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Sherman, Roger

SHERMAN, ROGER

Roger Sherman was a colonial and U.S. politician and judge who played a critical role at the Constitutional Convention of 1787, devising a plan for legislative representation that was accepted by large and small states. His actions at the convention in Philadelphia came near the end of a distinguished life in public service.

Sherman was born on April 19, 1721, in Newton, Massachusetts. He was admitted to the Massachusetts bar in 1754 and later served as a justice of the peace. In 1761 Sherman moved to New Haven, Connecticut, where he established a business as a merchant. From 1764 to 1785 he served in the Connecticut legislature and was a superior court judge from 1766 to 1788. During these years Sherman became recognized as a national political leader. Though conservative, he was an early supporter of American independence from Great Britain.

Sherman's belief in independence led him to serve as a delegate to the continental congress from 1774 to 1784. He was instrumental in the creation of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and signed the declaration. He also helped draft the articles of confederation.

"[The executive branch] is nothing more than an institution for carrying the will of the Legislature into effect."
—Roger Sherman

After America won its independence, Sherman devoted himself to Connecticut politics, serving as the first mayor of New Haven from

1784 to 1793. He also helped revise Connecticut statutes, eliminating material related to the state's former colonial status.

In 1787 Sherman was a member of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. He recognized that the Articles of Confederation had not provided a stable and secure method of national government. The convention, however, was soon divided over the issue of legislative representation. The small states feared a federal Congress apportioned by population, in which a few large states would control most of the seats. Therefore, william paterson of New Jersey proposed a plan that provided for equal representation in Congress. edmund randolph of Virginia, speaking for the interests of the large states, proposed a plan for a bicameral legislature, with representation in both houses based on population or wealth.

Neither side would yield on the issue of representation. Sherman, along with oliver ellsworth, proposed the Connecticut Compromise, or Great Compromise. This plan created a bicameral legislature, with proportional representation in the lower house and equal representation in the upper house. All revenue measures would originate in the lower house. The compromise was accepted, and the convention soon approved the Constitution.

Sherman served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1789 to 1791 and in the U.S. Senate from 1791 to 1793. He strongly supported the establishment of a national bank and the enactment of a tariff.

Sherman died on July 23, 1793, in New Haven, Connecticut.

further readings

Collier, Christopher. 1971. Roger Sherman's Connecticut: Yankee Politics and the American Revolution. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan Univ. Press.

Boardman, Roger Sherman. 1938. Roger Sherman, Signer and Statesman. Reprint. New York: Da Capo Press, 1971

cross-references

Congress of the United States; Constitution of the United States.

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Roger Sherman

Roger Sherman

Roger Sherman (1721-1793), American patriot, was a signer of the Declaration of Independence and a formidable voice at the Constitutional Convention.

Roger Sherman was born of humble origins. As a youth, he worked as a cordwainer and cobbler on the family farm in Stoughton, Mass. In 1743 he moved to New Milford, Conn., where he was variously employed as a surveyor, storekeeper, almanac compiler, and lawyer. He also began his long career as a public official, serving as juryman, deacon, town clerk, school committeeman, justice of the peace, assemblyman, and commissary officer for the Connecticut militia. In 1761 he moved permanently to New Haven, where he continued his mercantile enterprises until 1772, when he retired to devote full time to public affairs. He served long terms as a member of the upper house of the Connecticut Legislature (1766-1785) and as a judge of the superior court (1766-1789), while also acting as treasurer of Yale College, from which he received an honorary master's degree in 1768.

As the Revolution approached, Sherman opposed the Stamp Act, supported the Sons of Liberty, enforced nonimportation agreements, and headed the New Haven Committee of Correspondence. He served in the Continental Congress from 1774 to 1781 and again in 1783-1784. He often counseled caution and moderation but without compromising American self-determination. He signed the Articles of Association of 1774, the Declaration of Independence (serving on its drafting committee as well), and the Articles of Confederation. After the war he returned to New Haven, where he was faced with severe financial reverses stemming from his support of the Revolution, the collapse of some of his businesses, and the demands of a large family (seven children by his first wife and eight by his second).

Though Sherman had consistently sought to strengthen the powers of Congress, he went to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 convinced that it would suffice to "patch up" the Articles of Confederation. He added constructively to debates, often leading the small-state opposition to the Pennsylvania-Virginia insistence on representation according to population. He also fought to uphold the supremacy of state legislatures. In the end, he helped devise the "Great Compromise," approved the Constitution, and defended it in the ratification debates. As an elder statesman, he served for 2 years in the first Federal House of Representatives and then for 2 years in the Senate.

Further Reading

Sherman's letters are in E.C. Burnett, ed., The Letters of the Members of the Continental Congress (8 vols., 1921-1938). His speeches are in The Annals of Congress (16 vols., 1857-1861), and in Max Farrand, ed., The Records of the Federal Convention (4 vols., 1937). The standard biography is Roger S. Boardman, Roger Sherman: Signer and Statesman (1938). See also Lewis H. Boutell, The Life of Roger Sherman (1896). Clinton Rossiter, 1787: The Grand Convention (1966), gives a lively, sympathetic account of Sherman's role.

Additional Sources

Rommel, John G., Connecticut's Yankee patriot, Roger Sherman, Hartford, Conn.: American Revolution Bicentennial Commission of Connecticut, 1979, 1980. □

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Sherman, Roger

Roger Sherman, 1721–93, American political leader, b. Newton, Mass. Sherman helped to draft and signed the Declaration of Independence. He was long a member (1774–81, 1783–84) of the Continental Congress, helped to draw up the Articles of Confederation, and after serving as a member of the Constitutional Convention (1787) was one of the strongest proponents of the new Constitution. He was prominent in Connecticut colonial and state politics and was mayor of New Haven and treasurer of Yale College. Sherman was a U.S. Representative (1789–91) and U.S. Senator (1791–93).

See biographies by L. H. Boutell (1896) and R. S. Boardman (1938, repr. 1971); C. Collier, Roger Sherman's Connecticut (1971).

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