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Roger Sherman was a colonial and U.S. politician and judge who played a critical role at the Constitutional Convention of 1787, devising a plan for legislative representation that was accepted by large and small states. His actions at the convention in Philadelphia came near the end of a distinguished life in public service.
Sherman was born on April 19, 1721, in Newton, Massachusetts. He was admitted to the Massachusetts bar in 1754 and later served as a Justice of the Peace. In 1761 Sherman moved to New Haven, Connecticut, where he established a business as a merchant. From 1764 to 1785 he served in the Connecticut legislature and was a superior court judge from 1766 to 1788. During these years Sherman became recognized as a national political leader. Though conservative, he was an early supporter of American independence from Great Britain.
Sherman's belief in independence led him to serve as a delegate to the Continental Congress from 1774 to 1784. He was instrumental in the creation of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and signed the declaration. He also helped draft the Articles of Confederation.
"[The executive branch] is nothing more than an institution for carrying the will of the Legislature into effect."
After America won its independence, Sherman devoted himself to Connecticut politics, serving as the first mayor of New Haven from 1784 to 1793. He also helped revise Connecticut statutes, eliminating material related to the state's former colonial status.
In 1787 Sherman was a member of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. He recognized that the Articles of Confederation had not provided a stable and secure method of national government. The convention, however, was soon divided over the issue of legislative representation. The small states feared a federal Congress apportioned by population, in which a few large states would control most of the seats. Therefore, William Paterson of New Jersey proposed a plan that provided for equal representation in Congress. edmund randolph of Virginia, speaking for the interests of the large states, proposed a plan for a bicameral legislature, with representation in both houses based on population or wealth.
Neither side would yield on the issue of representation. Sherman, along with Oliver Ellsworth, proposed the Connecticut Compromise, or Great Compromise. This plan created a bicameral legislature, with proportional representation in the lower house and equal representation in the upper house. All revenue measures would originate in the lower house. The compromise was accepted, and the convention soon approved the Constitution.
Sherman served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1789 to 1791 and in the U.S. Senate from 1791 to 1793. He strongly supported the establishment of a national bank and the enactment of a tariff.
Sherman died on July 23, 1793, in New Haven, Connecticut.
Collier, Christopher. 1971. Roger Sherman's Connecticut: Yankee Politics and the American Revolution. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan Univ. Press.
Boardman, Roger Sherman. 1938. Roger Sherman, Signer and Statesman. Reprint. New York: Da Capo Press, 1971