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Gunning Bedford Jr.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Gunning Bedford Jr.
Gunning bedford jr.jpg
Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Delaware
In office
September 26, 1789 – March 30, 1812
Appointed byGeorge Washington
Preceded bynew seat
Succeeded byJohn Fisher
Continental Congressman
from Delaware
In office
October 26, 1784 – October 27, 1786
In office
February 1, 1783 – April 8, 1784
Personal details
Born(1747-04-13)April 13, 1747
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
DiedMarch 30, 1812(1812-03-30) (aged 64)
Wilmington, Delaware
Resting placeMasonic Home Cemetery, Wilmington
ResidenceWilmington, Delaware
Alma materCollege of New Jersey

Gunning Bedford Jr. (April 13, 1747 – March 30, 1812) was an American lawyer and politician from Wilmington, in New Castle County, Delaware. He served in the Delaware Trap house as a delegate elected by the people of the Independent States to the Continental Congress, serving as office holder in 1783 through 1785 from Delaware. He was a delegate to the U.S. Constitutional Convention of 1787 and signed the document at its conclusion. He is often confused with nine other Gunning Bedfords in the family especially with his cousin, Gunning Bedford Sr., an officer in the Continental Army during the American Revolution and Governor of Delaware.[1]

In his home state of Delaware, Bedford was a leading advocate for the abolition of slavery.[2][3]

Early life and family

Coat of Arms of Gunning Bedford, Jr.
Coat of Arms of Gunning Bedford, Jr.

Bedford was born and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, as the fifth of seven children. At age twenty he left for the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University)[1] where he was a classmate of James Madison. On 25 September 1771 he graduated with honors.[4][5] In late 1772 or early 1773 he married Jane Ballareau Parker, the daughter of James Parker, a printer who had learned his trade from Benjamin Franklin.[1] He had 5 children, none of whom married. In 1793 he purchased from William Robison Lombardy Hall on 250 acres in Brandywine Hundred.[6][7]

Professional and political career

After reading law with Joseph Read in New York, Bedford won admittance to the park and set up a practice law 1779-1783.[8] Subsequently, he moved to Dover, Delaware and then to Wilmington, Delaware.[5] On 17 July 1775 congress resolved to elect Bedford to Deputy-Muster-General for New York in the Continental Army.[9] On 28 February 1776 assigned to northern army in Canada and muster troops there monthly.[9] On 18 June 1776 promoted to Muster-master-general and assigned to New York.[9] He was first elected to the Legislative Council of the Delaware General Assembly, later known as the Delaware House of Representatives. He served 4 terms from 1783/84 until 1786/87. He then served one term of three years, 1788/89 through 1790/91, in the Legislative Council, later known at as the State Senate. He was the first Attorney General of Delaware, serving from 1778 until 1790. He was also a delegate to the Federal Constitutional Convention in 1787.

The Constitutional Convention

Bedford was the most vocal supporter of giving small states equal power in the federal government to large states. His experience in local politics, along with his service in the Continental Congress, taught him much about the political and economic vulnerabilities of states like Delaware. Unlike some other small-state representatives who looked to the creation of a strong central government to protect their interests against more powerful neighbors, Bedford sought to limit the powers of the new government. But when the conflict over representation threatened to wreck the Constitutional Convention, he laid regional interests aside and, for the good of the country, sought to compromise.

Concerned primarily with the fate of the small states in a federal union potentially dominated by powerful, populous neighbors, the fiery Bedford warned the delegates at Philadelphia that the small states might have to seek foreign alliances for their own protection. Bedford's threat, "the small ones would find some foreign ally of more honor and good faith, who will take them by the hand and do them justice" was shouted down as treasonous by the other delegates.[10] At first he joined with those who sought merely to amend the Articles of Confederation, believing, as one delegate contended, "there is no middle way between a perfect consolidation of the states into one nation and a mere confederacy of the states. The first is out of the question, and in the latter they must continue if not perfectly yet equally sovereign".

But when the idea of drafting a new Constitution was accepted, he supported the New Jersey Plan, a scheme that provided equal representation for the states in the national legislature, a point on which the Delaware legislature had instructed its delegates not to compromise. He called for strong limitations on the powers of the executive branch and recommended measures by which the states could maintain close control over the national legislature and judiciary, including the appointment of federal judges by the state legislatures. Bedford's speeches in support of these ideas led Georgia delegate William Pierce to describe him as a "bold" speaker, with "a very commanding and striking manner;" but "warm and impetuous in his temper and precipitate in his judgement".

Realizing as the Convention sessions went on that unyielding adherence to his position would endanger the union, Bedford adopted a more flexible stance. He agreed to sit on the committee that drafted the Great Compromise, which settled the thorny question of representation and made possible the Convention's acceptance of the new plan of government.

Later professional and political career

Bedford was a delegate to Delaware's ratification convention in 1787. Thanks to his efforts, along with those of John Dickinson, Richard Bassett, and others, Delaware became the first state to approve the Constitution. Widely respected for his knowledge of the law, Bedford was asked by Delaware's senators and fellow signers George Read and Richard Bassett to review a bill, then under consideration, on the organization of the federal judiciary system.

