Essay 58 – Guest Essayist: Ron Meier
Public Domain in the United States - John Morton, Signer of the Declaration of Independence

In the 2016 and 2020 general elections, Pennsylvania was considered a “battleground state” and a “swing state.”  It seems that not much has changed since 1776.

Pennsylvania’s political landscape and physical location insulated it to some extent from the revolutionary fever of New England. The stability of the Colonial government was popular among many Pennsylvanians, with the Penn family ruling over the colony since 1681 when William Penn received the land grant from King Charles II.  Revolutionary activists were considered a threat to this stability and a personal threat to the power and wealth of the Penn family. Even in the spring of 1776, Pennsylvania’s official political position was opposition to independence. Fortunately, Philadelphia was somewhat central among the colonies and was chosen as the place where delegates from each of the colonies would meet.

The state with the most signers of the Declaration of Independence was Pennsylvania with nine, leading one to believe that the colony was among the most united in favor of independence. However, six of the nine were not even present on the critical days of voting for independence. In the spring of 1776, a more apt description of the situation in Pennsylvania might be “chaos.” A clash of the more radical against the ruling class was in play. John Dickinson and Robert Morris were strong supporters of the status quo, preferring reconciliation with Britain rather than revolution. Pennsylvania’s provincial legislature had instructed its delegates to the Second Continental Congress to vote against independence.

In late May, with the backing of the Second Continental Congress, the radicals effectively orchestrated a coup to create a new constitution and government. A newly created and short-lived Provincial Conference, consisting of those arguing for independence, replaced the existing legislature and, as one of the existing legislature’s last acts, the Assembly gave new instructions to the delegates at the Continental Congress to vote for independence. Among the five delegates to the Continental Congress remaining on July 1, only two of them, Ben Franklin and James Wilson were in favor of independence; John Dickinson and Robert Morris were not in favor when the first vote for independence was taken on July 1. John Morton was on the fence, somewhat surprising since, in his last act as Speaker of the Pennsylvania Assembly, he signed the document giving instructions to the Pennsylvania delegation to vote in favor of independence. Several other delegates opposed to independence had become frustrated and either resigned or simply ceased attending the Congress.

When the final vote for independence was taken in the Congress on July 2, Dickinson and Morris abstained, Morton finally declared support, ensuring a 3-0 vote for independence. Thus, John Morton became Pennsylvania’s swing vote and the man largely responsible for ensuring a “yes” vote for independence on July 2, 1776. So, who was this swing voter?

John Morton was born in 1725. He was a descendent of a Finnish family which had come to the colonies in the mid-17th century. His father died while John’s mother was pregnant. His mother remarried an English farmer and surveyor. John had little formal education, but his stepfather home-schooled John, giving him the ethical and practical education he needed to succeed in life.

At 31, he was elected to the Pennsylvania Assembly, Pennsylvania’s legislative branch, where he remained for all but two years until the Assembly’s dissolution in 1776, at which time he was the Assembly’s Speaker. His two years outside of the Assembly were when his county’s sheriff died and Morton was appointed sheriff.

Among his other political positions, he was Justice of the Peace, Presiding Judge of the Court of General Quarters Session, Common Pleas of the County of Chester, Associate Judge of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania and Justice of Orphan’s Court.

Morton’s first responsibility for petitioning the King for redress of rights was his appointment to the Stamp Act Congress in 1765. From that first act of the colonists until the final vote on July 2, 1776, the colonists’ primary objective was not to seek independence, but to protest unjust actions of the British Parliament and to remain loyal to the mother country by seeking reconciliation. The repeated refusal of the British Parliament and King to consider their requests over the subsequent 10 years drove the colonists to unite for independence in the end.

So highly regarded was Morton in Pennsylvania’s Assembly that he was chosen to represent Pennsylvania in both the First and Second Continental Congresses. His decisiveness on July 2 was critical since only Pennsylvania and Delaware had not yet committed to approving Richard Henry Lee’s resolution “that these united colonies are and of right ought to be free and independent states.” Morton’s Yea vote may have been the primary reason the resolution was approved by the Congress and for our annual celebration of Independence Day on July 4. Unfortunately, Morton is not represented on John Trumbull’s famous portrait of the Continental Congress meeting on June 28, 1776, when the Committee of Five presented its draft to the Congress.

