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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Death of Thomas Fitzsimons, U.S. Merchant & Statesman

thomas-fitzsimonsThomas Fitzsimons, American merchant and statesman of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, dies in Philadelphia on August 26, 1811. He represents Pennsylvania in the Continental Congress, the Constitutional Convention and the United States House of Representatives.

Fitzsimons is born in Ireland in 1741. In the mid-1750s his family immigrates to Philadelphia, where his father dies soon thereafter. He has enough education that he begins work as a clerk in a mercantile house. He marries Catherine Meade on November 23, 1761 and forms a business partnership with her brother George. Their firm, which specializes in the West Indies trade, operates successfully for over 41 years.

The firm is soon hit by the new revenue measures created to help support the finances of the British Empire, including the much reviled Stamp Act of 1765. Concerned with these ideas, Fitzsimons becomes active in the Irish merchant community in Philadelphia. He is a founding member of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick in 1771 and later, in 1774, a steering committee organized to protest the Coercive Acts.

When Pennsylvania begins mobilizing and organizing a militia to fight the British, Fitzsimons is soon involved. He serves as captain of a company of home guards under the command of Colonel John Caldwalader. Initially his company serves as part of the soldiers who man posts along the New Jersey coast. His unit later serves as part of the reserve at the Battle of Trenton in 1776. Later in the war, he served on the Pennsylvania Council of Safety and heads a board to oversee the newly formed Pennsylvania Navy.

Fitzsimons enters active politics as a delegate to the Continental Congress in 1782 and 1783. He is a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives from 1786 until 1795. He is also a delegate to the U.S. Constitutional Convention in 1787. Although not a leading member of that convention, he supports a strong national government, the end of slavery, the United States Congress‘s powers to impose a tariff on imports and exports, the granting the House of Representatives, and power in equal to the United States Senate in making treaties. He is one of only two Catholic signers of the Constitution of the United States, the other being Daniel Carroll of Maryland.

After the Constitution is established, he serves in the first three sessions of the House of Representatives as a Federalist, where he favors protective tariffs and a strong navy, co-drafting the Naval Act of 1794 authorizing the original six frigates of the United States Navy. He fails to win re-election in 1794. This was partially attributed to public opinion turning against the Federalist Party over the forceful suppression of the Whiskey Rebellion. Although he never holds elective office again, he serves in 1798 as head of the committee of merchants overseeing the subscription-loan to build a warship at private expense for use in the Quasi-War.

In 1796, FitzSimons, along with James Innes of Virginia, is appointed by President John Adams to serve as one of two American members on the five-man debt commission charged under Article VI of the Jay Treaty with examining the claims of British subjects unable to collect debts incurred by Americans prior to the American Revolution. FitzSimons, Innes and Samuel Sitgreaves, who replaces Innes upon the latter’s death, become annoyed with the arguments used by their British counterparts to inflate the claims total. FitzSimons and Sitgreaves angrily and permanently seceded from the board in July 1799. The claims are eventually disposed of by a lump-sum payment, agreed upon by United States Minister to Britain Rufus King with British Foreign Secretary Robert Banks Jenkinson and approved by President Thomas Jefferson and the Senate in 1802.

While withdrawing from politics, Fitzsimons remains active in civic and business affairs. He serves as president of Philadelphia’s Chamber of Commerce, as a trustee of the University of Pennsylvania, Director of the Delaware Insurance Company and a director of the Bank of North America from 1781–1803. He is a founder of the bank and supports efforts to found Georgetown College. He also helps found the Insurance Company of North America.

Fitzsimons dies on August 26, 1811, in Philadelphia, where he is buried in the cemetery of St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, which is in present-day Independence National Historical Park.


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Death of Andrew Johnson, 17th President of the United States

andrew-johnsonAndrew Johnson, the 17th President of the United States (1865 – 1869), dies on July 31, 1875 at his daughter Mary’s farm near Elizabethton, Tennessee after suffering two strokes.

Johnson assumes the presidency at the time of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln as he is Lincoln’s Vice President. He is a Democrat who runs with Lincoln on the National Union ticket, coming to office as the American Civil War concludes. He favors quick restoration of the seceded states to the Union without protection for the former slaves. This leads to conflict with the Republican-dominated Congress, culminating in his impeachment by the House of Representatives in 1868. He is acquitted in the Senate by one vote. His main accomplishment as president is the Alaska Purchase.

Johnson is born in poverty in Raleigh, North Carolina on December 29, 1808. His grandfather emigrated to the United States from County Antrim in what is now Northern Ireland. He never attends school and is apprenticed as a tailor and works in several frontier towns before settling in Greeneville, Tennessee. He serves as alderman and mayor there before being elected to the Tennessee House of Representatives in 1835. After brief service in the Tennessee Senate, he is elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1843, where he serves five two-year terms.

On October 17, 1853, Johnson becomes the 15th Governor of Tennessee serving for four years until November 3, 1857. He is elected by the legislature to the United States Senate on October 8, 1857. During his congressional service, he seeks passage of the Homestead Act of 1862 which is enacted soon after he leaves his Senate seat in 1862.

