The Framers of the Constitution
William Pierce, of Georgia, spoke very little at the Constitutional
Convention, but his contributions to what we know of the other delegates to the
Convention are invaluable. He wrote short character sketches of each of the
delegates; he himself had to leave the Convention early for business reasons.
He died two years later; his sketches were published in the Savannah Georgian
in 1828. Pierce wrote his sketches in order of state; they are reproduced here
in alphabetical order. The Library of
Congress has the sketches
in their original order as reported in Farrand's Records,
Volume 3. Note that Pierce misspelled some names - these misspellings are
This site also has a page with basic demographic data about each of the Framers.
In addition to Pierce's sketches, the reader may wish to refer to the brief
biographies (most with accompanying reproductions of portraits painted of the
biographee) that can be found on the Founding
Fathers Page on the NARA Web site. NARA also has a page with provides an
of the entire body of delegates. The Colonial Hall Site also has biographies
of many of the founding fathers.
William Pierce My own character I shall not attempt to
draw, but leave those who may chose to speculate on it, to consider it in any
light that their fancy or imagination may depict. I am conscious of having
discharged my duty as a Soldier through the course of the late revolution with
honor and propriety; and my services in Congress and the Convention were
bestowed with the best intention towards the interest of Georgia, and towards
the general welfare of the Confederacy. I possess ambition, and it was that,
and the flattering opinion which some of my Friends had of me, that gave me a
seat in the wisest Council in the World, and furnished me with an opportunity
of giving these short Sketches of the Characters who composed it.
Abraham Baldwin Mr. Baldwin is a Gentleman of superior
abilities, and joins in a public debate with great art and eloquence. Having
laid the foundation of a compleat classical education at Harvard College, he
pursues every other study with ease. Mr. Baldwin is about 38 years of age.
Richard Bassett Mr. Bassett is a religious enthusiast,
lately turned Methodist, and serves his Country because it is the will of the
people that he should do so. He is a Man of plain sense, and has modesty enough
to hold his Tongue. He is a Gentlemanly Man, and is in high estimation among
the Methodists. Mr. Bassett is about 36 years old.
Gunning Bedford Mr. Bedford was educated for the Bar, and
in his profession, I am told, has merit. He is a bold and nervous Speaker, and
has a very commanding and striking manner; -but he is warm and impetuous in his
temper, and precipitate in his judgment. Mr. Bedford is about 32 years old, and
John Blair Mr. Blair is one of the most respectable Men in
Virginia, both on account of his Family as well as fortune. He is one of the
Judges of the Supreme Court in Virginia, and acknowledged to have a very
extensive knowledge of the Laws. Mr. Blair is, however, no Orator, but his good
sense, and most excellent principles, compensate for other deficiencies. He is
about 50 years of age.
William Blount Mr. Blount is a character strongly marked
for integrity and honor. He has been twice a Member of Congress, and in that
office discharged his duty with ability and faithfulness. He is no Speaker, nor
does he possess any of those talents that make Men shine; -he is plain, honest,
and sincere. Mr. Blount is about 36 years of age.
David Brearly Mr. Brearly is a man of good, rather than of
brilliant parts. He is a Judge of the Supreme Court of New Jersey and is very
much in the esteem of the people. As an Orator he has little to boast of, but
as a Man he has every virtue to recommend him. Mr. Brearly is about 40 years of
Jacob Broom Mr. Broom is a plain good Man, with some
abilities but nothing to render him conspicuous. He is silent in public, but
chearful and conversable in private. He is about 35 years old.
Pierce Butler Mr. Butler is a character much respected for
the many excellent virtues which he possesses. But as a politician or an
Orator, he has no pretentions to either. He is a Gentleman of fortune, and
takes rank among the first in South Carolina. He has been appointed to
Congress, and is now a Member of the Legislature of South Carolina. Mr. Butler
is about 40 years of age; an Irishman by birth.
Daniel Carroll Mr. Carroll is a Man of large fortune, and
influence in his State. He possesses plain good sense, and is in the full
confidence of his Countrymen. This Gentleman is about [blank] years of age.
