Posts Tagged ‘constitution’

Local legal historic sites — grave of Richard Bassett

January 4th, 2012 No comments

Richard_bassettI’ve reached the end of my short series of local legal historic sites associated with Delaware’s signers of the Constitution. Previously we’ve covered Gunning Bedford Jr., Jacob Broom, George Read, and John Dickinson. Our final Delaware signer is Richard Bassett. One of the biggest difficulties in writing this profile is coming up with a physical historic site related to Bassett. Bassett was once one of the richest men in Delaware, owning estates in Maryland and Delaware and a house in Wilmington. None of these houses remain. The only remaining site is his burial place, in the Bayard-Bassett vault in the Wilmington and Brandywine Cemetery.

Richard Bassett was born in Bohemia Ferry in Cecil County Maryland. His parents ran the Bohemia Ferry Tavern. Bassett’s father left his family. Luckily for Bassett his mother was an heir to Bohemia Manor, a huge estate in Cecil County. Bassett was adopted by Peter Lawson, a lawyer, who was also an heir to Bohemia Manor, which Bassett eventually inherited. Lawson trained his adopted son as a lawyer. Bassett became a member of the Delaware Bar in 1770 and began his practice in Dover, Delaware.

During and after the Revolution, Bassett served at the Delaware State constitutional convention and was a member of the state Legislative Council and House of Assembly and the captain of a troop of cavalry. In 1787 he was chosen as a member of Delaware’s delegation to the Constitutional Convention. He never spoke at the convention but voted in favor of the new Constitution.

He was elected to the United States Senate in 1788 where he supported a strong judiciary. He was governor of Delaware in 1798, resigning in 1801 when he was named a judge of the Third Circuit by John Adams. He was one of the “midnight judges” whose position was eliminated in 1802 by the repeal of the Judiciary Act of 1801 by the new administration of Thomas Jefferson. Bassett published a pamphlet arguing against the elimination of the judges and in favor of judicial independence.

Besides his political and legal activities Bassett was also a strong supporter of the Methodist Church. He converted to Methodism in the 1780s and supported  Francis Asbury and other Methodist ministers. He invited Methodist preachers to Bohemia Manor and held camp meetings there. His religious scruples led him to oppose slavery, freeing his own slaves and trying to convince Delaware to abolish slavery.

Bassett was married twice. He had no sons, but one of his daughters, Ann, married James A. Bayard, who became a U.S. Senator for Delaware and founded a dynasty of Delaware Senators including Richard H. Bayard, James A. Bayard, Jr., Thomas F. Bayard, Sr. and Thomas F. Bayard, Jr. Bassett died in 1815 at Bohemia Manor.

Photo credit: Engraving, by Charles B. J. Fevret de Saint-Memin (1802). From Wikimedia

For more information on Richard Bassett  see:

Robert E. Pattison. “The Life and Character of Richard Bassett.” Papers of the Historical Society of Delaware (1900)

Gaspare J. Saladino. Bassett, Richard. American National Biography. Oxford University Press, 1999, v. 2

Senators Coons and Carper explain Delaware Day

December 15th, 2011 No comments

I didn’t see this until Delaware Day was over. Here’s a video of Delaware Senators Tom Carper and Chris Coons explaining Delaware Day on the Senate floor. Delaware Day commemorates December 7, 1787, the day that Delaware became the first state to ratify the U.S. Constitution,

Local legal historic sites — burial place of John Dickinson

December 14th, 2011 No comments

John Dickinson markerA small, unassuming stone in the Wilmington Friends Meeting Burial Ground marks the grave of John Dickinson, lawyer and statesman, known for his political writings as “The Penman of the Revolution.” Dickinson was born in Talbot County, Maryland, the son of a wealthy landowner and was raised at Poplar Hall, his father’s plantation in Kent County, Delaware. Dickinson studied law in Philadelphia with John Moland and then went to England to study law at the Middle Temple. He returned to America and began his career as an attorney in Philadelphia. During his lifetime he lived in both Pennsylvania and Delaware.

In the 1760s he wrote his Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania, arguing against the Townshend Acts and for the rights of the colonists. These pamphlets made him famous throughout the American colonies. He was a Pennsylvania delegate to the Continental Congress where he urged moderation and refused to sign the Declaration of Independence. This refusal made him unpopular for a time. He did however, serve  in the Revolution as an officer in the Pennsylvania Militia and a private in the Delaware Militia. During the Revolution he was Delaware’s delegate to the Continental Congress and in 1781 was elected president of Delaware and in 1783 president of Pennsylvania. He wrote the first draft of the Articles of Confederation.

John_Dickinson_portraitIn 1787 Dickinson was chosen as one of Delaware’s representatives to the Constitutional Convention and also was president of the committee that revised Delaware’s constitution in 1791. Although he never formally joined the Friends Meeting, most of his family were Quakers and he was influenced by Quaker ideas. He became an abolitionist and freed the slaves on his plantation in 1777. When he died in 1808, he was buried in the Wilmington Friends Meeting Burial Ground.

