Roger Sherman (April 19, 1721 - July 23, 1793). Born to a farm family in Massachusetts, Sherman moved to Connecticut after the death of his father, where he initially made his living as an artisan and a farmer, but it was his skill as a surveyor that gave him for land speculation and economic advancement. From there he became a storekeeper and general merchant, a publisher of farmers' almanacs, and a local political figure (for New Milford). Politics led him to law, and in 1754, he was admitted to the bar.

After the death of his wife and his brother and store partner, Sherman moved to New Haven, married above himself, and became the county's representative in the Connecticut General Assembly. When the Stamp Act crisis unfolded in 1765, Sherman took a leadership position in protesting British policy, but was not among the radicals who argued for extra-legal resistance to the British acts. When popular leaders called together the first Continental Congress, Connecticut sent Sherman as one of its first three delegates. He was a consistent and vigorous opponent of British imperial policy, an early advocate of independence, and a drafter of the Declaration of Independence. During the War, Sherman served in the Connecticut legislature, in the Continental Congress, and on the state supreme court, and he helped draft the Articles of Confederation. Sherman thus came to the Philadelphia Convention in 1787 with as much experience in state and "national" government as any delegate, and more than most.

Sherman, like Oliver Ellsworth, went to Philadelphia to help strengthen the federal government and protest the position of the (smaller) states. He believed the federal government needed the power to tax, to regulate trade, and to conduct foreign affairs, but he worked to assure that the form of the new government would give the individual states adequate power to protect their interests. Sherman has been credited with a number of the provisions of the Constitution: the "Connecticut Compromise" (that gave states equal representation in the Senate in return for representation by population in the House), the prohibition on export duties (a provision that favored the export economies of New England and the South), and the proviso that in cases where the Electoral College did not give any candidate a majority of the votes, the presidential election would be decide in the House, with each state having one vote (a provision again favoring the rights of individual states as states).

After ratification, Sherman served in the House and then the Senate. He opposed Madison's efforts to draft a Bill of Rights on the grounds that such an enumeration of federal rights would diminish the role and power of the states (the same position taken, more disingenuously, by some of nationalists, particularly James Wilson, in opposing during the ratification debates efforts to commit the government to crafting a federal Bill of Rights).
    Source: Christopher Collier, Roger Sherman's Connecticut: Yankee Politics and the American Revolution (1971).


Roger Sherman, Unpublished Opinion on the Constitution
New Haven, 8 December 1787

Dear Sir

I am informed that you wish to know my opinion with respect to the new Constitution lately formed by the federal convention, and the Objections made against it.

I suppose it is the general opinion that the present Government of the United States is not Sufficient to give them Credit and respectability Abroad or Security at home. But little faith or confidence can be placed in a gover[n]ment that has only power to enter into engagements, but no power to fulfil them.

To form a just opinion of the new constitution it Should be consid­ered, whether the powers to be thereby vested in the federal govern­ment are Sufficient, and only Such as are necessary to Secure the Common interests of the States; and whether the exercise of those pow­ers is placed in Safe hands.‑In every government there is a trust, which may be abused; but the greatest Security against abuse is, that the interest of those in whom the powers of government are vested is the

            Same as that of the people they govern, and that they are dependent on the Suffrage of the people for their appointment to, and continuance in Office. this is a much greater Security than a declaration of rights, or restraining clauses upon paper.

The rights of the people under the new constitution will be Secured by a representation in proportion to their numbers in one branch of the legislature, and the rights of the particular State governments by their equal representation in the other branch.

The President, Vice President, and Senators, tho' chosen for fixed periods, are re eligible as often as the electors Shall think proper, which will be a very great Security for their fidelity in Office, and will likewise give much greater Stability and energy to government than an exclu­sion by rotation.‑The greatest possible Security that a people can have for their civil rights and liberties, is, that no laws can be made to bind them, nor any taxes be imposed upon them without their consent by representatives chosen by themselves. This was the great point con­tended for in our contest with Great Britain; and will not this be fully Secured to us under the new constitution?