George Clymer Mr. Clymer is a Lawyer of some abilities; -he
is a respectable man, and much esteemed. Mr. Clymer is about 40 years old.
William Richardson Davie Mr. Davey is a Lawyer of some
eminence in his State. He is said to have a good classical education, and is a
Gentleman of considerable literary talents. He was silent in the Convention,
but his opinion was always respected. Mr. Davey is about 30 years of age.
Jonathan Dayton Capt. Dayton is a young Gentleman of
talents, with an ambition to exert them. He possesses a good education and
reading; he speaks well, and seems desirous of improving himself in Oratory.
There is an impetuosity in his temper that is injurious to him; but there is an
honest rectitude about him that makes him a valuable Member of Society, and
secures to him the esteem of all good Men. He is about 30 years old, served
with me as a Brother Aid to General Sullivan in the Western expedition of
John Dickinson Mr. Dickinson has been famed through all
America, for his Farmers Letters; he is a Scholar, and said to be a Man of very
extensive information. When I saw him in the Convention I was induced to pay
the greatest attention to him whenever he spoke. I had often heard that he was
a great Orator, but I found him an indifferent Speaker. With an affected air of
wisdom he labors to produce a trifle, -his language is irregular and incorrect,
-his flourishes (for he sometimes attempts them), are like expiring flames,
they just shew themselves and go out; -no traces of them are left on the mind
to clear or animate it. He is, however, a good writer and will ever be
considered one of the most important characters in the United States. He is
about 55 years old, and was bred a Quaker.
Oliver Ellsworth Mr. Elsworth is a Judge of the Supreme
Court in Connecticut, -he is a Gentleman of a clear, deep, and copious
understanding; eloquent, and connected in public debate; and always attentive
to his duty. He is very happy in a reply, and choice in selecting such parts of
his adversary's arguments as he finds make the strongest impressions, -in order
to take off the force of them, so as to admit the power of his own. Mr.
Elsworth is about 37 years of age, a Man much respected for his integrity, and
venerated for his abilities.
William Few Mr. Few possesses a strong natural Genius, and
from application has acquired some knowledge of legal matters; -he practices at
the bar of Georgia, and speaks tolerably well in the Legislature. He has been
twice a Member of Congress, and served in that capacity with fidelity to his
State, and honor to himself. Mr. Few is about 35 years of age.
Thomas Fitzsimmons Mr. Fitzsimmons is a Merchant of
considerable talents, and speaks very well I am told, in the Legislature of
Pennsylvania. He is about 40 years old.
Benjamin Franklin Dr. Franklin is well known to be the
greatest phylosopher of the present age;-all the operation of nature he seems
to understand - the very heavens obey him, and the Clouds yield up their
Lightning to be imprisoned in his rod. But what claim he has to the politician,
posterity must determine. It is certain that he does not shine much in public
Council, -he is no Speaker, nor does he seem to let politics engage his
attention. He is, however, a most extraordinary Man, and tells a story in a
style more engaging than anything I ever heard. Let his Biographer finish his
character. He is 82 years old, and possesses an activity of mind equal to a
youth of 25 years of age.
Elbridge Gerry Mr. Gerry's character is marked for
integrity and perseverance. He is a hesitating and laborious speaker;
-possesses a great degree of confidence and goes extensively into all subjects
that he speaks on, without respect to elegance or flower of diction. He is
connected and sometimes clear in his arguments, conceives well, and cherishes
as his first virtue, a love for his Country. Mr. Gerry is very much of a
Gentleman in his principles and manners; -he has been engaged in the mercantile
line and is a Man of property. He is about 37 years of age.
Nicholas Gilman Mr. Gilman is modest, genteel, and
sensible. There is nothing brilliant or striking in his character, but there is
something respectable and worthy in the Man. — about 30 years of age.
