How Far We Have Fallen – Connecticut’s Greatest Statesman, Roger Sherman

Roger Sherman, Connecticut’s greatest statesman and Founding Father, former Connecticut U.S. Congressman and Senator.   How far we have fallen.

Thomas Jefferson said of Roger:  “That is Mr. Sherman of Connecticut, a man who never said a foolish thing in his life.”

Patrick Henry called him one of the three greatest men at the Constitutional Convention.

John Adams described Sherman as “an old Puritan, as honest as an angel and as firm in the cause of American Independence as Mount Atlas.”

Fellow delegate Jeremiah Wadsworth honored his effectiveness in concluding he was “as cunning as the Devil in managing legislation.”

Toward the end of our Civil/Revolutionary war with England, he was the most influential figure in Congress.

If you like history, and Connecticut history, the below is a good read.

“Others were more admired for brilliancy of imagination, splendour of eloquence, and the graces of polished society; but there were few, even in that assemblage of eminent characters, whose judgment was more respected, or whose opinions were more influential.  – Oliver Oldschool

“The foundation of his usefulness as a man, and his distinction as a statesman, was integrity.  … his reputation for integrity was so unquestionable, that, in all the various decisions of public questions in which he had a voice, it is not probable that any man suspected him of a selfish bias, or of sinister motives” – Oliver Oldschool

Connecticut’s greatest statesman, Roger Sherman.  Compare this man to our current U.S. Senators Blumenthal and Murphy.  It is shameful how far we have fallen.

The Port Folio Vol. XVIII from July to December 1824, by Oliver Oldschool (an excerpt)

Roger Sherman, son of a cobbler born in Newton, Massachusetts, on April 19, 1721, exemplifies the self-made man. After attending the local “common” schools he was apprenticed as a cobbler, but he became a self-taught mathematician and scholar. After his father’s death he entered business with his brother in Connecticut and studied and practiced law. From 1755 until his death he was active in public affairs. Sherman moved to New Milford in 1743.

He became a surveyor, town clerk, deacon, lawyer. and  U.S. Senator  (1791-93).  During the Constitutional Convention of 1787 where he was one of the most vocal and persistent members, he made 138 speeches and spared no effort to defend the rights of smaller states such as Connecticut. Under the pseudonym “A Countryman” he wrote a series of newspaper letters to the people of Connecticut supporting ratification of the Constitution.

He was the prime mover behind the Connecticut Compromise, the basis for the “Great Compromise” at the convention that finally solved the problem of representation.   In this plan, designed to be acceptable to both large and small states, the people would be represented proportionally in one branch of the legislature, called the House of Representatives (the lower house). The states would be represented in another house called the Senate (the upper house). In the lower house, each state had a representative for every one delegate. On the other hand, in the upper house each state was guaranteed two senators, no matter their size.

Sherman is also memorable for his stance against paper money and his authoring of Article I, Section 10 of the United States Constitution.

Mr. Wilson & Mr. Sherman moved to insert after the words “coin money” the words “nor emit bills of credit, nor make any thing but gold & silver coin a tender in payment of debts” making these prohibitions absolute, instead of making the measures allowable (as in the XIII art:) with the consent of the Legislature of the U.S. … Mr. Sherman thought this a favorable crisis for crushing paper money. If the consent of the Legislature could authorize emissions of it, the friends of paper money would make every exertion to get into the Legislature in order to license it.”[5]

Roger Sherman, of Connecticut, whose biography closes this volume, sustained a considerable reputation among his contemporaries for sagacity and judgment, and the numerous public situations he successively filled are evidence that he deserved it. It has not been, we believe, so generally known, that, like Franklin and Rittenhouse, he struggled through all the disadvantages attending a humble parentage, and the pursuit of a mechanical trade. Sherman was an apprentice to a shoemaker, and even followed that business till he was upwards of 22 years of age.

It is recorded of Mr. Sherman that he was accustomed to sit at his work with a book before him, devoting to study every moment that his eyes could be spared from the occupation in which he was engaged. The same thirst for knowledge was evinced by Dr. Franklin whilst he laboured as a tallow-chandler in the shop of his father, and during his apprenticeship as a printer, to his brother. Upon the removal of the family, in 1723, Mr. Sherman travelled, with his tools, on foot, to New Milford, where he continued to work at his trade for some time. Dr. Franklin, at the age of seventeen, performed his pedestrian journey to Philadelphia in search of employment, the circumstances of which are so admirably depicted in the simple and engaging narrative of his life.

Instances of this kind are not only memorable as exhibiting the extraordinary worth of the individual, who thus elevates himself beyond the common level, but are useful examples to mankind.

Sherman was bom in Massachusetts, in 1721, and died in 1793. He removed to Connecticut at an early age, and spent his life chiefly in that state. His education was only that of a common country school; yet, by his industry, he so much improved his mind, as to fill, during his life, the offices of judge, member of Congress, during the Revolution and under the Constitution, member of the convention that formed the Constitution, and senator of the United States, and held them not only with reputation and ability, but with the exercise of a considerable share of influence over the most important measures of the country, in its trying times.

