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Page 1

Thomas M'Kean

1734-1817

Thomas M'Kean: by Charles Willson Peale (1797, Protrait Gallery of Second Bank). Portrait is courtesey of ushistory.org.
Thomas M'Kean was the second son of William M'Kean, a native of Ireland, who sometime after his emigration to America, was married to an Irish lady, with whom he settled in the township of New-London, county of Chester, and the province of Pennsylvania, where Thomas was born, on the nineteenth of March, 1734.
   At the age of nine years, he was placed under the care of the learned Dr. Allison, who was himself from Ireland, and of whose celebrated institution at New-London, we have already had occasion to speak, in terms of high commendation. Besides an unusually accurate and profound acquaintance with the Latin and Greek classics, Dr. Allison was well informed in moral philosophy, history, and general literature To his zeal for the diffusion of knowledge, Pennsylvania owes much of that taste for solid learning and classical literature, for which many of her principal characters have been so distinguished.
   Under the instructions of this distinguished scholar, young M'Kean made rapid advances in a knowledge of the languages, rhetoric, logic, and moral philosophy. After finishing the regular course of studies, he was entered as a student at law, in the office of David Finney, a gentleman who was related to him, and who resided in Newcastle, in Delaware. Before he had attained the age of twenty-one years, he commenced the practice of law, in the courts of common pleas for the counties of Newcastle, Kent, and Sussex, and also in the supreme court. His industry and talents soon became known, and secured to him a respectable share of business. In 1756, he was admitted to practice in the courts of the city and county of Philadelphia. In the following year he was admitted to the bar of the supreme court in Pennsylvania. In tile same year the house of assembly elected him as their clerk, and in the following year he was reappointed to the same station.
   Mr. M'Kean was as yet a young man, but at this early age, he occupied an enviable rank among men of maturer years. He had held several offices of distinction, and by his industry and assiduity, his judgment and ability, he gave promise of his future eminence.
   The political career of Mr. M'Kean commenced in the year 1762, at which time he was returned a member of the assembly from the county of Newcastle, which county he continued to represent in that capacity for several successive years, although the last six years of that period he spent in Philadelphia. In 1779, Mr. M'Kean appeared at Newcastle on the day of the general election in Delaware, and after a long and eloquent speech addressed to his constituents, he requested the privilege of being considered no longer one of their candidates for the state legislature. Most unexpectedly he was now placed in a peculiarly delicate situation. His constituents, although unwilling to dispense with his services in the assembly, consented to comply with his wishes; but at the same time requested him to nominate certain gentlemen, whom they should consider as candidates for the next general assembly. This was conferring on Mr. M'Kean an honour which must have been highly flattering. It was a mark of confidence in his judgment, without a parallel within our recollection. To a compliance with this request, Mr. M'Kean delicately gave his refusal; but, it being repeated, he delivered, with much reluctance, to the committee who waited upon him, the names of seven gentlemen, who were all elected with great unanimity.

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Last modified September 27, 2005