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8th President of the United States
in Congress Assembled
June 1786 - November 13, 1786
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First United American Republic
Continental Congress of the United Colonies Presidents
Sept. 5, 1774 to July 1, 1776
United Colonies of America
George Washington: June 15, 1775 - July 1,
Second United American Republic
Continental Congress of
the United States Presidents
July 2, 1776 to February 28, 1781
Commander-in-Chief United Colonies of America
George Washington: July 2, 1776 - February
Third United American Republic
Presidents of the United States in Congress Assembled
March 1, 1781 to March 3, 1789
November 4, 1781
November 5, 1781
November 3, 1782
November 4, 1782
November 2, 1783
November 3, 1783
Richard Henry Lee
November 30, 1784
November 22, 1785
November 23, 1785
February 1, 1787
Arthur St. Clair
February 2, 1787
January 21, 1788
January 22, 1788
January 21, 1789
United Colonies of America
George Washington: March
1, 1781 - December 23, 1783
Nathaniel Gorham was born in Charlestown,
Massachusetts on May 27th, 1738 and died there on June 11th, 1796. He
was the son of a small boat operator growing-up in a family of modest means.
After receiving a public school education, Gorham worked in various small
businesses in his birthplace of Charlestown. He was apprenticed in 1754 to
Nathaniel Coffin, a merchant in New London, Connecticut where he learned the
import and export business. He left Coffin's employ in 1759 and returned to
his hometown establishing his own small business there, which quickly
In 1763 he wed Rebecca Call, who was to bear the couple nine children. In
1770, Gorham launched his public career as a notary, soon winning election to
the colonial legislature in 1771. He took an active part in public affairs at
the beginning of the Revolution, as a strong supporter of the Whigs. He was
then elected delegate to the Massachusetts' Provincial Congress in 1774 and
served throughout 1775. During the war he was a member of the Massachusetts
board of war from 1778 until its dissolution in 1781, which oversaw the
State's military strategy, logistics and recruitment. He paid the price for
the effective service in that office, as British troops ravaged much of his
property during the occupation of Charlestown.
Early Nathaniel Gorham Autograph Letter
Signed on legal folio, Charles Town, Nov. 5, 1772 to Philadelphia
merchants John Reynell and Samuel Coates writing that
“…by Capt. Hinkley I wrote you
desiring you to ship me 2 Tons Barr Iron which I take this opportunitiy
to desire you to alter & in the room of it to send six Tons pig Iron &
if you cannot get pig Iron then to send the Barr Iron as above
According to the Iron Act of 1750, iron
manufacture was prohibited in the colonies and all pig and bar iron was
to be shipped to Great Britain for finishing. Many Colonial merchants
and manufacturers skirted these laws and future President Gorham’s
business was no exception to circumventing these British Laws. While
most of the arms used during the American Revolution were of European
manufacture, some of the numerous New England iron furnaces did supply
shot, shells and the occasional cannon. --Courtesy
of the Author
In 1779 Gorham served as a delegate to the Massachusetts' Constitutional
Convention. He was elected to the new Massachusetts' Upper House in 1780. In
1781 he was elected to the Lower House and served until 1787. In 1782, Gorham
was also elected delegate to the United States in Congress Assembled, serving
through 1783. He was re-elected in 1785 and served as a representative of
Massachusetts until 1787. On May 15, 1786 he accepted the Chair of Congress
upon the resignation of John Ramsay and the absence of President John Hancock.
Gorham was the
antithesis of his predecessor Richard Henry Lee as he was conservative in
government and many history textbooks claim that he was "monarchy
inclined." According to the Library of Congress:
once fascinated with the idea of monarchical tendencies in the United States,
seizing upon a number of statements and rhetorical flourishes gleaned from the
correspondence of several founding fathers. As [Rufus] King and his colleague
Nathaniel Gorham had been linked with such sentiments, Edmund C. Burnett
discussed the issue at this point in his edition of congressional
correspondence, explaining that 'King's remark is one among many indications
that the idea of establishing a monarchy in America was in circulation at
that time, although perhaps only in whispers.' Burnett, Letters, 8:459n.3."
however, indicates these claims to be unfounded especially of President Gorham
who played a major role in framing the Constitution of Massachusetts in 1779.
