Gunning Bedford

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Gunning Bedford, Jr. (April 13, 1747 ā€“ March 30, 1812) was an American lawyer and politician from Wilmington, in New Castle County, Delaware.

He served in the Delaware General Assembly, as a Continental Congressman from Delaware and as a delegate to the U.S. Constitutional Convention of 1787.

Bedford was a delegate to Delaware’s ratification convention in 1787.

Thanks to his efforts, along with those of John Dickinson, Richard Bassett, and others, Delaware became the first state to approve the Constitution.

Widely respected for his knowledge of the law, Bedford was asked by Delaware’s senators and fellow signers George Read and Richard Bassett to review a bill, then under consideration, on the organization of the federal judiciary system.

Bedford praised the document, which would become the Judiciary Act of 1789, one of the most important pieces of legislation of the period, as a “noble work;” but expressed some concerns as well.

He admitted that the common law of the United States was difficult to define. “Yet”, he claimed, “the dignity of America requires that it be ascertained and that where we refer to laws they should be laws of our own country.

If the principles of the laws of any other country are good and worthy of adoption, incorporate them into your own”.

He believed the Constitution’s ratification had been the moment of “legal emancipation”, declaring that “as the foundation is laid so must the superstructure be built”.

In 1771 signer Bedford graduated with honors from the College of New Jersey (later Princeton), where he was a classmate of James Madison.

Apparently while still in school, Bedford wed Jane B. Parker, who bore at least one daughter.

After reading law with Joseph Read in Philadelphia, Bedford won admittance to the bar and set up a practice. Subsequently, he moved to Dover and then to Wilmington.

He apparently served in the Continental Army, possibly as an aide to General Washington.

In 1789 Washington designated him as a federal district judge for his state, an office he was to occupy for the rest of his life.

His only other ventures into national politics came in 1789 and 1793, as a Federalist presidential elector.

At the Constitutional Convention he became a passionate advocate in his desire to protect the powers of the small states, even threatening to seek alliances with foreign powers to make sure the rights and sovereignty of the small states were guarded.

His efforts helped the new nation adopt what was known as “The Great Compromise”, which established two legislative bodies, one whose representation was based on population and another whose representation was equal.

He died at Wilmington and was buried first in the Presbyterian Cemetery there.

This cemetery is now the location of the Wilmington Institute Library and his remains were then moved to the Masonic Home Cemetery at Christiana, Delaware.

In 2013, after the sale of the Masonic Home, the monument, Bedford and the remains of his family were relocated by Chesapeake Burial Vault to the Historic Wilmington-Brandywine Cemetery in Wilmington, Delaware.