Caesar Rodney Biography
Caesar Rodney, the first of the delegation from Delaware, was a native of that state, and was born about the year 1730. His birth-place was Dover. The family, from which he was descended, was of ancient date, and is honorably spoken of in the history of early times. We read of Sir Walter De Rodeney, of Sir George De Rodeney, and Sir Henry De Rodeney, with several others of the same name, even earlier than the year 1234. Sir Richard De Rodeney accompanied the gallant Richard Coeur de Lion [Richard the Lion Heart] in his crusade to the Holy Land, where he fell, while fighting at the siege of Acre.
In subsequent years, the wealth and power of the family continued to be great. Intermarriages took place between some of the members of it, and several illustrious and noble families of England. During the civil wars, about the time of the commonwealth, the family became considerably reduced, and its members were obliged to seek their fortunes in new employments, and in distant countries. Soon after the settlement of Pennsylvania by William Penn, William Rodney, one of the descendants of this illustrious family removed to that province and after a short residence in Philadelphia, settled in Kent, a county upon the Delaware. This gentleman died in the year 1708, leaving a considerable fortune, and eight children, the eldest of whom is the subject of the following sketch. Mr. Rodney inherited from his father a large landed estate, which was entailed upon him, according to the usages of distinguished families at that day. At the early age of twenty-eight years, such was his popularity, he was appointed high sheriff in the county in which he resided, and on the expiration of his term of service, he was created a justice of the peace, and a judge of the lower courts. In 1762, and perhaps at a still earlier date, he represented the county of Kent in the provincial legislature. In this station he entered with great zeal and activity into the prominent measures of the day. In the year 1765, the first general congress was assembled, as is well known, at New-York, to consult upon the measures which were necessary to be adopted in consequence of the stamp act, and other oppressive acts of the British government. To this Congress, Mr. Rodney, Mr. M'Kean, and Mr. Kollock, were unanimously appointed by the provincial assembly of Delaware to represent that province. On their return from New-York, they reported to the assembly their proceedings, under the instructions which they had received. For the faithful and judicious discharge of the trust reposed in them, the assembly unanimously tendered them their thanks, and voted them a liberal compensation.
The tumults caused in America by the stamp act, we have had frequent occasion to notice, as well as the joy consequent upon the repeal of that odious measure. In this universal joy, the inhabitants of Delaware largely participated, On the meeting of their legislature, Mr. Rodney, Mr. M'Kean, and Mr. Read, were appointed to express their thanks to the king, for his kindness in relieving them, in common with their country, from a burden which they had considered as exceedingly oppressive. In the address which was reported by the above committee, and forwarded, by direction of the assembly, to England, we find the following language:
"We cannot help glorying in being the subjects of a king, that has made the preservation of the civil and religious rights of his people, and the established constitution, the foundation and constant rule of his government, and the safety, ease, and prosperity of his people, his chiefest care; of a king, whose mild and equal administration is sensibly felt and enjoyed in the remotest parts of his dominion. The clouds which lately hung over America are dissipated. Our complaints have been heard, and our grievances redressed; trade and commerce again flourish. Our hearts are animated with the warmest wishes for the prosperity of the mother country, for which our affection is unbounded, and your faithful subjects here are transported with joy and gratitude. Such are the blessings we may justly expect will ever attend the measures of your majesty, pursuing steadily the united and true interests of all your people, throughout your wide extended empire, assisted with the advice and support of a British parliament, and a virtuous and wise ministry. We most humbly beseech your majesty, graciously to accept the strongest assurances, that having the justest sense of the many favors we have received from your royal benevolence, during the course of your majesty's reign, and how much our present happiness is owing to your paternal love and care for your people; we will at all times most cheerfully contribute to your majesty's service, to the utmost of our abilities, when your royal requisitions, as heretofore, shall be made known; that your majesty will always find such returns, of duty and gratitude from us, as the best of kings may expect from the most loyal subjects, and that you will demonstrate to all the world, that the support of your majesty's government, and the honor and interests of the British nation, are our chief care and concern, desiring nothing more than the continuance of our wise and excellent constitution, in the same happy, firm, and envied situation, in which it was delivered down to us from our ancestors, and your majesty's predecessors."
This address, according to the agent who presented it, was kindly received by his majesty, who expressed his pleasure by reading it over twice.
Unfortunately for the British government, but perhaps fortunately in the issue for the America colonies, the repeal of the stamp act was followed by other oppressive measures, which caused a renewal of the former excitement in the American colonies, and led to that revolution, which deprived Great Britain of one of her fairest possessions. The inhabitants of Delaware were for a long time anxious for reconciliation between the mother country and the American colonies; still they understood too well their unalienable rights, and had too high a regard for them, tamely to relinquish them. In a subsequent address, prepared by the same gentlemen who had drafted the former, they renewed their protestations of loyalty; but at the same time took the liberty of remonstrating against the proceedings of the British parliament:
"If our fellow-subjects of Great Britain, who derive no authority from us, who cannot in our humble opinion represent us, and to whom we will not yield in loyalty and affection to your majesty, can at their will and pleasure, of right, give and grant away our property; if they enforce an implicit obedience to every order or act of theirs for that purpose, and deprive all, or any of the assemblies on this continent, of the power of legislation, for differing with them in opinion in matters which intimately affect their rights and interests, and every thing that is dear and valuable to Englishmen, we cannot imagine a case more miserable; we cannot think that we shall have even the shadow of liberty left. We conceive it to be an inherent right in your majesty's subjects, derived to them from God and nature, handed down from their ancestors, and confirmed by your royal predecessors and the constitution, in person, or by their representatives, to give and grant to their sovereigns those things which their own labors and their own cares have acquired and saved, and in such proportions and at such times, as the national honor and interest may require. Your majesty's faithful subjects of this government have enjoyed this inestimable privilege uninterrupted from its first existence, till of late. They have at all times cheerfully contributed to the utmost of their abilities for your majesty's service, as often as your royal requisitions were made known; and they cannot now, but with the greatest uneasiness and distress of mind, part with the power of demonstrating their loyalty and affection to their beloved king."
