Nicholas Gilman (1755–1814)
Born in Exeter, New Hampshire, Gilman was the second son of a distinguished New Hampshire merchant. When the Revolutionary War broke out, he quickly enlisted in the Continental army and rose to the rank of captain. When the war ended, he began a career in politics, serving in the Continental Congress before becoming a delegate to the Philadelphia convention. The junior member of the two-man New Hampshire delegation, thirty-two-year-old Gilman was a person of ordinary abilities, a fact that he tacitly acknowledged by keeping a respectful silence during the convention debates. He proved his value to the nationalist cause, however, during the ratification battle in his home state. Gilman became a leading Federalist, supporting his party’s policies in the House of Representatives from 1789 until 1797. He sat in the New Hampshire legislature in 1795, 1802, and 1804, and held the position of state treasurer during the War of 1812. Like John Langdon, Gilman slowly shifted his political allegiance to the Jeffersonian party and was elected to the U.S. Senate under its banner in 1804.
John Langdon (1741–1819)
Born in 1741 near Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Langdon was forty-six when he attended the convention. A large, handsome man whose family had deep roots in New England, Langdon’s natural talent for business earned him the nickname “the Robert Morris of New England” and more than compensated for his lack of formal education. He was an early and ardent supporter of the Revolution and risked his considerable fortune by financing American privateers during the war. Fortunately, the gamble proved profitable as well as patriotic. Langdon had extensive political experience before coming to the Philadelphia convention, serving in the Continental Congress, the New Hampshire State Senate, and as governor of his state. Always a generous patriot, Langdon covered the full expenses of the New Hampshire delegation to the Constitutional Convention. Although he and his fellow delegate, Nicholas Gilman, did not arrive in Philadelphia until mid-July, the confident Langdon joined the debates with gusto. A committed nationalist, Langdon consistently favored practical solutions to any problem that arose. John Langdon served in the U.S. Senate from 1789 to 1801. During these years Langdon gradually shifted his political loyalties, abandoning the Federalist Party for Thomas Jefferson’s Democratic-Republicans. He ended his political career as governor of New Hampshire, holding that office from 1805 to 1809 and again from 1810 to 1812.
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.