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Biographical Sketches

Richard Bassett
Richard Bassett

Bassett was a well-to-do planter and lawyer who also enjoyed careers as soldier, judge, legislator, and Governor. At the Constitutional Convention, he played a silent role and confined himself to casting votes on the issues as they arose.

Bassett (Basset) was born in Cecil County, Md., in April 1745. After his tavern-keeper father deserted his mother, he was reared by a relative, Peter Lawson, from whom he later inherited Bohemia Manor (Md.) estate. He read for the law at Philadelphia and in 1770 received a license to practice in Dover, Del. Prospering as a lawyer-planter, he eventually came to own not only Bohemia Manor, but also homes in Dover and Wilmington.

During the Revolution, Bassett captained a troop of Dover cavalry militia, and served on the Delaware council of safety. Subsequently, he participated in the constitutional convention and sat in both the upper and lower houses of the legislature. In 1786, on behalf of his State, he took part in the Annapolis Convention.

At the U.S. Constitutional Convention the next year, Bassett attended diligently but made no speeches, served on no committees, and cast no critical votes. Like several other delegates of estimable reputation and talent, he allowed others to make the major steps.

Bassett subsequently went on to a bright career in the State and Federal governments. In the Delaware ratifying convention, he joined in the 30-0 vote for the Constitution. Subsequently, in the years 1789-93, he served as a U.S. Senator. In that capacity, he voted in favor of the power of the President to remove governmental officers and against Hamilton's plan for the Federal assumption of State debts.

In 1793 Bassett returned to Delaware. From then until 1799 he held the chief justiceship of the court of common pleas. Espousing the Federalist cause in the 1790's, he served as a Presidential elector, on behalf of John Adams, in 1797. Two years later, Bassett was elected as Governor of Delaware and continued in that post until 1801. That year, he became one of President Adams' "midnight" appointments, as a judge of the U.S. Circuit Court. Subsequently, the Jeffersonian Republicans abolished his judgeship, and he spent the rest of his life in retirement.

Twice married, to Ann Ennals and a woman named Bruff, Bassett fathered several children. He was a devout Methodist, held religious meetings at Bohemia Manor, and financially supported the church. He died in 1815 at the age of 70 and is interred at the Wilmington and Brandywine Cemetery, Wilmington, Del.

Drawing: Crayon drawing (undated) by Charles B. J. Fevret de Saint-Memin. Baltimore Museum of Art.

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Last Updated: 29-Jul-2004