petitions – Robert Ogden, the speaker of the house of assembly.  However, he was eventually removed from the office of speaker. 

A short time before the meeting of congress in 1774, McKean took up his residence in Philadelphia. Until the 1st of February, 1783 he continued to be elected a member of the national council annually.  It was the only instance in American history when a person remained “a member of congress, from 1774, to the signing of preliminaries of peace in 1783” (Vinci 2005).  At the same time, he represented the state of Delaware in congress as the president of it.  In other words, he was claimed a citizen of two states and held high official posts in both of them at the same time.  The ability to serve successfully and perform several duties simulatenuously was one of the most impressive qualities of Thomas McKean.  In July 1776, he was appointed a committee to prepare confederation between the colonies. On the same day, the draught was ready even though it was not signed by a majority of the colonies representatives until July 1778. 

While McKean’s primary residence was in Philadelphia, he remained the effective leader in Delaware as well.  Being an outstanding advocate of independence, McKean was the most influential speaker to convince others to vote for a separation with the Great Britain. When the Congress was debating a resolution of independence, the Delaware delegation could not vote in favor of independence:  Caesar Rodney was absent while George Read was against separation.  Thomas McKean requested Rodney to ride from Dover to vote (Martin 1995).  In addition, McKean took an active role in wording of the official Declaration of Independence. 

A few days after declaration ratification, McKean left Congress and joined militia to serve as colonel in command of the Fourth Battalion of Pennsylvania Associators created by Benjamin Franklin.  He was away when signers placed their signatures on the Declaration of Independence and his signature did not appear on the printed copy.  As the result, it is assumed that he signed the Declaration after 1777.  Notably, Delaware General Assembly did not support McKean’s struggle for Independence.  As the result, McKean was not reelected to the Continental Congress.  In spite of all obstacles, McKean helped write the Articles of Confederation and voted for their ratification.  When Samuel Huntington, the first Congress president, had to resign in 1781, McKean was elected as the second president.  At that time, McKean held the highest political office in the United States as he presided over the unicameral assembly.  In addition, he was the first politician to whom the title “President of the United States” was applied in a document (Martin 1995).  Throughout his career, McKean has never given up his federalist ideology.  


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