Poplar Hall, John Dickinson’s boyhood home and plantation in Kent County is still standing. It is now a museum and is open to the public.

Photo credits: Nate Davidson, the Historical Marker Database and Wikimedia Commons

For more information on John Dickinson see:

Charles Janeway Stillé. The Life and Times of John Dickinson, 1732-1808. Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 1891.

Milton E. Flower. John Dickinson, Conservative Revolutionary. University Press of Virginia, 1983. E302.6.D5 F57 1983

The Political Writings of John Dickinson, esquire. Wilmington, 1801.

Local legal historic sites: Stonum, country home of George Read

November 4th, 2011 No comments

Stonum in 1936

Delaware attorney George Read was a signer of both the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution. Born in Cecil County, Maryland in 1733, his family moved to New Castle, Delaware shortly after his birth. He attended schools in Pennsylvania and studied law in Philadelphia with John Moland. Another of Moland’s students was John Dickinson, another future delegate to the Constitutional Convention. Dickinson and Read were lifelong friends.

After his admission to the bar, Read returned to New Castle, where he started a law practice and lived for the rest of his life. In 1763 Read was appointed attorney general for the three lower colonies (as Delaware was known at the time). He was a representative to the Continental Congress for Delaware. He was initially in favor of reconciliation with Britain and voted against the Declaration of Independence, but when the Declaration was eventually adopted he signed it. During the Revolution, he was a member of Delaware’s Legislative Council and president of Delaware from 1777 to 1778. He was named Judge of the Court of Appeals in admiralty cases in 1782.

George ReadRead represented Delaware at the Constitutional Convention. Like the other Delaware delegates he was concerned with protecting the rights of the smaller states. He was also a U.S. Senator and was Chief Justice of the Delaware Supreme Court until his death in 1798.

He had a town house on the Strand in New Castle, which was destroyed by a fire in 1824. It was on a site next door to the George Read II house, built by Read’s son. The George Read II house is still standing and is open for tours. Stonum (or Stoneham), at Ninth and Washington Streets in New Castle, was his country house and is the only house associated with Read still standing. Stonum is privately owned and not open to the public.

For more information on George Read see: William Thompson Read. Life and Correspondence of George Read. Philadelphia, Lippincott, 1870.

Photos from: Wikimedia Commons.

Local legal historic sites – Jacob Broom house

October 3rd, 2011 No comments

The Jacob Broom House in 1975

Jacob Broom,  a modest and hardworking businessman, is one of the least known signers of the United States Constitution. There is not even a contemporary portrait available of him.

Broom was the only one of the five Delaware delegates to the Constitutional Convention who was not a lawyer. Born in Wilmington in 1752, Broom was a surveyor and conveyor of title.  He also dealt in real estate and operated a number of business ventures, including a machine shop and served as the Chair of the Board of Directors of the Delaware Bank.

Being a delegate to the Constitutional Convention was his only venture into national politics, but he held a number of local offices, including chief Burgess of Wilmington, Justice of the Peace of New Castle County and member of the Delaware state legislature.

He married Rachel Pierce and had eight children. He was a member of Old Swedes Church. He lived originally in the city of Wilmington until 1795 when he built a house for his family near his cotton mills on the banks of the Brandywine. In 1802 he sold the house and mills to Eleuthère Irénée du Pont, who founded his gunpowder mills there. These mills were the beginning of the DuPont Company. Jacob Broom died in 1810 in Philadelphia and is buried in Christ Church Burial Ground.

The Jacob Broom house, also known as Hagley, is privately owned and not open to the public.

Photo by: Jack E. Boucher [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


Jacob Broom genealogy page:

Nomination form of Jacob Broom House for National Register of Historic Places

Signers of the Constitution Biographical Sketches

Campbell, William W. “Life and Character of Jacob Broom,” Historical and Biographical Papers of the State of Delaware, v. 5 (1909)

Drescher, Nuala M. Jacob Broom: A Biographical Sketch. Hagley Museum, 1959

Local legal historic sites: Lombardy Hall, home of Gunning Bedford Jr.

September 20th, 2011 No comments

Lombardy Hall, country home of Gunning Bedford Jr.

Three miles south of the Widener Law campus, just off route 202, is Lombardy Hall, farm and country home of Gunning Bedford, Jr., Delaware attorney, judge and signer of the United States Constitution. Bedford was born in 1747 in Philadelphia and attended what is now Princeton University where he roomed with James Madison. He studied law with Joseph Reed and eventually moved to Delaware, first to Dover and then to Wilmington. He represented Delaware at the Continental Congress, was a member of the Delaware legislature and was Delaware’s attorney general. Bedford had a cousin, confusingly also named Gunning Bedford, who was also an attorney, an officer in the Continental Army and governor of Delaware.


Gunning Bedford, Jr.

