Roger Sherman

From New World Encyclopedia

In John Trumbull's famous painting, Sherman is literally front and center—of those standing up near the desk, he is the second person from the left. The painting depicts the Committee of Five presenting its work to the Congress.

Roger Sherman (April 19 (O.S.), April 30 (N.S.), 1721 – July 23, 1793) was an early American lawyer and politician and a founding father of the United States. He served as the first mayor of New Haven, Connecticut, and served on the Committee of Five that drafted the Declaration of Independence, and was also a representative (1789-91) and senator (1791-93) in the new republic.

He was the only person to sign all four great state papers of the U.S.: the Articles of Association, the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution.[1] Thomas Jefferson once said of him: "That is Mr. Sherman of Connecticut, a man who has never said a foolish thing in his life." He was also appointed treasurer of Yale College, and awarded an honorary Master of Arts degree. A Congregationalist, he was a professor of religion for many years, and engaged in lengthy correspondences with some of the greatest theologians of the time. Sherman's legacy is represented by the bicameral system in Washington, D.C. for which he argued, and won support, at the Constitutional Convention, thus playing a major role in shaping American democracy.

Early life

Sherman was born in Newton, Massachusetts. His parents were William Sherman and his second wife Rebecca Cutler, who were married on September 3, 1715.[2] When he was three years old, his family moved to Stoughton, Massachusetts, a town located seventeen miles south of Boston. Sherman's formal education did not extend beyond grammar school and his early career was spent as a shoe designer but he was blessed with the combination of an active thirst for learning, and access to a good library owned by his father as well as a Harvard educated parish minister, Rev. Samuel Dunbar, who took him under his wing.[3]

In 1743, after his father's death, he moved (on foot) with his mother and siblings to New Milford, Connecticut, where in partnership with his brother, he opened the town's first store. He very quickly immersed himself in civil and religious affairs, rapidly becoming one of the town's leading citizens and eventually town clerk of New Milford. Due to his mathematical skill he became county surveyor of New Haven County in 1745, and began providing astronomical calculations for almanacs in 1748, publishing a popular Almanac himself from 1750 to 1761.[4]

In the opinion of Sherman's descendants he was a Freemason. They gave his Masonic apron to Yale University, which is now part of its historical collection. His membership is based only on tradition and is not supported by any proof.[5]


He married Elizabeth Hartwell of Stoughton, Massachusetts, on November 17, 1749 and had seven children; after her death on October 19, 1760 at the age of 34 (from a childbirth)[6] he married a second time on May 12, 1763, to Rebecca Minot Prescott of Danvers, Massachusetts, daughter of magistrate Benjamin Prescott, and had another eight children.[7] He had 15 children in all. He was grandfather of Roger Sherman Baldwin, William Maxwell Evarts, George Frisbie Hoar, Ebenezer Rockwood Hoar, and Sherman Day.

He was a first cousin twice removed of Eli Whitney, inventor of the cotton gin. Sherman's mother Mehitable Wellington and Whitney's great-grandmother Elizabeth Wellington were siblings. It has been suggested that both of them were descended from Edward I of England.

Watergate-era prosecutor Archibald Cox, famous for his firing during the Saturday Night Massacre was a direct descendant of Roger Sherman.

Legal, political career

Despite the fact that he had no formal legal training, Sherman was urged to read for the bar exam by a local lawyer and was admitted to the Bar of Litchfield, Connecticut in 1754, and chosen to represent New Milford in the Connecticut General Assembly from 1755 to 1758 and from 1760 to 1761.[8] In 1766 he was elected to the Upper House of the Connecticut General Assembly, where he served until 1785.[9]

He was appointed justice of the peace in 1762, judge of the court of common pleas in 1765, and justice of the Superior Court of Connecticut from 1766 to 1789,[10] when he left to become a member of the United States Congress.[11] He was also appointed treasurer of Yale College, and awarded an honorary Master of Arts degree. He was a professor of religion for many years, and engaged in lengthy correspondences with some of the greatest theologians of the time.

