By Randolph Higgins and Hannah Feldman
A little less than 240 years ago, the Continental Congress signed the Declaration of Independence. With the completion of this document, the fight for American Independence had officially begun. Nearly 13 years later, the new country laid out a new system of laws and guiding principles for itself: the Constitution.
There were only five men who were present for both of these historic events. These men were among America’s first overachievers. They went above the call of their patriotic and civic duty by signing not one, but two of America’s most important documents. Their accomplishments, however, are not limited to these patriotic feats: each man did so much more. Take a look!
Benjamin Franklin: (1706–1790)
Though Franklin received little education, the Boston native served as a printer’s apprentice. In 1723, he ran away to Philadelphia, the city that would serve as his base of operations for the rest of his life. Over the years, he worked as a printer, responsible for The Pennsylvania Gazette and Poor Richard’s Almanac, among others. He worked as the first Postmaster General, established a public hospital, a volunteer fire company, and a college that would later become the University of Pennsylvania. Though he lacked a formal education, Franklin was always interested in academics. He was a prolific inventor, who redesigned the oven and the glass harmonica. He was also a scientist, most famous for his experiments with electricity that produced shocking results. He was a student of Enlightenment philosophy. This theory drove him to join the revolutionary cause. Additionally, he was an author of the 1754 Albany Plan, represented Pennsylvania in the Continental Congresses, and served on the committee that designed the Declaration of Independence. He then went on to be a representative of the new country. He spent 1776 to 1785 overseas as a popular American representative in France. After, he served in the Constitutional Convention. He signed the document as one of the most famous members of the Convention, second only to George Washington. Franklin died in 1790 at 84, an American Founding Father.
Did You Know: Benjamin Franklin was the only person to sign three of America’s most important founding documents: the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the 1783 peace treaty, ending the American Revolution?
Roger Sherman: (1721–1793)
Though given little education, Massachusetts native Roger Sherman became a prominent Connecticut lawyer and businessman. Sherman was also active in politics, working as a representative in the colonial assembly. By 1776, he had become a member of the Continental Congress and served as a member on the committee to draft the Declaration of Independence, among others. In fact, Sherman was so taken by his duties at Philadelphia that he asked Connecticut’s governor to suspend his local responsibilities. Leaving Congress in 1781, he returned to Connecticut and represented the state in the Constitutional Convention. Sherman helped draft the New Jersey Plan and made well over 100 speeches.
Did You Know: Even though he was a lawyer and a politician, Sherman, like his father, was a cobbler by trade?
Robert Morris: (1734–1806):
English-born Morris moved to Philadelphia at the age of 10, where he was educated and apprenticed to a local merchant. By the age of 18, Morris had entered into the import-export business, which made him fabulously rich. Hit hard by the French and Indian War, and later the 1765 Stamp Act, Morris became more in favor of the revolutionary cause. During the American Revolution, he financed Washington’s poorly clad troops and hired privateers to harass British merchants in hopes of disrupting trade. Though he had lost most of his fortune by the war’s end, he helped establish a National Bank and served as Financial Officer (Secretary of the Treasury) before returning to represent Pennsylvania at the Constitutional Convention.
Did You Know: Although Alexander Hamilton served as the first Secretary of the Treasury after the Constitution was ratified, President Washington first offered the job to Robert Morris?
George Read: (1733–1798)
Born in the American colonies, George Read was the son of an English landowner, John Read, who had moved to the New World from Ireland some years previously. George Read grew up in Delaware, was educated in Philadelphia, and admitted to the Bar in 1753. Like many members of the Continental Congress, he showed great promise as a lawyer, and in 1763, he was appointed Attorney General of three Delaware counties. In 1774 he was appointed to the Continental Congress. Three years later, when the British captured Delaware governor, Read took the empty seat. In 1779 he retired from political life for health reasons, but three years later he returned to law. Starting in 1776, he represented Delaware at the Constitutional Convention and then served his state for two terms as a Senator before his official retirement.
Did You Know: George Read opposed the Declaration of Independence and initially voted against independence? However, he came around to the idea, supporting the patriots’ cause throughout the war and signed the founding document in 1776.
George Clymer: (1739–1813)
Born in Philadelphia in 1739, George Clymer was orphaned at an early age and was apprenticed to become a merchant. He became a leader of protests against controversial British laws during the 1760s, including the Stamp and Tea Acts. A decade later, he was elected to the Continental Congress in 1776. There he served on several committees and resigned the following year. He then served in the Pennsylvania Legislature and was a representative in the Constitutional Convention and eventually signed the Constitution. In 1789 he was elected to Congress. He was directly involved in the lead-up to the Whiskey Rebellion, as he was placed as the head of the Pennsylvania tax department in 1791. He served as head of several Philadelphia societies, died in 1813 and was buried in Trenton, NJ.
Did You Know: In addition to being a patriot, George Clymer was an art enthusiast. He served as the first president of the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts, founded in 1805?