Monday, September 24, 2012

President Thomas McKean

Thomas McKean

  Copyright © 2008 Stan Klos and Forgotten Founders, Inc.
Click Here to view the US Mint & Coin Acts 1782-1792

Second President of the United States 
in Congress Assembled
July 10, 1781 to November 5, 1781   

Copyright © Stan Klos, President Who? Forgotten Founders 2004 & 2008 

Students and Teachers of US History this is a video of Stanley and Christopher Klos presenting America's Four United Republics Curriculum at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School. The December 2015 video was an impromptu capture by a member of the audience of Penn students, professors and guests that numbered about 200.

Presidents of the United States in Congress Assembled

March 1, 1781
July 6, 1781
July 9, 1781
Declined Office
July 10, 1781
November 4, 1781
November 5, 1781
November 3, 1782
November 4, 1782
November 2, 1783
November 3, 1783
June 3, 1784
November 30, 1784
November 22, 1785
November 23, 1785
June 5, 1786
June 6, 1786
February 1, 1787
February 2, 1787
January 21, 1788
January 22, 1788
January 21, 1789

Thomas McKean of Delaware was elected President of the United States in Congress Assembled (USCA) on July 10, 1781 serving until November 4, 1781. This signer of the Declaration of Independence was born in New London, Chester County, Pennsylvania on March 19, 1734 and died in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, June 24, 1817. McKean’s parents were both natives of Ireland. He studied with the Reverend Francis Allison, who was at that time, a renowned teacher of New Castle, Delaware. McKean was of Scottish-Irish descent and was a man of energetic personality, "with a thin face, hawk's nose and hot eyes."   An imposing figure who was over six feet tall, McKean donned a large cocked hat and gold-headed cane adding to his air of authority. John Adams described him as "one of the three men in the Continental Congress who appeared to me to see more clearly to the end of the business than any others in the body."

McKean inherited a Pennsylvania network of important family friends that were a great asset in his career pursuits of law and politics. He was admitted to the bar before he was twenty-one years old, appointed deputy attorney general of Sussex County a year later, and served as clerk of the assembly from 1757 to 1759. In 1762 McKean, along with Caesar Rodney, revised the laws of the old colonial assembly established before 1752. In October 1762 McKean was elected to the Colonial General Assembly serving in that capacity for seventeen successive years. 

Prior to this, Thomas McKean was a trustee of the loan-office for New Castle County for twelve years, and in 1765 he was elected to the Stamp Act Congress. It was proposed that the votes in the Congress were to be taken according to the each colony’s population that was represented. McKean, realizing that Delaware’s influence would have been insignificant, successfully brokered a resolution giving, each colony one vote and thus an equal voice in the proceedings.

McKean was one of the most influential members of the Stamp Act Congress, serving on the com­mittee that drew the memorial to the House of Lords and Commons and, with John Rutledge and Philip Livingston, revised its proceedings. When business was concluded on the last day of its ses­sion, and Timothy Ruggles, the president of the body refused to sign the memorial of rights and grievances, McKean arose, and insisted that the president give his reasons for his refusal. After a pause Ruggles remarked, "it was against his conscience." McKean then rang rhetorical changes on the word "conscience" so long and loudly that a duel chal­lenge was given and accepted between himself and Ruggles, all in the presence of the congress. Ruggles hastily left the next morning at daybreak, so that the duel could not take place.

In July of the same year McKean was appointed the notary of the lower counties of Delaware, judge of the court of common pleas, and of the orphans' court of New Castle. In November of 1765 he ordered that all the proceedings of his court be recorded on un-stamped paper and was the first court in the colonies that established such a rule against British taxation. He was appointed tax collector of the New Castle port in 1771 and elected Speaker of the House of Representatives of the Colonial Assemble in 1772. In 1774 he was elected a member of the First Continental Congress.

In September 1774, he had just married his second wife, Sarah Armitage of New Castle. His first wife, Mary Borden, the daughter of Joseph Borden of Bordentown, New Jersey, and sister of the wife of Francis Hopkinson, died in 1773, leaving him with six children. He would father five more children with his second wife.

McKean’s representation in the First Continental Congress was as a delegate of Pennsylvania’s three lower counties. This area, now known as Delaware, was governed by William Penn and his family from the onset of the Royal Pennsylvania Charter until 1774. William Penn, in 1682, established an assembly that had equal representation from the Lower Counties (New Castle, Kent and Sussex-upon-Delaware) and the Upper Counties (Chester, Philadelphia and Bucks). The assembly's meeting place alternated between the two largest towns in the 17th Century, Philadelphia and New Castle.

Once Philadelphia began to grow, its leaders resented the requirement to assemble in New Castle.  They were also averse to being subjected to the laws that resulted from the sparsely populated Lower Counties representation in the assembly. In 1704, the assembly agreed to pass laws separately for their respective upper and lower areas. The Lower Counties, however, remained beholden to Royal governor seated in Philadelphia
Seventy years later, with the formation of the First Continental Congress in 1774 "Delaware" was still referred to as "The Three Lower Counties on the Delaware River." It was not until June 15th, 1776 that the people of the Lower Counties of New Castle, Kent and Sussex-upon-Delaware declared themselves separate and independent from Great Britain and it colony of Pennsylvania.

McKean served in the Continental Congress and USCA representing Delaware from 1774 to 1783. McKean also served as chief justice of Pennsylvania from July 1777 until 1799 while occupying a seat in the “Delaware” legislature for seventeen successive years.[i]  During Second Continental Congress session in 1776, McKean served as 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.

More importantly, In June 1776, McKean returned to Delaware and gained authority for his delegation to vote for independence. The Declaration of Independence found an enthusiastic supporter in McKean who believed that the time had fully come for its unanimous adoption.  The first vote for independence, however, was not over the Declaration but for Richard Henry Lee’s Resolution for Independence.

Congress was called to order on July 1, 1776 at 9am and heated debate consumed most of that hot and humid Monday. The Declaration of Independence had been set aside to consider Richard Henry Lee’s Resolution for independence. Late in the day it was apparent that the delegates from Pennsylvania and South Carolina were not ready to pass the resolution. Additionally the two delegates from Delaware, George Read and Thomas McKean,  split postponing debate until the following day.   Moreover, the delegates from New York were still not empowered by their State legislature to cast a vote of either yes or no on the question of independence. 

