David Brearley

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Founding Fathers
David Brearly.jpg
David Brearley
State New Jersey
Religion Episcopalian
Founding Documents United States Constitution

David Brearley (June 11, 1745 - August 16, 1790) was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, representing the state of New Jersey.[1]

"Although an advocate of the interests of the small States at the Convention, where he chaired the committee on postponed matters, lawyer-jurist David Brearly was a reasonable man who showed a willingness to compromise. He had been a fervent Revolutionary patriot, and during the war served as an officer in the New Jersey militia". [2]

Early life

Brearley, sometimes also spelled as Brearly, was descended from a Yorkshire, England, family, one of whose members migrated to New Jersey around 1680. Signer Brearly was born on June 11, 1745[3] at Spring Grove near Trenton, New Jersey. He was reared in the area, and around the year 1763 he attended but did not graduate from the nearby College of New Jersey (later Princeton). He chose law as a career and originally practiced at Allentown, NJ, and in a few years stood foremost at the bar of his native State.[4] About 1767 he married Elizabeth Mullen.


Brearly avidly backed the Revolutionary cause. The British arrested him for high treason, but a group of patriots freed him. In 1776 he took part in the convention that drew up the state constitution. During the War for Independence, he rose from a captain to a colonel in the militia.

In 1779 Brearly was elected as chief justice of the New Jersey supreme court, a position he held until 1789. He presided over the precedent-setting case of Holmes v. Walton. His decision, rendered in 1780, represented an early expression of the principle of judicial review. The next year, the College of New Jersey bestowed an honorary M.A. degree on him.

Constitutional Convention

In consideration of his distinguished talents as a lawyer and statesman, he was unanimously elected a member of the grand convention which met at Philadelphia, in 1787, for framing the constitution of the United States, and his name is affixed to that charter of our liberties. He was a member of the New Jersey delegation to the Convention along with Jonathan Dayton, William Houston, William Livingston, and William Paterson.

Brearly was 42 years of age when he participated in the Constitutional Convention. Although he did not rank among the leaders, he attended the sessions regularly. A follower of Paterson, who introduced the New Jersey Plan, Brearly opposed proportional representation of the states and favored one vote for each of them in Congress. He also chaired the Committee on Postponed Matters.

Brearly's subsequent career was short, for he had only 3 years to live. He presided at the New Jersey convention that ratified the Constitution in 1788, and served as a presidential elector in 1789.

In 1789 he was appointed by President Washington, chief justice of the State of New Jersey, which office he held with distinguished honour to himself and his country until his death, which took place at his seat, near Trenton, August 23, 1790, in the twenty-seventh year of his age. Mr. Brearley was cut off in the bloom of his powers, and when the highest hopes were entertained of his future usefulness. To have reached the position of chief justice at the age of twenty-six years, was an almost unprecedented instance of the triumph of youthful genius, and sufficient of itself to inspire his friends with glorious anticipations. As an advocate he was always eloquent and forcible; and as a judge he was learned and impartial.

Personal life

When free from his judicial duties, Brearly devoted much energy to lodge and church affairs. He was one of the leading members of the Masonic Order in New Jersey, as well as state vice president of the Society of the Cincinnati, an organization of former officers of the Revolutionary War. In addition, he served as a delegate to the Episcopal General Conference (1786) and helped write the church's prayer book. In 1783, following the death of his first wife, he had married Elizabeth Higbee.


Brearly died in Trenton at the age of 45 in August 16, 1790. He was buried there at St. Michael's Episcopal Church." [5][6]


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