George Read (September 18 1733 September 21 1798) was an American lawyer and politician from New Castle, in New Castle County, Delaware. He was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, a Continental Congressman from Delaware, a delegate to the U.S. Constitutional Convention of 1787, President of Delaware, and a member of the Federalist Party, who served as U.S. Senator from Delaware and Chief Justice of Delaware.
In 1763 Read married Gertrude Ross Till, daughter of the Rev. George Ross, the Anglican rector of Immanuel Church in New Castle, and widowed sister of George Ross, also a future signer of the Declaration of Independence. They had five children, John, George Jr., William, John, and Mary, who married Gunning Bedford, Sr., a future Governor of Delaware. They lived on The Strand in New Castle. Their house was in what is now the garden of the present Read House and Gardens, owned by the Delaware Historical Society. They were members of Immanuel Episcopal Church.
In 1763 John Penn, the Proprietary Governor, appointed Read Crown Attorney General for the three Delaware counties and he served in that position until leaving for the Continental Congress in 1774. He also served in the Colonial Assembly of the Lower Counties for twelve sessions, from 1764/65 through 1775/76.
Eighteenth century Delaware was politically divided into loose factions known as the "Court Party" and the "Country Party." The majority Court Party was generally Anglican, strongest in Kent County and Sussex County, worked well with the colonial Proprietary government, and was in favor of reconciliation with the British government. The minority Country Party was largely Ulster-Scot, centered in New Castle County, and quickly advocated independence from the British. Read was the epitome of the Court party politician; from 1763 to 1774, he served as the colonial Attorney General. As such, he generally worked in opposition to Caesar Rodney and his friend and neighbor, Thomas McKean.
Read, therefore, like most people in Delaware, was very much in favor of trying to reconcile differences with Great Britain. He opposed the Stamp Act and similar measures of Parliament, and supported anti-importation measures and dignified protests, but was quite reluctant to pursue the option of outright independence. Nevertheless, from 1764 he led the Delaware Committee of Correspondence and was elected to serve along with the more radical Thomas McKean and Caesar Rodney in the First and Second Continental Congress from 1774 through 1777. He was frequently absent though, and when the Congress voted on American Independence on July 2 1776, Read surprised many by voting against it. This meant Caesar Rodney had to ride overnight to Philadelphia to break the deadlock in Delaware's delegation in favor of independence. However, when the Declaration of Independence was finally adopted, Read signed it, joining the cause in spite of his natural caution.
Read was then elected to the first Legislative Council of the Delaware General Assembly and was selected as the Speaker in both the 1776-77 and 1777-78 sessions. At the time of the capture of President John McKinly, Read was in Philadelphia attending Congress, and after narrowly escaping capture himself while returning home, he became President on October 20 1777, serving until March 31 1778. During these months the British occupied Philadelphia and were in control of the Delaware River. Read tried, mostly in vain, to recruit additional soldiers and protect the state from raiders from Philadelphia and off ships in the Delaware River. The Delaware General Assembly session of 1777-78 had to be moved to Dover, Delaware for safety and the Sussex County General Assembly delegation was never seated because disruptions at the polls had negated the election results.
After Caesar Rodney was elected to replace him as President, Read continued to serve in the Legislative Council through the 1778-79 session. After a one-year rest nursing ill health, he was elected to the House of Assembly for the 1780-81 and 1781-82 sessions. He returned to the Legislative Council in the 1782-83 session and served two terms, through the 1787-88 session. In 1782 he was appointed Judge of the Court of Appeals in admiralty cases.
|Delaware General Assembly |
(sessions while President)
|Year||Assembly||Senate Majority||Speaker||House Majority||Speaker|
|1777/78||2nd||non-partisan||George Read||non-partisan||Samuel West|
Read was again called to national service in 1786 when he represented Delaware at the Annapolis Convention. Because so few states were represented, this meeting produced only a report calling for a broader convention to be held in Philadelphia the next year.
"Read immediately argued for a new national government under a new Constitution, saying 'to amend the Articles was simply putting old cloth on a new garment.' He was a leader in the fight for a strong central government, advocating, at one time, the abolition of the states altogether and the consolidation of the country under one powerful national government. 'Let no one fear the states, the people are with us;' he declared to a Convention shocked by this radical proposal. With no one to support his motion, he settled for protecting the rights of the small states against the infringements of their larger, more populous neighbors who, he feared, would 'probably combine to swallow up the smaller ones by addition, division or impoverishment.' He warned that Delaware 'would become at once a cipher in the union' if the principle of equal representation embodied in the New Jersey (small-state) Plan was not adopted and if the method of amendment in the Articles was not retained. He favored giving Congress the right to vote state laws, making the federal legislature immune to popular whims by having senators hold office for nine years or during good behavior, and granting the U.S. President broad appointive powers. Outspoken, he threatened to lead the Delaware delegation out of the Convention if the rights of the small states were not specifically guaranteed in the new Constitution."Once those rights were assured, he led the ratification movement in Delaware which, partly as a result of his efforts, became the first state to ratify.