On July 2, 1776, both Robert Morris and John Dickinson, opponents to the resolution, “abstained” by not attending the historic session. The remaining  delegation carried Pennsylvania’s vote for independence.[ii]  South Carolina delegate Arthur Middleton, who had replaced former Continental Congress President Henry Middleton,   changed the colony's position to yes on independence in direct violation of his father’s directive.  

National Collegiate Honor’s Council Partners in the Park Independence Hall Class of 2017 students at Independence Hall with Ranger Jay holding the September 1787, American Museum printing of the U.S. Constitution and Ranger Ed Welch holding John Dunlap's 1776 Journals of Congress opened, respectively to the U.S. Constitution of 1787 and Declaration of Independence. They are flanked by National Collegiate Honors Council Students and NCHC President, Dr. Naomi Yavneh Klos - – For more information visit our National Park and NCHC Partners in the Park Class of 2017 website
Traveling 80 miles through a lightning storm, asthmatic and suffering from a serious facial cancer, delegate Caesar Rodney, who was summoned[iii]  by fellow delegate Thomas McKean, arrived in time to break Delaware’s dead­lock.  Rodney cast the third vote for Delaware and it was for independence. With this vote, all 12 colonies adopt­ed the resolution, introduced by Richard Henry Lee and John Adams, declaring ...that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.[iv]

Liberty Bell on tour at the New Orleans World's Fair in 1884

McKean, likewise, was one of the most active Delegates in securing the Declaration of Independence’s passage two days later. He was present when the final votes were taken but a few days after the vote, he left Congress to command a battalion of troops to assist Washington at Perth Amboy, New Jersey. On his return to Philadelphia, McKean stopped in Delaware where he encountered a committee urging him to prepare a new state constitution. McKean drew up the new constitution on the night of his arrival, and it was unanimously adopted by the Delaware Assembly the following day.

Despite this, McKean’s name did not appear on the Goddard Declaration of Independence Broadside printed in January 1777.   Consequently, there is considerable question as to when McKean did actually sign the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Some historians speculate that McKean was not available for the August 2, 1776 signing because of his Perth Amboy command in New Jersey and the Delaware constitution authorship.  In a letter years later addressed to Pennsylvania Secretary Alexander J. Dallas, in answer to an inquiry made relative to this omission, Mr. McKean writes:  

Modesty should not rob any man of his just honor, when by that honor, his modesty cannot be offended. My name is not in the printed journals of congress, as a party to the Declaration of Independence, and this, like an error in the first concoction, has vitiated most of the subsequent publications, and yet the fact is, that I was then a member of congress for the state Delaware, wa9 personally present in congress, and voted in favor of independence on the fourth of July, 1776, and signed the declaration alter it had been engrossed on parchment, where my name, in my own hand writing, still appears. Henry Wisner, of the state of New York, was also in congress, and voted for independence. … I do not know how the misstatement in the printed journal has happened. The manuscript public journal has no names annexed to the Declaration of Independence, nor has the secret journal; but it appears by the latter, that on the nineteenth day of July, 1776, the congress directed that it should be engrossed on parchment, and signed -by every member, and that it was so produced on the second of August, and signed. This is interlined in the secret journal, in the hand of Charles Thompson, the secretary. The present secretary of state, of the United States, and myself, have lately inspected the journals, and seen this. The journal was first printed by Mr. John Dunlap, in 1778, and probably copies, with the names then signed to it, were printed in August, 1776, and that Mr. Dunlap printed the names from one of them. I have now, sir, given you a true, though brief, history of this affair, and, as you are engaged in publishing a new edition of the Laws of Pennsylvania, I am obliged to you for affording the favorable opportunity of conveying to you this information, authorizing you to make any use of it you please.[v]

Biographer G.S. Rowe reports in his 1978 Thomas McKean biography on his signing of the  Declaration of Independence  that "To McKean's chagrin--and that of subsequent historians--he could not recall the specifics of his own signing of that historic document." (See Rowe page 398).  Rowe continues on a possible DOI signing in 1781 date, cites  McKean's last known letter of June 16,  1817) when "he claimed to have signed a public edition of the document in 1781 while he was preparing an edition of the laws of Pennsylvania, but it is unlikely that we will ever know when he signed the parchment [i.e. engrossed] copy." (See Rowe page 429, footnote 1).

What we do know now is that the "Journals of Congress Containing the Proceedings in the Year, 1776. Published by order of Congress. Volume II. York-Town, Pa., John Dunlap, 1778"  which were printed sometime after a May 1778 resolution of the Continental Congress reports the Declaration of Independence listing all the signers without McKean's.  

Therefore, we now can now definitively say the McKean signed it sometime after the printing of these Journals in 1778, the year he returned as a delegate to the Continental Congress,  bringing us a year and half closer to the 1781 claim.

McKean was also on the committee to form a new constitution for the fledgling nation.  The committee selected him to prepare and digest Benjamin Franklin’s Articles of Confederation into working draft for the Continental Congress.  The following day he completed the draft for consideration of the committee and other members of Congress.

In that same year, McKean’s talents were so much in demand that he served as chairman of the Pennsylvania committees of safety and inspec­tion as well as the Philadelphia committee of observation.  In 1777, while acting in the capacity of President of Delaware, Chief Justice of Pennsylvania, and a member of the US Continental Congress McKean describes his perils in a letter to his friend, John Adams:

I was honored with your letter of the 20th September last, and proud to find that I was not forgotten by one I so much esteem. You must have had your difficulties in these times, I know, I too have had my full share of the anxieties, cares & troubles attending the present war. For some time I was obliged to act as President of the Delaware State and as Chief Justice of this; General Howe had just landed at the head of Elk River, when I undertook to discharge those two great trusts. The consequence was to be hunted like a fox by the enemy and envied by those who ought to have been my friends. I was obliged to remove my family five times in a few months, and at last fixed them in a little Log house on the banks of the Susquehanna above an hundred miles from this; but safety was not to be found there, for they were soon obliged to remove again, occasioned by the incursions of the Indians. In December 1777 I went again into Congress, where for some months the United States had but nine voices and thirteen members, sometime only Eleven, and their affairs almost desperate. When the war is over we shall talk of these matters more at large - Cur jubes[vi] me renovare dolorem.[vii]

On November 15, 1777 after numerous postponements, amendments, and debates, the Articles of Confederation were finally agreed to in the York, Pennsylvania where the Continental Congress took refuge from the occupying British force in Philadelphia. The Articles of Confederation, however, owing to the objections made by the slates, were not signed by a majority of their representatives, until November 26, 1778.   On the February 22, 1779, Thomas McKean signed the articles on behalf of Delaware.  The final ratification of the Articles of Confederation did not occur, however, until March 1, 1781 due to Maryland’s refusal to accept the constitution until border disputes were settled with Pennsylvania, New York and Connecticut. 

