Study Guide

Roger Sherman in Declaration of Independence

By Thomas Jefferson

Roger Sherman

Roger Sherman is one of the more forgotten of the Founding Fathers (poor Rog), although he was a well-known and well-respected politician in his day. He still has an impact on all of our lives—though most people probably don't realize it—so here's a chance for you to be ahead of the game.

He played a role in all of the foundational documents of the United States, helping draft and ratify the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the U.S. Constitution, among other accomplishments.

Sherman was also the architect of the Connecticut Compromise (or Great Compromise), which determined the format of the bicameral (two house) U.S. Congress that is still in use today: equal representation of each state in one house (Senate), and representation based on population the other (House of Representatives).

A Roger-of-All-Trades

A devout Calvinist and serious economist, Sherman had a long list of jobs covering many areas of law and government over the course of his life. This is particularly impressive given that he never even went to college, and was apparently a terrible public speaker. Aww. (Source)

Like Benjamin Franklin, he was the son of a tradesman (cobbler) and his primary school education was supplemented by his own self-study. He moved from Massachusetts to Connecticut in 1743, and spent the remainder of his life serving in a variety of roles for that state.

Sherman became a lawyer in 1754, serving on the colonial legislature until he gave up his practice to move to New Haven in 1760. There he opened a two-store chain of general merchandise stores, one catering to the students of Yale College, where he served as treasurer for several years. (Source)

But wait, there's more.

From there Sherman served as what seems like every government office available to him in the late 18th century, including, but not limited to: member of the General Assembly, judge on Connecticut Supreme Court, mayor of New Haven, and commissary to the Connecticut militia during the French and Indian War. Finally he was elected to the Continental Congress in 1774, and served in the subsequent congresses as a representative, then U.S. Senator, until his death in 1793. (Source)

You can't accuse Roger of being lazy, that's for sure.

Not-So-Jolly Roger and the Fight for Independence

Sherman wasn't just a frequent government employee. Especially once he became a congressman, he was a very active, vocal member who was influential in the formation of pretty much every significant foundational document in the two decades surrounding independence, with the exception of the Northwest Ordinance. (Source)

He didn't like extreme measures, but he really, really resented Parliament's attempts to interfere with commerce. And like many of the Founding Fathers, that interference is what inspired him to join the independence fight. In particular, he supported stopping importation of goods, and subsequent boycotts on merchants who continued to import. (Source)

After years in local legislatures and the Continental Congresses, Sherman was chosen to be on the Committee of Five writing the Declaration of Independence, along with Jefferson, Franklin, and Robert Livingston. He was also elected to the committee writing the Articles of Confederation after the war ended, as well as a number of other committees, and later was a Connecticut representative to the Constitutional Convention drafting the final U.S. Constitution.

All this time, he still served as a judge in Connecticut, and even re-wrote all of Connecticut's laws (with the perfectly-named Richard Law) in 1783. The man was everywhere, and clearly either had a ridiculous amount of energy or a Time Turner.

Money and Compromise (Not at the Same Time)

Not only was Sherman on all of these legislatures and committees, but some of his ideas ended up having a lasting legacy on the United States. He had been publishing essays on his monetary theory since 1752, with "A Caveat Against Injustice, Or, An Inquiry Into the Evils of a Fluctuating Medium of Exchange." Pithy? No. Insanely influential? Yep. (Source)

The important thing is that he didn't like paper money very much and favored a certain amount of governmental regulation of markets. During the Constitutional Convention in 1787, Sherman was heavily responsible for the inclusion of a clause saying that states could not issue their own paper money without it being backed by gold or silver. (Source)

The other, most enduring legacy of Roger Sherman is what's known as the Connecticut or Great Compromise of 1787. When the delegates at the Constitutional Convention were deadlocked as whether to make representation in Congress equal in each state, or proportional to size and population, Sherman said "Why not…both?" (not his exact words), and presented a plan like the one he had established in Connecticut, with a bicameral legislature.

We still use this system today, the Senate (equal) and the House of Representatives (proportional).

Roger Sherman may not be the most glamorous of the Founding Fathers, but he was one of the busiest. Maybe someday there will be a Shermanaissance and we'll all study him, but for now this will have to do.