Nathaniel Gorham Mr. Gorham is a Merchant in Boston, high
in reputation, and much in the esteem of his Country-men. He is a Man of very
good sense, but not much improved in his education. He is eloquent and easy in
public debate, but has nothing fashionable or elegant in his style; -all he
aims at is to convince, and where he fails it never is from his auditors not
understanding him, for no Man is more perspicuous and full. He has been
President of Congress, and three years a Member of that Body. Mr. Gorham is
about 46 years of age, rather lusty, and has an agreeable and pleasing
Alexander Hamilton Colo. Hamilton is deservedly celebrated
for his talents. He is a practitioner of the Law, and reputed to be a finished
Scholar. To a clear and strong judgment he unites the ornaments of fancy, and
whilst he is able, convincing, and engaging in his eloquence the Heart and Head
sympathize in approving him. Yet there is something too feeble in his voice to
be equal to the strains of oratory; -it is my opinion that he is rather a
convincing Speaker, than a blazing Orator. Colo. Hamilton requires time to
think, -he enquires into every part of his subject with the searchings of
philosophy, and when he comes forward he comes highly charged with interesting
matter, there is no skimming over the surface of a subject with him, he must
sink to the bottom to see what foundation it rests on. -His language is not
always equal, sometimes didactic like Bolingbroke's and at others light and
tripping like Stern's. His eloquence is not so defusive as to trifle with the
senses, but he rambles just enough to strike and keep up the attention. He is
about 33 years old, of small stature, and lean. His manners are tinctured with
stiffness, and sometimes with a degree of vanity that is highly
William Churchill Houston Mr. Houston is an Attorney at
Law, and has been a Member of Congress for the State of Georgia. He is a
Gentleman of Family, and was educated in England. As to his legal or political
knowledge he has very little to boast of. Nature seems to have done more for
his corporeal than mental powers. His Person is striking, but his mind very
little improved with useful or elegant knowledge. He has none of the talents
requisite for the Orator, but in public debate is confused and irregular. Mr.
Houston is about 30 years of age of an amiable and sweet temper, and of good
and honorable principles.
Jared Ingersoll Mr. Ingersoll is a very able Attorney, and
possesses a clear legal understanding. He is well educated in the Classic's,
and is a Man of very extensive reading. Mr. Ingersol speaks well, and
comprehends his subject fully. There is a modesty in his character that keeps
him back. He is about 36 years old.
Daniel Jenifer of St Thomas Mr. Jenifer is a Gentleman of
fortune in Maryland; -he is always in good humour, and never fails to make his
company pleased with him. He sits silent in the Senate, and seems to be
conscious that he is no politcian. From his long continuance in single life, no
doubt but he has made the vow of celibacy. He speaks warmly of the Ladies
notwithstanding. Mr. Jenifer is about 55 years of Age, and once served as an
Aid de Camp to Major Genl. Lee.
William Samuel Johnson Dr. Johnson is a character much
celebrated for his legal knowledge; he is said to be one of the first classics
in America, and certainly possesses a very strong and enlightened
understanding. As an Orator in my opinion, there is nothing in him that
warrants the high reputation which he has for public speaking. There is
something in the tone of his voice not pleasing to the Ear, - but he is
eloquent and clear, - always abounding with information and instruction. He was
once employed as an Agent for the State of Connecticut to state her claims to
certain landed territory before the British House of Commons; this Office he
discharged with so much dignity, and made such an ingenious display of his
powers, that he laid the foundation of a reputation which will probably last
much longer than his own life. Dr. Johnson is about sixty years of age,
possesses the manners of a Gentleman, and engages the Hearts of Men by the
sweetness of his temper, and that affectionate style of address with which he
accosts his acquaintance.