Maryland finally ratified the Articles of Confederation on February 2nd, 1781, and sent its two delegates to assemble with the other state delegations and decide when to enact the new constitution and thus form the new Articles of Confederation Republic. Article I named the "Confederacy" and Article II named the new governing body:
I. The Stile of this Confederacy shall be "The United States of America".
II. Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not by this Confederation expressly delegated to the United States, in Congress assembled.
On February 20th, 1781, Daniel Carroll wrote Charles Carroll of Carrollton on presenting Maryland’sArticles of Confederation ratification resolution to the U.S. Continental Congress in Philadelphia:
On the first day of my appearing in Congress, I delivered the Act empowering the Delegates of Maryland to Subscribe the Articles of Confederation &c.! It was read, & entered on the Journals.[15]
On February 22, 1781, it was unanimously resolved by the U.S. Continental Congress that:
The delegates of Maryland having taken their seats in Congress with powers to sign the Articles of Confederation: Ordered, That Thursday next [March 1, 1781] be assigned for compleating the Confederation; and that a committee of three be appointed, to consider and report a mode for announcing the same to the public: the members, [Mr. George] Walton, Mr. [James] Madison, Mr. [John] Mathews.

Thursday, March 1, 1781:  "According to the order of the day, the honble John Hanson and Daniel Carroll, two of the delegates for the State of Maryland, in pursuance of the act of the legislature of that State, entitled "An act to empower the delegates of this State in Congress to subscribe and ratify the Articles of Confederation," which was read in Congress the 12 of February last, and a copy thereof entered on the minutes, did, in behalf of the said State of Maryland, sign and ratify the said articles, by which act the Confederation of the United States of America was completed, each and every of the Thirteen United States, from New Hampshire to Georgia, both included, having adopted and confirmed, and by their delegates in Congress, ratified the same, as follows:" [Journals continue with the full printing of the Articles of Confederation and its signers]. Image courtesy of the Collection.
According to the resolution, at high noon on March 1, 1781, after 39 months of ratification consideration, the Articles of Confederation were adopted by the U.S. Continental Congress as the first U.S. Constitution. By virtue of this ratification, the ever fluid U.S. Continental Congress ceased to exist and was replaced by the United States in Congress Assembled (USCA) governing body. The elated Minister of France was the first to address Samuel Huntington as “His Excellency the President of the United States, in Congress Assembled”.

March 12, 1781 Treasury letter referring to Samuel Huntington as "His Excellency, President of the United States in Congress Assembled." - Image Courtesy of 

With the U.S. Continental Congress dissolved and the first U.S. Constitution now in effect, the United States in Congress Assembled government was immediately challenged with the fact that the Articles of Confederation required that both the New Hampshire and Rhode Island, states with only one delegate present in the USCA, to be excluded from voting in the new assembly. This was particularly dicey because the day before the two delegates voted, as members of the Continental Congress, on numerous Treasury and Board of War resolutions required to conduct the war against Great Britain. Delaware Delegate Thomas Rodney, in his diary’s entry dated March 2nd, 1781, explained the conundrum faced by the USCA on Delegate voting in the new Congress:

The States of New Hampshire and Rhode Island having each but one Member in Congress, they became unrepresented by the Confirmation of the Confederation-By which not more than Seven nor less than two members is allowed to represent any State  -Whereupon General Sullivan, Delegate from New Hampshire moved  - That Congress would appoint a Committee of the States, and Adjourn till those States Could Send forward a Sufficient number of Delegates to represent them-Or that they would allow their Delegates now in Congress To give the Vote of the States until one More from each of those States was Sent to Congress to Make  their representation Complete.

He alleged that it was but just for Congress to do one or the other of them-for that the act of Congress by completing the Confederation ought not to deprive those States of their representation without giving them due notice, as their representation was complete before, & that they did not know when the Confederation would be completed. Therefore if the Confederation put it out of the power of Congress to allow the States vote in Congress because there was but one member from each them, they ought in justice to those States to appoint a Committee of the States, in which they would have an Equal Voice. This motion was seconded by Genl. Vernon from Rhode Island and enforced by arguments to the same purpose.

 But all their arguments were ably confuted by Mr. Burke of N.C. and others, and the absurdity of the motion fully pointed out, So that the question passed off without a Division. But it was the general opinion of Congress that those members might continue to sit in Congress, and debate & serve on Committees though they could not give the vote of their States.

It was unanimously agreed by the USCA that the Articles of Confederation was in full force and for a State to have a vote in the new Congress, unlike the U.S. Continental Congress, two or more delegates were required in accordance with Article V: "No State shall be represented in Congress by less than two, nor more than seven members."

The Articles of Confederation government was thus deemed to be in full force by the USCA and Samuel Huntington, not John Hanson as claimed by the State of Maryland, was its President. As irrefutable proof that Samuel Huntington's USCA was obliged to comply with the Articles of Confederation below is an image of two different Journals of Congress entries. The first entry is from the December 24th, 1778, Continental Congress vote tally that was taken while President Henry Laurens was presiding. The states of New Hampshire, Delaware, Rhode Island, and Georgia all had only one delegate present, and the States' votes of "ay" were registered as "ay" in the tally.

Thursday, December 24, 1778 Journals of Congress entry of the US Continental Congress vote on " the support of the charge against Brigadier Thompson, be rejected, and that the deposition of Colonel Noarth, produced last night by Brigadier Thompson in his own exculpation from the charge, be also rejected ... passed in the negative" Journals of Congress Containing the proceedings from January 1st, 1779 to Jan. 1st, 1780 PUBLISHED BY ORDER OF Congress, Philadelphia, by David Claypoole, VOLUME V. -- Image courtesy of the Collection.