He also chaired, on frequent occasions, the Constitutional Convention of 1787
and signed the final document. The chief sources cited in this thesis can be
found in Richard Krauel's, "Prince Henry of
Prussia and the Regency of the United States, 1786."
Massachusetts Broadside ordering a State Constitutional Convention stating
that "More than two-thirds of the towns … think it proper to have a new
Constitution or form of Government and are of the opinion that the same ought
to be formed by a convention of Delegates." This Broadside was Delegate
Gorham's as evidence by the docket and the penning of his name on the verso.
Nathaniel Gorham, in
1786, was considered by many delegates an esteemed veteran of the United
States in Congress Assembled serving 1782, 1783, and now in 1786. The year of
his Presidency, 1786, had been the strangest session in the Articles of
Confederation's Congress since its inception in 1781.
John Hancock, the
duly elected President since November of 1785, had not even made a passing
appearance in New York to assert his position as the presiding officer of the
unicameral federal government. David Ramsay, brother of Nathaniel Ramsey and a
Delegate from South Carolina, had reluctantly agreed to serve as the Chairman
of Congress while Hancock prepared his Boston household for the move to New
York City. Six months later, Ramsay still found himself in the Chair and on
May 15th resigned the office as his credentials as a Delegate of South
Carolina had expired. The Delegates turned to Hancock's friend and fellow
State representative, Nathaniel Gorham, to assume the duties of the
Chairmanship of Congress. On his first May day in the Chair of Congress,
Gorham received a letter from future U.S. President, James Monroe, resigning
his judgeship over the New York/Massachusetts border dispute:
circumstances will put it out of my power to act as a judge for the decision
of the controversy between the States of Massachusetts & New York, I take the
liberty to present thro' you my resignation to Congress. But at the same time
that I withdraw myself from this office, it is with particular pleasure that
I assure your Excellency, of the high sense, & grateful regard I bear to the
States who have conferr'd this honor on me. I am with sentiments of greatest
respect & esteem yr. Excellency's most obt. & most humble servant, Jas.
Three days later, on
May 18th, Nathaniel Gorham made the decision to postpone the September meeting
of agents to negotiate a settlement to the Georgia-South Carolina boundary
dispute. Chairman Gorham turned Congress, instead to the business of
Connecticut's cession of their claims to the Northwest Territory. The
abandonment of such state claims to the new federal real estate was paramount
to the funding of the government through land sales with clear and marketable
titles. The debate over Connecticut's cession lasted until May 26th when the
Unites States in Congress Assembled declared a conditional acceptance.
Congress, also during May, took up the issue of coinage and the establishment
of a mint. Unfortunately, the resolution failed as evidence by Gorham's
letter to James Bowdoin on May 18h. 1786:
"Your Letter with
the enclosures has been recd, and the Book delivered to Mr. Temple. Enclosed
is the report of the Treasury Board on the subjects of the Mint. Congress have
not yet taken any resolution upon it; but will do it in a few days When it is
most probable that the American Dollar will be made exactly of the same value
as the New Spanish Dollar. I have seen in the News papers that some person has
made a proposal to the Legislature of Massachusetts relative to a Copper
Coinage; but it is thought here that it will be attended with great
inconveniencies if the States act in this matter separately. After Congress
have agreed upon a plan which they will soon do; there may be a uniformity in
the money; and Massachusetts & any other State may make a better bargain after
they know the Terms on which the Board of Treasury conduct the business than
they probably can now do. I am much obliged to your Excellency for the Books
you were so good as to send to the Delegates…"
June began with the
amending of the rules of War and finally after six "leaderless months"
John Hancock's resignation. This act required an new Presidential election as
his term did not expire until early November. On Sunday Evening June 4th 1786,
Rufus King wrote to Elbridge Gerry discussing Hancock's replacement and
cites, indirectly, the rotating custom of electing Presidents from the North
and South regions of the United States:
has sent his resignation as President and Tomorrow I suppose Mr. Gorham will
be elected his successor. You understand the meaning of this Appointment as
well as I can explain it; no State is here from New England except
With the sparse
representation from the north, Hancock's resignation with a half term
remaining and the fact that Gorham was already sitting in the Chair of
Congress, the natural Presidential choice to serve until November. It did,
however, take some doing and scholars agree that it was Rufus King who
championed Gorham's Presidency by mustering the necessary votes to have him
The Journals of the
United States in Congress Assembled reported on June 6th:
Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North
Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia; and from New Hampshire, Mr. [Pierse]
Long, and from Delaware, Mr. [William] Peery. Congress proceeded to the
election of a president, and the ballots being taken, the honble. Nathaniel
Gorham was elected."