Rufus King Mr. King is a Man much distinguished for his
eloquence and great parliamentary talents. He was educated in Massachusetts,
and is said to have good classical as well as legal knowledge. He has served
for three years in the Congress of the United States with great and deserved
applause, and is at this time high in the confidence and approbation of his
Country-men. This Gentleman is about thirty-three years of age, about five feet
ten Inches high, well formed, an handsome face, with a strong expressive Eye,
and a sweet high toned voice. In his public speaking there is something
peculiarly strong and rich in his expression, clear and convincing in his
arguments, rapid and irresistible at times in his eloquence but he is not
always equal. His action is natural, swimming, and graceful, but there is a
rudeness of manner sometimes accompanying it. But take him tout en semble, he
may with propriety be ranked among the Luminaries of the present Age.
John Langdon Mr. Langdon is a Man of considerable fortune,
possesses a liberal mind, and a good plain understanding. — about 40 years
John Lansing Mr. Lansing is a practising Attorney at
Albany, and Mayor of that Corporation. He has a hesitation in his speech, that
will prevent his being an Orator of any eminence; -his legal knowledge I am
told is not extensive, nor his education a good one. He is however a Man of
good sense, plain in his manners, and sincere in his friendships. He is about
32 years of age.
William Livingston Governor Livingston is confessedly a Man
of the first rate talents, but he appears to me rather to indulge a
sportiveness of wit, than a strength of thinking. He is however equal to
anything, from the extensiveness of his education and genius. His writings teem
with satyr and a neatness of style. But he is no Orator, and seems little
acquainted with the guiles of policy. He is about 60 years old, and remarkably
James Madison Mr. Maddison is a character who has long been
in public life; and what is very remarkable every Person seems to acknowledge
his greatness. He blends together the profound politician, with the Scholar. In
the management of every great question he evidently took the lead in the
Convention, and tho' he cannot be called an Orator, he is a most agreeable,
eloquent, and convincing Speaker. From a spirit of industry and application
which he possesses in a most eminent degree, he always comes forward the best
informed Man of any point in debate. The affairs of the United States, he
perhaps, has the most correct knowledge of, of any Man in the Union. He has
been twice a Member of Congress, and was always thought one of the ablest
Members that ever sat in that Council. Mr. Maddison is about 37 years of age, a
Gentleman of great modesty, — with a remarkable sweet temper. He is easy
and unreserved among his acquaintance, and has a most agreable style of
Alexander Martin Mr. Martin was lately Governor of North
Carolina, which office he filled with credit. He is a Man of sense, and
undoubtedly is a good politician, but he is not formed to shine in public
debate, being no Speaker. Mr. Martin was once a Colonel in the American Army,
but proved unfit for the field. He is about 40 years of age.
Luther Martin Mr. Martin was educated for the Bar, and is
Attorney general for the State of Maryland. This Gentleman possesses a good
deal of information, but he has a very bad delivery, and so extremely prolix,
that he never speaks without tiring the patience of all who hear him. He is
about 34 years of age.
George Mason Mr. Mason is a Gentleman of remarkable strong
powers, and possesses a clear and copious understanding. He is able and
convincing in debate, steady and firm in his principles, and undoubtedly one of
the best politicians in America. Mr. Mason is about 60 years old, with a fine
James McClurg Mr. Mc.Lurg is a learned physician, but
having never appeared before in public life his character as a politician is
not sufficiently known. He attempted once or twice to speak, but with no great
success. It is certain that he has a foundation of learning, on which, if he
pleases, he may erect a character of high renown. The Doctor is about 38 years
of age, a Gentleman of great respectability, and of a fair and unblemished
James McHenry Mr. Mc.Henry was bred a physician, but he
afterwards turned Soldier and acted as Aid to Genl. Washington and the Marquis
de la Fayette. He is a Man of specious Wents, with nothing of genious to
improve them. As a politician there is nothing remarkable in him, nor has he
any of the graces of the Orator. He is however, a very respectable young
Gentleman, and deserves the honor which his Country has bestowed on him. Mr.
Mc.Henry is about 32 years of age.