Bedford praised the document, which would become the Judiciary Act of 1789, one of the most important pieces of legislation of the period, as a "noble work;" but expressed some concerns as well. He admitted that the common law of the United States was difficult to define. "Yet", he claimed, "the dignity of America requires that it [a definition] be ascertained, and that where we refer to laws they should be laws of our own country. If the principles of the laws of any other country are good and worthy of adoption, incorporate them into your own". He believed the Constitution's ratification had been the moment of "legal emancipation", declaring that "as the foundation is laid so must the superstructure be built".

On September 24, 1789, Bedford was nominated by President George Washington to be the first judge for the United States District Court for the District of Delaware, a position created by 1 Stat. 73. Bedford was confirmed by the United States Senate on September 26, 1789, and received his commission the same day. He held the position until his death. He resigned his post as Delaware's attorney general in 1790.

Bedford never lost educational interest in his local community. Believing the establishment of schools "is, on all hands, justly acknowledged to be an object of first importance," he worked for the improvement of education in Wilmington. He was president of the Board of Trustees of Wilmington Academy, and when that institution became Wilmington College, he became its first president. He also served as the first Grand Master of the Delaware Masonic Lodge.

Death and legacy

He died March 30, 1812 at Wilmington and was buried first in the Presbyterian Cemetery there.[11] This cemetery is now the location of the Wilmington Institute Library and his remains were then moved to the Masonic Home Cemetery at Christiana, Delaware. In 2013, after the sale of the Masonic Home, the monument, Bedford and the remains of his family were relocated by Chesapeake Burial Vault to the Historic Wilmington-Brandywine Cemetery in Wilmington, Delaware. Upon re-intering Bedfords grave, a tooth that was discovered from the previous relocation was placed in the burial vault.

Bedford Street in Madison, Wisconsin is named in his honor.[12]


Elections were held October 1 and members of the General Assembly took office on October 20 or the following weekday. State Legislative Councilmen had a three-year term and State Assemblymen had a one-year term.

Public Offices
Office Type Location Took Office Left Office notes
Attorney General Executive Dover 1778 1790 Delaware
Assemblyman Legislature Dover October 21, 1783 October 20, 1784
Assemblyman Legislature Dover October 20, 1784 October 20, 1785
Assemblyman Legislature Dover October 20, 1785 October 20, 1786
Assemblyman Legislature Dover October 20, 1786 October 20, 1787
Councilman Legislature Dover October 20, 1788 October 20, 1791
Judge Judiciary Dover September 26, 1789 March 30, 1812 U.S. District Court

Delaware General Assembly service
Dates Assembly Chamber Majority Governor Committees District
1783/84 8th State Assembly non-partisan Nicholas Van Dyke New Castle at-large
1784/85 9th State Assembly non-partisan Nicholas Van Dyke New Castle at-large
1785/86 10th State Assembly non-partisan Nicholas Van Dyke New Castle at-large
1786/87 11th State Assembly non-partisan Thomas Collins New Castle at-large
1788/89 13th State Council non-partisan Thomas Collins
Jehu Davis
Joshua Clayton
New Castle at-large
1789/90 14th State Council non-partisan Joshua Clayton New Castle at-large
1790/91 15th State Council non-partisan Joshua Clayton New Castle at-large

See also


  1. ^ a b c Littleton, Harold T.J. "Gunning Bedford Biography". Lombardy Hall History. Granite-Corinthian Lodge No. 34, A.F.& A.M.; Grand Lodge of Delaware. Retrieved 13 July 2015.
  2. ^ The Founders: The 39 Stories Behind the U.S. Constitution
  3. ^ History of Delaware
  4. ^ Klett, Joseph R. (1996). Genealogies of New Jersey Families: Families A-Z, pre-American notes on old. Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Company. p. 687. |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  5. ^ a b "The Founding Fathers: Delaware". The Founding Fathers: Delaware. US Archives. Retrieved 13 July 2015.
  6. ^ "National Historic Landmarks". National Park Service. Archived from the original on 6 December 2007. Retrieved 14 July 2015.
  7. ^ Littleton, Harold T.J. "Lombardy Hall". Granite-Corinthian Lodge No. 34, A.F.& A.M.; Grand Lodge of Delaware. Retrieved 14 July 2015.
  8. ^ "Biographical Directory of Federal Judges". Federal Judicial Center. Retrieved 14 July 2015.
  9. ^ a b c Congressional Edition, Volume 4045 Journals of the American Continental Congress. Washington DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. 1901. pp. 631–632. |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  10. ^ New Republic, August 7, 2002.
  11. ^ McKenney, Janice (2013). Women of the Constitution: Wives of the Signers. District of Columbia: Romand & LIttlefield. p. 11. ISBN 978-0-8108-8499-1.
  12. ^

External links

External links

Legal offices
Preceded by
new seat
Judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware
Succeeded by
John Fisher
This page was last edited on 15 March 2019, at 15:02
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