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, and it was later a bedrock concept in the Continental Congress, and further in the United States Constitution in 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 take, Thomas McKean sent for Caesar Rodney, who road 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’s 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, have 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, other think he signed in in 1777 and was the last of the 56 men to sign the document.
Bio by: RPD2