“We the People…” is one of the most quoted in history. But, you may not know the four men from New Jersey who signed the Constitution during its ratification. These men were William Livingston, David Brearly, Jonathan Dayton, and William Paterson. The Constitution was drafted at the Constitutional Convention held in Philadelphia in 1787. The convention started drafting it in May of that year and had it ready for signing on September 17. It was ratified by nine states by June 21, 1788. The system of federal government created by the Constitution began to function in April of 1789. The Constitution is world’s longest surviving written charter of government. William Livingston was born in 1723 at Albany,
New York, and was raised by his grandmother until he was
fourteen when he became a missionary with the Mohawk
Indians. He graduated from Yale and became a lawyer.
William married Susannah French, the daughter of a
wealthy New Jersey landowner. They had 13 children and
moved to Elizabeth, New Jersey. He was a representative
to the first Continental Congress and a delegate to the
second. He left the congress to command a New Jersey
unit as Brigadier General in 1776. Later that year, he was
elected the first governor of New Jersey, a position he held
for fourteen years until his death at age 67 in 1790.
David Brearly was born in 1745 at Spring Grove, New
Jersey. He attended Princeton University. David became a
lawyer and married Elizabeth Mullen. He was arrested by
the British for high treason, but a group of patriots freed him.
He served in the Revolutionary war as a Colonel. In 1779,
David was elected as chief justice of the New Jersey Supreme
Court. David was one of the founders of the Masonic Order of
New Jersey. Following the death of his first wife, he married
Elizabeth Higbee. He was appointed as a federal district judge
by President Washington. He held this position until his
death in 1790 at age 45.
Jonathan Dayton was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey,
in 1760. He attended Princeton University and became a
lawyer. He served as a captain during the Revolutionary
War and was taken prisoner in Elizabeth and later released.
After the death of his first wife, Elizabeth, he married Susan
Williamson and they had two daughters. Jonathan served in
the State general assembly, was delegate to the second,
third, fourth, and fifth Continental Congress, served on State
council, and was Speaker of the House of Representatives. He
was arrested in 1807 and charged with conspiring with Aaron
Burr in treasonable projects. He was later released and never
brought to trial. Jonathan died in 1824. The city of Dayton,
Ohio was named after him.
William Paterson was born in County Antrim, Ireland, in
1745. His family emigrated to American when he was two.
After living in many areas of the colonies, including Delaware,
Pennsylvania, and Connecticut, William finally settled in
New Brunswick. He married Cornelia Bell and they had
three children. After Cornelia’s death, he married Euphemia
White. In his early life, he manufactured and sold tin goods,
but later attended Princeton University and became a
lawyer. He fought in the American Revolution and from 1776
to 1783, and was New Jersey’s attorney general. William was
a U.S. Senator and governor of New Jersey. His last position
was as an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. William
died in 1806.
Constitution Week - September 17-23