The Founders Example in Principle and Character
Nearly every month we have been discussing principles of good government laid out by our Founding Fathers for the solution of problems in our nation. But they also gave us examples of the kind of people we should be electing to public office. The very lives and characters of these Constitution signers set an example for us. Oh, that we could elect these kind of people today!
During September we celebrate Constitution Week. Could there be any greater honor we could pay to those who originally signed that document than to review the reasons why they were so honorable, in hopes of choosing the same kind of men in our day to maintain what they gave us?
Here are the names of most who signed the Constitution. The quoted extracts are from "Characters in the Convention of the States Held at Philadelphia, May 1787," by Major William Pierce, delegate to the Convention from Georgia. Mr. Pierce did not write what they said, but he wrote what he knew about their character that made them so honorable and believable. He left the convention before it concluded, so he did not sign the Constitution himself, but he left us a wonderful legacy of the men who sat with him during the Convention of 1787. Included also are the three men who were present on September 17th but refused to sign the Constitution because it did not have a Bill of Rights. (see The Making of America , Pages xv-xxix)
Baldwin, Abraham (1754-1807), delegate from Georgia.
"A gentleman of superior abilities, and joins in a public debate with great art and eloquence. Having laid the foundation of a complete classical education at [Yale] College, he pursues every other study with ease. He is well acquainted with books and characters, and has an accommodating turn of mind, which enables him to gain the confidence of men, and to understand them. He is a practicing attorney in Georgia, and has been twice a member of Congress."
Bassett, Richard (1745-1815), delegate from Delaware.
"A religious enthusiast, lately turned Methodist, and serves his country because it is the will of the people that he should do so. He is a man of plain sense, and has modesty enough to hold his tongue. He is a gentlemanly man, and is in high estimation among the Methodists."
Blair, John (1732-1800), delegate from Virginia.
"One of the most respectable men in Virginia, both on account of his family, as well as fortune. He was one of the judges of the Supreme Court in Virginia, and acknowledged to have a very extensive knowledge of the laws.... No orator, but his good sense, and most excellent principles, compensate for other deficiencies."
Butler, Pierce (1744-1822), delegate from South Carolina.
"A character much respected for the many excellent virtues which he possesses. He ... is a gentleman of fortune, and takes rank among the first in South Carolina. He has been appointed to Congress, and is now a member of the Legislature of South Carolina."
Carroll, Daniel (1730-1796), delegate from Maryland.
"A man of large fortune, and influence in his State. He possesses plain, good sense, and is in the full confidence of his countrymen."
Dayton, Jonathan (1760-1824), delegate from New Jersey.
"A young gentleman of talents, with ambition to exert them. He possesses a good education and some reading; he speaks well.... There is an honest rectitude about him that makes him a valuable member of society, and secures to him the esteem of all good men."
Dickinson, John (1733-1808), delegate from Delaware.
"Famed through all America, for his Farmers Letters ; he is a scholar, and said to be a man of very extensive information.... He is ... a good writer and will be ever considered one of the most important characters in the United States."
Few, William (1748-1828), delegate from Georgia.
"Possesses a strong natural genius, and from application has acquired some knowledge of legal matters; he practices at the Bar of Georgia, and speaks tolerably well in the legislature. He has been twice a member of Congress, and served in that capacity with fidelity to his State, and honor to himself."
Franklin, Benjamin (1706-1790), delegate from Pennsylvania.
"Well known to be the greatest philosopher of the present age; all the operations of nature he seems to understand, the very heavens obey him, and the clouds yield up the lightning to be imprisoned in his rod.... He is ... a most extraordinary man.... He is 82 years old, and possesses an activity of mind equal to a youth of 25 years of age."
Gerry, Elbridge (1744-1814), delegate from Massachusetts.
