Thomas McKean's Role in American History

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Thomas McKean's Role in American History

Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, George Washington, John Adams, and Alexander Hamilton are the names of the most prominent Founding Fathers.  Their biographies and contribution to the American history are thoroughly studied by historians and researchers. Nevertheless, there were fifty six signers of the Declaration of Independence and there were fifty five delegates to the Constitutional Conventions.  Thomas McKean was one of them.  This name is not well-known today, yet he has significantly impacted the early history of the United States of America. His political and social leadership were of primary importance to successful ratification of the Declaration of Independence.  Thomas McKean was an American lawyer and politician representing the interests of Delaware and Pennsylvania.  During the American Revolution he was a militia officer and a Continental Congressman from Delaware.  He was the second President of the Continental Congress under the Articles of Confederation.  He was a member of Federalist and Democratic Parties and served as President of Delaware, Governor and Chief Justice of Pennsylvania.  Thomas McKean was the prominent politician who promoted the creation of independent country with democratic government.

Brief Biography

Thomas McKean was born in 1734 in New London, a town in the joint proprietorship of Pennsylvania and New Jersey.  Under the instruction of the distinguished scholars, McKean rapidly advanced in knowledge of moral philosophy, logic, languages, and rhetoric.  He studied law and after only two years of private practice, he managed to become Deputy Attorney General of Sussex County in Delaware (Coleman 1984). His talents became known and it secured him a respectable share in business field.  As the result, in 1756 he was admitted to practice in courts of Philadelphia.  He was a young man, but at the early age he occupied a significant rank among much older man.  McKean held several offices of distinction and by his ability and judgment, he “gave promise of his future eminence” (Vinci 2005).
Within the next forty years, McKean delivered public service on county, state and federal levels.  At the age of 23, in 1757, he became a clerk to Delaware legislature.  In five years, he was accepted as a member to the legislature.  McKean served as Justice for County Court of Common Pleas, was a delegate to the Stamp Act Congress, member of Continental Congress and Speaker of the Delaware House of Representatives. 

While serving at the Stamp Act Congress, McKean developed the procedure for determining representation in the Continental Congress.  He suggested allowing each colony to have only one vote regardless of population and size (Coleman 1984).  His promoted the state equality and it still maintains every state equal representation in the modern Senate.  McKean, as a supporter of America liberty, was not afraid to defy the British law openly.  He opposed the British taxation of legal papers and, moreover, allowed only those legal documents that did not include the British stamps.  In 1766, McKean signed his approval for Declaration of Independence.  His vote was pivotal because George Read, the third Delaware delegate, has registered ‘no’ vote for Delaware State (Coleman 1984).  Read supported independence but was cautious to support radical moves.  Due to McKean’s ‘yes’ vote, Delaware joined the delegates from other states who signed the Declaration of Independence. 

McKean, as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, was aware of the power of legal documents.  His decisions helped reorganize the state’s legal system.  Along with George Reed, McKean wrote the constitution of the State of Delaware based on democratic principles.  As the first President of Congress of the Confederation, he assisted statesmen in writing Articles of Confederations (Coleman 1984).  Throughout his career in politics, Thomas McKean spoke in support of the United States Constitution and Independence.  He believed that Constitution is the first and the most important step towards Independence.  McKean worked to convince the people to support the Constitution. He was successful in his speeches and Delaware was the first state to ratify the main national document.  His last years were spent in Philadelphia; however, until the last day of his life, McKean fought for the independence of his country.  Thomas McKean died on June 24, 1817. 

Timetable

1734 – Thomas McKean was born in New London, Chester County, PA
1755 – McKean admitted to the bar and commenced practice in New Castle, Del
1756 – appointed deputy general for Sussex Country and served until 1758
1762-1775 – member of the Delaware House of Assembly
1764 – appointed one of the three trustees of the loan office
1765 – member of the Stamp Act Congress; appointed sole notary for the lower counties of Delaware; received the commission of a justice of the peace and of orphans’ court
1771 – appointed collector of the port of New Castle
1774-1776 – member of the Continental Congress
1776 – signer of the Declaration of Independence; member of the state house of representatives
1776 – served as speaker
1777 – president of the state of Delaware 
1777-1799 – chief justice of Pennsylvania
1781-  served as President of Congress
1787 – member of the convention of Pennsylvania which ratified the Constitution of the United States
1789 – delegate to the state constitutional convention
1799-1808 - Governor of Pennsylvania
1817 – died in Philadelphia, PA


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