Few members of the Revolutionary Congress seem to have had more of a business-doing character than Roger Sherman. He was an able speaker, at the same time that he was looked up to in a peculiar manner as a prudent and wise counsellor. Indeed there is a considerable similarity in his character, taken altogether, to that of Cato the elder: the same success in bursting through the obstacles of humble birth and narrow means: the same severe simplicity and gravity; strong practical wisdom; a turn for popular assemblies, and for influencing the opinions of others; add to this a public zeal, industry, and disinterestedness worthy of the best ages of a republic.

In August, 1774, the committee of correspondence nominated Mr. Sherman, in conjunction with Joseph Trumbull, Eliphalet Dyer, and Silas Dean, esquires, as proper persons to attend the general congress of the colonies, for the purpose of consulting and advising 4 on proper measures for advancing the best good of the colonies.’ Mr. Sherman, agreeably to this appointment, was present at the opening of the first congress; and it is an honour of which few can boast, that he invariably continued a member of congress until his death in 1793, embracing the long period of nineteen years, whenever the law requiring a rotation in office,’ admitted it.

It is impossible to enumerate the various services rendered by Mr. Sherman during his congressional career. The novel and responsible situation to which he was now elevated, was well calculated to elicit the firmness of his character, and the comprehensiveness of his political sagacity.

Although he united his efforts to those of the assembled representatives, in their honest endeavors to preserve at once the peace of the country, and the rights of its citizens, he appears to have been decidedly convinced, that nothing but unconditional submission could avert the horrors of civil war; and he fully evinced, by the energetic measures which he zealously supported, that, in his opinion, it was far preferable to endure sorrow for a season, than sink into a long and degrading servitude.

As a representative and senator in congress, he appeared with distinguished reputation. Others were more admired for brilliancy of imagination, splendour of eloquence, and the graces of polished society; but there were few, even in that assemblage of eminent characters, whose judgment was more respected, or whose opinions were more influential. The boldness of his counsels, the decisive weight of his character, the steadiness of his principles, the inflexibility of his patriotism, his venerable appearance, and his republican manners, presented to the imagination the idea of a Roman senator, in the early and most exemplary days of the commonwealth.

In the business of committees, generally so arduous and fatiguing, he was undoubtedly one of the most serviceable and indefatigable members of that body. His unwearied application, — the remarkable perseverance with which he pursued and completed the matters confided to his investigation,—and the regular system by which all his proceedings were governed,—when joined to his great prudence, acknowledged talents, and unshaken virtue,—attracted universal confidence; hence a large and important share of the public business, particularly when referred to committees, was assigned to him, in conjunction with other leading members of the house.

The foundation of his usefulness as a man, and his distinction as a statesman, was integrity, which, at an early period, formed one of the principal ground-works of his character, and was founded upon religious principle. All his actions seem to have been preceded by a rigorous self-examination, and the secret interrogatories of ” What is right ?”—” What course ought I to pursue ?” He never propounded to himself the questions of ” Hots will it affect my interest?””—” Will it be popular?”

Hence his reputation for integrity was so unquestionable, that, in all the various decisions of public questions in which he had a voice, it is not probable that any man suspected him of a selfish bias, or of sinister motives, however strongly he may have been opposed to the measures which Mr. Sherman considered it his duty to support. This high quality, which is one of the most essential supports of religion and morality, and without which, no redeeming virtues can elevate man from his abasement, will, at least in some degree, account for the extraordinary influence which he enjoyed in deliberative bodies, lie possessed the essential requisite of an orator, mentioned by Cicero;—he was universal^ considered, and was in fact, a good man.

When he reasoned, and expressed his opinion of any subject, no apprehensions were entertained by his hearers that anything was concealed with a view to mislead, or that one reason was assigned, while a different one influenced his decision. Many anecdotes attest the unbounded confidence which was entertained for the judgment of Mr. Sherman.

Fisher Ames was accustomed to express his opinion by saying, That if he happened to be out of his seat when a subject was discussed, and came in when the question was about to be taken, he always felt safe in voting as Mr. Sherman did; for he always voted right.

The late Dr. Spring, of Newburyport, was returning from the south, while congress was sitting in Philadelphia. Mr. Jefferson accompanied him to the hall, and designated several distinguished members of that body: in the course of this polite attention, he pointed in a certain direction, and exclaimed, ” That is Mr. Sherman, of Connecticut, a man who never said a foolish thing in his life.”

Mr. Macon, now a distinguished member of the senate of the United States, once remarked to Mr. Reed, of Marblehead, formerly a member of congress, that ” Roger Sherman had more common sense than any man he ever knew.”

Washington uniformly treated Mr. Sherman with great respect and attention, and gave undoubted proof that he regarded his public services as eminently valuable.

The late Dr. Edwards, one of the most eminent divines which this country has produced, was accustomed to speak of him under the appellation of ” my great and good friend, senator Sherman.”



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