Thomas McKean


Thomas McKean Famous memorial

New London, Chester County, Pennsylvania, USA
Death 24 Jun 1817 (aged 83)
Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, USA
Burial Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, USA
Plot Section G, Lot 210
Memorial ID 2676 View Source

Declaration of Independence Signer, Continental Congressman, 2nd Pennsylvania Governor. Born in Chester County, Pennsylvania, on March 19, 1734, his parents were Scotch-Irish who immigrated to the American colonies in 1729. After basic schooling, he went to New Castle, Delaware, to read and study law with his cousin, beginning his long duel association with Delaware and Pennsylvania. At the young age of 21, he was admitted as a Court of Common Pleas attorney. Soon after, he was admitted to the Delaware Colonial Bar and served as a Clerk of the Delaware General Assembly. From 1758 to 1762, he resided in London, England, studying law and honing his courtroom skills. When he returned, he ran for, and was elected to, the Delaware Assembly, embarking on a political career that would not end until nine years before his passing, one that would often see him hold multiple offices simultaneously. During his tenure in the Assembly, he would serve as Speaker of the House and would also serve as a Judge of the Court of Common Pleas. His reputation as a legal mind was such that the Royal Governor of New Jersey enacted legislation allowing him to practice in any court there, even though he did not reside in the colony. In 1765, he and future Continental Congressman Caesar Rodney were appointed as Delaware delegates to the Stamp Act Congress, where he was a strong proponent for the repeal of the act. During that Congress, he introduced the concept of each state having an equal vote on matters, regardless of population. The concept was adopted by the delegates at the Stamp Act Congress, was later a bedrock concept in the Continental Congress, and finally in the United States Constitution establishing the United States Senate. He was very involved in the patriot fervor leading up to the Revolutionary War, and was elected as a Delegate to the 1st Continental Congress in 1774. He would serve as a Delegate until the war concluded in 1783. During the debates in 1776 as to whether the American Colonies should formally declare themselves independent of Great Britain, Thomas McKean was one of the leading voices in severing all ties with the British crown. However, the second member of the Delaware delegation, Caesar Rodney, was home very ill, and the third, George Read, opposed American independence. Just before the vote was to be taken, Thomas McKean sent for Caesar Rodney, who rode all night from Delaware to Philadelphia just in time to break the Delaware deadlock and give that colony's vote for Independence on July 4, (the scene was dramatized in the musical and film "1776"). The next day, Thomas McKean left Philadelphia and assumed his position of Colonel in the Pennsylvania Militia. He would go on to commanded troops at Perth Amboy, New Jersey. During that same year, he helped write and pass Delaware's first post-colonial Constitution. In January 1777, he was appointed as Chief Justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, a position he would hold until 1799, thus holding positions in both Pennsylvania and Delaware (which at the time were joined for administrative purposes). In 1793 as Chief Justice, he made a ruling that established that the Court could strike down and nullify laws that were deemed against the State Constitution, thereby establishing the concept of judicial review ten years before the landmark "Marbury vs. Madison" case. He served as President of the Continental Congress from July to November 1781, and was the presiding officer when news of the British surrender at Yorktown, Virginia, was announced to the Congress. When the United States Constitution was sent to the states for ratification 1787, Thomas McKean was part of the Pennsylvania Ratification Convention, where his speeches and influence helped pass the measure. Three years later, he helped reframe and amend the Pennsylvania State Constitution. In 1799, he resigned his position as Pennsylvania Chief Justice to become the 2nd Governor of the state. He served as Governor from 1800 to 1808. When he stepped down after his last term on December 20, 1808, he left public service for good, having held numerous offices for forty-six years. When he passed away in Philadelphia on June 24, 1817, he was first interred in the family vault at the First Presbyterian Church on Market Street. In December 1843, he was re-interred in Laurel Hill Cemetery. The date of his signing of the Declaration of Independence is in dispute – some historians believe he signed it on August 2, 1776, others think he signed in in 1777 and was the last of the 56 men to sign the document.

Bio by: RPD2

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  • Maintained by: Find a Grave
  • Added: 31 Dec 2000
  • Find a Grave Memorial ID: 2676
  • Find a Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Thomas McKean (19 Mar 1734–24 Jun 1817), Find a Grave Memorial ID 2676, citing Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, USA ; Maintained by Find a Grave .