Morton thereafter served as Chairman of the Committee of the Whole that wrote the Articles of Confederation, the document under which the United States operated during the Revolutionary War. He was the first of the signers of the Declaration of Independence to die, in 1777, not living to see the adoption of the Articles of Confederation.

During the Revolutionary War, the British destroyed the Morton family home and its contents, including many of Morton’s papers, leaving little documentary evidence of his role in state and national politics. Morton is one of the least known signers of the Declaration of Independence, but one without whom the document may not have come into existence.

Ron Meier is a West Point graduate and Vietnam War veteran.  He is a student of American history, with a focus on our nation’s founding principles and culture, the Revolutionary War, and the challenges facing America’s Constitutional Republic in the 20th and 21st centuries.  Ron won Constituting America’s Senior Essay contest in 2014 and is author of Common Sense Rekindled: A Rejuvenation of the American Experiment, featured on Constituting America’s Recommended Reading List.

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.



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Essay 53 – Guest Essayist: James C. Clinger

John Hart of New Jersey was one of the lesser-known signers of the Declaration of Independence. He was also among the oldest, being one of seven signers who was sixty years of age or older.[1] His life prior to his attendance at the Second Continental Congress was full of public service, primarily to his local community and the colony, and then the state of New Jersey. He died before the final battles of the Revolutionary War were fought and won.

His exact date of birth is subject to some dispute. Most sources claim that he was born in 1713, but some have his birth listed as 1711 or even earlier. He grew up in Hopewell Township, New Jersey, and resided in that area virtually his entire life. His father was active in civic affairs, serving as a justice of the peace, assessor, and farmer.[2] Hart had relatively little formal education, but was considered well-read, knowledgeable about the law, and possessed with business acumen.   Like his father, John Hart was a farmer, raising cattle, sheep, hogs, and poultry. He also owned and operated grist mills, some of which were co-owned by his brother. At one time, Hart owned four slaves.[3] Slavery had not yet been abolished in all of the northern colonies. New Jersey did not begin a gradual abolition of slavery until 1804. Under that law, children born to slaves after July 4, 1804 would gain their freedom after serving the master of their mother for twenty-five years for males and twenty-one years for females.[4]

Hart was a Presbyterian, but he donated land from the lower meadow in front of his home to a Baptist congregation in 1747. A Baptist Meeting House was constructed there, and Baptists were enthusiastic in their support of Hart when he began his political career. Hart was elected to the Hunterdon County Board of Chosen Freeholders in 1750 and as Justice of the Peace in 1755. He served on the Colonial Assembly from 1761 to 1771, and was appointed to the Court of Common Pleas in 1768.   He was selected for a committee to appoint delegates to the First Continental Congress. In 1775, he was elected to the New Jersey Committee of Correspondence and later served on the Committee of Safety.[5] The committees of correspondence were designed to maintain communication among the colonies and to oppose British customs enforcement and bans on paper money issued by the colonies.[6]

In 1776, Hart was elected to the New Jersey Provincial Congress which was created to supersede the power of the royal governor. The Provincial Congress designated Hart to sign “Bill of Credit” notes issued by New Jersey.[7] These notes were a form of paper money that would later be forbidden for state governments by Article 1, Section 10 of the United States Constitution.

The New Jersey delegates to the First Continental Congress had not supported independence for the American colonies but, on June 22, Hart along with four other delegates from New Jersey were elected to the Second Continental Congress. Hart arrived so late in the proceedings that he had little opportunity to participate in the deliberations over the Declaration, but he voted to approve the document on July 4. Benjamin Rush, another signer of the Declaration, described Hart as “a plain, honest, well-meaning Jersey farmer, with but little education, but with good sense and virtue enough to pursue the interests of his country.”[8]

On August 13, Hart was elected to the State Assembly of New Jersey and on August 29 he was elected Speaker of the General Assembly.   Hart presided over the Assembly briefly but was called home to care for his sick wife. He returned to the Assembly on October 7, but was called home once more. The Assembly adjourned on August 8, the same day that his wife died, leaving behind her husband and thirteen children, two of whom were still minors. In November, the British army invaded New Jersey and Hart was forced to hide out in some rock formations in the nearby Sourwood Mountains to escape British soldiers and Hessian mercenaries who damaged, but did not destroy, the farm.[9]

