Read, George

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Read, George

READ, GEORGE. (1733–1798). Lawyer, Signer, acting president of Delaware. Born in Cecil County, Maryland, on 18 September 1733, Read studied law in Philadelphia; was admitted to the bar in 1753; and settled in New Castle, Delaware. In 1763 he was elected attorney general of Delaware, holding this post for the next decade. Read's politics matched those of his close friend, John Dickinson. He was active in resisting British authority, being a leader of his province's committees of correspondence. In the Continental Congress from 1774 until September 1777, he opposed independence but became a Signer and enthusiastic supporter of the Declaration of Independence once it was adopted. He played a prominent part in shaping the state constitution and in 1776 became vice president of Delaware. When President John McKinly was captured by the British at Wilmington in September 1777, Read left Philadelphia to take over his duties and performed them until being relieved, at his own request, on 31 March 1778. He is credited with getting the maximum possible support of the war effort out of a lukewarm people and an inexperienced, incompletely organized legislature.

Continuing as a member of the Delaware Council, he played a prominent part in postwar politics. As an upholder of the rights of small states at the Constitutional Convention of 1787, and sharing the ideas of Hamilton for the strongest possible central government, he nevertheless accepted the Convention's compromises and is credited for his state's being the first to ratify the Constitution. Elected to the first U.S. Senate in 1788, Read supported the Washington administration on the assumption of state debts, the national bank, and the excise law. On 18 September 1793, Read resigned from the Senate to become chief justice of Delaware, a post he held until his death on 21 September 1798.


Read, William T. Life and Correspondence of George Read: Signer of the Declaration of Independence. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1870.

                              revised by Michael Bellesiles