"Mr. Gerry's character is marked for integrity and perseverance. He is a hesitating and laborious speaker; possesses a great degree of confidence and goes extensively into all subjects that he speaks on, without respect to elegance or flower of diction. He is connected and clear in his arguments, conceives well, and cherishes as his first virtue, a love for his country. Mr. Gerry is very much of a gentleman in his principles and manners; he has been engaged in the mercantile line and is a man of property."
Gorham, Nathaniel (1748-1796), delegate from Massachusetts.
"A merchant in Boston, high in reputation, and much in the esteem of his countrymen. He is a man of very good sense.... He has been president of Congress and three years a member of that body."
Hamilton, Alexander (1757-1804), delegate from New York.
"Colonel Hamilton is deservedly celebrated for his talents. He is a practitioner of the law, and reputed to be a finished scholar. To a clear and strong judgment he unites the ornaments of fancy, and whilst he is able, convincing, and engaging in his eloquence the heart and head sympathize in approving him.... Colonel Hamilton requires time to think; he inquires into every part of his subject with the searchings of philosophy, and when he comes forward he comes highly charged with interesting matter; there is no skimming over the surface of a subject, he must sink to the bottom to see what foundation it rests on."
Ingersoll, Jared (1749-1822), delegate from Pennsylvania.
"A very able attorney, and possesses a clear legal understanding. He is well educated in the classics and is a man of very extensive reading. Mr. Ingersoll speaks well and comprehends his subject fully."
Johnson, William Samuel (1727-1819), delegate from Connecticut.
"A character much celebrated for his legal knowledge; he is said to be one of the first classics in America, and certainly possesses a very strong and enlightened understanding.
"He is eloquent and clear, always abounding with information and instruction."
King, Rufus (1755-1827), delegate from Massachusetts.
"A man much distinguished for his eloquence and great parliamentary talents. He was educated in Massachusetts, and is said to have good classical as well as legal knowledge. He has served for three years in the Congress of the United States with great and deserved applause, and is at this time high in the confidence and approbation of his countrymen.... He may, with propriety, be ranked among the luminaries of the present age."
Livingston, William (1723-1790), delegate from New Jersey.
"A man of the first rate talents ... equal to anything, from the extensiveness of his education and genius. His writings teem with satire and a neatness of style."
Madison, James (1751-1836), delegate from Virginia.
"A character who has long been in public life; and what is very remarkable, every person seems to acknowledge his greatness. He blends together the profound politician, with the scholar. In the management of every great question he evidently took the lead in the Convention, and though he cannot be called an orator, he is a most agreeable, eloquent, and convincing speaker. From a spirit of industry and application which he possesses in a most eminent degree, he always comes forward the best informed man of any point in debate. The affairs of the United States, he perhaps, has the most correct knowledge of any man in the Union. He has been twice a member of Congress, and was always thought one of the ablest members that ever sat in that council."
Mason, George (1725-1792), delegate from Virginia.
"A gentleman of remarkable strong powers, and possesses a clear and copious understanding. He is able and convincing in debate, steady and firm in his principles, and undoubtedly one of the best politicians in America."
McHenry, James (1753-1816), delegate from Maryland.
"Was bred a physician, but he afterwards turned soldier and acted as aide to General Washington, and deserves the honor which his country has bestowed on him."
Morris, Gouverneur (1752-1816), delegate from Pennsylvania.
"One of the geniuses in whom every species of talents combine to render him conspicuous and flourishing in public debate. He winds through all the mazes of rhetoric and throws around him such a glare, that he charms, captivates, and leads away the senses of all who hear him. With an infinite streak of fancy, he brings to view things, when he is engaged in deep argumentation, that render all the labor of reasoning easy and pleasing.... He has gone through a very extensive course of reading, and is acquainted with all the sciences. No man has more wit ... than Mr. Morris. He was bred to the law, but I am told he disliked the profession and turned merchant."
Paterson, William (1745-1806), delegate from New Jersey.
