Sherman, Roger

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Sherman, Roger

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."
—Roger Sherman

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.

Further readings

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


Congress of the United States; Constitution of the United States.

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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If Congress, under pretense of executing one power, should, in fact, usurp another, they will violate the Constitution." In December 1787 Roger Sherman observed that an "excellency of the constitution" was that "when the government of the united States acts within its proper bounds it will be the interest of the legislatures of the particular States to Support it, but when it leaps over those bounds and interferes with the rights of the State governments they will be powerful enough to check it."
His account of the formation of the constitution and the politics it gave rise to emphasizes the framers' political interests and long-term goals for economic policy, describing how Madison's vision for a maximized national authority able to nurture the American economy as a whole was countered by Roger Sherman and his allies fighting for a restricted set of specific national powers that would better enable the states to manage their own economies and societies.
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The impasse appeared insurmountable, when Roger Sherman and Oliver Ellsworth, the Connecticut representatives, offered a compromise: a House elected by popular vote with equal representation and a Senate equally representing each state with two senators elected by the state legislatures.
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Roger Sherman, Connecticut's senior delegate, proposed a compromise that, he hoped, would protect the smaller states while giving representation to each man.