–by William diGiacomantonio
On Constitution Day 2014, the U.S. Capitol Historical Society celebrates the twenty Signers of the Constitution who went on to serve in the U.S. House and/or Senate. Sadly we cannot include the name of Elbridge Gerry (1744-1814) on this list, since this Massachusetts merchant’s Antifederalist affinities prevented him from signing the document—although once it was ratified by his native Massachusetts, he went on to represent the state in the House (1789-93) and served two terms as governor before dying in the second year of his vice presidency under James Madison, three months after the British burned the Capitol. He is the only Signer of the Declaration of Independence buried in the District of Columbia.
Other names one might expect to see are absent from this list—George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and Benjamin Franklin among others—because, although their contributions to the politics of the Revolutionary Era and the Federal Convention were notable, they never went on to serve in Congress.
Signers of the Constitution Who Later Served in Congress
Abraham Baldwin of Georgia (1754-1807) was a Yale-educated native of Connecticut who represented his adopted state in the House (1789-97) before moving on to the Senate (1799-1807). He is the only Signer of the Constitution buried in Washington, D.C.
Richard Bassett of Delaware (1745-1815) was a wealthy planter who served in the Senate (1789-93).
William Blount (National Archives)
William Blount of North Carolina (1749-1800) was a planter and land speculator from a powerful mercantile family. He served as a state legislator and member of the Confederation Congress before his appointment as first governor of the Southern Territory (1790-96). He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1796, but shortly thereafter his seat was “sequestered” and he was effectively expelled for participating in a conspiracy to oust the Spanish from Louisiana.
Pierce Butler (1744-1822) was a former British Army officer who married into South Carolina wealth and had extensive plantations in Georgia and South Carolina, which he represented at the Federal Convention and later in the Senate (1789-96).
Daniel Carroll (Library of Congress)
Daniel Carroll (1730-96), known as “of Rock Creek” to distinguish himself from several cousins of the same name, was a major landowner and planter in the part of his native Maryland that became the District of Columbia, which he voted for as Representative (1789-91).
George Clymer of Pennsylvania (1739-1813), was a Philadelphia merchant who followed his single term in the House (1789-91) as a federal excise collector and Indian treaty commissioner.
William Few (1748-1828) was born in Maryland but lived in Georgia from 1776 to 1799 before disgust with slavery led him back north, to New York City. After representing his adopted state in the Continental and Confederation Congresses (1780-82 and 1786-88), this wealthy planter served in the U.S. Senate (1789-93).
Thomas Fitzsimons of Pennsylvania (1741-1811) was a Philadelphia merchant who served in the House (1789-95). A native of Ireland, he shares with Daniel Carroll the distinction of being the only Catholic Signers of the Constitution.
Nicholas Gilman (1755-1814) was a New Hampshire merchant who served in the Confederation Congress after attending the Federal Convention. Despite going on to serve several consecutive terms in the House (1789-97) and later in the Senate (1805-14), he had a relatively inconspicuous congressional career.
William Samuel Johnson (1727-1819) was a Yale-educated lawyer from Connecticut, best known for his thirteen-year term as the first non-cleric president of Columbia College (now University). He served in the Senate from 1789 until his college duties led him to resign in 1791.
Rufus King. Oil by Charles Willson Peale, 1818. (Independence National Historical Park)
Rufus King (1755-1827), a Harvard-educated Boston lawyer, was a rising star in Massachusetts politics when he married a New York heiress and settled in New York City in 1786. This did not prevent him from representing his native state in the Federal Convention, although he represented his adopted New York in the U.S. Senate (1789-96 and again in 1813-25).
John Langdon (1741-1819) was a wealthy merchant of Portsmouth, New Hampshire who sat in the U.S. Senate (1789-1801). He served as state legislator and governor both before and after his congressional career.
James Madison (1751-1821) of Virginia was not only one of the most important members of the Federal Convention, but went on to become the first informal “majority leader” during the early period of his long career in the U.S. House (1789-97), during which he deserved credit as “Father of the Bill of Rights.” He went on to serve as a state legislator, secretary of state under his good friend Thomas Jefferson (1801-09), and president (1809-17).
Robert Morris (1735-1806) was a major Philadelphia merchant who became leader of the “centralist” (proto-Federalist) forces in Pennsylvania. He served as the Confederation Congress’s only superintendent of finance (1781-84), perhaps the most powerful single executive officer in national politics before the Constitution. He sat in the U.S. Senate from 1789 to 1795 before the failure of several extensive land speculation schemes reduced him to poverty and imprisonment for debt.
William Paterson (1745-1806), of New Jersey, was a Princeton-educated lawyer and jurist who served in the Senate from 1789 until resigning the next year to serve as governor until 1793, when he resigned again to serve as associate justice of the Supreme Court until his death.
Charles Pinckney (Library of Congress)
Charles Pinckney (1757-1824) was a wealthy lawyer and planter of Charleston, South Carolina who served several terms in the Confederation Congress, the state legislature, and the governorship, in addition to the U.S. Senate (1798-1801) and House (1819-21).
George Read (1733-98), a wealthy lawyer of New Castle, Delaware, held many offices in the state and as a member of the Continental Congress before attending the Federal Convention. He sent on to serve in the U.S. Senate from 1789 until resigning in 1793 to serve the remainder of his life as his state’s chief justice.
Roger Sherman. Oil copy after Ralph Earl. (National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution)
Roger Sherman of Connecticut (1721-93), known as “Father Sherman” in deference to his age as well as his Puritan morality, was the only person to sign all four “founding documents” of the Revolutionary Era: the Articles of Non-Importation (1774), the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution. This self-made man went on to serve in the U.S. House from 1789 until 1791, when he resigned to serve in the Senate until his death.
Richard Dobbs Spaight of North Carolina (1758-1802) served as a Continental Army officer, a member of the Confederation Congress and state legislature, and governor before being appointed to serve out a brief, unexpired term in the U.S. Senate (1799-1801). Defeated for reelection, he was killed in duel with his successful opponent.
Hugh Williamson of North Carolina (1735-1819), was a native of Pennsylvania who practiced medicine but earned a wider reputation for his literary and scientific pursuits. He served as a member of the Confederation Congress before entering the U.S. House (1789-93).