"One of those kind of men whose powers break in upon you and create wonder and astonishment. He is a man of great modesty with looks that bespeak talents of no great extent, but he is a classic, a lawyer, and an orator; and of a disposition so favorable to his advancement that every one seemed ready to exalt him with their praises. He is very happy in the choice of time and manner of engaging in a debate, and never speaks but when he understands his subject well."
Pinckney, Charles (1757-1824), delegate from South Carolina.
"A young gentleman of the most promising talents. He is, although only 24 years of age [actually he was 30], in possession of a very great variety of knowledge. Government, law, history and philosophy are his favorite studies, but he is intimately acquainted with every species of polite learning, and has a spirit of application and industry beyond most men. He speaks with great neatness and perspicuity, and treats every subject as fully, without running into prolixity, as it requires. He has been a member of Congress, and served in that body with ability and eclat."
Pinckney, Charles C. (1746-1825), delegate from South Carolina.
"A gentleman of family and fortune in his own state. He has received the advantage of a liberal education, and possesses a very extensive degree of legal knowledge.... Mr. Pinckney was an officer of high rank in the American army, and served with great reputation through the War."
Randolph, Edmund (1753-1813), delegate from Virginia.
"Is governor of Virginia, a young gentleman in whom unite all the accomplishments of the scholar and the statesman. He came forward with the postulata, or first principles, on which the Convention acted, and he supported them with a force of eloquence and reasoning that did him great honor."
Rutledge, John (1739-1800), delegate from South Carolina.
"His reputation in the first Congress gave him a distinguished rank among the American worthies. He was bred to the law, and now acts as one of the chancellors of South Carolina. This gentleman is much famed in his own State as an orator.... He is undoubtedly a man of abilities, and a gentleman of distinction and fortune. Mr. Rutledge was once governor of South Carolina."
Sherman, Roger (1721-1793), delegate from Connecticut.
"In his train of thinking there is something regular, deep, and comprehensive. He ... deserves infinite praise. No man has a better heart or a clearer head.... He can furnish thoughts that are wise and useful. He is an able politician, and extremely artful in accomplishing any particular object; it is remarked that he seldom fails.... He sits on the bench in Connecticut and is very correct in the discharge of his judicial functions.... He has been several years a member of Congress and discharged the duties of his office with honor and credit to himself, an advantage to the State he represented."
Washington, George (1732-1799), delegate from Virginia.
"Well known as the commander in chief of the late American Army. Having conducted these States to independence and peace, he now appears to assist in framing a government to make the people happy. Like Gustavus Vasa, he may be said to be the deliverer of his country; like Peter the Great, he appears as the politician and the statesman, and like Cincinnatus he returned to his farm perfectly contented with being only a plain citizen, after enjoying the highest honor of the Confederacy, and now only seeks for the approbation of his countrymen by being virtuous and useful. The General was conducted to the Chair as president of the Convention by the unanimous voice of its members."
Williamson, Dr. Hugh (1735-1819), delegate from North Carolina.
"Is a gentleman of education and talents. He enters freely into public debate from his close attention to most subjects.... There is a great degree of good humour and pleasantry in his character; and in his manners there is a strong trait of the gentleman."
Wilson, James (1742-1798), delegate from Pennsylvania.
"Ranks among the foremost in legal and political knowledge.... He is well acquainted with man, and understands all the passions that influence him. Government seems to have been his peculiar study, all the political institutions of the world he knows in detail, and can trace the causes and effects of every revolution from the earliest stages of the Grecian commonwealth down to the present time. No man is more clear, copious, and comprehensive than Mr. Wilson, yet he is no great orator. He draws the attention, not by the charm of his eloquence, but by the force of his reasoning."
Every two years Americans have an opportunity to perform a miracle at the ballot box. As President Washington said of Constitutional principles, "To preserve them must be as necessary as to institute them." Surely, the Creator of all has not left us without great leaders to maintain what He originally gave us, if we but have the courage to install them.
Earl Taylor, Jr.