Abraham Baldwin (1754–1807)
Baldwin was a transplanted northerner, born in Guilford, Connecticut, the second son of a blacksmith. Baldwin’s father had high hopes for his twelve children and went into debt in order to provide them a good education. Baldwin graduated from Yale College in 1772. Soon afterward he became a minister and a tutor at his alma mater. In 1779 he served as a chaplain in the Continental army. After the war he gave up both the ministry and academic life to take up a career in law. By 1784 Baldwin had moved to Georgia, where he purchased land, established a law practice, and entered state politics. In 1785 he sat in the assembly and served as a delegate to the Confederation Congress. When his father died two years later, Baldwin took on the responsibility of paying off the family debts and covering the costs of educating his remaining siblings. At the Constitutional Convention, Baldwin did not play a prominent role, although he served on its key committee, the Committee on Postponed Matters. His most important contribution was to support the small states in their demand for equal representation in the Senate. Baldwin was one of several delegates to the Philadelphia convention who served in the first Washington administration, sitting in the House of Representatives for ten years and in the Senate for eight. A bitter opponent of Hamilton’s policies, Baldwin allied himself with the emerging Democratic-Republican Party. Baldwin, a bachelor all his life like Maryland’s Jenifer, focused much of his civic interest on education. He was a driving force in Georgia’s efforts to create a state college, working from 1784 until 1798, when Franklin College was founded. Franklin was later expanded to become the University of Georgia.
William Few (1748–1828)
Few was one of the convention’s rare self-made men whose fortune came from his own enterprise rather than marriage. Born in Maryland into a poor family, Few received little education. When he was ten years old, his family moved to North Carolina, where his father hoped to improve their economic situation. In North Carolina Few, his father, and his brother became members of the Regulators, the backcountry farmers who sought more responsive and less corrupt government in their frontier area. Few’s brother was hanged for his protest activities, the family farm was destroyed, and Few’s father became a fugitive, moving the family to Georgia for their safety. Despite his lack of formal education or any legal training, Few successfully won admission to the Georgia bar. During the Revolution he served as a lieutenant colonel in the dragoons, demonstrating natural leadership abilities. He gravitated toward politics, serving in the Georgia provincial congress and after independence in the state assembly. He was appointed surveyor-general and Indian commissioner in the late 1770s. Few was one of six men chosen as delegates to the Philadelphia convention, although only four ultimately attended. Two of his state’s delegates left before the convention adjourned, and Few was absent during July and much of August attending the Confederation Congress. Although he did not participate in the convention debates, Few proved his value to the nationalists in the end. He was influential in persuading the Confederation Congress to approve the Constitution. Few was one of Georgia’s first U.S. senators, serving from 1789 to 1793. At the end of his term, he returned to the Georgia assembly. He became a federal judge for the Georgia circuit in 1796 but resigned three years later when he moved to New York City. The move to New York did not slow Few’s political career. He served four years in the New York assembly and was appointed to a number of positions, including inspector of prisons and U.S. commissioner of loans. He became involved in the city’s financial growth, as a director of the Manhattan Bank and president of City Bank. Until his death in 1828, Few was also an active philanthropist.
William Houstoun (1755–1813)
A handsome man of ordinary intelligence, Houstoun was the son of a nobleman who served as a council member for the royal governor of Georgia. Houstoun received a fine education, including legal training at London’s Inner Temple. When the Revolution began, Houstoun returned to Georgia to find his family divided on the issue of independence. Many of the Houstouns chose to remain loyal to a Crown that had been generous with its patronage over the years; William, however, championed the cause of revolution. He served as a delegate to the Confederation Congress from 1783 to 1786 and was chosen to attend the Philadelphia convention. He remained at the convention only briefly, leaving in mid-July, but he was there to cast a critical vote on the issue of equal representation in the Senate. He split the Georgia delegation’s vote with his “nay” against Abraham Baldwin’s “aye.”
William Leigh Pierce (c. 1740–1789)
Little is known about Pierce’s early years, although it is assumed he was born in Georgia and raised in Virginia. He served as an aide-de-camp to General Nathanael Greene and left the military with the rank of brevet major. His bravery at the Battle of Eutaw Springs won him a ceremonial sword, presented to Pierce by Congress. After the war Pierce settled in Savannah, organizing an import-export company in 1783. In 1786 he took a seat in the Georgia House of Representatives and was chosen as a delegate to the Confederation Congress. At the Philadelphia convention, Pierce took the floor during three debates but was not an influential member of the convention. He was concerned that the integrity of the states be preserved, but he acknowledged an urgent need to strengthen the central government. He left the convention early to attend to a business crisis. Soon afterward he was bankrupt and died deeply in debt. Pierce is best remembered for the notes and character sketches he produced at the convention, which were published in the Savannah Georgian in 1828.
The delegate biographies are excerpted with the generous permission of Carol Berkin, author of A Brilliant Solution: Inventing the American Constitution (Harcourt). Copyright © 2002 by Carol Berkin.