Second in our series of Forgotten Presidents was Thomas McKean[i] born 1734 in New London, Chester County, Pennsylvania, but settled eventually in Delaware. He served as President of the Congress from July 10 1781 to Nov 4, 1781. He was worthy of an oil painting, and the one shown is by Charles Willson Pearle who specialised in these sorts of society painting, and who completed this around 1787 and which now hangs in the Independence National Historical Park.
McKean was of Ulster Scots background the son of a taverner and married twice. As regards any illustrious descendents the only one I could find was his grandson Carlos Fernando de Yrujo who became a Prime Minister of Spain.
McKean was a career politician and his was a famed fifty year career in which he was involved in almost every kind of political role from that of depute county attorney upwards. He was by turns Chief Justice of Pennsylvania and Governor of Pennsylvania as well as the last signatory of the Declaration of Independence. He proposed the voting procedure Congress adopted where each colony regardless of size or population had only one vote. He drafted Delaware’s constitution and the Articles of Confederation. After his term he ended up also as a Governor of Pennsylvania for three stormy terms where he followed a strict policy of only granting office to his supporters.
He must have been a singularly clear sighted and skilful politician because it seems he certainly didn’t get where he got by toadying up to people. He had a bad temper, what was described euphemistically as possessing a “vigorous personality”, was rude, tactless, cold, proud and vain. He irritated people. No really?
McKean was depicted second from the right shown seated in the background of John Trumball’s painting of 1819 which hangs in the US Capitol rotunda and usually called “The Declaration of Independence”. (That’s parked him nicely out of the limelight) By now you will no doubt be entirely unsurprised to learn that despite the title and the location of its hanging it is not the actual signing of the Declaration. It is however a painting of the five members of the Drafting Committee presenting their findings. Not quite so sonorous a title I suppose. It’s also painted after his death and over forty years after the event itself so we can’t really be sure that it captures anything of the actuality of those momentous times.
So, – two signers of the Declaration of Independence and neither have descendents who are represented in later Senators, Vice Presidents or Presidents? Are we seeing a pattern? Oh yes you bet we are. Let’s move on to the next one please….
Copyright David Macadam 2010