In 1783 he and Richard Law were appointed to massively revise the confused and archaic Connecticut statutes, which they accomplished with great success.[12] In 1784 he was elected the first Mayor of New Haven, which office he held until his death.[13]

Continental Congress

At the start of the Revolutionary War Sherman was appointed to the Connecticut Governor's Council of Safety and also commissary to the Connecticut Troops. He was elected to the Continental Congress in 1774 and served very actively throughout the War, earning high esteem in the eyes of his fellow delegates and serving on the Committee of Five that drafted the Declaration of Independence.[14]

Constitutional Convention

During the Constitutional Convention of 1777, summoned into existence to amend the Articles of Confederation, Sherman offered what came to be called the Great Compromise. In this plan, the people would be represented in the house by proportional representation in one branch of the legislature, called the House of Representatives. The states would be represented in another house called the Senate. Each state had a representative for every 30,000 people. In the upper house, on the other hand, each state was guaranteed two senators, no matter their size. This plan reconciled the interests of larger states and smaller states. It also provided a middle ground for those who favored either a strong or weak federal government.[15]


Sherman is especially notable for being the only person to sign all four great state papers of the United States: the United States Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Association, the Articles of Confederation, and the United States Constitution. Only one other person Robert Morris signed 3 of these documents (not the Articles of Association).

He was an important figure from the American Revolutionary War era and was prominent in the vital designs that helped produce the structure of the United States government. His role in introducing the Great Compromise was among his highest achievements. He attributed his own rise from humble circumstances to hard work and honesty, and hoped that these virtues would characterize life in the new republic.

The town of Sherman, Connecticut is named in honor of Roger Sherman.

Sherman Avenue in central Madison, Wisconsin is named in honor of Roger Sherman. Most of the main streets in Downtown Madison are named after signers of the United States Constitution. Naturally, there is also a Sherman Avenue in New Haven, which extends into neighboring Hamden.

He is buried in the Grove Street Cemetery in New Haven, and his grave is the center of the city's 4th of July celebrations.

The official name of the policy debate team at Western Connecticut State University is the "Roger Sherman Debate Society."


  1. The Architect of the Capitol, Roger Sherman. Roger Sherman Retrieved December 22, 2007.
  2. Boutell, 16.
  3. Boutell, 18-19.
  4. Boutell, 24-35.
  5. Denslow.
  6. Boutell, 40.
  7. Boutell, 44-45.
  8. Boutell, 36-37.
  9. Boutell, 43-44.
  10. Boutell, 43.
  11. Boutell, 192.
  12. Boutell, 114-15.
  13. Boutell, 42.
  14. Boutell, 95.
  15. Boutell, 137-39.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • The Architect of the Capitol. Roger Sherman. Roger Sherman Retrieved December 22, 2007.
  • Boardman, Roger Shermam. Roger Sherman, Signer and Statesman. New York: Da Capo Press, [1938] 1971. ISBN 9780306704123
  • Boutell, Lewis Henry. The Life of Roger Sherman. Chicago: A.C. McClurg & Co., 1896.
  • Boyd, Julian P. "Roger Sherman: Portrait of a Cordwainer Statesman." New England Quarterly 5 (1932): 221-36.
  • Collier, Christopher. Roger Sherman’s Connecticut: Yankee Politics and the American Revolution. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1971 ISBN 9780819540355
  • Denslow, William R. 10,000 Famous Freemasons from K to Z, Part Two. Kila, MT: Kessinger Publishing, 2004. ISBN 1-4179-7579-2
  • Gerbr, Scott D. "Roger Sherman and the Bill of Rights." Polity 28 (Summer 1996): 521-540.
  • Hoar, George Frisbie. The Connecticut Compromise. Roger Sherman, the Author of the Plan of Equal Representation of the States in the Senate, and Representation of the People in Proportion to Numbers in the House. Worcester, MA: Press of C. Hamilton, 1903.
  • Rommel, John G. Connecticut’s Yankee Patriot: Roger Sherman. Hartford: American Revolution Bicentennial Commission of Connecticut, 1980. ISBN 9780918676207

External links

All links retrieved December 15, 2022.

Preceded by:
Mayors of New Haven, Connecticut
1784 – 1793
Succeeded by:
Elizur Goodrich
Preceded by:
William S. Johnson
United States Senator (Class 3) from Connecticut
Succeeded by: Stephen M. Mitchell


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