The second entry is from the March 22nd, 1781, United States in Congress Assembled vote tally taken while President Samuel Huntington was presiding. The states of New Hampshire, Maryland, Rhode Island, and Georgia all had only one delegate present, and the States' votes of "ay" were registered as " * " having no effect in the tally.
Thursday, MARCH 22, 1781 Journals of Congress entry of the USCA vote "Resolved, That there be one deputy director of the military hospitals,in the Southern district subject to the general control of the director... So it passed in the negative." The Journals of Congress and the United States in Congress Assembled, For the Year 1781, Published By Order of Congress, Volume VII New York: Printed by John Patterson. -- Image courtesy of the Collection.

As a final "voting proof" that President Samuel Huntington presided as the first USCA President, here is a third entry from November 14th, 1781, United States in Congress Assembled vote tally taken while President John Hanson was presiding. The states of Connecticut and North Carolina had only one delegate present, and the States' votes of "ay" were also registered as " * " having no effect in the tally demonstrating that the USCA's votes, under President Hanson, were tallied just as the first USCA.

Wednesday, November 14, 1781 Journals of Congress entry of the USCA vote "That the first Tuesday of December next, be assigned for the consideration of the report of the committee, to whom were referred the cessions of New York, Virginia, Connecticut, and the petitions of the Indiana, Vandalia, Illionois, and Wabash companies.A motion was made by Mr. Smith, seconded by Mr. Varnum, to amend, by adding, "provided that eleven states shall be then represented." On the question to agree to the amendment, the yeas and nays being required by Mr. Varnum, ... So it passed in the negative." The Journals of Congress and the United States in Congress Assembled, For the Year 1781, Published By Order of Congress, Volume VII New York: Printed by John Patterson. -- Image courtesy of the Collection.
It was expected that the first USCA President, Samuel Huntington, would serve under the ratified Articles until the constitutionally prescribed election on the first Monday in November. 

On May 8th, however, Huntington applied for official leave as President and Congress designated the 10th of May for electing his successor.  No candidate was able to garnish more than two votes and Huntington continued in the chair.  On May 19th John Witherspoon wrote Richard Henry Lee about the expected length of Huntington’s tenure as President noting that:

The President of Congress asked Leave lately to go home and a Day was fixed for the Choice of another. The Ballots being taken upon that Day no one had more than two Votes so that we requested the President to continue & it was postponed sine die and I think it probable he will continue till the Fall.

By July President Huntington's health, like Hancock and Laurens before him, began to fail. The President, despite the pleadings of the delegates, tendered his resignation on July 6, 1781.

"The President having informed the United States in Congress assembled, that his ill state of health" ... not permit him to continue longer in the exercise of the duties of that office".[viii]

On July 8th, 1781 Thomas McKean wrote to Samuel Adams of the summer events:

“Since you left us we have been going on nearly in the old tract, tho' the General Assemblies of this State, Delaware and Maryland, by their late exertions (being at last thoroughly roused) have granted such effectual Aids, as must enable us in a little time to hold up our heads again. The Army under General Green has been successful; Augusta in Georgia and all the enemies posts in that State, except Savanna, are cer­tainly in our possession; and I believe Fort Ninety Six, and all other Posts of the enemy in South Carolina, except Charles-Town, are also wrested from them. There were an hundred barrels of powder, and a considerable quantity of other military Stores and provisions, found in Augusta, and about five hundred Prisoners taken there and in its neighborhood. A general exchange of prisoners has taken place to the Southward, and our good old friend General Gadsden is expected here in a few days. All the Refugees and Tories taken on our part have been given up for all our Militia taken by the enemy; this was agreed to without any reference to numbers or rank on either side.

A new President of Congress is to be chosen tomorrow, as Mr. Huntington will not continue any longer; this honor is going a begging; there is only one Gentleman, and he from the Southward, who seems willing to accept, but I question whether he will be elected. There are some amongst us, who are so fond of having a great and powerful man to look up to, that, tho' they may not like the name of King, seem anxious to confer kingly powers, under the titles of Dictator, Superintendent of Finance, or some such, but the majority do not yet appear to be so disposed.

The Harvests in Pennsylvania and the adjoining States promise to be double in quantity and better in quality than in any year during the last twenty, and the whole Country teems with fruit. In short that good Providence that has protected and blessed us hitherto, appears now to take us under his most particular care; for everything augurs well."[ix]

Surprisingly, this letter gives no indication on July 8th that Thomas McKean was even considering a candidacy for the first election, "this honor is going begging,"[x] of the President of the United States.

The first presidential election under the Articles of Confederation occurred on July 9th, 1781, and North Carolina Delegate Samuel Johnston was chosen the successor to the ailing Samuel Huntington.  The following day, however, Johnston refused the office.

The handwritten July 9th, 1781, Journals of the USCA do record that the following measure was passed after Johnston’s election and thus, if he took the chair, he was technically USCA President for a day:

The honble. Samuel Johnston was elected. 
A letter of this day, from the superintendant of finance was read:  
Ordered, That it be referred to a committee of three:
The members, Mr. Mathews, Mr. Carroll, Mr. Sullivan.

Historians, however, conclude that Samuel Johnston did not take the chair after his election on July 9th, 1781, as the business was so brief that it was not recorded in numerous print issues of the Journals.  The chair, they reason, must have remained with the Delegate or the USCA Secretary that was designated to preside over the election. This conclusion is substantiated by the Journals of the USCA reporting that, the following day, Samuel Johnston declined rather than "resigned" the office of President: 
Mr. [Samuel] Johnston having declined to accept the office of President, and offered such reasons as were satisfactory, the House proceeded to another election; and, the ballots being taken, the Hon. Thomas McKean was elected. [17]  
Delegate Thomas McKean  accepted the USCA Presidential office and began to preside over Congress on July 10th, 1781, four months before John Hanson was elected to the USCA Presidency.

