Today's Politicos vs The Words and Deeds of The Founders
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Roger Sherman—The Forgotten Founder

“The question is, not what rights naturally belong to man, but how they may be most equally and effectually guarded in society.” Roger Sherman

Roger ShermanSculptors haven’t chiseled a lot of marble to honor Roger Sherman, yet he was one of the most important Founding Fathers. He was the only Founder to sign all the major documents of the era, and he was on the final committees for the Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution. At the Constitutional Convention, Sherman proposed and engineered approval of the Great Compromise which gave each state two senators.  He was a small businessman who had once owned two general stores, but he became impoverished because he invested his life savings in Connecticut bonds to support the Revolution. Throughout his life, he was a major benefactor of Yale, acting as the university’s treasurer for many years and promoting construction of a college chapel. After ratification of the Constitution, Sherman was first a congressman and then a senator for a short period before his death.

What did his contemporaries think of him?

Thomas Jefferson said: “That is Mr. Sherman of Connecticut, a man who has never said a foolish thing in his life.”

John Adams called him a best friend and “one of the strongest pillars of the revolution.”

An opponent complained that, “he is cunning as the devil and if you attack him, you ought to know him well. He is not easily managed, but if he suspects you are trying to take him in, you may as well catch an eel by the tail.”

William Pierce, in his constitutional notes wrote, “He deserves infinite praise, no man has a better heart nor a clearer head. If he cannot embellish he can furnish thoughts that are wise and useful. He is an able politician, and extremely artful in accomplishing any particular object; it is remarked that he seldom fails.”

Fisher Ames, a fellow congressman, said, “If I am absent, during the discussion of a subject, and consequently know not on which side to vote, I always look at Roger Sherman, for I am sure if I vote with him I shall vote right.”

Patrick Henry said he was one of the greatest statesmen he ever knew.

And George Washington always visited his home when he was in New Haven.

If his contemporaries thought so highly of Roger Sherman, why do we hear so little about him today? Part of the reason would be his age. At the Constitutional Convention, he was sixty-six, and died before Washington finished his first term. We tend to forget our history between winning independence and Washington’s inaugural. He was also a terse, ineloquent speaker leaving few memorable quotes. (There are a few gems, however, like, “When you are in the minority, talk; when you are in the majority, vote.”)

Roger Sherman may also be ignored because he was a devout Christian and insisted on Constitutional protection of state rights—two subjects highly unpopular with many historians.

Most of the smart set finds it preposterous that the states should check national power. They believe most of the bad things that have happened in our domestic history were done by the states, and the national government must exert heavy control over the states for the good of the people. As a result, they have diminished the protection of state rights that Sherman and his fellow delegates built into our constitutional system. This is a huge miscalculation. The states didn’t oppress people or suppress their rights, government did, and there have been abuses at every level of government. The Founders understood that government is power and power corrupts. They wanted the federal government to check abuses at the state level, but they equally wanted the states to check runaway national power.

In his day, Roger Sherman was called the old puritan. He was outspoken about his faith: “I believe that there is one only living and true God, existing in three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.” Many today would dismiss this as not only quaint, but possibly offensive to those of other faiths, and downright insulting to non-believers. To them, this is not the kind of example we want to put in front of our children. Better we ignore this unabashed Christian.

Yale Chapel

Roger Sherman was certainly unembarrassed by his faith, but nobody in his time thought that was unusual. If he returned today, he would be appalled at the machinations we go through to create religiously sterile public areas. When he saw our denuded states and unbridled power at the national level, he would probably say, “I told you so.”

Roger Sherman was an omnipresent patriot during our founding. He was essential to the revolution, the Constitutional Convention, and the Bill of Rights. He was revered by his contemporaries, yet we have forgotten about him today. We’re in trouble because we’re ignorant about the founding principles.  To restore our republic, we first need to restore the Founding Fathers to their rightful place of honor.

 

James D. Best is the author of Tempest at Dawn, a novel about the 1787 Constitutional Convention.

8 comments

1 Keety { 03.22.11 at 9:48 am }

Don’t be silly. Christians have never been more mainstream, more accepted, more respected and revered than they are today. Short of AIPAC, they hold every scrap of political power there is in Washington. I don’t know a single Christian who is or ever was embarassed by their faith– and the insinuation that Christians are faith-shamed today is absolutely ridiculous. That’s like asking why there isn’t white man’s history month. It’s not that you aren’t deserving– it is everyday is White American Christian day.

Roger Sherman was well respected by his peers, sought his guidance from his religion, and was open about it– there is no shortage of politicians today who do the same. Saying that his Christianity is a credible reason for “why America forgot!” has got to be the silliest thing I’ve heard. We know about most of the Founding Fathers through historians. They chose who and what to write about, and wrote about the most prominent people in their very subjective view. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but Big Government isn’t keeping Roger Sherman out of the history books because he was a Christian man. There is no anti-Christian racket populated by American historians. We haven’t heard about Roger Sherman because he died before he did more than sign some papers. He was too old to serve in the military at the time of the Revolution. No one is oppressing Christians– I promise.

P.S. Some research into the architect of the Three-Fifths compromise would really round out this blog post.

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James D. Best Reply:

Very revealing.

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topol Reply:

” No one is oppressing Christians– I promise.”

May I ask what planet you are from…or perhaps you are a time traveler from decades past.

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Dylana Reply:

More Christians have been martyred in the 20th century alone that in all the centuries before. I don’t know where you are getting this information from. Christians are the most persecuted out of all religions.
True, Roger Sherman is probably less heard of than other historical figures for reasons other than his religion. I mean, considering most political figures of this time were Christian. Christians are oppressed in this age though.

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Kerissa Reply:

The reason they ignore Roger Sherman, is the same reason that they make Jefferson, Franklin and Washington to look like they are not of the Faith. It is a very grave thing when the very religion that this country was founded on is being purposefully crowded out of text books, and being replaced with the teachings of Islam.

And sadly, yes Christians are being very much persecuted. Go to Afghanistan and go street preaching. You will soon find out how respected our religion is. Though the Christian religion may seem to be the most popular and respected faith of mankind, this is an illusion and a very good one. Go to the most popular church in your area, go up to the first person and ask them this, “What wonderful thing has the Lord taught you through His Word this week?” I can almost promise you that they will either avoid the question, or answer with something contrary to Scripture.
Keety, perhaps the people in your area are more solid in their faith, but I live in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Here there are few real Christians who would stand up for their love for Christ.
More than anything I would like to say that I have never met a faith-shamed Christian, but alas! It cannot be so. For I have met many, and will most likely meet many more.
May God preserve this country for His glory!

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2 unanamous { 08.15.13 at 4:46 am }

I loved your report thanks a lot

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3 Steven Folks { 10.08.14 at 8:21 pm }

There are several sites that attribute the following quote to Roger Sherman: “Sad will be the day when the American people forget their traditions and their history, and so longer remember that the country they love, the institutions they cherish, and the freedom they hope to preserve, were born from the throes of armed resistance to tyranny, and nursed in the rugged arms of fearless men.”

This is a great quote but is it spurious? I have been unable to independently verify its authenticity. If anyone has a source please advise.

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nicole monsees Reply:

The Roger Sherman quote you refer to is falsely attributed to the signer of the Declaration of Independence. It is from an essay, “What True Patriotism Demands of the American Citizen” by a “Roger Sherman” … and that essay refers to events, like a speech by Daniel Webster that occurred after 1820 when the signer died in 1793.

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