The British forces retreated after American victories at Trenton and Princeton, after which Hart returned to his home and then to the General Assembly. Hart was re-elected twice as Speaker of the Assembly. In June 1778, Hart invited George Washington to have his troops encamp at the Hart farm. Washington accepted the invitation, and around 12,000 soldiers rested there before fighting and winning the Battle of Monmouth on June 26. A few months later, on May 11, 1779, Hart died painfully from kidney stones. Hart was in debt at the time of his death, and the war, currency of dubious value, and damage to his property, forced his heirs to sell most of his assets. Hart had spent much of his life in some form of public service for which he was given little monetary compensation. He did not live to see final victory in the war for independence, but his role in the creation of the new republic and the early government of the state of New Jersey should not be forgotten.[10]

James C. Clinger is a professor in the Department of Political Science and Sociology at Murray State University. He is the co-author of Institutional Constraint and Policy Choice: An Exploration of Local Governance and co-editor of Kentucky Government, Politics, and Policy. Dr. Clinger is the chair of the Murray-Calloway County Transit Authority Board, a past president of the Kentucky Political Science Association, and a former firefighter for the Falmouth Volunteer Fire Department.

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.


[1] Marberry, Mark, “The 56 Men who Signed the Declaration of Independence.”  Farmington Press.   July 11, 2019.,Seven%20were%20over%2060.

[2] Staller, Grace Keiper, “John Hart,” Descendants of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Gigantino, James J. 2014. “‘’The Whole North Is Not Abolitionized’’.” Journal of the Early Republic 34 (3): 411–37. doi:10.1353/jer.2014.0040.

[5] Staller, op cit.

[6] “Committees of Correspondence.” The History Channel.  Retrieved 4/24/2021.

[7] Staller, op cit

[8] Staller, op cit.


[10] Staller, op cit.

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Essay 52 – Guest Essayist: Ron Meier

To a twenty-first century political strategist, the summer of 1776 would seem like a foolish time to have voted for independence. Little had gone well so far and a large force of the British Navy and Army was assembling in New York’s harbor to launch a decisive attack on Washington’s ragtag army. Only an Act of God could have prevented Washington’s defeat – in fact, an Act of God did prevent defeat two months later.

New Jersey had not yet been in the fight. The significant military action so far had been in New England and Canada. While Thomas Jefferson was busy writing the Declaration of Independence in June, New Jersey was one of three colonies that had not yet authorized its delegates to vote for independence, largely because of internal discord between the patriots; the loyalists; and New Jersey’s Royal Governor, William Franklin, Ben Franklin’s son. Its five delegates to the Continental Congress also opposed secession. On June 21, the New Jersey Provincial Congress authorized secession, named five new delegates all in favor of secession, to the Continental Congress, and ordered the imprisonment of Loyalist Governor Franklin. Among those new delegates was Francis Hopkinson.

Hopkinson was born in Philadelphia in 1737. His father was a friend of Benjamin Franklin who helped young Francis pursue his college studies. Hopkinson graduated from the College of Philadelphia, after which he studied law and began his life in Colonial public service as Secretary of the Pennsylvania Provincial Council, where he negotiated treaties with native American tribes.

He then turned his public service focus to trade and became Collector of Customs in Salem, New Jersey in 1763. Customs agents in the American colonies were not always diligent in executing their assigned duties, resulting in a loss of revenue for London at a time when additional revenue was needed to pay for the costs of the French and Indian War. Wanting to expand his role in Customs, he spent 15 months in London during 1766 and 1767, hoping to be appointed one of five Commissioners of Customs for North America, posts created under the despised 1767 Townsend Acts which attempted to enhance customs enforcement in the colonies. Hopkinson failed in his attempt to be named a Commissioner, which was a good thing in the long run, given the soon-to-be enhanced collection efforts that would antagonize the colonists and, in short order, lead to war. However, during his stay in London, he learned much about British politics and politicians, including Lord North, which would soon prove valuable as the Revolutionary flames rose.

Hopkinson’s interests outside the law included music, writing, and art. From 1759 to 1766, he served as secretary of the Philadelphia Library. His poems and other writings inspired patriots during the Revolutionary War. He used those literary and artistic talents while serving on the Navy Board in 1780 to design the first American flag, a fact not discovered until well after Betsy Ross had gained fame for having created the original design. He later designed the Great Seal, among other devices.

Hopkinson returned from London to Philadelphia where he became a successful merchant in 1768 and married Ann Borden, daughter of a wealthy family that had founded Bordentown, New Jersey. During this time, he continued to pursue public service opportunities. Four years later, he relocated to Delaware to resume his public service role for one year as Collector of Customs.