USCA Journals 1781 printing open to the  July 9 & 10th, 1781 entries recording the elections of Samuel Johnston and Thomas McKean as Presidents of the United States in Congress Assembled four months before John Hanson's Presidency. - Image courtesy of the Collection.
McKean came into the presidency at the beginning of the Revolutionary War’s end. His first dispatch as President was military in nature issuing permission, on July 11th, to James and William Winthrop of Massachusetts “to occupy the barracks, standing without the fortifications on Governor's Island, in the harbor of Boston, for the purpose of a barn.”[xiii] His last letters in November of 1781 as President would also be military correspondence that congratulated plethora of military officers on their success at Yorktown.

Copyright © 2004 & 2008 President Who? Forgotten Founders
President Thomas McKean signs Joseph de L’ Etombe
Consul General of France U.S. Commission[xiv] – Stan Klos Collection

McKean's Presidency is most curious as he was elected as a Delegate of Delaware while he was serving as the Chief Justice of Pennsylvania. The opposition of many Pennsylvanians against his Presidency was vicious due to his affiliation with both States. Born in Pennsylvania, he remained stead­fast in his right to serve in both positions and did not resign the Chief Justice office.  In Congress, however, he maintained he represented Delaware despite his primary residence being in Philadelphia.

Since 1779, Chief Justice Thomas McKean resided on Philadelphia’s High street, now known as Market Street, near Second Street. On December 20, 1780, the Supreme Executive Council directed that the honorable Chief Justice be allowed to occupy Mr. Duche's house until July 1, 1781. The Reverend Duche had been chaplain to the First Continental Congress. Being of a “vacillating character,” after siding with the colonists, Duche joined the Tories. He was found guilty of high treason and his real estate consisting of the mansion, coach house, stables and four lots was confiscated.

On August 10, 1781 the Executive Council sold the house to Thomas McKean for £7750, Pennsylvania currency, subject to a ground rent of 232| bushels of wheat.

The house was located on the east side of Third Street, occupying the whole side of the square from Pine Street on the south to Union Street on the north, and thirty feet in depth.  It was "a large and splendid mansion in the Elizabethan style at the northeast corner of Third and Pine streets." [xv]  This house would be often utilized by the President to host teas and dinners for his fellow Congressmen and foreign dignitaries.

Copyright © 2004 & 2008 President Who? Forgotten Founders
President McKean's House in Philadelphia was the former residence of Tory Duche

The house, being an initial “perk” provided for the Chief Justice by the Pennsylvania Executive Council, fueled the citizen criticism of the McKean.  Particularly, a Mr. Tenax's public attacks on the Chief Justice President for serving in the dual offices left McKean no choice but to respond publically.  Two were printed in The Freeman's Journal during July and August of 1781. On August 6th McKean writes:

QUERIES to TENAX. Do you not know, that the chief justice of Pennsylvania, was, at the time of his appoint­ment, speaker of the house of assembly, soon after commander in chief, and for near four years since constantly a delegate for the Delaware state?

If so, and you thought it a violation of the constitution, why did you not heretofore mention it to him, or publish your sentiments as you have now done? Do you not know that the honorable William Henry Drayton, esq. sat in congress for two years as a member of South Carolina, being at the same time chief justice of that state; that the honorable William Paca, esq. was at the same time chief justice and a member of congress for the state of Maryland; that the honorable John Jay, esq. was chief justice of New-York during the time he was president of congress; that the hon­orable Samuel Huntington, esq. the last president of congress, was, during the whole time, a justice of the supreme court of Connecticut; and that there are several of the present members of congress who are justices of the supreme court in their respec­tive states?

Can the chief justice of Pennsylvania sit upon the decision of any controversy between that state and any other; or can a delegate for the Delaware state have any share indetermining whether the islands in the river belong to Delaware or Pennsylvania? Have you ever read the confederation of the several states, or do you understand it? Do you understand the doctrine of replevins, impeachments, or the rights of sovereign independent states? Would it not be adviseable to qualify yourself in this respect, before you assume the office of REFORMER or CENSOR-GENERAL? Are you so regardless of all reputation as to persist in an error in spite of conviction?

On August 8th McKean writes:

In the reply of Tenax to Jurisperitus in your last paper I find he is a little sore; this proves he is not altogether callous, tho' I should have been more pleased if he had pointed out that part of the Constitution, of Pennsylvania which provides, 'that no man shall hold more than one place of power,' as he was particularly called upon for it. I would ask, which is most blamable, with respect to decorum, he who violates the truth, or he who proves the charge.

In spite of conviction, he still would insinuate that a Judge of Pennsylvania ought not to sit in Congress, tho' a Delegate for another State, and he artfully cites only three words of the sentence, viz. sit in Congress, where as if he had given the whole as Jurisperitus has candidly done, there could remain no doubt of the meaning of the Convention. The sentence is "The Judges of the Supreme court shall not be allowed to sit as members in the continental Congress Executive Council, or general Assembly". They cannot therefore sit as members in the Executive Council or General Assembly, more than in Congress; now let us inquire, what Council or Assembly was had in contemplation, surely those for Pennsylvania, because the words Executive Council and General Assembly are not used, as Jurisperitus has told us, in the Constitution of any other State; and of course they are not excluded even by words from sitting in the Congress or Council, Senate or Assembly for any other State. Can Tenax believe, that the Convention had the power or inclination to direct the Governments of other States, or to restrain them from employing whom they thought proper in any of their offices of trust or profit, or that they had any other State in view but Pennsylvania.

A Judge of Pennsylvania can hold any office whatsoever, which is not derived from the State of Pennsylvania, and there is neither any (Constitution) law nor reason against it, and this has been the opinion of all men, whom I ever heard mention the subject, even if Tenax himself [ . . . ] not remark, & if then The Presidency of Congress is an office, any Judge of Pennsylvania may hold it, because he is not appointed by that Government, but if it is a Station of the same nature with that of Speaker of an House of Assembly for a particular State, how can it be more an office than that of any other Delegate?

With respect to fees and perquisites, Tenax quibbles just like himself. He has been asked, whether a Judge of Pennsylvania may not practise the law in another State; (and take fees) fees & perquisites would in such case be taken literally, but to this he gives no answer.