Southern slave states secede to form the Confederate States of America, which includes Tennessee, but Johnson remains firmly with the Union. He is the only sitting senator from a Confederate state who does not resign his seat upon learning of his state’s secession. In 1862, Lincoln appoints him as military governor of Tennessee after most of it has been retaken. In 1864, he is a logical choice as running mate for Lincoln, who wishes to send a message of national unity in his re-election campaign. Their ticket easily wins the election. He is sworn in as Vice President on March 4, 1865. He gives a rambling speech, after which he secludes himself to avoid public ridicule. Six weeks later, the assassination of Lincoln elevates him to the presidency.

Johnson implements his own form of Presidential Reconstruction, a series of proclamations directing the seceded states to hold conventions and elections to reform their civil governments. Southern states return many of their old leaders and pass Black Codes to deprive the freedmen of many civil liberties, but Congressional Republicans refuse to seat legislators from those states and advance legislation to overrule the Southern actions. Johnson vetoes their bills, and Congressional Republicans override him, setting a pattern for the remainder of his presidency.

Johnson opposes the Fourteenth Amendment which gives citizenship to former slaves. In 1866, he goes on an unprecedented national tour promoting his executive policies, seeking to break Republican opposition. As the conflict grows between the branches of government, Congress passes the Tenure of Office Act in 1867 restricting his ability to fire Cabinet officials. He persists in trying to dismiss Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, but ends up being impeached by the House of Representatives and narrowly avoiding conviction in the Senate. He does not win the 1868 Democratic presidential nomination and leaves office the following year.

Johnson returns to Tennessee after his presidency and gains some vindication when he is elected to the Senate in 1875, making him the only former president to serve in the Senate. In late July 1875, convinced some of his opponents are defaming him in the Ohio gubernatorial race, he decides to travel there to give speeches. He begins the trip on July 28, and breaks the journey at his daughter Mary’s farm near Elizabethton, where his daughter Martha is also staying. That evening he suffers a stroke but refuses medical treatment until the following day. When he does not improve two doctors are sent for from Elizabethton. He seems to respond to their ministrations, but suffers another stroke on the evening of July 30 and dies early the following morning at the age of 66.

President Ulysses S. Grant has the “painful duty” of announcing the death of the only surviving past president. Northern newspapers, in their obituaries, tend to focus on Johnson’s loyalty during the war, while Southern ones pay tribute to his actions as president. Johnson’s funeral is held on August 3 in Greeneville. He is buried with his body wrapped in an American flag and a copy of the U.S. Constitution placed under his head, according to his wishes. The burial ground is dedicated as the Andrew Johnson National Cemetery in 1906 and, with his home and tailor’s shop, is part of the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site.


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Adoption of the Articles of Confederation

articles-of-confederationThe Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, the first written constitution of the United States is adopted by the Second Continental Congress on November 15, 1777. A number of the members of the Congress hail from Ireland including Secretary of the Congress Charles Thomson who is born in Maghera, County Derry in 1729. Thomson is the permanent Secretary of the Continental Congress for more than fifteen years. At least three signatories to the Declaration of Independence are Irish – James Smith, George Taylor, and Matthew Thornton.

The Articles of Confederation is approved, after much debate between July 1776 and November 1777, by the Second Continental Congress and sent to the states for ratification. The Articles come into force on March 1, 1781, after being ratified by all thirteen states. A guiding principle of the Articles is to preserve the independence and sovereignty of the states. The weak central government established by the Articles receives only those powers which the former colonies had recognized as belonging to king and parliament.

The document provides clearly written rules for how the states’ “league of friendship” are to be organized. During the ratification process, the Congress looks to the Articles for guidance as it conducts business, directs the war effort, conducts diplomacy with foreign nations, addresses territorial issues and deals with Native American relations. Little changes politically once the Articles of Confederation go into effect, as ratification does little more than legalize what the Continental Congress had already been doing. That body is renamed the Congress of the Confederation however most Americans continue to call it the Continental Congress, since its organization remains the same.

As the Confederation Congress attempts to govern the continually growing American states, delegates discover that the limitations placed upon the central government render it ineffective at doing so. As the government’s weaknesses become apparent, especially after Shays’ Rebellion, some prominent political thinkers in the fledgling nation begin asking for changes to the Articles. Their hope is to create a stronger national government.

Initially, some states meet to deal with their trade and economic problems. However, as more states become interested in meeting to change the Articles, a meeting is set in Philadelphia on May 25, 1787. This becomes the Constitutional Convention. It is quickly agreed that changes will not work, and instead the entire Articles needs to be replaced. On March 4, 1789, the government under the Articles is replaced with the federal government under the Constitution of the United States. The new Constitution provides for a much stronger federal government by establishing a chief executive (the President), courts, and taxing powers.


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Death of William Paterson, U.S. Senator & New Jersey Governor

william-patersonWilliam Paterson, Irish-born American jurist, one of the framers of the Constitution of the United States, United States senator (1789–90), and governor of New Jersey (1790–93), dies in Albany, New York on September 9, 1806. He also serves as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from 1793 to 1806.