Deficiency in the
funding of the Federal government continued to plague the United States and
the Presidency. The unsettled economic conditions were manifested in the
people's distrust of socially prominent politicians. The laws passed by the
"Carriage Class" were perceived as being grossly unfair to farmers and
working people throughout a nation paralyzed by war debt. Hundreds of letters
poured into Congress complaining about excessive taxes on property, polling
taxes that prevented less fortunate citizens from voting, unjust rulings by
the common plea courts, the soaring costs of lawsuits, and the lack of a
stable currency all landing on the new President's desk. Ironically, nowhere
was this anger more conspicuous then in Gorham's home state of Massachusetts.
The States were also
in difficult debt positions attempting to raise capital by selling land. In
the case of Gorham's home State of Massachusetts they were in a bitter dispute
with New York as each party claimed the other was selling their State lands at
the expense of each other's citizens. On June 17, 1786 the President Gorham
wrote James Bowdoin:
“By this post
your Excellency will receive a joynt Letter from the Delegates for the purpose
of accompanying which I had procured a copy of the Taxes paid into the
Continental Treasury from Nov. 1, 1784 to March 31, 1786. But having forgotten
to send it with the joynt Letter I now enclose it by which you will see Sir
that many of the States are very deficient and that Massachusetts does not
hold that rank in her payments which she formerly did. Unless the States make
great exertion the very appearance of the federal Government must cease; the
civil list being without their pay for almost two quarters. Exertion is the
more necessary as the collection of the outstanding taxes is the only
dependence for every purpose.
New York having
made their import [impost] Law upon such conditions as renders totally
inadmissible consistent with justice to the other States and as they do not
meet again until winter nothing further can be done in the import [impost]
this year; it is, however, necessary that Massachusetts should determine
wither they will grant the supplementary funds as Pennsylvania have made it a
condition that their import shall not take place until all the States have
granted those funds.
Yesterday & the
day before N York sold a large quantity of Land at auction being part of that
claimed by Massachusetts some of it brought 12 (shillings) / acre in final
set[tle]m[en]ts. Your Excellency is the best judge wither our Government
should not empower & direct their agents to make some advertisements to
discourage those sales & perhaps to offer for sale the very lands which New
York may again bring to view for a market; for I am told they intend soon to
sell more; it may also be well to consider wither our supposing those sales to
go on without objection may not be injurious to us at the time of trial. I
consider this as a private letter to you Sir…"
To understand the
seriousness of post war finances, let us take a paragraph or two and examine
the facts behind the public debt of Massachusetts. In 1775 the Massachusetts
Colonial debt amounted to approximately 100,000 pounds for 240,000 people who
rebelled over the "high" British taxes levied to pay off the French and Indian
war obligations. By 1786, under Nathaniel Gorham's presidency, the people's
private debt of Massachusetts amounted to over 1.3 million pounds plus 250,000
pounds owed to the officers and soldiers of their State's militia.
Additionally their State's proportion of the federal debt was estimated in
1786 to be at 1.5 million pounds.
meanwhile, had only increased to 270,000 people. The debt, therefore, had
ballooned from .42 pounds in 1775 to 11.30 pounds per person in 1786, a 270%
increase! Additionally, inflation on both federal and state paper currency was
rampant. The time was ripe, especially with John Hancock dashing their hopes
for recovery by failing to take office in 1786, for rebellion.
government's finances fared no better and the weak federal constitution
provided neither Gorham nor anyone else with power to rectify the situation.
