By Tim White, remarks delivered at Grove St. Cemetery on July 4th, 2009
Roger Sherman was born on April 19, 1721 in Newton, Massachusetts and died here in New Haven on July 23, 1793. We are at his grave because if George Washington didn’t have the title “Father of Our Country,” Roger Sherman would certainly qualify for it. He was one of only two Founding Fathers who signed the three bulwark documents of our republic—the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution. He also signed the 1774 Articles of Association, making him the only man in history to sign all four of those historic founding documents of our country.
Sherman did more than simply sign the documents, however. He actually helped to create them. More generally, he labored diligently and brilliantly in many ways on behalf of our independence and, later, on behalf of our infant nation. Here are some highlights of his lifetime of achievement.
Sherman was one of Connecticut’s delegates to the first Continental Congress and served on the committee which drafted the Articles of Association calling for boycott of the exportation or importation of trade with Great Britain. He also was one of Connecticut’s delegates to the second Continental Congress and served on the five-man committee which drafted the Declaration of Independence. Later in 1776 he helped to draft the Articles of Confederation and push them through to conclusion.
Although he had no direct military experience, during the Revolutionary War Sherman served on various state and national committees concerned with military matters, such as the board of war and ordnance which directed the war effort, the maritime committee which was concerned with building a navy, and the board of treasury to raise money for war.
In 1787, at age 66, Sherman was one of Connecticut’s delegates to the Constitutional Convention, where he became an active and important member. His name is best known for the “Connecticut Compromise” he proposed which broke the deadlock between the large and small states over representation in Congress. He also was instrumental in gaining Connecticut’s ratification of the Constitution.
When the Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution, James Madison suggested incorporating them into the body of the text, but Sherman objected to rewriting it and recommended they be adopted as amendments when they had been ratified. Later, that was done and Sherman was a member of the joint House-Senate conference committee which drew up the final version of the Bill of Rights amendments.
In 1789 Sherman was elected by Connecticut to the new congressional House of Representatives. He was 68, the oldest man in Congress. In 1791, when a Connecticut senator resigned, the legislature elected Sherman to fill the vacancy. He held that post until his death in 1793 at the age of 72.
Sherman’s four-decade career in public life made him familiar with every department of government. He served in local, state and national capacities. Locally, he was a justice of the peace and a judge. He became treasurer of Yale and held that post for many years. When New Haven was chartered as a city in 1784, he was elected the first mayor and ably filled that office with great dignity to the close of his life. He also was a judge of the Connecticut Superior Court and a representative in both houses of the colonial assembly.
Sherman participated in all the trying scenes of the Revolution and in the process of America taking her separate and equal station among the powers of the earth. For prudence, discretion and sound logic, he was unrivaled. His capacity was equal to every emergency. Strong common sense, integrity and faithful service marked his whole career. A plain-spoken, plain-dressed Puritan, his private character was as pure as his public career was illustrious. He was well regarded for his piety and charity. In the estimation of his colleagues, he was second to none among that bright constellation of men who became our Founding Fathers. Thomas Jefferson described him as “a man who never said a foolish thing in his life.” John Adams described Sherman as “one of the most sensible men in the world. The clearest head and the steadiest heart. Mr. Sherman was one of the soundest and strongest pillars of the revolution.”
Thus lived and died Roger Sherman. And thus we honor him today. God blessed America through Roger Sherman.