Read's resignation from the U.S. Senate was before the first session of the 3rd Congress assembled, but it was not until February 7 1795, 4 weeks before it adjourned, that Henry Latimer was elected to replace him. One of Delaware's U.S. Senate seats was, therefore, vacant from September 18 1793 until February 7 1795.
William T. Reid in his Life and Correspondence described Read as "tall, slightly and gracefully formed, with pleasing features and lustrous brown eyes. His manners were dignified, bordering upon austerity, but courteous, and at times captivating. He commanded entire confidence, not only from his profound legal knowledge, sound judgment, and impartial decisions, but from his severe integrity and the purity of his private character." However, a fellow delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 noted that "his legal abilities are said to be very great, but his powers of oratory are fatiguing and tiresome to the last degree; his voice is feeble and his articulation so bad that few can have patience to attend him." Historians like John Munroe have generally recognized that all in all, Read was the dominating figure in Delaware politics during his career, directly or indirectly providing consistent and reliable leadership to the new state.
On The Strand in New Castle, Delaware is the house built by his son, George Read, II. It is owned by the Delaware Historical Society, restored and opened to the public. There is a school named for him in New Castle and a dorm at the University of Delaware.
|Office||Type||Location||Elected||Took Office||Left Office||notes|
|Attorney General||Judiciary||New Castle||October 20 1763||October 20 1774|
|Assemblyman||Legislature||New Castle||1764||October 20 1764||October 21 1765|
|Assemblyman||Legislature||New Castle||1765||October 21 1765||October 20 1766|
|Assemblyman||Legislature||New Castle||1766||October 20 1766||October 20 1767|
|Assemblyman||Legislature||New Castle||1767||October 20 1767||October 20 1768|
|Assemblyman||Legislature||New Castle||1768||October 20 1768||October 20 1769|
|Assemblyman||Legislature||New Castle||1769||October 20 1769||October 20 1770|
|Assemblyman||Legislature||New Castle||1770||October 20 1770||October 21 1771|
|Assemblyman||Legislature||New Castle||1771||October 21 1771||October 20 1772|
|Assemblyman||Legislature||New Castle||1772||October 20 1772||October 20 1773|
|Assemblyman||Legislature||New Castle||1773||October 20 1773||October 20 1774|
|Continental Congressman||Legislature||Philadelphia||August 2 1774||September 5 1774||October 26 1774|
|Assemblyman||Legislature||New Castle||1774||October 20 1774||October 20 1775|
|Continental Congressman||Legislature||Philadelphia||March 16 1775||May 10 1775||October 21 1775|
|Assemblyman||Legislature||New Castle||1775||October 20 1775||June 15 1776|
|Continental Congressman||Legislature||Philadelphia||October 21 1775||October 21 1775||November 7 1776|
|Delegate||Convention||New Castle||August 27 1776||September 21 1776||State Constitution|
|Councilman||Legislature||Dover||1776||October 28 1776||October 20 1779||Speaker|
|Continental Congressman||Legislature||Philadelphia||November 7 1776||November 7 1776||December 17 1777|
|State President||Executive||Dover||October 20 1777||March 31 1778||acting|
|Assemblyman||Legislature||Dover||1780||October 20 1780||October 20 1781|
|Assemblyman||Legislature||Dover||1781||October 20 1781||October 20 1782|
|Councilman||Legislature||Dover||1782||October 20 1782||October 20 1785|
|Councilman||Legislature||Dover||1785||October 20 1785||October 20 1788|
|Delegate||Convention||Philadelphia||May 14 1787||September 17 1787||U.S. Constitution|
|U.S. Senator||Legislature||New York||March 4 1789||March 3 1791|
|U.S. Senator||Legislature||Philadelphia||March 4 1791||September 18 1793||resigned|
|Chief Justice||Judiciary||Dover||September 30 1793||September 21 1798||State Supreme Court|
|Delaware General Assembly service|
|1776/77||1st||State Council||non-partisan||John McKinly||Speaker||New Castle at-large|
|1777/78||2nd||State Council||non-partisan||Caesar Rodney||Speaker||New Castle at-large|
|1778/79||3rd||State Council||non-partisan||Caesar Rodney||New Castle at-large|
|1780/81||5th||State House||non-partisan||Caesar Rodney||New Castle at-large|
|1781/82||6th||State House||non-partisan||John Dickinson||New Castle at-large|
|1782/83||7th||State Council||non-partisan||Nicholas Van Dyke||New Castle at-large|
|1783/84||8th||State Council||non-partisan||Nicholas Van Dyke||New Castle at-large|
|1784/85||9th||State Council||non-partisan||Nicholas Van Dyke||New Castle at-large|
|1785/86||10th||State Council||non-partisan||Nicholas Van Dyke||New Castle at-large|
|1786/87||11th||State Council||non-partisan||Thomas Collins||New Castle at-large|
|1787/88||12th||State Council||non-partisan||Thomas Collins||New Castle at-large|
|United States Congressional service|
|1789-1791||1st||U.S. Senate||Pro-Administration||George Washington||class 1|
|1791-1793||2nd||U.S. Senate||Pro-Administration||George Washington||class 1|
|1793-1795||3rd||U.S. Senate||Pro-Administration||George Washington||class 1|