Maryland and Virginia, in an attempt to eliminate trade barriers and spur on
entrepreneurship, held the Mount Vernon Conference in March 1785. This
conference achieved an accord on the maritime use of the Chesapeake Bay,
fishing and harbor rights, criminal jurisdiction, import duties, currency
control, and boundary issues resolving many important issues but only between
the two states.
The success of this
interstate diplomacy prompted James Madison to draft a resolution, in the 1786
Virginia legislature, to invite all the States to 2nd conference dealing with
domestic and foreign trade issues that were stifling any hope for a national
recovery. It was Virginia's hope that such a conference would result in the
empowerment of the federal government with the authority to improve commerce
and levy reasonable tariffs to retire the mounting public debt. Despite the
January call for a conference, the summer of 1786 saw no gathering of the
States to address these dire issues. The War debt was the greatest drain on
the federal government and the States' budgets. The former veterans,
merchants and money lenders deluged Congress daily, in person and with
letters, to be remunerated their back pay, money and goods "loaned" to
Congress for conducting the successful war effort. Even former Presidents, as
evidence by this letter from Richard Henry Lee to President Gorham, were
unable to persuade Congress to pay debts, now five to ten years in the
arrears, to patriots in dire need of reimbursement.:
“The enclosed papers
that I have the honor of transmitting to your Excellency for the consideration
of Congress I have but now received altho they are dated in the last year. I
am perfectly satisfied that this demand of Mr. Schweighauser will be found, on
due enquiry, to be right; and that this worthy Gentleman who has been long
injuriously baffled of his honest demand plainly against the will of Congress,
will now be fully paid by the effectual measures that Congress in their wisdom
and justice shall direct.”.
five-year-old claim for 40,245 livre, for outfitting the Continental frigate
Alliance under Capt. Pierre Landais, was given a fair hearing by The Board of
Treasury. Due to a depleted treasury and a host of other unpaid claims this
debt remained unpaid until the 19th Century.
The Nation was ripe
for rebellion. The first open and organized measure to oppose the government
was taken on the 22nd of August in President Gorham's home state. Shays'
Insurrection, as it was called in the 18th Century, took the form of a
convention of delegates from fifty towns in the county of Hampshire,
Massachusetts. The citizens of this county met at Hatfield from the 23rd to
the 25th and set forth, in great detail, what they believed to be the
grievances of the post-war people. On the third day of the conference, the
following articles were passed by the delegates "as unnecessary burdens now
lying on the people":
1. The existence of the State Senate
2. The present mode of State representation
3. The officers of government not being annually dependant
on the representative of the people, in General Court assembled, for their
4. All civil officers of government, not being annually
elected by Representatives of the People, in the General Court Assembled.
5. The existence of the Court of Common Pleas, and General
Sessions of Peace
6. The State Fee Table as it now stands
7. The present mode of appropriating the import and
8. 8th The unreasonable grants made to some of the
officers of government.
9. The supplementary aid.
10. The present mode of paying the government securities.
11. The present mode adopted for the payment and speedy
collection of the last tax.
12. The present mode of taxation as it operates unequally
between the polls and
between landed and mercantile interests.
13. The present method of practice of attorneys at law.
14. The want of a sufficient medium of trade, to remedy the
mischief arising from the scarcity of money.
15. The General Court sitting in the town of Boston.
16. The present embarrassments on the press.
17. The neglect of settlement of important matters between
the Commonwealth and the United States in Congress Assembled, relating to
monies and averages.
18. Vote, this convention recommended to several towns in
this county that they instruct their Representatives, to use their influence
in the next General Court, to have emitted a bank of paper money, subject to
a depreciation; making it a tender in all payments, equal to silver and
gold, to be issued in order to call in the Commonwealth securities.
19. Voted, that whereas several of the above articles of
grievances, arise from defects in the constitution; therefore a revision of
the same ought to take place.