At the Constitutional Convention, Bedford spoke strongly for the rights of small states like Delaware. Another delegate, William Pearce, described him as “… 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 very corpulant.”

Bedford was selected by George Washington to be federal district judge for Delaware. He held this position until he died in 1812.

Lombardy Hall was Bedford’s country home; he also had a town house in Wilmington at 606 Market St. After his death Lombardy Hall went through several owners and eventually became vacant. In 1967 it was purchased by the local Masonic Lodge (Bedford was the first Masonic Grand Master of Delaware) and restored. It is open to the public by appointment only.

Photos from: Wikimedia Commons

For more information: Conrad, Henry C. Gunning Bedford Junior. Papers of the Historical Society of Delaware, vol 26, 1900.

Local Legal Tourist Attractions – National Constitution Center

April 25th, 2011 No comments

nccLocated at Independence Mall in Philadelphia, the National Constitution Center is a museum dedicated to the US Constitution. It has an interesting collection of interactive exhibits about the Constitution, a theatrical performance called “Freedom Rising,” and sculptures of all of the signers of the Constitution, including the delegates from Delaware.

The Constitution Center also presents changing exhibits. The current exhibit is “Spies, Traitor, Saboteurs: Fear and Freedom in America.”

World Constitutions Illustrated

January 26th, 2011 No comments

HeinOnline‘s World Constitutions Illustrated was recently named one of the Outstanding Academic Titles of 2010 by Choice. World Constitutions Illustrated provides access to contemporary and historic constitutions from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, as well as law review articles and other scholarly commentary on the constitutions. HeinOnline can be accessed from the law library database page.

Other 2010 Outstanding Titles owned by the Widener law library are:

The Annotated U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence, ed. by Jack N. Rakove. Belknap, Harvard, 2009.

Changes in law and society during the Civil War and Reconstruction: a legal history documentary reader, ed. by Christian G. Samito. Southern Illinois, 2009.

Encyclopedia of human rights, ed. by David P. Forsythe. Oxford, 2009.

Johns, Adrian. Piracy: the intellectual property wars from Gutenberg to Gates. Chicago, 2009.

Shesol, Jeff. Supreme power: Franklin Roosevelt vs. the Supreme Court. W.W. Norton, 2010

Drakeman, Donald L. Church, state, and original intent. Cambridge, 2010.

Epp, Charles R. Making rights real: activists, bureaucrats, and the creation of the legalistic state. Chicago, 2010

Gordon, Sarah Barringer. The spirit of the law: religious voices and the Constitution in modern America.

Mendelson, Richard. From demon to darling: a legal history of wine in America. California, 2009.


January 3rd, 2011 No comments

ratificationPauline Maier. Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788. New York : Simon & Schuster, 2010. KF4541 .M278 2010

From the publisher: When the delegates left the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in September 1787, the new Constitution they had written was no more than a proposal. Elected conventions in at least nine of the thirteen states would have to ratify it before it could take effect. There was reason to doubt whether that would happen. The document we revere today as the foundation of our country’s laws, the cornerstone of our legal system, was hotly disputed at the time. Some Americans denounced the Constitution for threatening the liberty that Americans had won at great cost in the Revolutionary War. One group of fiercely patriotic opponents even burned the document in a raucous public demonstration on the Fourth of July.

In this splendid new history, Pauline Maier tells the dramatic story of the yearlong battle over ratification that brought such famous founders as Washington, Hamilton, Madison, Jay, and Henry together with less well-known Americans who sometimes eloquently and always passionately expressed their hopes and fears for their new country. Men argued in taverns and coffeehouses; women joined the debate in their parlors; broadsides and newspaper stories advocated various points of view and excoriated others. In small towns and counties across the country people read the document carefully and knew it well. Americans seized the opportunity to play a role in shaping the new nation. Then the ratifying conventions chosen by “We the People” scrutinized and debated the Constitution clause by clause.

Although many books have been written about the Constitutional Convention, this is the first major history of ratification. It draws on a vast new collection of documents and tells the story with masterful attention to detail in a dynamic narrative. Each state’s experience was different, and Maier gives each its due even as she focuses on the four critical states of Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Virginia, and New York, whose approval of the Constitution was crucial to its success.

Categories: new books Tags: ,

New Books about the Constitution and Bill of Rights

November 12th, 2010 No comments

This election year has seen many speeches and debates about the meaning of the U.S.Constitution and Bill of Rights. These titles on the Library’s New Book Shelf reflect the interest that Constitutional issues continue to generate:

The Invisible Constitution

November 17th, 2008 No comments

tribe.gifLaurence H. Tribe. The Invisible Consitution. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008. KF4550 .T7865 2008

Liberty's Blueprint

October 27th, 2008 No comments

liberty.gifMichael Meyerson. Liberty’s Blueprint: How Madison and Hamilton Wrote the Federalist Papers, Defined the Constitution, and Made Democracy Safe for the World. New York: Basic Books, 2008. KF4520 .M49 2008