October 7 marked the 285th anniversary of the birth of Caesar Rodney, the great patriot who as Delawareans know courageously traveled from Dover to Philadelphia on July 1, right as the vote for independence at the Continental Congress Convention.
Ironically, while Delaware was the First State to ratify the Constitution, Delaware was the second to last state of the original 13 colonies to ratify the Articles of Confederation. In October 1778 Caesar Rodney, having been elected president of the state following the capture of Dr. John McKinley in the Delaware river, appeared before the Delaware General Assembly and laid out the Articles of Confederation for ratification. However, the General Assembly was in no hurry to ratify in no small part due to the strong Tory sentiment in Sussex County. In addition the General Assembly, charged with making sure Delaware had adequate representation in the new Continental Congress, saw months go by without having a representative attend sessions. This was at minimum due to the fact that the General Assembly often balked at paying the delegates’ expenses.
President Rodney became frustrated with the General Assembly’s lack of interest in presiding over its business. In a letter to his friend and fellow Kent County politician John Dickinson (who lived in Philadelphia at this time) that he had “rejoiced” when that two members of the House left early “and thereby dissolved the House”. He followed up by saying “I don’t like to make use of harsh expressions relative to these gentlemen’s conduct-but wish more heartily they had a deeper sense of their Duty.”1
From this letter and historical documents from Delaware’s General Assembly in the late 1770s we see that Caesar Rodney, having risked his life to ride up to Philadelphia to cast Delaware’s deciding vote for Independence two years earlier, was frustrated that local politicians did not share his sense of urgency in regards to supporting the War for Independence. Caesar Rodney was a man who did not wait for things to be done. He would not have fit into today’s Congress because he would have been adamant that issues get resolved as quickly as possible. For Caesar Rodney’s boldness in doing what needed to be done when it needed to, we at the Caesar Rodney Institute salute him.
Caesar Rodney Institute
1. Hoffecker, Carol E. Democracy in Delaware: The Story of the First State’s General Assembly p. 49-50. Cedar Tree Books; Wilmington, 2004.