About this time, Mr. Rodney, in consequence of ill health, was obliged to relinquish his public duties, and seek medical advice in the city of Philadelphia. A cancerous affection had some time previously made its appearance on his nose, and was fast spreading itself over one side of his face. Fortunately, the skill of the physicians of Philadelphia afforded him considerable relief, and deterred him from making a voyage to England to seek professional advice in that country. In 1769, Mr. Rodney was elected speaker of the house of representatives, an office which he continued to fill for several years. About the same time he was appointed chairman of the committee of correspondence with the other colonies. In the discharge of the duties of this latter office, he communicated with gentlemen of great influence in all parts of the country, and by the intelligence which he received from them, and which he communicated to his constituents, contributed to that union of sentiment which, at length, enabled the colonies to achieve their independence.
Among the persons which composed the well known congress of 1774, Mr. Rodney was one, having for his colleagues the gentlemen already named, viz. Thomas M'Kean and George Read. The instructions given to this delegation required them to consult and determine upon such measures as might appear most wise for the colonies to adopt, in order to obtain relief from the sufferings they were experiencing, on the meeting of this congress, on the fifth of September, in the year already named, Mr. Rodney appeared and took his seat. He was soon after appointed on several important committees, in the discharge of which he exhibited great fidelity, and as a reward for his services he received the thanks of the provincial assembly, together with a reappointment to the same high station in the following year. He was also appointed to the office of brigadier general in the province.
At the time that the important question of independence came before congress, Mr. Rodney was absent on a tour into the southern part of Delaware, having for his object to quiet the discontent which prevailed in that section of the country, and to prepare the minds of the people to a change of their government. On the question of independence, his colleagues, Mr. M'Kean and Mr. Read, who were at this time in attendance upon congress, in Philadelphia, were divided. Aware of the importance of an unanimous vote of the states in favor of a declaration of independence, and acquainted with the views of Mr. Rodney, Mr. M'Kean dispatched a special messenger to summon him to be present in his seat on the occurrence of the trying question. With great effort, Mr. Rodney reached Philadelphia just in time to give his vote, and thus to secure an entire unanimity in that act of treason. In the autumn of 1776, a convention was called in Delaware, for the purpose of framing a new constitution, and of appointing delegates to the succeeding congress. In this convention there was a majority opposed to Mr. Rodney, who was removed from congress, and another appointed in his stead. Such ingratitude on the part of a people was not common during the revolutionary struggle. In the present instance, the removal of this gentleman was principally attributable to the friends of the royal government, who were quite numerous, especially in the lower counties, and who contrived to enlist the prejudices of some true republicans in accomplishing their object.
Although thus removed from congress, Mr. Rodney still continued a member of the council of safety, and of the committee of inspection, in both of which offices he employed himself with great diligence, especially in collecting supplies for the troops of the state, which were at that time with Washington, in the state of New Jersey. In 1777, he repaired in person to the camp near Princeton, where he remained for nearly two months, in the most active and laborious services.
In the autumn of this year, Mr. Rodney was again appointed as a delegate from Delaware to congress, but before taking his seat he was elected president of the state. This was an office of great responsibility, demanding energy and promptness, especially as the legislature of the state was tardy in its movements, and the loyalists were not infrequently exciting troublesome insurrections. Mr. Rodney continued in the office of president of the state for about four years. During this period, he had frequent communications from Washington, in relation to the distressed condition of the army. In every emergency, he was ready to assist to the extent of his power; and by the influence which he exerted, and by the energy which he manifested, he succeeded in affording the most prompt and efficient aid. The honorable course which he pursued, his firm and yet liberal conduct, in circumstances the most difficult and trying, greatly endeared him to the people of Delaware, who universally expressed their regret when, in the year 1782, he felt himself obliged, on account of the arduous nature of his duties, and the delicate state of his health, to decline a re-election.
Shortly after retiring from the presidency, he was elected to congress, but it does not appear that he ever after took his seat in that body. The cancer which had for years afflicted him, and which for a long time previously had so spread over his face as to oblige him to wear a green silk screen to conceal its ill appearance, now increased its ravages, and in the early part of the year 1783, brought him to the grave.
It would be unnecessary, were it in our power, to add any thing further on the character of Mr. Rodney. He was, as our biographical notice clearly indicates, a man of great integrity, and of pure patriotic feeling. He delighted, when necessary, to sacrifice his private interests for the public good. He was remarkably distinguished for a degree of good humor and vivacity; and in generosity of character was an ornament to human nature.
SOURCE: Lives of the Signers to the Declaration of Independence, 1829
by Rev. Charles A. Goodrich