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Page 6

Thomas M'Kean

1734-1817


   The associate militia being at length discharged, Mr. M'Kean returned to Philadelphia, and was present in his seat in congress on the second of August, when the engrossed copy of the declaration of independence was signed by the members. A few days after this, receiving intelligence of his having been elected a member of the convention in Delaware, assembled for the purpose of forming a constitution for that state, he departed for Dover, which place he reached in a single day. Although excessively fatigued, on his arrival, at the request of a committee of gentlemen of the convention, he retired to his room in the public inn, where he was employed the whole night in preparing a constitution for the future government of the state. This he did without the least assistance, and even without the aid of a book. At ten o'clock the next morning it was presented to the convention, by whom it was unanimously adopted.
   In the year 1777, Mr. M'Kean was appointed president of the state of Delaware, and on the twenty-eighth of July of the same year, he received from the supreme executive council the commission of chief justice of Pennsylvania. The duties of this latter station he continued to discharge for twenty-two years. At the time of his accepting the commission, he was speaker of the house of assembly, president of Delaware, as already noticed, and member of congress.
   The duties of so many offices pressed with too much weight upon Mr. M'Kean, and he found himself compelled to offer his resignation, in 1780, to the people of Delaware, as their delegate to congress. They were, however, unwilling to dispense with his services, and he continued still to represent the state in the national council. In July of the following year, on the resignation of Samuel Huntington, he was elected president of congress, a station which he found it necessary in the following October to relinquish, as the duties of it interfered with the exercise of his office of chief justice of Pennsylvania. On accepting his resignation, it was resolved: "that the thanks of congress be given to the honourable Thomas M'Kean, late president of congress, in testimony of their approbation of his conduct in the chair, and in the execution of public business."
   We must here devote a paragraph to speak of Mr. M'Kean, in the exercise of his judicial functions. As a judge, he had few equals, in this, or any other country. At this time the law of the state of Pennsylvania was in a great measure unsettled. It devolved upon him to reduce it to a system. His decisions were remarkably accurate, and often profound. He was distinguished for great perspicuity of language, for au easy and perfectly intelligible explication of even intricate and difficult cases. In his manners, while presiding, to a proper affability, he united great dignity. In short, few men while living have acquired a higher reputation than did chief justice M'Kean, and few have enjoyed, after death, a greater share of judicial fame.

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Last modified September 27, 2005