Well, if you hadnât heard of Richard Stockton or Thomas Lynch, the previous weekâs subjects, Iâm quite sure you havenât heard of John Morton. Mortonâs claim to fame is that he was the first signer of the Declaration to pass away. He lived less than a year after voting for and signing the document.
He was a farmer and surveyor, and was elected as a delegate to the Continental Congress from 1774-1777, representing Pennsylvania. Morton was put in a very unique position during the debate on independence. The congress had declared that there must be a unanimous vote in favor of independence or the vote would be considered to have failed. Each colony sent representatives to vote in favor of or against the motion. Each colony received one vote, based upon the majority of their representatives.
Pennsylvania had seven representatives that had been sent to Congress. Of them, two were not present at the time of the vote for independence on July 2, 1776 â Robert Morris and John Dickinson. Dickinson was the leader of the opposition to independence, so he certainly would have voted âno.â Morris is a signer of the Declaration, but was actually against the motion, thinking that they needed to give it more time. He probably would have voted âno.â
However, they were not present on the day of the vote. The remaining Pennsylvania delegates were divided. Charles Humphreys and Thomas Willing voted against the resolution. Benjamin Franklin and James Wilson supported it. Deadlocked at two apiece, Morton became the deciding vote that would move the colony of Pennsylvania into the âyeaâ column or squelch the entire resolution. He did not take this lightly. An ardent patriot, Morton believed in the cause of freedom from the chains of the Mother Country. Yet, he also realized that many of his constituents were Quakers, who opposed any military action. After deliberating, he chose to vote in favor on independence.
This choice, as you can well imagine, was not an easy one. He must have felt the weight of the world on his shoulders. What if things went bad? What if the British swept through America and took vengeance on all âtraitorsâ? This vote could be the cause of much pain for his friends and family. It was up to him whether the motion for independence should pass or fail â thatâs a huge responsibility for one man to bear.
And this major responsibility took its toll on Mr. Morton. Many of his friends turned their backs on him, which greatly affected him. The âmental anxiety which he experienced in so novel and solemn a situation, and the great responsibility which he had incurred in case the measure should be attended with disastrous results, preyed upon his peace, and is confidently said to have accelerated, if it did not cause, his dissolution.â
A few months later, in April 1777, Mr. Morton died of a violent inflammatory fever. His last words were for his estranged friends. He wanted a message sent to them that the action for which they blamed him was, âthe most glorious service I ever rendered my country.â Although he never saw them himself, we have John Morton to thank for the freedoms we enjoy today.
John Morton pledged his life.
So like John Morton, letâs stay on the narrow path,
P.S. Next week we will discuss the amazing story of John Hart!