NPS Logo

Historical Background

Biographical Sketches

Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings

Text and History of Declaration

Suggested Reading

Signers of the Declaration
Biographical Sketches

Roger Sherman
Roger Sherman

By dint of self-education, hard work, and business acumen, Roger Sherman soared above his humble origins to prominence in local, State, and National political affairs. He was a member of the committee that drafted the Declaration of Independence. He and Robert Morris were the only men to sign the three bulwark documents of the Republic: the Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation, and Constitution. Twice married, Sherman fathered 15 children.

In 1723, when Sherman was 2 years of age, his family relocated from his Newton, Mass., birthplace to Dorchester (present Stoughton). As a boy, he was spurred by a desire to learn, and read widely in his spare time to supplement his minimal education at a common school. But he spent most of his waking hours helping his father with farming chores and learning the cobbler's trade from him. In 1743, or 2 years after his father's death, Sherman joined an elder brother who had settled at New Milford, Conn.

Residence of Roger Sherman, in New Haven, Conn., from 1768 until his death in 1793. (Lithograph by an unknown artist, from William Brotherhead, The Book of the Signers, 1861, Library of Congress.)

Purchasing a store, becoming county surveyor, and winning a variety of town offices, Sherman prospered and assumed leadership in the community. Without benefit of a legal education, he was admitted to the bar in 1754 and embarked upon a distinguished judicial and political career. In the period 1755-61, except for a brief interval, he served as a representative in the colonial legislature and held the offices of justice of the peace and county judge. Somehow he also eked out time to publish an essay on monetary theory and a series of almanacs incorporating his own astronomical observations and verse.

In 1761, abandoning his law practice, Sherman moved to New Haven, Conn. There he managed a store that catered to Yale students and another one in nearby Wallingford. He also became a friend and benefactor of Yale College, functioning for many years as its treasurer.

Meanwhile, Sherman's political career had blossomed. He rose from justice of the peace and county judge to an associate judge of the Connecticut Superior Court and to representative in both houses of the colonial assembly. Although opposed to extremism, he early joined the fight against Britain. He supported nonimportation measures and headed the New Haven committee of correspondence.

Sherman was a longtime and influential Member of the Continental Congress (1774-81 and 1783-84). He won membership on the committees that drafted the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation, as well as those concerned with Indian affairs, national finance, and military matters. To solve economic problems, at both the National and State levels, he advocated high taxes rather than excessive borrowing or the issuance of paper currency. While in Congress, Sherman remained active in State and local politics, continuing to hold the office of judge of the Connecticut Superior Court, as well as membership on the council of safety. In 1783 he helped codify Connecticut's statutory laws. The next year, he was elected mayor of New Haven (1784-86).

Sherman could not resist the lure of national service. In 1787 he represented his State at the Constitutional Convention, in which he played a major role. He conceived and introduced the Connecticut, or so-called Great, Compromise, which broke a deadlock between the large and small States by providing for a dual legislative system—representation by proportion of population in the lower house and equal representation in the upper house. He was also instrumental in Connecticut's ratification of the Constitution.

Sherman capped his career by serving as U.S. Representative (1789-91) and Senator (1791-93), espousing the Federalist cause. He died at New Haven in 1793 at the age of 72 and is buried in the Grove Street Cemetery.

Drawing: Oil, 1874-75, by Thomas Hicks, after Ralph Earl (Earle), Independence National Historical Park.

Previous Next
Last Updated: 04-Jul-2004