George Read (1733-1798) was born in Maryland from a line of Irish and Welsh immigrants. However, he was raised in Delaware. He died in New Castle and is buried in Immanuel Episcopal Churchyard in Newcastle. Read was educated in Pennsylvania where he studied law and admitted to the Philadelphia Bar at age 20. In 1754, he returned to Delaware. In 1763, he married the widowed sister of George Ross, fellow signer of the Declaration of Independence from Pennsylvania and uncle of Betsy Ross. What is impressive is Read’s forty-year involvement in local, state, and national politics during which time he embraced both the politics of reconciliation with Britain in 1776 and the politics of change from 1786.
Read was attorney general in the colonial government from 1763-1774, but opposed the Stamp Act despite his reputation as a moderate. He was elected to the first and second Continental Congress from 1774-1776 along with Thomas McKean. The third delegate, Caesar Rodney, attended at the conclusion of the discussions. Read initially voted against Richard Henry Lee’s Resolution for Independence on July 2; he was the only eventual signer to do so. He preferred to continue pursuing possible reconciliation with Britain rather than agreeing to a complete break.
McKean sent an urgent message to Rodney in Delaware to come to Philadelphia to break the tie in the Delaware vote on independence because of Read’s reluctance to make the final step to endorse independence. Rodney’s vote broke the tie. When Lee’s Resolution was adopted, however, Read accepted the vote of his two Delaware colleagues and signed the Declaration.
In 1776, Read was selected to the Constitutional Convention in Delaware, where he served on the committee to draft the new Delaware Constitution. In 1777, the British captured Delaware President (Governor) John McKinley and Read became emergency governor replacing Thomas McKean who served as acting president for a short time prior.
Read was twice elected State Senator under the new Delaware Constitution. Between 1782-1788, he devoted himself to political activities in Delaware.
Read attended the Annapolis Convention in 1786 that called for a Grand Convention to meet in Philadelphia May 1786 to reconsider the structure and powers of the general government under the Articles of Confederation. He then represented Delaware at the Constitutional Convention, where he signed the Constitution, attended the 1787 Delaware Ratifying Convention, served in the United States Senate (1789-1793), and then as Chief Justice of Delaware. George Read was among six delegates who signed both the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and then, eleven years later, the United States Constitution in 1787.
Read actually signed the Constitution twice, signing once for himself and once for fellow Delaware delegate John Dickinson who was at home sick with a migraine. William Pierce, a delegate from Georgia at the Constitutional Convention, penned sketches of fellow delegates to the 1787 Convention. According to William Pierce, Read’s “legal abilities are said to be very great, but powers of Oratory are fatiguing and tiresome to the last degree.”
Yet George Read was known for his consistency in moral duties and benevolent ways. He was respected for setting standards Delaware would find as useful precedents or even authoritative. Having lived to the age of 65, Read died on September 21, 1798.
Gordon Lloyd is the Robert and Katheryn Dockson Professor of Public Policy at Pepperdine University, and a Senior Fellow at the Ashbrook Center. He earned his bachelor of arts degree in economics and political science at McGill University. He completed all the course work toward a doctorate in economics at the University of Chicago before receiving his master of arts and PhD degrees in government at Claremont Graduate School. The coauthor of three books on the American founding and sole author of a book on the political economy of the New Deal, he also has numerous articles, reviews, and opinion-editorials to his credit. His latest coauthored book, The New Deal & Modern American Conservatism: A Defining Rivalry, was published in 2013, and he most recently released as editor, Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787, in September 2014. He is the creator, with the help of the Ashbrook Center, of four highly regarded websites on the origin of the Constitution. He has received many teaching, scholarly, and leadership awards including admission to Phi Beta Kappa and the Howard White Award for Teaching Excellence at Pepperdine University. He currently serves on the National Advisory Council for the Walter and Leonore Annenberg Presidential Learning Center through the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation.
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