Sherman, Roger

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Sherman, Roger

SHERMAN, ROGER. (1722–1793). Statesman and Signer. Massachusetts and Connecticut. Roger Sherman epitomizes the self-made man. Educated in country schools near his father's farm at Stoughton (now Sharon), Massachusetts, just south of Boston, he had a natural thirst for knowledge and a methodical approach to self-education. He read widely in history, law, politics, mathematics, and theology. Apprenticed as a cobbler, he is said to have worked with an open book always before him. In June 1743, after the death of his father, he moved to New Milford, Connecticut, where his elder brother had settled. Tradition says that he walked the entire distance, some 170 miles by road, with his cobbler's tools on his back. He had tremendous energy and versatility. His interest in mathematics led to his appointment as Litchfield County surveyor (1745–1758), and to the creation of a series of almanacs based on his own astronomical calculations (1750–1761). Interested in fiscal stability, he published in 1752 a pamphlet entitled A Caveat Against Injustice, or an Enquiry into the Evil Consequences of a Fluctuating Medium of Exchange.

He was admitted to the bar in 1754, held many of public offices (including delegate to the Assembly and commissary for the Connecticut provincial troops during the final French and Indian war), and made a good deal of money, not only as a multiple officeholder but also as a prominent local merchant. He moved to New Haven, Connecticut, in 1760 to enhance his mercantile prospects. He was elected treasurer of Yale College in 1765, a post he held until 1776, when politics began to consume most of his time and energy. He had been elected to the General Assembly from New Milford (1755–1761) and also from New Haven (1764–1766). In May 1766 his opposition to the Stamp Act led voters to elevate him to the governor's council, where he served for the next nineteen years.

By experience and temperament, Sherman was well qualified to represent Connecticut in the Continental Congress. He served as a delegate from September 1774 to November 1781, and again for the first six months of 1784. Perhaps because of his undramatic personality and lack of oratorical skill, he is not remembered as the author of any particular act of that body, but the stern old Puritan was, in the words of John Adams, "honest as an angel and as firm in the cause of American independence as Mount Atlas." Sherman accumulated more legislative experience than any other delegate. He served on the committee to draft the Declaration of Independence, on various ways and means committees, on the boards of war and ordnance, on the treasury board, and on the committee on Indian affairs. With Yankee standards of frugality, and based on his considerable fiscal experience before and during the war, Sherman defied popular opinion to argue for sound currency, minimum government borrowing, and higher taxes. He also disregarded the vested interests of friends and former business associates to advocate Connecticut's cession of western land claims.

In addition to his extensive congressional duties, he also undertook important state business. He served on the Connecticut council of safety (1777–1779, 1782), and in 1783 he and Richard Law worked five months to revise the state's statutory laws. In the federal convention of 1787 he introduced and took the leading part in promoting the so-called Connecticut Compromise, whereby smaller states retained an equal voice in the Senate to balance the predominance of the more populous states in the House of Representatives. He served in the House from 1789 to 1791, and in the Senate from 1791 to 1793. He has the distinction of being the only man to sign four of the great documents of the Continental Congress: the Articles of Association of 1774, the Declaration of Independence in 1776, the Articles of Confederation in 1779, and the federal Constitution in 1787.

SEE ALSO Continental Congress.


Collier, Christopher. Roger Sherman's Connecticut. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1971.

Rommel, John G. Connecticut's Yankee Patriot. Hartford, Conn.: American Revolution Bicentennial Commission of Connecticut, 1980.

                            revised by Harold E. Selesky

Sherman, Roger

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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


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

Roger Sherman

views updated Jun 08 2018

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. □

Sherman, Roger

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SHERMAN, Roger. American. Genres: Economics. Career: Brown-Forman Professor of Economics, University of Virginia, Charlottesville (Assistant Professor, 1965-68; Associate Professor, 1969-71; Professor, since 1971; Chairman, 1982-90). Publications: Oligopoly: An Empirical Approach, 1972; The Economics of Industry, 1974; Antitrust Policies and Issues, 1978; Perspectives on Postal Service Issues, 1980; The Regulation of Monopoly, 1989. Address: 511 N First St, No. 604, Charlottesville, VA 22902, U.S.A. Online address: [email protected]

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