At this time, Revolutionary fervor was accelerating in the colonies over customs fees and Hopkinson relinquished his role as Customs Collector when New Jersey Royal Governor, William Franklin, well aware of Hopkinson’s apparent loyalty to the British government and of his political connections in London, named him to the New Jersey Provincial Council, the upper house of the New Jersey Legislature, in 1773. Hopkinson then moved his family to his wife’s hometown of Bordentown, New Jersey where he once again entered the practice of law. During this time, he became disenchanted with the British government’s hostility to Americans’ rights and freedoms and joined the patriot cause, writing many patriotic pamphlets and satires, employing a common practice of using a variety of pseudonyms, that were widely circulated in the colonies.

Hopkinson took his seat as a New Jersey delegate to the Second Continental Congress on June 22, 1776. Soon after, Congress passed the Declaration of Independence. He remained a member of the Congress for only five months, leaving to serve on the Navy Board in Philadelphia. Later, Hopkinson was appointed treasurer of the Continental Loan Office in 1778, and judge of the Admiralty Court of Pennsylvania in 1779.

The British and Hessians pillaged and burned much of Bordentown, New Jersey during the war; Hopkinson’s home was spared burning because of his extensive library. The British then used the home as their headquarters during the town’s occupation.

Although Hopkinson was not a Delegate to the Constitutional Convention, he was a member of the Pennsylvania Convention that ratified the Constitution and Chairman of the Committee of Arrangement which organized the grand July 4, 1788 celebration in honor of the ratification of the Constitution, officially ratified on June 21. Today, it may be difficult to envision a parade that included members of 44 trades and professions in addition to the traditional military units and political luminaries.

Francis Hopkinson died in 1791 at the age of 53, young for a man with such a distinguished career. While the names of Hopkinson, Stockton, Clark, Hart, and Witherspoon are immortalized on the Declaration of Independence after less than a week of service on the Second Continental Congress, the names of the dismissed members, Sergent, DeHart, Smith, Cooper, and Livingston, who had the opportunity for immortality, tend toward being forgotten.

Ron Meier is a West Point graduate and Vietnam War veteran.  He is a student of American history, with a focus on our nation’s founding principles and culture, the Revolutionary War, and the challenges facing America’s Constitutional Republic in the 20th and 21st centuries.  Ron won Constituting America’s Senior Essay contest in 2014 and is author of Common Sense Rekindled: A Rejuvenation of the American Experiment, featured on Constituting America’s Recommended Reading List.

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.



New Jersey State Library:

Hopkinson Biography:

Customs:  Commissioners of Customs Act (

Townshend Acts:

Ann Borden Hopkinson Biography:

Hopkinson’s American Flag Design:

Miracle at Philadelphia by Catherine Drinker Bowen

Order of Procession:

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Essay 33 – Guest Essayist: Ron Meier

In 1776, 13 British colonies existed in America. Ask someone about the American Revolutionary era today and some colonies easily come to mind – Virginia, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New York. The role of some colonies in the Revolution is not as well known.

New Hampshire is one of those less-well-known colonies. Almost everyone will agree that the American Revolution began on the greens of Lexington and Concord in April 1776, when British troops marched from Boston to find and destroy military supplies hidden there. Americans love the story of Paul Revere’s ride to warn the patriots there that “the Regulars are coming.”

Yet, just a few months earlier, in December 1775, Revere took a more perilous ride in deep snow to the New Hampshire coast to alert patriots that British troops and ships were coming to secure British military supplies there that were guarded by only a half-dozen British troops.  Hundreds of patriot militiamen mustered quickly, attacked the supply depot, captured and removed the munitions before a stronger British military contingent could arrive. Thus, New Hampshire citizens, whose state motto is “Live Free or Die,” might argue that the Revolutionary War began there and not in Lexington and Concord.

By the time of Revere’s more famous ride in April 1776, New Hampshire’s militias were as ready for war as those of Massachusetts.  As word spread far and wide of the British march and attack on Lexington and Concord, militiamen of New Hampshire mustered and hurried to support their patriot comrades in Massachusetts. New Hampshire Regiments were formed in May 1775 and in 1776. All or parts of the Regiments fought with distinction in major battles during the war to include the Boston Siege, Saratoga, Quebec, Trenton, among others. They were particularly effective in holding the line at Saratoga which became the major victory of the Northern Campaign.

