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Tho M. Rear
HOMAS MÄKEAN was born in New London, Chester County, Pennsylvania, in the year 1734. His father was a native of Ireland, and Thomas was the second child of his parents. After receiving the usual elementary instruc
tion, he was placed under the care of the Reverend Doctor Allison, and was a pupil under him with George Read. At the conclusion of his studies, he en
tered the office of David Finney, of New Castle, as a law student; and so soon did his talents become manifest, that in the course of a few months after entering upon the study of the law, he was employed as an assistant clerk of the Court of Common Pleas. In fact, he performed all the duties of the principal. He was admitted to the bar before he was twenty-one years of age, and permitted to practise in the three counties of Delaware.
Mr. M'Kean soon rose to eminence in his profession, and attracted the attention of most of the leading men of the day. Without any solicitation, or premonition, he was appointed, by the Attorney General of the Province,
his deputya to prosecute all claims for the Crown
in the county of Sussex. He was then only twenty-two years old. The next year (1767) he was admitted to practice in the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, and about the same time the House of Assembly of Delaware, elected him their clerk. He declined a second election in 1758. In 1762, he was appointed, with Cæsar Rodney, to revise and print the laws of the Province enacted during the ten preceding years. He was elected that year a representative for New Castle, to the General Assembly. This promotion to office was a distinguished mark of the confidence of the people of that district, for he had expressed a desire not to be elected, and besides that he had been a resident of Philadelphia six years. Another singular manifestation of confidence in his integrity and judgment was exhibited by the people of the district, when, at his urgent request, he was allowed to relinquish his seat in the Legislature. They appointed a committee to wait on him and request him to nominate seven proper men in the district for their representatives. This delicate office he at first declined, but on the request being urgently repeated, and assurances offered that no offence should be given, he acceded to their desires, and those he named were elected by large majorities.
Mr. M'Kean was a delegate to the “Stamp Act Congress” in 1765, and was the associate upon a committee with James Otis and Thomas Lynch, in preparing an address to the British House of Commons. For their services in that Congress, he and his colleague, Mr. Rodney, received the unanimous thanks of the Assembly of Dela
In 1765, he was appointed by the governor sole notary public for the lower counties on the Delaware,” and in rapid succession he received the offices of Justice of the Peace, Judge of the Court of Common Pleas and Quarter Sessions, and of the Orphan Court. He, with his colleagues, defied the Stamp Act, by using unstamped paper in their legal proceedings. In 1766, the governor of New Jersey, upon the recommendation of the Supreme Court of that State, admitted him to practice in any of its Courts. In 1769 the Assembly of Delaware employed him to proceed to New York and obtain copies of historical records, valuable to the former Province. In 1771, he was appointed Collector of the Customs for the port
of New Castle, and the following year he was elected Speaker of the Assembly of Delaware.
Mr. M'Kean zealously opposed the encroachments of British power upon American rights, and he heartily concurred in the sentiments of the Massachusetts Circular, recommending a General Congress. He was elected a delegate thereto, was present at the opening on the fifth of September, 1774, and soon became distinguished as one of the most active men in that august body. He continued a member of the Continental Congress from that time, until the ratification of the treaty of peace, in 1783. Impressed with the conviction that reconciliation with Great Britain was out of the question, he zealously supported the measure which led to a final Declaration of Independ
ence; and when that Declaration was submitted to Congress for action, he voted for and signed it.*
In September, 1776, (although then at the head of a regiment under Washington in New Jersey,) he was chosen a member of a Convention in Delaware to frame a State Constitution.t That instrument was the production of his pen, and was adopted by a unanimous vote.
Mr. M'Kean was claimed as a citizen by both Pennsylvania and Delaware,f and he faithfully served them both, for in 1777, he was Chief Justice of the former, and President of the latter. In addition to these offices he was Speaker of the Delaware Assembly, and delegate to the Continental Congress. In 1781, on the resignation of Mr. Huntington, of Connecticut, of the office of President of Congress, Mr. M'Kean was elected to succeed him. But he resigned the office in November following, and received the thanks of Congress for his able services while presiding over that body.
* Being called away to aid General Washington in New Jersey, with a regiment of “ Philadelphia Associątors," (of which he was colonel,) immediately after the vote on the Declaration of Independence was taken, Mr. M'Kean did not sign the instrument until sometime in the month of October following.
# On receiving notice of his appointment, he set off for Dover, and on his arrival was requested by the Convention to draft a Constitution. He acceded to their request, and before the next morning the charter was completed.
# We have several times had occasion to mention the three counties which constituted the Province of Delaware, and the political connection which seemed to exist between it and Pennsylvania. The following was the relative position of the former to the latter. Delaware was originally included in the grant made to Wil. liam Penn, and was a part of Pennsylvania. But, in 1691, the “ three Lower counties on the Delaware," dissatisfied with some of the proceedings of the Executive Council, withdrew from the Union, with the reluctant consent of the proprietor, who appointed a deputy governor over them. The next year, the Provincial gov. ernment was taken from William Penn, by a royal commission to Governor Fletcher, of New York, who re-united Delaware to Pennsylvania, under the name of the “Territory of the three Lower Counties on the Delaware." It remained subordinate to Pennsylvania until 1776, yet having a separate Legislature of
§ During that year he was obliged to move his family five times, to avoid the ma rauding enemy. The next year (1788) party spirit running very high in Pennsylvania, he found a faction arrayed against him, who made an abortive attempt to impeach himn. It was like " the viper biting a file.”
From the period of the conclusion of the war, Judge M'Kean was actively engaged in Pennsylvania and Delaware in various services which the arrangement of discordant political elements into a symmetrical form of government required; and his labors in aid of the formation and adoption of the Federal Constitution, were various and arduous.* He continued in the chair of Chief Justice of Pennsylvania until 1799, (a period of twenty years,) when he was elected Governor of that State. To this office he was elected three successive terms, and held it nine years. At the session of 1807-8, of the Pennsylvania Legislature, his opponents presented articles of impeachment for maladministration, which closed with a resolution that “ Thomas M'Kean, the Governor of the Commonwealth, be impeached of high crimes and misdemeanors.” The charges were brought fully before the House, but by the summary measure of indefinitely postponing their consideration, they were never acted upon.
The last public act of Governor M'Kean, was to preside over the deliberations of the people of Philadelphia, when, during the war with Great Britain in 1812, that city was threatened with an attack from the enemy. He then withdrew into private life, where he remained until his death, which occurred on the twenty-fourth day of June, 1817, in the eighty-fourth year of his age.
* When the war of the Revolution was terminated, and the army disbanded, Congress, which had been powerful through its military arm, was rendered quite impotent, for the authority before concentrated in the National Legislature, returned to the individual States whence it emanated. Congress was burdened with a foreign debt of eight millions of dollars, and a domestic debt of thirty millions, and yet, according to the Articles of Confederation, it possessed no power to liquidate debts incurred during the war; it only possessed the privilege of recommending to the several states the payment thereof. The people lost nearly all regard for Congress, general indifference prevailed, and a disposition to refuse to pay any taxes whatever began to be cherished. General anarchy and confu. sion seemed to be the tendency of all things, and the leading men of the Revolution felt gloomy forebodings for the future. It was clearly seen that the serious defects of the Articles of Confederation were the root of the growing evil, and these convictions led to those measures which finally wrought out the Federal Constitution.