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William Jackson (secretary)

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Title: William Jackson (secretary)  
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Subject: History of the United States Constitution, Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States, Samuel Allyne Otis, Founding Fathers of the United States, Secretaries
Collection: 1759 Births, 1828 Deaths, American Revolutionary War Prisoners of War Held by Great Britain, Burials at Christ Church (Philadelphia), Burials in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania by Place, Continental Army Staff Officers, Kingdom of Great Britain Emigrants to the Thirteen Colonies, People from Charleston, South Carolina, People from Cumberland, People of Colonial Pennsylvania, People of South Carolina in the American Revolution, Personal Secretaries to the President of the United States, Secretaries, Signers of the United States Constitution
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William Jackson (secretary)

William Jackson
Miniature of Major Jackson, 1793, unknown artist
Born March 9, 1759
Cumberland, England
Died December 17, 1828(1828-12-17) (aged 69)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Occupation Military officer, Merchant, Lawyer, Secretary, Civil servant, Editor
Spouse(s) Elizabeth Willing
William Jackson's signature on the U.S. Constitution

William Jackson (March 9, 1759 – December 17, 1828) was a figure in the

  • Dube, Ann Marie. May 1996. A Multitude of Amendments, Alterations and Additions: The Writing and Publicizing of the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution of the United States. National Park Service. Online: [4].
  • "George Washington's Household in Philadelphia, 1790-1792." Independence Hall Association. Online: [5].
  • Vile, John R. "Jackson, William." Constitution Day Reference Library. ABC CLIO. Online: [6].
  • Harry M. Ward. "Jackson, William"; American National Biography Online Feb. 2000. Access Date: Tue Oct 13 18:26:02 EDT 2009
  • Wright, Robert K. and MacGregor, Morris J., Jr. 1987. "William Jackson." Soldier-Statesmen of the Constitution. United States Army Center of Military History.
  1. ^ Charles P. Keith. The provincial councillors of Pennsylvania, who held office between 1733-1776: and those earlier councillors who were some time chief magistrates of the province, and their descendants, 1883, p.93
  2. ^ Proceedings of the General Society of the Cincinnati, 1784-1884. Page 60


See also

Jackson succeeded Henry Knox in 1799 as Secretary General[2] of the Society of the Cincinnati, a group of former Continental Army officers. On behalf of the remaining officers of the war, he headed an unsuccessful effort to lobby Congress to grant all veteran Revolutionary officers half-pay for life in 1818. Congress was to pass such a bill in 1826, fifty years after independence, but Jackson was not associated with it; his last public appearance was welcoming the Marquis de Lafayette to Philadelphia in 1824. He remained Secretary General of the Cincinnati until his death on December 18, 1828, at the age of 69, in Philadelphia. He is interred in Christ Church Cemetery in Philadelphia, along with his wife.


He was, after his marriage, a leader of society, with Charleston manners, and his father-in-law's wealth; John Adams compared him to Sir Charles Grandison.

He returned to the United States in the summer of 1795, and married Elizabeth Willing, Mrs. Bingham's sister, in November; they were the oldest daughters of Thomas Willing, a rich Philadelphia merchant, related to the Shippens.[1] In January 1796 (during his last months in office), Washington, who had gone to the wedding, appointed Jackson Collector for the Port of Philadelphia; Jefferson, another wedding guest, dismissed him in 1801 for politicizing his office; Jackson then started a Federalist newspaper, the Political and Commercial Register, in Philadelphia, and edited it until 1815.

He resigned in 1791 to restart his law practice, and work as agent for William Bingham and Henry Knox (then Secretary of War), who were selling off a large land grant in Maine first acquired by William Duer, first Undersecretary of the Treasury and now bankrupt. Jackson's job was selling land on commission in England and France; among his potential customers was the Committee of Public Safety. They declined to invest their scanty funds in Maine land; but Jackson wrote a very favorable report on them back to the United States.

