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Constitution Week

Constitution Week commemorates United States' most important document: The U.S. Constitution. It is celebrated annually during the week of September 17-23. Officially enacted on August 2, 1956, by President Dwight D. Eisenhower from a congressional resolution petitioned by the Daughters of the American Revolution, it was George W. Bush who officially declared the inception of Constitution Week in September 2002. [Source: Wikipedia]. The purpose of the observance week is to promote study and education about the United States Constitution which was originally adopted by the Confederation Congress on September 17, 1787.

View the Library's Constitution Week 2020 online exhibit.

Howard Chandler Christy's Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States,1940

This year's exhibit focuses on David Brearley, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of New Jersey and one of the four New Jersey Framers of the United States Constitution.

David Brearley

The greatness of David Brearley, one of the New Jersey framers of the Constitution, has been lost in the fabric of time. Overshadowed by the well-known framers of our new government, the vital role he played has been forgotten.

David Brearley was one of the men from New Jersey who, as part of the Constitutional Convention, crafted the U.S. Constitution. The New Jersey delegates were William Livingston, William Paterson, Jonathan Dayton and David Brearley. Brearley was born in Lawrence (Maidenhead) Township on March 12, 1745; one of the five children of David and Mary Clark Brearley. Committed to the ideas of our new nation, David Brearley and his brother Joseph fought for the patriot cause. Joseph achieved the rank of Captain and David that of Lieutenant Colonel. A man of intelligence, education and influence, he was held in high regard and rose to be Chief Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court by 1779; a position he held until 1789.

In 1787, when it became obvious that the Articles of Confederation was not adequate for the governing of our new nation, David Brearley and men from the newly formed nation were assigned as delegates to a Constitutional Convention for the purpose of revising the ineffective Articles of Confederation. The Articles, unable to raise taxes or govern trade agreements, needed to be rewritten and expanded or our new nation would fail.

[Image source: From the album Charles William Γεώργιος Schwartz, V's photos by Charles William Γεώργιος Schwartz]

As a small state, New Jersey was invested in a constitutional plan that would give the government the ability to raise taxes, govern trade, and level representation between the large and small states. Since the power to tax rested with the states, the ability of the Federal Government to pay for war reparations was stymied. New Jersey had been the only state to tax its citizens and find a way to pay its creditors making New Jersey, then as now, the state with the highest taxes. However, the citizens of New Jersey suffered the greatest loss in property damages caused by the war and were owed reparations for all the damages from the federal government. Because of the government’s inability to tax to pay for damages, New Jerseyans were left unpaid for the losses incurred.

Brearley became chairman of a committee formed from a consolidation of like-minded men from the smaller states in favor of a strong national government. Their plan was an alternative proposal to the Virginia Plan favored by the larger states. The New Jersey Plan differed from the Virginia Plan in that each state would have one vote giving no advantage to the larger states.


The New Jersey Plan
(click to view larger image)
  The Virginia Plan
(click to view larger image)

In the end, the Great Compromise solved the dilemma by creating two legislative houses: the House of Representatives (435 members; proportional to population) and the Senate (100 members; two from each state). In addition, a series of checks and balances strengthened the power of the Constitution and the national government through the creation of three distinct branches of government, the Executive, Legislative and Judicial. However, the fine-tuning of the judicial system came in 1789 when George Washington signed the Judiciary Act.

Finally a new committee, the Committee of Leftovers - often referred to as the "Brearley Committee" - was formed. Made up of 11 delegates from most of the states, David Brearley was named chairman, illustrating the trust and respect those in the group felt for his ability to form consensus around the tough issues at hand. It is this committee that came together and outlined the presidential and legislative powers, formulated the Electoral College, created the position of Vice President, and outlined the impeachment process.

Sadly, David Brearley died well before his time in 1790 at the age of 45. He is buried in St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Trenton. His work and legacy lives on today in the U. S. Constitution.



This exhibit is sponsored by the Francis Hopkinson Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution

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