Biography of Roger Sherman, Founding Father, and Architect of the Great Compromise
Roger Sherman is a Founding Father who was a merchant, lawyer, and politician. He rose to prominence during the American Revolution as a political icon and influential member of Congress. He was born in Massachusetts and moved to Connecticut after his father died. In 1766, he was elected to the Governor’s Council of the Connecticut General Assembly. Before the start of the American Revolutionary War, he taught at Yale. In 1775, he was appointed to the Council of Safety by the Connecticut Governor as well as the commissary for the Connecticut troops. He was elected as a delegate to the First Continental Congress and signed the Articles of Association. He returned to the Second Continental Congress, where he was chosen to serve on two of the most important congressional committees in the history of the United States — the Committee of Five, which was responsible for drafting the Declaration of Independence, and the Committee of Thirteen, which was responsible for drafting a new constitution for the United States. The document produced by the committee was the Articles of Confederation, which Sherman also signed. After the war ended, he served in the Confederation Congress and signed the Treaty of Paris. In 1787, he played an important role in the Constitutional Convention, where he represented the interests of the smaller states and was the architect of the Great Compromise, which created the Senate and House of Representatives. He returned to Connecticut and participated in the state’s ratification of the Constitution. Later, he was elected to the House of Representatives in the First Congress and then to the Senate in the Second Congress and Third Congress. Sherman died on July 23, 1793, and was highly respected by his peers and fellow Founding Fathers.
This painting by John Trumbull depicts the Committee of Five presenting the draft of the Declaration of Independence to Congress. Sherman is standing between John Adams (left) and Thomas Jefferson (right). Jefferson is shown with the papers in his hands, as he presents them to John Hancock. Image Source: Wikipedia.
5 Things to Know About Roger Sherman
- Roger Sherman was born in Newton, Massachusetts on April 19, 1721. His parents were William and Mehetabel Sherman.
- Sherman started his professional career as a cordwainer, making shoes and other products out of leather. In 1743, he moved to New Milford, Connecticut, where he opened the first store in the town with his brother, William. Later, he was a surveyor and became active in politics in Connecticut. He was proficient in math and provided astronomical calculations for almanacs. In 1748, he was admitted into the Litchfield Bar, even though he did not have formal training as a lawyer.
- He married Elizabeth Hartwell on November 17, 1749. They had seven children together, and their three oldest sons served as officers in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War.
- During the Constitutional Convention, Sherman suggested an important amendment to the Articles of Confederation, which is known as the Great Compromise. The compromise set up Congress as a bicameral legislature, consisting of the House of Representatives and the Senate.
- Sherman died on July 23, 1793, in New Haven, Connecticut. He was buried at Grove Street Cemetery in New Haven.
Important Moments in the Life and Career of Roger Sherman
Roger Sherman represented the state and colony of Connecticut in the First Continental Congress, Second Continental Congress, Confederation Congress, and Constitutional Convention of 1787.
Signer of the Continental Association
Roger Sherman signed the Articles of Association. On October 20, 1774, Sherman, Eliphalet Dyer, and Silas Deane — the delegates from Connecticut — were three of the 53 delegates to the First Continental Congress that agreed to impose a trade boycott against British merchants. The colonies put the boycott in an effort to force King George III and Parliament to repeal the Coercive Acts. The delegates signed the Articles of Association, which set up the Continental Association, which was responsible for enforcing compliance with the boycott throughout the colonies. It was the first time that all 13 Original Colonies agreed to a unified boycott against Britain.
Signer of the Olive Branch Petition
Roger Sherman signed the Olive Branch Petition. On July 5, 1775, the Second Continental Congress approved a letter written by John Dickinson, a delegate from Pennsylvania who pushed for reconciliation with Britain, not revolution. On July 8, 48 of the delegates, including Sherman, signed the letter, which is known as the Olive Branch Petition, and it was sent to London. King George III refused the letter in light of the armed conflict that started on April 19 with the Battle of Lexington. Soon after, the King issued the Proclamation of Rebellion and authorized British officials to “suppress such rebellion, and bring the traitors to justice.”
