Thomas McKean

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Founding Fathers
Thomas McKean
State Delaware
Religion Christian- Presbyterian [1]
Founding Documents Declaration of Independence

Thomas McKean (b. March. 19, 1734; d. June 24, 1817) is a founding father of America. He was lawyer, a member of the Delaware Assembly, a delegate to the Stamp Act Congress, and Delaware delegate to the Continental Congress that signed the Declaration of Independence. Also, a colonel in the New Jersey militia during the American revolution, and committee member that would help draw up the Articles of Confederation. McKean was President of Delaware, President of the Continental Congress, Chief Justice of Pennsylvania, and Governor of Pennsylvania for nine years.

Early life

Thomas was born in New London, Chester County, Pennsylvania to father William McKean, a direct descendant of Ireland and mother Letitia Finney. He would have a private education from Dr. Francis Allison, also of Ireland. As a student he served as the clerk of the prothonotory Court of Common Pleas for the county of New Castle. Thomas was admitted to the bar in Delaware before the age of 21.[2] His first wife Mary Borden died in 1773, leaving him with six children. Thomas remarried Sarah Armitage of New Castle and had five more children.


McKean's first political office was deputy Attorney General to Sussex County in 1756. In 1757, appointed clerk of the Assembly of Delaware, then elected as a delegate. He would serve as trustee of the loan office. In 1772, he was chosen Speaker of the Assembly of Delaware. In 1775, a delegate to the Stamp Act Congress. During Congressional session of 1776, he was a member of the committee to state the rights of the colonies as well as a member of the secret committee to contract for the importation of arms.[3] McKean was adamant that the British King had no standing with the colonies, "no right to regulate American affairs in any way."

A few days after signing the Declaration of Independence, he left Congress to serve as colonel in command of the Fourth Battalion of the Pennsylvania Associators,[4] to assist George Washington at Perth Amboy, New Jersey. The Associators were militia troops assembled by Benjamin Franklin in 1747. McKean served as President of Congress beginning in 1781, after Samuel Huntington resigned for health reasons.[5] After the Surrender of Cornwallis at the Battle of Yorktown, McKean worked to pass resolutions thanking the Continental Army for their service and bravery.[6][7]

While acting in the double capacity as President of Delaware and Chief Justice of Pennsylvania, he wrote John Adams that he was "hunted like a fox by the enemy, compelled to remove my family five times in three months, and at last fixed them in a little log-house on the banks of the Susquehanna, but they were soon obliged to move again on account of the incursions of the Indians."[8][9]

In 1799, McKean (formerly a Federalist)[10] ran for Governor of Pennsylvania on the Democratic-Republican ticket.[11] Being both Governor and Chief Justice came with political pitfalls, and in 1808 he was the subject of an impeachment from the governorship. However, his friends and close associates were able to indefinitely postpone final proceedings.[12]


McKean retired from public service in 1812. He died at the age of 83. He is buried at Laurel Hill Cemetery.