Roger Sherman: Quotes, Biography & Facts

Instructor: Matthew Hill
Roger Sherman was the only Founding Father to sign all four major documents of the Revolutionary Era. He is best known for his proposal of the Connecticut Compromise.

Early Roots in Massachusetts

Roger Sherman had an unprecedented front seat to the key moments of the American Revolution and the Constitutional period. He was literally a witness to the great events of his age. He was born in Newton, Massachusetts in April 1721. His family ran a moderately-sized farm and could not afford to send him to college. His family did have a library, though, and Sherman showed an early obsession with learning. The local pastor, the Harvard-trained Samuel Dunbar, took Sherman under his wing and helped school him. Sherman apprenticed as a shoemaker for work, but in 1743, two years after the death of his father, Roger moved the family to New Milford, Connecticut to be near an older brother. There, he opened two general stores and worked as a land surveyor. Sherman twice married, and he had a whopping fifteen children between the two marriages!

Ralph Earl Painting of Roger Sherman
Ralph Earl Painting of Roger Sherman

Life in Connecticut

Sherman's move to Connecticut proved beneficial. He became a lawyer, ran for public office, and served in various roles. He served, for instance, in the General Assembly as a justice of the peace, and then as a judge of the Connecticut Superior Court. One of his New Haven stores catered to nearby Yale students, and he became a major benefactor and treasurer for the college. Sherman served in various roles during the American Revolutionary War. He served on the war and treasury boards and was appointed commissary to the Connecticut troops. He is best known, though, for his committee work on some of the leading documents of the age.

The Articles of Association

The Articles of Association were drafted in 1774 in response to a series of laws passed by British Parliament after the Boston Tea Party. American colonists called the British acts the Intolerable Acts. Following the Tea Act Sherman declared that 'no laws bind the people but such as they consent to be governed by.' The gist of the Articles of Association was to threaten to boycott British goods if the Intolerable Acts were not repealed. When the Continental Congress called for a 13-colony conference, Connecticut was the first to respond and Sherman served as a representative and signee on behalf of Connecticut.

The Declaration of Independence

Sherman also served on the five-man drafting committee for the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Although Jefferson was the principal draftsman, Sherman and the others played a lead role in debating its contents and merits. To be a part of this was undoubtedly a career highlight.

The Five-Man Drafting Committee Presents the Declaration of Independence to Congress. Sherman is standing in the middle between John Adams and Robert Livingston. In front of them is Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin
Roger Sherman and the Five-Man Committee

The Articles of Confederation

Sherman was also one of five signers from the state of Connecticut of the Articles of Confederation of 1781. Although this document would later be supplanted by the U.S. Constitution, it was the governing constitution of the country until its replacement with a stronger model. His larger role, though, came with the U.S. Constitution.

Scene of the Signing of the U.S. Constitution. Sherman played a lead role with the Connecticut Compromise
Signing the U.S. Constitution

Sherman and the Connecticut Compromise

Sherman is best known for his work at the Constitutional Convention. As the age of 66, he was the oldest delegate in attendance and he was also one of the most vocal. Sherman tried to steer a cautionary middle course that supported a strong central government but retained states' rights. His greatest contribution unquestionably was the Connecticut Compromise. The convention was deadlocked over state representation---the small states following the New Jersey Plan preferred an equal number of representatives for each state, but large states favored the Virginia Plan which apportioned representatives based on state population. His plan split the difference and called for a bicameral legislature, where the Senate, or upper house would be equal with two representatives per state, but the House of Representatives, or lower house, would be based on state population.

Pictured is an early draft of the Bill of Rights. Sherman influenced its location in the U.S. Constitution
Early Draft of the Bill of Rights

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