With his case made, President McKean, didn't miss a step in the rigors of his new office writing George Washington on August 7th about the mistreatment of imprisoned soldiers on the British naval ships docked in New York:

I was yesterday honored with your Letter of the 2d Instant, and communicated it with the Inclosures immediately to Congress. Re-iterated Complaints from our unfortunate Prisoners at New York, whose Treatment is cruel, beyond Description and their situation really deplorable, gave rise to the Act of Congress of the 3d Instant, a Copy of which is inclosed herewith. How their Distresses will be alleviated is difficult to tell: Humanity to the Enemy Prisoners seems to be no longer a Virtue; Retaliation through the Medium of the Simsbury Mines, may possibly awaken them to a Sense of Duty.

By the last Accounts from Maryland, the Fleet with Lord Cornwallis amounting to near forty Sail, and having on Board (it is supposed) near three thousand Troops, had pro­ceeded on the 1st Instant from Hampton Road towards Annapolis:(3) His Lordship him­self was said to remain at Portsmouth, and two Men of War & eight Transports in Hampton Road. Governor Lee had on Saturday last six hundred Regulars at Annapolis, and was collecting the Militia; he appears to be in good Spirits. This Intelligence has been sent to the Presidents of Delaware & Pennsylvania. Can this Manoeuvre be to draw the Marquis's Forces on this Side James River, in Order to facil­itate the March of the Horse to South Carolina; or is it for the Purpose of collecting Provisions & Forage before they proceed for New York; or can they flatter themselves with Conquest thro' any Assistance promised by the disaffected near the Head of the Bay, which Lord George Germaine alludes to in his Letter of the 7th of Feby. last to Sir Henry Clinton: If the latter was expected, or even the Recovery of their Prisoners at Lancaster or York-town, I should suppose Lord Cornwallis would have acted in Person. As soon as anything more is known respecting this Movement I shall inform your Excellency of it.

The Congressional resolve President McKean enclosed was adopted in response to a committee report drafted by Delegate Elias Boudinot who had been commissary General of Prisoners in 1778. Future President Boudinot recommended that Washington remonstrate against the "unnecessary severity" of the treatment of Americans confined on board prison ships at New York, demanding in answer "to know the reasons" that Congress might decide "measures for due retaliation...if a redress of these evils is not immediately given."

On the diplomatic front, the Department of Foreign Affairs that was born on January 10, 1781 still was without an executive.  On August 10, 1781, at McKean’s urging, a Secretary of Foreign Affairs was appointed to head the new State Department:   

Congress proceeded to the election of a secretary for foreign affairs; and, the ballots being taken, Mr. Robert R. Livingston was elected, having been previously nominated by Mr. William Floyd.[xvi]

Robert Livingston would serve in this capacity for 19 months.  His office was constantly beset with frustration because the Articles of Confederation were very weak and diffused his foreign policy authority. Secretary Livingston, in an attempt to bolster the effectiveness of his office reported his challenges to the USCA in hopes they would act on his recommendations. Instead the USCA, ever vigilant of the federal government having too much power over the states, further restricted his authority to act.

President McKean wrote George Washington a rather lengthy two days later appris­ing him of both military, key USCA diplomatic measures and Livingston’s appointment:

"Sir, Private. Philadelphia. By a vessel from Cadiz last night we are informed, that our Minister at the Spanish court, as late as the 11th June, had made but little progress in a negotiation with them; they still appear friendly, but aim at cessions we cannot make; they give encouragement respecting money at sometimes, again they are dis­appointed and cannot promise anything certain; they have however given Mr. Jay lib­erty to accept Bills to the amount of One hundred and fifty thousand Dollars, but have no known funds appropriated for the payment. In short their conduct appears rather insincere and mysterious. Our public dispatches are intercepted; or obstructed in so much, that a free correspondence is almost impracticable. Mr. Cardoqui was to set off from Madrid for Philadelphia sometime in June; but his intentions of coming here have been so often announced, and the delay not accounted for, that Mr. Jay will say nothing about him hereafter, until he has actually sailed.

France acts a truly friendly part. We shall certainly obtain from her, this year, twenty millions of livres; four of which will be retained for Doctor Franklin, to discharge the interest on Loan-Office Certificates; two supplied in military stores & c. and the residue be subject to the directions of Congress. I have the strongest reasons to believe that Colonel Laurens is now on the Ocean, and has with him two millions and an half of this money in specie: I pray most sincerely for his safe arrival.

It is yet more than probable, that there will be a negotiation for a general peace sometime this Fall: the Congress to assemble at Vienna. France has proposed that the United States of America shall have a Minister or Ministers Plenipotentiary at the Congress: The Emperor is afraid this proposition may obstruct a measure he has much at heart; it has been suggested, that if the United States are headed by Memorial it would probably answer; but to this France does not seem to consent. The Emperor was expected in June or July at Paris on a visit-The probable consequence of which is yet in dubio. Sweden and Denmark have refused to assist the Dutch with Ships of War; Russia is undecided. Count Panin, the Prime Minister of Russia, is removed. Mr. Neckar's resignation has been accepted by His Most Christian Majesty; this great Character was not agreeable to the court of Spain, nor to the Officers at Versailles; he is said to have conducted with too much Hauteur.

Out of Admiral Rodney's thirty four Ships, laden with the plunder of St. Eustatia,
Monsieur Piquet has certainly captured twenty four; and it is said, that five more have been picked up by Privateers; the Escort, consisting of a 74, one 64 and two  Frigates, with five of the convoy, escaped by their swiftness in sailing. An expedition was in great forwardness at Cadiz, to consist of eight sail of the line besides frigates &c. and eight or ten thousand Land-forces; the destination unknown. They were to sail in July, and conjectured to be for the West-Indies or this Continent.

By a letter from the Marquis La Fayette of the 6th from Pamunky we have intelligence that Lord Cornwallis, with the Fleet formerly mentioned, and an addition of Whale-boats, carrying the greatest part of the British Army, have arrived in York River, and landed at Gloucester and Yorktown, which they now occupy. Your Excellency is probably acquainted with their situation; however the Marquiss describes the one to be a small neck projected into the river; the other surrounded by the river and a Morass. Genl. O'Hara commands at Portsmouth.

The Honorable Robert R. Livingston was appointed by Congress, on Friday last, Secretary for foreign affairs. Georgia has re-established her Government, and South Carolina is expected to be soon in capacity to do the same.

