(April 19, 1721–July 23, 1793), was an American Revolutionary patriot, jurist and politician. He was distinguished as the only Founding Father to sign all four major founding documents: The Articles of Association, 1774; The Declaration of Independence, 1776; The Articles of Confederation, 1777; and The Constitution of the United States, 1787.
Roger Sherman was a shoe cobbler, surveyor and merchant prior to his political career. He was a self-taught lawyer; a state senator; a superior court judge; and a judge in Connecticut for fourteen years. He was member of the Continental Congress and helped draft the Declaration of Independence. He was a member of the Constitutional Convention, where he made 138 speeches. He was a U.S. Representative, 1789–91, and at the age of 70, was elected a U.S. Senator, 1791–93.
On Thursday, June 28, 1787, during an almost fatal crisis in the Constitutional Convention, Roger Sherman seconded a motion to enact Dr. Benjamin Franklin’s request that Congress be opened with prayer each day. This practice has continued since.563 The heated dispute was over how Congress would insure that the smaller states would be equally represented in comparison with the larger states. This debate grew so serious that it threaten the convention itself, as some delegates had already left. Shortly after Franklin’s call for prayer, Roger Sherman made the suggestion that state representation in the Senate be equal and that state representation in the House be based on population. This historic proposal, which came to be called the “Connecticut Compromise,” was adopted and the system has been in use since.564 Roger Sherman was also on the committee which decided the wording of the First Amendment. He was originally opposed to the First Amendment, considering it unnecessary, since Congress had no authority delegated from the Constitution in such areas.565
In February 1776, along with John Adams and George Wythe of Virginia, Roger Sherman, served on a committee responsible for creating instructions for an embassy headed for Canada. The instructions directed:
You are further to declare that we hold sacred the rights of conscience, and may promise to the whole people, solemnly in our name, the free and undisturbed exercise of their religion. And … that all civil rights and the right to hold office were to be extended to persons of any Christian denomination.566
On October 17, 1777, when he heard of the British General Burgoyne surrendering over 5000 troops to the American General Gates at Saratoga, Roger Sherman exclaimed:
This is the Lord’s doing, and marvelous in our eyes!567
Roger Sherman supported the act of Congress authorizing President Washington to officially declare a national Thanksgiving Day holiday. His remarks were recorded in the Journals of Congress:
Mr. Sherman justified the practice of thanksgiving, on any signal event, not only as a laudable one in itself, but as warranted by a number of precedents in Holy Writ: for instance, the solemn thanksgivings and rejoicings which took place in the time of Solomon, after the building of the temple, was a case in point. This example, he thought, worthy of Christian imitation on the present occasion.568
While he was in Congress, Roger Sherman objected to a report from the War Committee which would have allowed the army to give five hundred lashes by the courts-martial to a delinquent soldier. He successfully opposed the proposal, using for his argument the scripture Deuteronomy chapter 25, verse 3:
Forty stripes he may give him, and not exceed: lest, if he should exceed, and beat him above these with many stripes, then thy brother should seem vile unto thee.569
Roger Sherman described the necessity of:
Admiring and thankfully acknowledging the riches of redeeming love, and earnestly imploring that divine assistance which may enable us to live no more to ourselves, but to him who loved us and gave himself to die for us.570
Roger Sherman joined the Congregational Church in 1742 and faithfully served as clerk, deacon and treasurer. He spoke very highly of his pastor, the Reverend Jonathan Edwards, the younger:
I esteem him one of the best of preachers that I am acquainted with, sound in faith, and pious and diligent in his studies and attention to the duties of his office.571
In 1788, as a member of the White Haven Congregational Church, Roger Sherman was asked to use his expertise in revising the wording of their creed. In his own handwriting, he wrote the following:
I believe that there is one only living and true God, existing in three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, the same in substance equal in power and glory.
That the scriptures of the old and new testaments are a revelation from God, and a complete rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him.
That God has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass, so as thereby he is not the author or approver of sin.
That he creates all things, and preserves and govern all creatures and all their actions, in a manner perfectly consistent with the freedom of will in moral agents, and the usefulness of means.
That he made man at first perfectly holy, that the first man sinned, and as he was the public head of his posterity, they all became sinners in consequence of his first transgression, are wholly indisposed to that which is good and inclined to evil, and on account of sin are liable to all the miseries of this life, to death, and to the pains of hell forever.
I believe that God having elected some of mankind to eternal life, did send his own Son to become man, die in the room and stead of sinners and thus to lay a foundation for the offer of pardon and salvation to all mankind, so as all may be saved who are willing to accept the gospel offer:
also by his special grace and spirit, to regenerate, sanctify and enable to persevere in holiness, all who shall be saved; and to procure in consequence of their repentance and faith in himself their justification by virtue of his atonement as the only meritorious cause.
I believe a visible church to be a congregation of those who make a credible profession of their faith in Christ, and obedience to him, joined by the bond of the covenant. …
I believe that the souls of believers are at their death made perfectly holy, and immediately taken to glory: that at the end of this world there will be a resurrection of the dead, and a final judgement of all mankind, when the righteous shall be publicly acquitted by Christ the Judge and admitted to everlasting life and glory, and the wicked be sentenced to everlasting punishment.572
In 1789, while serving as a U.S. Representative from Connecticut, Roger Sherman wrote a sermon titled, “A Short Sermon on the Duty of Self-Examination Preparatory to Receiving the Lord’s Supper”:
Self-examination previous to an approach to the holy supper of the Lord is a necessary, tho’ I fear too much neglected duty … 573
Representative Roger Sherman wrote a letter from New York to Samuel Hopkins, the Congregational minister of Newport, Rhode Island:
That a God of infinite Goodness can (through atonement) have mercy on whom He will, consistent with the honor of His law and Government and all of His perfections, is a much better ground of hope than the denial of self-love.574
Benjamin Rush, also a signer of the Declaration of Independence, wrote his estimation of Roger Sherman in 1777:
He was not less distinguished for his piety than his patriotism. He once objected to a motion for Congress sitting on a Sunday upon an occasion which he thought did not require it, and gave as a reason for his objection a regard for the commands of his Maker.575
President John Adams described Roger Sherman, who had been elected a U.S. Senator in 1791, as:
… an old Puritan, as honest as an angel and as firm in the cause of American Independence as Mount Atlas.576
Engraved on Roger Sherman’s tomb is the Epitaph:
IN MEMORY OF
THE HON. ROGER SHERMAN,ESQ.
MAYOR OF THE CITY OF NEW HAVEN,
AND SENATOR OF THE UNITED STATES.
HE WAS BORN AT NEWTOWN, IN MASSACHUSETTS,
AND DIED IN NEW HAVEN,JULY 23rd, A.D. 1793,
… He ever adorned
the profession of Christianity
which he made in youth;
and, distinguished through life
for public usefulness,
died in the prospect
of a blessed immortality.577