Thomas Mifflin General Mifflin is well known for the
activity of his mind, and the brilliancy of his parts. He is well informed and
a graceful Speaker. The General is about 40 years of age, and a very handsome
Gouverneur Morris Mr. Governeur Morris is one of those
Genius's in whom every species of talents combine to render him conspicuous and
flourishing in public debate: -He winds through all the mazes of rhetoric, and
throws around him such a glare that he charms, captivates, and leads away the
senses of all who hear him. With an infinite stretch of fancy he brings to view
things when he is engaged in deep argumentation, that render all the labor of
reasoning easy and pleasing. But with all these powers he is fickle and
inconstant, -never pursuing one train of thinking - nor ever regular. He has
gone through a very extensive course of reading, and is acquainted with all the
sciences. No Man has more wit, -nor can any one engage the attention more than
Mr. Morris. He was bred to the Law, but I am told he disliked the profession,
and turned merchant. He is engaged in some great mercantile matters with his
namesake Mr. Robt. Morris. This Gentleman is about 38 years old, he has been
unfortunate in losing one of his Legs, and getting all the flesh taken off his
right arm by a scald, when a youth.
Robert Morris Robert Morris is a merchant of great eminence
and wealth; an able Financier, and a worthy Patriot. He has an understanding
equal to any public object, and possesses an energy of mind that few Men can
boast of. Although he is not learned, yet he is as great as those who are. I am
told that when he speaks in the Assembly of Pennsylvania, that he bears down
all before him. What could have been his reason for not Speaking in the
Convention I know not - but he never once spoke on any point. This Gentleman is
about 50 years old.
William Paterson Mr. Patterson is one of those kind of Men
whose powers break in upon you, and create wonder and astonishment. He is a Man
of great modesty, with looks that bespeak talents of no great extent-but he is
a Classic, a Lawyer, and an Orator; -and of a disposition so favorable to his
advancement that every one seemed ready to exalt him with their praises. He is
very happy in the choice of time and manner of engaging in a debate, and never
speaks but when he understands his subject well. This Gentleman is about 34 ys.
of age, of a very low stature.
Charles Pinckney Mr. Charles Pinckney is a young Gentleman
of the most promising talents. He is, altho' only 24 ys. of age, in possession
of a very great variety of knowledge. Government, Law, History and Phylosophy
are his favorite studies, but he is intimately acquainted with every species of
polite learning, and has a spirit of application and industry beyond most Men.
He speaks with great neatness and perspicuity, and treats every subject as
fully, without running into prolixity, as it requires. He has been a Member of
Congress, and served in that Body with ability and eclat.
Charles Cotesworth Pinckney Mr. Chs Cotesworth Pinckney is
a Gentleman of Family and fortune in his own State. He has received the
advantage of a liberal education, and possesses a very extensive degree of
legal knowledge. When warm in a debate he sometimes speaks well, -but he is
generally considered an indifferent Orator. Mr. Pinckney was an Officer of high
rank in the American army, and served with great reputation through the War. He
is now about 40 years of age.
Edmund Randolph Mr. Randolph is Governor of Virginia, -a
young Gentleman in whom unite all the accomplishments of the Scholar, and the
States-man. He came forward with the postulate, or first principles, on which
the Convention acted, and he supported them with a force of eloquence and
reasoning that did him great honor. He has a most harmonious voice, a fine
person and striking manner. Mr. Randolph is about 32 years of age.
George Read Mr. Read is a Lawyer and a Judge: -his legal
abilities are said to be very great, but his powers of Oratory are fatiguing
and tiresome to the last degree; -his voice is feeble, and his articulation so
bad that few can have patience to attend to him. He is a very good Man, and
bears an amiable character with those who know him. Mr. Read is about 50, of a
low stature, and a weak constitution.
John Rutledge Mr. Rutledge is one of those characters who
was highly mounted at the commencement of the late revolution; -his reputation
in the first Congress gave him a distinguished rank among the American
Worthies. He was bred to the Law, and now acts as one of the Chancellors of
South Carolina. This Gentleman is much famed in his own State as an Orator, but
in my opinion he is too rapid in his public speaking to be denominated an
agreeable Orator. He is undoubtedly a man of abilities, and a Gentleman of
distinction and fortune. Mr. Rutledge was once Governor of South Carolina. He
is about 48 years of age.