20. Voted, that it be recommended by this convention to the
several towns in this coun try, that they petition the Governor to call the
General Court immediately together, in order that the other grievances
complained of, may by legislature, be redressed.
21. Voted, that this convention recommend it to the
inhabitants of this county, that they abstain from all mobs and unlawful
assemblies, until a constitutional method of redress can be obtained.
22. Voted, that Mr. Caleb Weft be desired to transmit a copy
of the proceeding of this convention to the convention of the county of
23. Voted, that the chairman of this convention be desired
to transmit a copy of the proceedings of this convention to the county of
24. Voted, that the chairman of this convention be directed
to notify a county convention, upon any motion made to him for that purpose,
if he judge the reasons offered be sufficient, giving such notice, together
with the reasons therefore, in the public papers of this county.
25. Voted, that copy of the proceedings of this convention
be sent to the press in
The county delegates
directed that these grievances be sent to the counties of Worchester and
Berkshire. They were simply seeking support from neighboring communities in
the heart of Massachusetts hoping this "grass root effort" would expand
statewide forcing the legislature and the Governor to adopt measures to
satisfy their grievances.
Despite the call to
"abstain from all mobs and unlawful assemblies", on the following
Tuesday, 1500 insurgents assembled under arms at the Northampton Court House
preventing the trial and imprisonment of debtors. The Governor of
Massachusetts mobilized the militia "in the most feeling and spirited
manner to suppress such treasonable proceedings." Little attention was
given to the Governor's militia call and the counties of Worchester,
Middlesex, Bristol and Berkshire were "set in flame and the tumult"
threatening a general statewide rebellion.
In the succeeding
week the Courts of Common Pleas and General Sessions of the Peace at
Worchester were surrounded by three hundred insurgents. The judges, although
admitted to the door, where prevented entrance by a line of bayonets. The
chief justice rebuffed the rioters on the "madness of their conduct" but the
court was forced to retire to an adjacent house where trials were conducted.
The violence of the mob, however, soon forced the court to adjourn all
together until the 21st of November. These actions were mirrored with a
convention of delegates called from the towns of Middlesex County who
proceedings "very near resembled to those of their brethren in Hampshire."
The rebellion was gaining steam and the armed insurgents had formed a
defiant militia led by Daniel Shays, a former Revolutionary Army Captain.
Virginia, earlier that month, a positive and far reaching meeting was called
to order by John Dickinson. This meeting would later be known as the Annapolis
Convention as it met at the Maryland State House. In attendance were 12
delegates of the five States; Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania,
and Virginia. John Dickinson was elected Chairman and other notable attendees
were Richard Bassett, Abraham Clark, Alexander Hamilton, William C. Houston,
James Madison, Edmund J. Randolph and George Read. The Delegates were
appointed from Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and North Carolina
did make the journey to Annapolis but arrived too late to take part in the
Convention. Maryland, the host state, along with Connecticut, South Carolina,
and Georgia did not make any appointments.
representation was actually a blessing as the commissioners took no action on
intrastate commerce as planned. Instead, the delegates turned to a
brainstorming session on how to correct the defects in the failing
Confederation government's constitution. Hamilton and Madison seized the lead
in proposing that they should summarize their thoughts in a formal report to
the United States in Congress Assembled. The other delegates agreed and
submited a unanimously recommendation that a national convention be called to
revise the ailing Articles of Confederation. This landmark report was drafted
by Alexander Hamilton and culminated in the recommendation for the United
States in Congress Assemble to call on the States to send their preeminent and
most experienced representatives to Philadelphia on the second Monday of May
in 1787. The 13 State conference's purpose would be to revise the 1st Federal
U.S. Constitution, the Articles of Confederation.
In New York that
same fall, President Gorham's September Congress selected judges for hearing
on yet another State boundary dispute. This time it was between South Carolina
and Georgia. On September 14th Congress accepted Connecticut's land cession of
their portion of the Northwest Territory. A few days later, they agreed to
bar payment of United States in Congress Assembled requisitions in paper money
that "wasn't worth a continental". The action was followed with
postmasters' orders "to receive no other money in payment for postage than
specie." Not even the Federal Government had confidence in its own
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