            Declarations of rights in England were charters granted by Princes, or Acts of Parliament made to limit the prerogatives of the crown, but not to abridge the powers of the Legislature. --These observations duly considered will obviate most of the objections that have been made against the constitution. -‑The powers vested in the federal government are only Such as respect the common interests of the Union, and are particularly defined, So that each State retains it's Sovereignty in what respects its own internal government, and a right to exercise every power of a Sovereign State not delegated to the united States. And tho' the general government in matters within its jurisdiction is paramount to the constitutions & laws of the particular States, yet all acts of the Congress not warranted by the constitution would be void. Nor could they be enforced contrary to the Sense of a majority of the States. -‑ One excellency of the constitution is that when the government of the united States acts within its proper bounds it will be the interest of the legisla­tures of the particular States to Support it, but when it over leaps those bounds and interferes with the rights of the State governments {it} they will be {their interest} powerful enough to check it; but {the powers of each} distinction between their jurisdictions will be So obvious, that there will be no great danger of interference {or contention between the governments of the particular States & the United States}.

The unanimity of the convention is a remarkable circumstance in favour of the constitution, that all the States present concurred in it, and all the members but three out of forty two Signed it, and Governor Randolph, declared, that tho' he did not think fit to Sign it, he had no fixed determination to oppose it, nor have I heard that he has Since made any opposition to it.

            The other two Honorable Gentlemen whom I esteem for their patri­otism and good Sense have published their objections,' which deserve Some notice; and I think the foregoing observations on the principles of the Constitution must evince that their fears are groundless. The peo­ples right of election is doubly Secured, the legislatures of the particular States have right to regulate it. and if they Should fail to do it properly, it may be done by congress. and what possible motive can either have to injure the people in the exercise of that right.‑the qualifications of the electors are to remain as fixed by the State constitutions. It is objected that the number of representatives will be too Small‑but it is my opin­ion that it will be quite large enough if extended as far as the constitu­tion will admit, the present number in both branches will consist of Ninety one members which is the Same number that the States have a right to elect under the confederation, and I have heard no complaint that the number is not Sufficient to give information, of the circumstan­ces of the States and to transact the general affairs of the union; nor have any of the States thought fit to keep up the full representation that they are intitled to {it may be Said, that the powers of the Congress increased, its true} nor will the additional powers of congress make it necessary to increase the number of members they will have the addi­tional powers of regulating commerce, establishing a uniform rule of naturalization, and laws on the Subject of bankruptcies, and to provide for the punishment of counterfeiting coins and Securities of the united States, and to prescribe a uniform mode of organizing, arming and training the Militia under the authority of the Several States, and to promote the progress of Science by Securing, to persons for a limited time the benefit of their writings & inventions. The other powers are the Same as Congress have under the articles of confederation with this dif­ference, that they will have authority to carry into effect, what they have now a right to require to be done by the States.

It was thought necessary in order to carry into efect the laws of the union, and to preserve justice and harmony among the States, to extend the judicial powers of the confederacy, they cannot be extended beyond the enumerated cases, but may be limited by Congress, and doubtless will be restricted to Such cases of importance & magnitude as cannot Safely be trusted to the final decision of the courts of the particular States, the Supreme court may have a circuit through the States to make the trials as convenient, and as little expensive to the parties as may be; and the trial by jury will doubtless be allowed in Cases proper for that mode of trial, nor will the people in general be at all affected by the judi­ciary of the United States, perhaps not one to an hundred of the citizens will ever have a cause that can come within its jurisdiction, for all causes between citizens of the Same States, except where they claim lands under grants of different States, must be finally decided by the courts of the State to which they belong.

The power of making war and raising and Supporting Armies is now vested in Congress, who are not restrained from keeping up armies in time of peace, but by the new constitution no appropriation of money for that purpose can be in force longer than two years, but the Security is that the power is in the legislature who are the representatives of the people and can have no motive to keep up armies unnecessarily.

In order to [have] a well regulated government, the legislature, Should be dependant on the people, and be vested with a plenetude of power, for all the purposes, for which it is instituted, to be exercised for the public good, as occasion may require, powers are dangerous only when trusted in officers not under the controul of the laws; but by the new constitution, Congress are vested with power to make all laws which Shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution, all the pow­ers vested in the government of the united States, or in any department or officer thereof


Note: from Draft, Sherman Collection, CtY. The letter has no addressee. Portions of this draft letter are found in Sherman's "A Citizen of New Haven," Connecticut Courant, 7 January (CCA21) and in an undated manuscript in Sherman's handwriting entitled "Observa­tions on the New federal Constitution" (Mfm:Conn. 63).   Source #331 from Source: James Kaminski and Gaspare Saladino, The Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution, Vol. XIV, Commentaries on the Constitution, Public and Private, Vol. 2 (Madison, Wisconsin, 1983),  386-389.   Crossed out sections of the manuscript are enclosed in {...}.