Paterson is born on December 24, 1745 in County Antrim, to Richard Paterson, an Ulster Protestant. He immigrates with his parents to New Castle, Pennsylvania in 1747, eventually settling in Princeton, New Jersey. At the age of 14, he begins college at the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University), graduating in 1763. After graduating, he studies law with the prominent lawyer Richard Stockton and is admitted to the bar in 1768. He also stays connected to his alma mater and helps found the Cliosophic Society with Aaron Burr.

Paterson serves twice in the Provincial Congress of New Jersey (1775–76), is a delegate to the state constitutional convention (1776), and from 1776 to 1783 is attorney general of New Jersey.

In 1787 Paterson heads the New Jersey delegation to the federal Constitutional Convention, where he plays a leading role in the opposition of the small states to representation according to population in the federal legislature. As an alternative to James Madison‘s large-state Virginia Plan, he submits the small-state New Jersey Plan, also called the Paterson Plan, which advocates an equal vote for all states. The issue is finally resolved with the compromise embodied in the bicameral Congress —representation by population in the House of Representatives, and equality of states in the Senate.

Paterson is instrumental in securing ratification of the final document in New Jersey and is elected one of the state’s first two U.S. senators. He resigns his seat in 1790 and serves as governor of New Jersey until 1793, when he is named an associate justice of the United States Supreme Court.

On September 9, 1806, Paterson, aged 60, dies from the lingering effects of a coach accident suffered in 1803 while on circuit court duty in New Jersey. He is on his way to the spa at Ballston Spa, New York, to “take the waters”, when he dies at the Manor of Rensselaerswyck home of his daughter, Cornelia, and son-in-law, Stephen Van RensselaerStephen Van Rensselaer, in Albany, New York. He is laid to rest in the Van Renssalaer family vault. When the city acquires the property, his remains are relocated to Albany Rural Cemetery in Albany County, New York. Also buried there are Associate Justice Rufus W. Peckham and President Chester A. Arthur.

The city of Paterson, New Jersey and William Paterson University are named for William Paterson.

(Pictured: Portrait of William Paterson (1745–1806) when he was a Supreme Court Justice (1793–1806). This image is from a copy by C. Gregory Stapoko(1913-2006) of the original by James Sharples(1751-1811))


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Birth of George Clinton, Soldier & Statesman

george-clintonGeorge Clinton, American soldier and statesman considered one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, is born in Little Britain, Province of New York, British America on July 26, 1739. A prominent member of the Democratic-Republican Party, he serves as the fourth Vice President of the United States from 1805 until his death in 1812. He also serves as Governor of New York from 1777 to 1795 and from 1801 to 1804. Along with John C. Calhoun, he is one of only two vice presidents to hold office under two presidents.

Clinton’s parents are Colonel Charles Clinton and Elizabeth Denniston Clinton, Presbyterian immigrants who had left County Longford in Ireland in 1729 to escape an Anglo-Irish regime that imposed severe disabilities on religious dissenters. His political interests are inspired by his father, who is a farmer, surveyor, and land speculator, and serves as a member of the New York colonial assembly. He is the brother of General James Clinton and the uncle of New York’s future governor, DeWitt Clinton. He is tutored by a local Scottish clergyman.

Clinton serves in the French and Indian War, rising to the rank of lieutenant in the colonial militia. He begins a legal practice after the war and serves as a district attorney for New York City. He becomes Governor of New York in 1777 and remains in that office until 1795. He supports the cause of independence during the American Revolutionary War and serves in the Continental Army despite his gubernatorial position. During and after the war, he is a major opponent of Vermont‘s entrance into the union due to disputes over land claims.

Opposed to the ratification of the Constitution of the United States, Clinton becomes a prominent Anti-Federalist and advocates for the addition of the United States Bill of Rights. In the early 1790s, he emerges as a leader of the incipient Democratic-Republican Party and serves as the party’s vice presidential candidate in the 1792 presidential election. He receives the third most electoral votes in the election, as President George Washington and Vice President John Adams both win re-election. He does not seek re-election in 1795, but serves as governor again from 1801 to 1804. He is the longest-serving governor in U.S. history until Terry Branstad surpasses his record in 2015.

Clinton is again tapped as the Democratic-Republican vice presidential nominee in the 1804 presidential election, as President Thomas Jefferson dumps Aaron Burr from the ticket. Clinton seeks his party’s presidential nomination in the 1808 presidential election, but the party’s congressional nominating caucus instead nominates James Madison. Despite his opposition to Madison, Clinton is re-elected as vice president.

George Clinton dies in Washington, D.C. on April 20, 1812, leaving the office of vice president vacant for the first time in U.S history. He is buried in the Old Dutch Churchyard in Kingston, New York. His nephew, DeWitt Clinton, continues the Clinton New York political dynasty after his uncle’s death.

(Pictured: Portrait of George Clinton by Ezra Ames, 1814)