Major Jackson was admitted to the Pennsylvania Bar in 1788, but in those days, he had to wait two years to practice before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, the most lucrative branch of the law; besides this, he was an (unpaid) volunteer in the President of the United States, writing that he had unpaid expenses as a Continental officer, and that business was "not congenial to [his] temper."

Life after the Convention

Jackson was sent to the Congress of the Confederation, assembled in New York City, with a copy of the Constitution, and was honored to read it out to the Congress just days after the signing, on September 20, 1787.

As the Convention secretary, Jackson had a number of duties, including maintaining the secrecy of the Convention's proceedings, keeping official minutes, and destroying many of the proceedings' other records. He signed the document "Attest William Jackson Secretary" to attest to the delegates' signing. With his signature Jackson became the fortieth signer of the U.S. Constitution.

As an impoverished law student, in 1787, Jackson wrote to Washington applying for the post as secretary to the Philadelphia Convention. On the Convention's first day of business, May 25, 1787, Alexander Hamilton nominated Jackson to the post, and the delegates chose him over William Temple Franklin, Benjamin Franklin's grandson, despite the latter's experience serving as his grandfather's secretary during the Treaty of Paris negotiations.

Jackson (standing, center, in red) features prominently in this painting of the Constitution's signing by Howard Chandler Christy.

Constitutional Convention

In October 1783, he resigned his office, and his commission, to become Robert Morris's agent in England; when he returned the next year, he studied law with the Philadelphia lawyer William Lewis.

Jackson himself returned to the United States in February 1782, and was assistant secretary of war to Benjamin Lincoln. The Confederation's Department of War, like the British, was a financial liaison with the Army; Jackson helped settle the Pennsylvania Mutiny of 1783.

A skilled staff officer, Jackson was then assigned to General Washington's staff, serving as secretary to the general's aide John Laurens, son of Henry Laurens of South Carolina. When Laurens was sent to France in 1781 to buy supplies with money loaned by the French Government, he took Jackson along, and the job was handed over to Jackson when Laurens returned to America after a short and undiplomatic stay in France; Jackson made extensive purchases, beyond his budget, and had a discussion with Benjamin Franklin after spending some of the money Franklin had reserved for unpaid bills.

After the return from Florida, the Southern regiments were placed under the command of Major-General Benjamin Lincoln, from Massachusetts. Pinckney convinced Lincoln that as a Northerner, he needed an aide to assist him in relating to his Southern troops. Jackson was chosen for this position and was temporarily promoted to the rank of major. As Lincoln's aide he saw action in the Battle of Stono Ferry and the Siege of Savannah in 1779. In 1780 General Lincoln surrendered his troops after the lengthy Siege of Charleston. As a captured officer, Jackson was shipped to Philadelphia, then held by the British. After a few months he was returned to the Continental Army in an exchange of prisoners.

Jackson first saw action near Charleston in June 1776, when his regiment fought off General Sir Henry Clinton's attempted attack on Fort Sullivan. The unit then spent a long period garrisoning the city of Charleston, during which Charles Cotesworth Pinckney assumed command of the 1st South Carolina. Late in 1777, Jackson was part of the detachment that made an ill-conceived and worse conducted expedition against St. Augustine in British East Florida under Major-General Robert Howe. The expedition was a colossal failure, and the American force was struck down by disease. Jackson survived, and returned to South Carolina in 1778.

Born in the county of Cumberland in England, Jackson was sent to Charleston in South Carolina after the death of his parents. He was raised by a family friend and prominent merchant, Owen Roberts, who was the commander of a militia battalion. After the war broke out in 1775, Roberts joined the Patriot side, and the teenaged Jackson followed; Roberts probably helped Jackson to obtain a position as a cadet in the 1st South Carolina Regiment. In May 1776 Jackson was commissioned as a second lieutenant.

Early life and military career

  • Early life and military career 1
  • Constitutional Convention 2
  • Life after the Convention 3
  • Cincinnati 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6


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