William Whipple Jr. could not have anticipated his role in the colonies’ revolution and quest for independence. He was born in 1730 to a seagoing family. His father was a sea captain and his mother was the daughter of a distinguished ship-builder. Both families had become wealthy in their sea-related businesses.

Young William attended public schools and, unlike some of the more famous signers of the Declaration of Independence, did not attend college at Harvard, Princeton, or Yale. Rather, he followed his father to the sea, where ships, including the Whipple’s, often engaged in the profitable Triangle Trade, which delivered commodities from the American colonies and the West Indies to Europe, where the ships were loaded with manufactured goods for delivery to Africa and the American colonies. In Africa, slaves were often brought aboard the ships for delivery to the West Indies and the American colonies.

By the age of 21, young William commanded his own ship. The same year, his father died. While both his mother and father were wealthy from their families’ businesses, William, Jr., became wealthy in his own right as a ship’s Captain. In 1759, at the age of 29, William had amassed a fortune that had enabled him to retire from the sea. He then went into the merchant business with two brothers, where William, with his foreign trade experience on the sea, was able to expand his wealth in that business. Two slave boys worked for the Whipple’s business. One of them, Prince, would remain with William through all that followed.

William married in 1767, at the age of 37, Catherine Moffatt, daughter of a ship Captain. They had only one son, who died in 1773, about a year after his birth.

With the outbreak of the Revolution, William Whipple began his long career as a public servant. In June 1774 he was on a Committee to prevent the landing of tea in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. He became a member of the Committee of Safety and was a member of the Provincial Convention held at Exeter.

In 1776, Whipple was sent by New Hampshire as one of its three delegates to the Continental Congress. With his seafaring experience and his family’s ship building experience, he was appointed to the Marine Committee. To run the British Navy’s blockades, the new country would need more ships and experienced ship Captains; Whipple’s background prepared him well for leading that effort. He also served as a superintendent of the commissary and quartermaster departments, attempting to bring efficiency to departments that seemed to have great difficulty supplying General George Washington’s forces with what they needed to fight the war.

Whipple was present in Congress during the drafting and editing of the Declaration of Independence and signed the Declaration, thereby putting his life, his fortune, and his sacred honor at great risk. He remained a member of Congress through 1779.

As the British military strategy evolved and threatened to end the revolution by cutting off New England from the rest of America, Whipple was appointed a General by New Hampshire’s Convention in 1777. He immediately set off for New York where British General John Burgoyne was moving troops south from Canada to isolate New England. He expected that his slave, Prince, would join his Brigade in the fight. But Prince retorted that a slave had no freedom for which to fight. Whipple is said to have immediately informed Prince that he was a free man, whereupon Prince joined his former master and fought the British throughout the war. Legend has it that, in Emanuel Leutze’s famous 1851 painting, Washington Crossing the Delaware, Leutze symbolically identified Prince as the young black soldier sitting in front of Washington on the boat.

At the decisive battle of Saratoga, a significant turning point in the war, General Whipple’s New Hampshire troops fought valiantly and Whipple was appointed by General Horatio Gates to deliver the terms of surrender to General Burgoyne. Whipple was then directed to deliver General Burgoyne to Cambridge where Burgoyne would board a ship bound for England.

General Whipple fought the next year, 1778, with General Sullivan in Rhode Island, where he was almost killed as a British artillery round exploded near him. Having released his own slave, Prince, from bondage, Whipple expressed hope that, as the Revolutionary War moved south, southern slaveholders would also free their slaves, enabling the blessings of liberty in the Declaration that he signed to be accorded to all Americans.

In 1780, General Whipple was elected to the New Hampshire Legislature; in 1782, he was appointed as a Superior Court judge. He had heart problems, which continued to affect his health, leading to his death in 1785 at the age of 55. He is buried with his family, as well as Prince, his former slave, in North Cemetery in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

Ron Meier is a West Point graduate and Vietnam War veteran.  He is a student of American history, with a focus on our nation’s founding principles and culture, the Revolutionary War, and the challenges facing America’s Constitutional Republic in the 20th and 21st centuries.  Ron won Constituting America’s Senior Essay contest in 2014 and is author of Common Sense Rekindled: A Rejuvenation of the American Experiment, featured on Constituting America’s Recommended Reading List.

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.



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