George Bryan was a merchant and politician from Pennsylvania. He participated in the Stamp Act Congress in 1765. He was also an early abolitionist and served as Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Supreme Court Justice for Pennsylvania.
Early Life and Family
- Bryan was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1731.
- In 1757, Bryan married Elizabeth Smith. They had ten children together.
- In 1752, Bryan traveled to Philadelphia to participate in a trade partnership his father had arranged with a merchant, James Wallace.
- Bryan became a successful merchant.
- He was opposed to the Stamp Act and Townshend Duties and signed the Non-Importation Act with other merchants from Philadelphia. This may have contributed to his business going bankrupt in 1771.
- Bryan was active in the Presbyterian Church.
- Two factions emerged in the church during the Great Awakening, and Bryan tried to mediate their differences and keep them from splitting the church.
- The experience led him to his involvement in provincial politics.
- He opposed the Quaker faction that wanted to make Pennsylvania a royal colony.
- Bryan was a member of the Pennsylvania Assembly.
- In 1765, he represented Pennsylvania at the Stamp Act Congress.
- In 1776, Pennsylvania passed its own Constitution, and he was an advocate of the executive council and unicameral legislature that it set up. The executive council was called the Supreme Executive Council.
- On March 5, 1777, he was elected as the first Vice-President of the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania, although he did not officially take the oath of office until March 6.
- On November 21, 1777, he was re-elected as the Vice-President of the Supreme Executive Council.
- On May 23, 1778, the President of the Supreme Executive Council, Thomas Warton, died. Per the Pennsylvania Constitution, Bryan assumed Warton’s duties and became the second President of the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania.
- During his time on the Supreme Executive Council, he focused on defending the Pennsylvania frontier from Loyalists and Indians.
- On December 1, 1778, Bryan lost his bid for re-election as President of the Supreme Executive Council to Joseph Reed. However, Bryan was elected as Vice-President of the Supreme Executive Council over Joseph Hart.
- On October 11, 1779, Bryan resigned from his position as Vice-President of the Supreme Executive Council. On the same day, Matthew Smith was elected to replace him.
- In 1779, he was appointed as a Trustee for the University of the State of Pennsylvania, which is now called the University of Pennsylvania, and he served in that position until his death in 1791.
- In 1780, he was appointed Judge of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. He held that position until his death in 1791.
Delegate to the Stamp Act Congress
On March 22, 1765, Parliament passed the Stamp Act, which required a stamp to be placed on all legal documents and many printed materials in the colonies.
In May, news of the new law reached the colonies. There was immediate opposition, including riots in Boston, Massachusetts, Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and Savannah, Georgia.
On June 8, 1765, the Massachusetts Assembly sent a circular letter to the legislatures of the other colonies, inviting them to send delegates to a congress in New York to discuss a unified response to the Stamp Act. The precedent for such a meeting had been set by the Albany Congress in 1754.
Nine of the 13 colonies, including Pennsylvania, chose to send delegates to the meeting, which was held in New York City. Bryan was elected as a delegate from Pennsylvania, along with John Morton and John Dickinson.
The Stamp Act Congress convened on October 7, 1765. On October 19, the Stamp Act Congress issued a Declaration of Rights and Grievances. Congress sent petitions to the King and both houses of Parliament and asked for the Stamp Act to be repealed.
Bryan signed his name to the official documents of the Stamp Act Congress.
On November 1, 1765, the Stamp Act took effect, but there were no stamp masters available to distribute the stamps. They had resigned or refused to perform their job due to violence and intimidation against them.
On March 18, 1766, Parliament repealed the Stamp Act, primarily due to protest from British merchants who believed it would damage their prospects of doing business in the colonies. However, on that same day, Parliament passed the Declaratory Act, which declared it had the “full power and authority to make laws and statutes of sufficient force and validity to bind the colonies and people of America, subjects of the crown of Great Britain, in all cases whatsoever.”
An Advocate of Abolition and Emancipation
- In November 1778, he sent a message to the Pennsylvania Assembly and called their attention to a bill proposed by the Council in 1777 for the gradual abolition of slavery in Pennsylvania. He wrote, “In divesting the state of slaves you will equally serve the cause of humanity and policy, and offer to God one of the most proper and best returns of gratitude for his great deliverance of us and our posterity from thraldom.”
- In 1779, Bryan was elected to the legislature and participated in a committee that prepared the draft of a law for gradual emancipation.
United States Constitution
- Bryan opposed the Federal Constitution because it set up a single executive and a bicameral legislature.
- On January 27, 1791, Bryan died in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
- He is buried in Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia.
Bryan believed slavery was wrong, and he authored and sponsored legislation that aimed to eliminate the practice. Pennsylvania’s implementation of slavery served as a model for the other northern colonies.
George Bryan is important because he was a delegate to the Stamp Act Congress. He also served as Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Supreme Court Justice for Pennsylvania.