On August 14th, George Washington received word that the long awaited French fleet under Admiral Comte de Grasse was sailing for the Chesapeake Bay consisting of 34 warships with trans­ports carrying 3200 troops prepared to advance his Army south.  The arrival of Admiral Comte de Grasse was expected in mid-September.  Washington along with Rochambeau now had to qui­etly move forces from Rhode Island to New Jersey without alarming the British fleet and General Clinton their plans were on Virginia.

It was now mid-August and the last orders that Lt. General Charles Cornwallis received from General Henry Clinton was over a month ago to establish defenses at Old Point Comfort. General Cornwallis deemed the Point indefensible and chose to make Yorktown his main position setting up only a support camp across the York River in Gloucester. By the end of August, Cornwallis suc­cessfully deployed his entire force to these two positions which provided him an easy route to any port via the sea.

Thomas McKean wrote Richard Henry Lee of Virginia on August 13th apprising him of current events:

Virginia, I find, has not yet experienced all the calamities of war. Lord Cornwallis appears to be determined on still greater mischief. I pray God to give you patience & fortitude in this severe trial, and to enable you to work out your deliverance. The Enemy must become weaker every day, and we shall certainly grow stronger; we are at present very low, with respect to finance, but it is with infinite pleasure I can inform you, that we have very fair prospects on that head from abroad as well as at home. France has lately given further proof, that she is a faithfull Ally: I cannot be more particular.

Spain continues to act an interested and mysterious part, but must in the end close with us. The United Provinces of the Netherlands appear to be very friendly, but they are tedious in their deliberation & slow in execution.

President McKean with no communication from the besieged Virginia Governor Thomas Jefferson decided, also, to write a second letter re-informing him of his appointment as Foreign Secretary on August 20th:

My Predecessor sent you the Copy of a vote of Congress of the 14th. of June last, appointing you a Minister for negotiating a peace: As no answer had been yet received, a doubt has taken place whether the information had reached you, and therefore I now inclose you a Duplicate.

Permit me, Sir, to congratulate you on this evidence of the full confidence and esteem of your Country, and to hope that so very honorable an appointment may meet with your acceptance. I am, Sir, with the most respectful attachment Your most obedient humble Servant, Tho M:Kean President.

On August 21st, 1781, Washington and 2700 Continental troops crossed the Hudson River to Stony Point, New York. General Comte de Rochambeau French forces completed their crossing on August 25th. Tactically, Washington left a detachment of forces to cover his departure with an order to withdraw and protect the Hudson Highlands under Maj. General William Heath once they safely crossed. General Clinton who observed the deployment, made no movement to coun­teract the shifting Continental forces away from New York City. On August 23rd President McKean informed Washington:

Portsmouth is said to be evacuated, and Lord Cornwallis is still fortifying at Yorktown and Glocester; he is otherwise very quiet: Of this however we have no official accounts. It is re[ported] that General Sumpter and Colonel Lee have had an action with a party of the enemy to the Southward of Monk's corner (I think at Dorchester) in South Carolina, that they have taken about one hundred and forty prisoners and killed near an hundred; some waggons and stores were also taken. No account of this affair has been received from General Greene by Congress, but it comes in such a manner as to gain credit.

I am possessed of a letter written by a Richard Nash on board the Terrible at Antigua, dated the 6th Instant, to his Father on bo[ard] the London at New-York, informing him that Sir Samuel Hood, with the greatest part of the Fleet there, would sail in a few days for New York. From other accounts I learn, that Admiral Rodney had sailed for England with three Ships of the line; that Admiral Hood had dispatched a Frigate for St. Lucia-Bay for six Men of War, and that he purposed to sail for New-York at the return of the Frigate. I apprehend that Richard Nash is Captain or a Lieutenant on board the Terrible, from his requesting his Father to present his Compliments to Admiral Graves; and that the Father is Master of the London, for the letter is directed to him as "N. M. of the Ship London." These Minutia are mentioned that you may be enabled to form the better judgment of this Intelligence."

On August the 25th, plagued by states not sending their Delegate quota and with the full knowl­edge of George Washington's military intentions, President McKean wrote each state legislature:

The Act of Congress of the 23d instant, of which you have a Copy enclosed, was occa­sioned by five States being unrepresented at this important period. We are at the Eve of great events, and the collected wisdom of the United States was perhaps seldom more wanted. I flatter myself therefore the public Good will so far prevail over every other consideration that the Delegates from your State, or two of them at least, will give their attendance in Congress without delay. Your good offices on this occasion will, I rest assured, be successfully exerted.

Three days later General Washington used his light infantry to ruse a maneuver towards Staten Island. On August 29, the infantry then turned to Sandy Hook appearing to meet the French fleet. On August 30th, the troops abandoned the maneuver and headed for Princeton, NJ where the combined French and Continental Army prepared to march for Philadelphia. General Clinton realizing Washington was now headed to Philadelphia assumed that they were preparing for a defense of that city against the feigned British attack. Clinton dispatched a letter to General Cornwallis apprising of the movements. The strategy delayed the British from supporting Cornwallis’ position.

In Philadelphia General Arthur St. Clair, who was ordered to recruit and train troops for the Yorktown effort, requested money from the Congress to pay the soldiers now under his command. The matter had been referred to a Congressional committee and on August 28th the members learned from the Superintendent of Finance, Robert Morris that no money was available to pay St. Clair's troops. The committee then recommended that the general's request be referred to the Pennsylvania Council. On the 30th President McKean wrote the President of the Supreme Council of Pennsylvania Joseph Reed:

Your Excellency has enclosed herewith an Act of Congress of yesterday, together with a letter from Major General St. Clair, to be laid before Council. It gives the greatest uneasiness to Congress that their funds at present will not enable them to expedite the march of the Troops mentioned by the General, but they hope you will be able to devise some means to accomplish this desirable purpose.