Roger Sherman Mr. Sherman exhibits the oddest shaped
character I ever remember to have met with. He is awkward, unmeaning, and
unaccountably strange in his manner. But in his train of thinking there is
something regular, deep and comprehensive; yet the oddity of his address, the
vulgarisms that accompany his public speaking, and that strange New England
cant which runs through his public as well as his private speaking make
everything that is connected with him grotesque and laughable: -and yet he
deserves infinite praise -no Man has a better Heart or a clearer Head. If he
cannot embellish he can furnish thoughts that are wise and useful. He is an
able politician, and extremely artful in accomplishing any particular object;
-it is remarked that he seldom fails. I am told he sits on the Bench in
Connecticut, and is very correct in the discharge of his Judicial functions. In
the early part of his life he was a Shoe-maker; -but despising the lowness of
his condition, he turned Almanack maker, and so progressed upwards to a Judge.
He has been several years a Member of Congress, and discharged the duties of
Office with honor and credit to himself, and advantage to the State he
represented. He is about 60.
Richard Dobbs Spaight Mr. Spaight is a worthy Man, of some
abilities, and fortune: Without possessing a Genius to render him brilliant, he
is able to discharge any public trust that his Country may repose in him. He is
about 31 years of age.
Caleb Strong Mr. Strong is a lawyer of some eminence, -he
has received a liberal education, and has good connections to recommend him. As
a Speaker he is feeble, and without confidence. This Gentn. is about thirty
five years of age, and greatly in the esteem of his Colleagues.
George Washington Genl. Washington is well known as the
Commander in chief of the late American Army. Having conducted these states to
independence and peace, he now appears to assist in framing a Government to
make the People happy. Like Gustavus Vasa, he may be said to be the deliverer
of his Country; -like Peter the Great he appears as the politician and the
States-man; and like Cincinnatus he returned to his farm perfectly contented
with being only a plain Citizen, after enjoying the highest honor of the
Confederacy, -and now only seeks for the approbation of his Country-men by
being virtuous and useful. The General was conducted to the Chair as President
of the Convention by the unanimous voice of its Members. He is in the 52d. year
of his age.
Hugh Williamson Mr. Williamson is a Gentleman of education
and talents. He enters freely into public debate from his close attention to
most subjects, but he is no Orator. There is a great degree of good humour and
pleasantry in his character; and in his manners there is a strong trait of the
Gentleman. He is about 48 years of age.
James Wilson Mr. Wilson ranks among the foremost in legal
and political knowledge. He has joined to a fine genius all that can set him
off and show him to advantage. He is well acquainted with Man, and understands
all the passions that influence him. Government seems to have been his peculiar
Study, all the political institutions of the World he knows in detail, and can
trace the causes and effects of every revolution from the earliest stages of
the Greecian connnonwealth down to the present time. No man is more clear,
copious, and comprehensive than Mr. Wilson, yet he is no great Orator. He draws
the attention not by the charm of his eloquence, but by the force of his
reasoning. He is about 45 years old.
George Wythe Mr. Wythe is the famous Professor of Law at
the University of William and Mary. He is confessedly one of the most learned
legal Characters of the present age. From his close attention to the study of
general learning he has acquired a compleat knowledge of the dead languages and
all the sciences. He is remarked for his exemplary life, and universally
esteemed for his good principles. No Man it is said understands the history of
Government better than Mr. Wythe, -nor any one who understands the fluctuating
conditions to which all societies are liable better than he does, yet from his
too favorable opinion of Men, he is no great politician. He is a neat and
pleasing Speaker, and a most correct and able Writer. Mr. Wythe is about 55
years of age.
Robert Yates Mr. Yates is said to be an able Judge. He is a
Man of great legal abilities, but not distinguished as an Orator. Some of his
Enemies say he is an anti-federal Man, but I discovered no such disposition in
him. He is about 45 years old, and enjoys a great share of health.