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George Read

George ReadGeorge Read (September 18, 1733 – September 21, 1798) was a delegate from the colony of Delaware selected to go to the First Continental Congress and the Second Continental Congress. It was during the Second Continental Congress that he became infamous for signing the Declaration of Independence. He also served Delaware at the Constitutional Convention in 1787. After the Constitution was ratified he became President of Delaware and was a member of the Federalist party until his death in 1798. He also served as a United States Senator and as a Chief Justice from Delaware. He served alongside fellow delegates Caesar Rodney and Thomas McKean.

Early Career and Family

  • George Read entered into the world on September 18, 1733 as the son of John and Mary Read. He was born in the colony of Maryland but this would be short-lived as his parents moved to New Castle County, Delaware. It would be here where Read would serve his country so passionately. He was educated by Reverand Francis Allison in Pennsylvania.
  • It would be here where he met future signer Thomas McKean and struck up a friendship. He would go on to law school in Philadelphia and was admitted to the Pennsylvania Bar in 1763.
  • Here he met his future wife and daughter of fellow signer of the Declaration of Independence, George Ross. He soon returned to Delaware to begin his practice.
  • He and his wife Gertrude Ross settled down in Delaware and had five children together. Read, a strong father figure, developed a close relationship with all his children. Each of his children went on to become or marry someone who was an influential citizen of Delaware.

Declaration of Independence and Delaware

  • Lost in the annals of history is one of the great stories of the drama of Delaware. Delaware was a colony that was split into two factions. The Court Party and the Country Party. Each of these parties were against the Stamp Act, Sugar Act and Britain’s abuse of power, however they disagreed with how to respond to these problems. The Court Party which was headed by George Read wanted to reconcile with Great Britain. While Read supported peaceful protesting and boycotts he was not in support of independence. He was more of a moderate unlike his longtime friend Thomas McKean and fellow delegate Caesar Rodney who were the leaders of the Country Party and wanted to break from Great Britain completely.
  • George Read, Thomas McKean, and Caesar Rodney served at both the First Continental Congress and the Second Continental Congress. Delaware was the only state to send the same delegates to both conventions. The three had a friendship, but disagreed quite often and in public.
  • During the Second Continental Congress the momentum swung from reconciliation to indendence after the speech of Richard Henry Lee in which Virginia joined the cause of freedom. Virginia was the largest state in population and had the strongest economy therefore they had the most influence.
  • Their support created a domino effect in the southern colonies and it would not be long until Maryland, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Georgia followed suit. This left the middle colonies of Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey.
  • New Jersey replaced all of its delegates from the First Continental Congress in favor of those who supported independence, Pennsylvania was headed by Benjamin Franklin who was able to work around the charismatic quaker, John Dickinson, and bring Pennsylvania on board. This left New York and Delaware.
  • New York abstained from voting because they had not received word whether they should vote in favor. Delaware was the only colony left and it was a state that must be carried because if Independence from Britain was going to happen it needed to be unanimous.
  • When the vote for independence was being cast George Read surprised everyone by voting against the measure. This left Delaware at a 1 – 1 tie since Rodney was ill and unable to be at the convention. Thomas McKean quickly sent for Rodney who received the message and made one of the great midnight rides of the revolution.
  • He rode through a heavy rainstorm and arrived just in time to cast a vote in favor of independence. Delaware was now 2 – 1 and in favor of independence.
  • Despite George Read’s caution, he signed the Declaration of Independence and took up the patriotic cause. He and Thomas McKean would create the Delaware Constitution and throughout the American Revolutionary War he would serve the Continental Army as a recruiter. He was elected to be governor of Delaware and served as Governor until Caesar Rodney replaced him.
  • George Read would be a leading voice at the Constitutional Convention. He argued the need for a strong Federal Government. After the ratification of the Constitution he would join the Federalist party.

Sudden Death and Remembrance

  • Read died suddenly in 1798 at New Castle. News of his death caused many to mourn andreflect on his life.
    • William T. Reid who wrote Life and Correspondence had this to say about Read:
      • tall, slightly and gracefully formed, with pleasing features and lustrous brown eyes. His manners were dignified, bordering upon austerity, but courteous, and at times captivating. He commanded entire confidence, not only from his profound legal knowledge, sound judgment, and impartial decisions, but from his severe integrity and the purity of his private character.” However, a fellow delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 noted that “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 him.
  • Charles Goodrich had this to write about Read in his Lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence:
    • In all the offices with which Mr. Read was entrusted by his fellow citizens, he appeared with distinguished ability; but it was as a judge that he stood pre-eminent. For this station he was peculiarly fitted, not only by his unusual legal attainments, but by his singular patience in hearing all that council might deem important to bring forward, and by a cool and dispassionate deliberation of every circumstance which could bear upon the point in question. To this day his decisions are much respected in Delaware, and are often recurred to, as precedents of no doubtful authority.
  • In private life, the character of Mr. Read was not less estimable and respectable. He was consistent in all the relations of life, strict in the observance of his moral duties, and characterized by an expanded benevolence towards all around him.
  • George Read was arguably the most dominating figure in Delaware politics during the Revolutionary War Era.

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