 President Chief Justice Thomas McKean 

October  20, 1781 Military Captain Commission signed by Thomas McKean as President of the United States in Congress Assembled.
 The Congressional Evolution of the United States of America 

Continental Congress of the United Colonies Presidents 
Sept. 5, 1774 to July 1, 1776

September 5, 1774
October 22, 1774
October 22, 1774
October 26, 1774
May 20, 1775
May 24, 1775
May 25, 1775
July 1, 1776

Commander-in-Chief United Colonies & States of America

George Washington: June 15, 1775 - December 23, 1783

Continental Congress of the United States Presidents 
July 2, 1776 to February 28, 1781

July 2, 1776
October 29, 1777
November 1, 1777
December 9, 1778
December 10, 1778
September 28, 1779
September 29, 1779
February 28, 1781

Presidents of the United States in Congress Assembled
March 1, 1781 to March 3, 1789

March 1, 1781
July 6, 1781
July 10, 1781
Declined Office
July 10, 1781
November 4, 1781
November 5, 1781
November 3, 1782
November 4, 1782
November 2, 1783
November 3, 1783
June 3, 1784
November 30, 1784
November 22, 1785
November 23, 1785
June 5, 1786
June 6, 1786
February 1, 1787
February 2, 1787
January 21, 1788
January 22, 1788
January 21, 1789

Presidents of the United States of America

D-Democratic Party, F-Federalist Party, I-Independent, R-Republican Party, R* Republican Party of Jefferson & W-Whig Party 

 (1881 - 1881)
*Confederate States  of America

Chart Comparing Presidential Powers Click Here

United Colonies and States First Ladies

United Colonies Continental Congress
18th Century Term
09/05/74 – 10/22/74
Mary Williams Middleton (1741- 1761) Deceased
Henry Middleton
05/20/ 75 - 05/24/75
05/25/75 – 07/01/76
United States Continental Congress
07/02/76 – 10/29/77
Eleanor Ball Laurens (1731- 1770) Deceased
Henry Laurens
11/01/77 – 12/09/78
Sarah Livingston Jay (1756-1802)
12/ 10/78 – 09/28/78
Martha Huntington (1738/39–1794)
09/29/79 – 02/28/81
United States in Congress Assembled
Martha Huntington (1738/39–1794)
03/01/81 – 07/06/81
07/10/81 – 11/04/81
Jane Contee Hanson (1726-1812)
11/05/81 - 11/03/82
11/03/82 - 11/02/83
Sarah Morris Mifflin (1747-1790)
11/03/83 - 11/02/84
11/20/84 - 11/19/85
11/23/85 – 06/06/86
Rebecca Call Gorham (1744-1812)
06/06/86 - 02/01/87
02/02/87 - 01/21/88
01/22/88 - 01/29/89

Constitution of 1787
First Ladies
April 30, 1789 – March 4, 1797
March 4, 1797 – March 4, 1801
Martha Wayles Jefferson Deceased
September 6, 1782  (Aged 33)
March 4, 1809 – March 4, 1817
March 4, 1817 – March 4, 1825
March 4, 1825 – March 4, 1829
December 22, 1828 (aged 61)
February 5, 1819 (aged 35)
March 4, 1841 – April 4, 1841
April 4, 1841 – September 10, 1842
June 26, 1844 – March 4, 1845
March 4, 1845 – March 4, 1849
March 4, 1849 – July 9, 1850
July 9, 1850 – March 4, 1853
March 4, 1853 – March 4, 1857
March 4, 1861 – April 15, 1865
February 22, 1862 – May 10, 1865
April 15, 1865 – March 4, 1869
March 4, 1869 – March 4, 1877
March 4, 1877 – March 4, 1881
March 4, 1881 – September 19, 1881
January 12, 1880 (Aged 43)
June 2, 1886 – March 4, 1889
March 4, 1889 – October 25, 1892
June 2, 1886 – March 4, 1889
March 4, 1897 – September 14, 1901
September 14, 1901 – March 4, 1909
March 4, 1909 – March 4, 1913
March 4, 1913 – August 6, 1914
December 18, 1915 – March 4, 1921
March 4, 1921 – August 2, 1923
August 2, 1923 – March 4, 1929
March 4, 1929 – March 4, 1933
March 4, 1933 – April 12, 1945
April 12, 1945 – January 20, 1953
January 20, 1953 – January 20, 1961
January 20, 1961 – November 22, 1963
November 22, 1963 – January 20, 1969
January 20, 1969 – August 9, 1974
August 9, 1974 – January 20, 1977
January 20, 1977 – January 20, 1981
January 20, 1981 – January 20, 1989
January 20, 1989 – January 20, 1993
January 20, 1993 – January 20, 2001
January 20, 2001 – January 20, 2009
January 20, 2009 to date

Capitals of the United Colonies and States of America

Sept. 5, 1774 to Oct. 24, 1774
May 10, 1775 to Dec. 12, 1776
Dec. 20, 1776 to Feb. 27, 1777
March 4, 1777 to Sept. 18, 1777
September 27, 1777
Sept. 30, 1777 to June 27, 1778
July 2, 1778 to June 21, 1783
June 30, 1783 to Nov. 4, 1783
Nov. 26, 1783 to Aug. 19, 1784
Nov. 1, 1784 to Dec. 24, 1784
New York City
Jan. 11, 1785 to Nov. 13, 1788
New York City
October 6, 1788 to March 3,1789
New York City
March 3,1789 to August 12, 1790
Dec. 6,1790 to May 14, 1800       
Washington DC
November 17,1800 to Present

Book a primary source exhibit and a professional speaker for your next event by contacting today. Our Clients include many Fortune 500 companies, associations, non-profits, colleges, universities, national conventions, PR and advertising agencies. As a leading national exhibitor of primary sources, many of our clients have benefited from our historic displays that are designed to entertain and educate your target audience. Contact us to learn how you can join our "roster" of satisfied clientele today!

Hosted by The New Orleans Jazz Museum and The Louisiana Historical Center

A Non-profit Corporation

Primary Source Exhibits

727-771-1776 | Exhibit Inquiries

202-239-1774 | Office

202-239-0037 FAX 

Dr. Naomi and Stanley Yavneh Klos, Principals

Primary Source exhibits are available for display in your community. The costs range from $1,000 to $35,000 depending on length of time on loan and the rarity of artifacts chosen. 


U.S. Dollar Presidential Coin Mr. Klos vs Secretary Paulson - Click Here

The United Colonies of North America Continental Congress Presidents (1774-1776)
The United States of America Continental Congress Presidents (1776-1781)
The United States of America in Congress Assembled Presidents (1781-1789)
The United States of America Presidents and Commanders-in-Chiefs (1789-Present)

 President Chief Justice Thomas McKean