Member of the Committee of Five
Roger Sherman was a member of the Committee of Five that wrote the Declaration of Independence. On June 7, 1776, Richard Henry Lee made a motion — known as the Lee Resolution — that proposed Congress should declare independence, form foreign alliances, and make a plan of confederation. On June 11, Congress set up a committee for the purpose of drafting a document that stated the case for independence. Five men were chosen, which is why it is known as the Committee of Five. The members of the committee were Sherman, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Robert Livingston. Although Jefferson is recognized as the primary author, the other members of the committee had input in the draft. The committee presented the first draft to Congress on June 28.
Member of the Committee of Thirteen
Roger Sherman was a member of the Committee of Thirteen that wrote the Articles of Confederation. On June 12, Congress appointed a committee of 13 men — one representative from each colony — to draft the plan of confederation — or constitution — for the states. Sherman was selected to represent Connecticut. The first draft was presented to Congress on July 12. After significant debates, the final draft of the “Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union” was approved on November 15. Copies were then sent to the states for ratification. Those copies had the signatures of Henry Laurens, President of the Continental Congress, and Charles Thomson, Secretary of the Continental Congress on them.
Signer of the Declaration of Independence
Roger Sherman signed the Declaration of Independence. The draft of the Declaration of Independence was submitted to Congress on June 28, 1777. Four days later, on July 2, Congress passed the Lee Resolution and confirmed independence from Britain. After two days of debates and editing, the final draft of the Declaration of Independence was adopted on July 4, 1776, and sent to John Dunlap’s print shop. Dunlap printed about 200 copies, which are known as the Dunlap Broadsides. Those original copies only contain two names John Hancock, who was President of the Continental Congress at the time, and the Secretary, Charles Thomson, who was also a member of the Philadelphia Sons of Liberty. Over time, 56 men, including Sherman, signed their names to the document. Many historians have concluded most of the delegates signed the document on August 2.
Signer of the Articles of Confederation
Roger Sherman signed the Articles of Confederation. When the document was first approved, there were no signatures or a date on the document. On June 28, 1777, Congress had a final copy of the document prepared, and it was ready for the members to sign on July 9. Most of the delegates from the states that had already ratified the Articles, including Connecticut, signed the document.
Architect of the Great Compromise
Roger Sherman helped create the Great Compromise. During the Constitutional Convention of 1787, the delegates were struggling with how to resolve the issue of state representation in the federal government. Two plans had been presented. The first was the Virginia Plan, which favored the larger states. The second was the New Jersey Plan, which favored the smaller states. Neither plan provided for equal representation. Sherman and Oliver Ellsworth, who was also from Connecticut, took the two plans and created their own solution — the Connecticut Compromise. Their plan set up a bicameral legislature of an upper house — the Senate — and a lower house — the House of Representatives. Each state had equal representation in the Senate and proportional representation in the House. The Convention approved the plan, which is now known as the Great Compromise, on July 16, 1787.
Signer of the United States Constitution
Roger Sherman signed the United States Constitution. On September 17, 1787, 39 delegates to the Constitutional Convention, including Sherman, met at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. The delegates endorsed the document by signing it, starting with George Washington. Afterward, Secretary William Jackson took the document to Congress, which was in New York City.
This painting by Howard Chandler Christy depicts the signing of the United States Constitution. Image Source: Wikipedia.
Significance of Roger Sherman, Founding Father
Roger Sherman is important to the history of the United States because he was an influential Founding Father and signed the four most important historical documents — the Articles of Association, the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the United States Constitution. He helped design one of the most important compromises of the Constitutional Convention — the Great Compromise — which set up the two houses of Congress. He was considered to be a man of very high character by his peers, and Thomas Jefferson said he was “a man who never said a foolish thing in his life.” John Adams referred to him as “one of the most sensible men in the world.”