A Yankee cobbler who taught himself law and became a judge and a legislator, Roger Sherman (1721-1793) helped draft four of the major American Founding documents—the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.
Sherman had almost twenty years experience as a colonial legislator behind him when he arrived on this day at the First Continental Congress—a week after it had convened in 1774. He quickly won the respect of his fellow delegates for his wisdom, industry, and sound judgment. John Adams called him “one of the soundest and strongest pillars of the Revolution.” In Congress Sherman was one of the first to deny Parliament’s authority to make laws for America, and he strongly supported the boycott of British goods. In the following years he served with Jefferson and Franklin on the committee that drafted the Declaration of Independence, and on the one that drafted the Articles of Confederation. He also served on the maritime committee, the board of treasury and the board of war—all of first importance to the Revolution.
A Puritan of simple habits who performed all tasks with thoroughness and accuracy, Sherman gained more legislative experience in his years in Congress than any other member; by the time he left he was perhaps the most powerful—and most overworked—of congressmen.
Sherman’s greatest contribution—and the best known—was the “Connecticut Compromise” he proposed at the Constitutional Convention: by proposing that Congress have two branches, one with proportional, one with equal representation, he satisfied both the small and the large States, providing a solution to one of the most stubborn problems of the Convention. In Connecticut he defended the Constitution, writing articles in the New Haven Gazette, and helped win ratification in January 1788. Connecticut was the fifth State to ratify.
Sherman was the oldest man elected to the new national House of Representatives. In the first Congress he served on the committee that prepared and reviewed the Bill of Rights Amendments. By coincidence, the year that the Bill of Rights became part of the Constitution, Sherman was elected Senator—so that the man who conceived the “Connecticut Compromise” had the opportunity to represent that State in both of the legislative branches that he helped to create.