David Brearley and the Committee on Postponed Parts

David Brearley and the Committee on Postponed Parts

David Brearley headed one of the most important Committees in the Continental Congress, hashing out difficult issues which were repeatedly tabled by the Committee of the Whole.

Soldier and Justice

David Brearley adopted the Revolutionary Cause early in the tensions with Great Britain.  He served in the New Jersey militia, moving through the ranks until he achieved the post of captain.  He was part of the ‘New Jersey Line,’ a segment of the Continental Army consisting wholly of members from that State.

Brearley resigned his military position when he was appointed Chief Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court.  He presided over the case of Holmes v. Walton which ruled that part of a law passed by the legislature (regarding trial by jury) was unconstitutional.  

This is an important case in the development of the idea of judicial review in the United States.  Although it was not exactly the same as today, it did demonstrate that the judicial branch should have a say in the constitutionality of State laws.

Brearley Committee

In 1787, David Brearley was sent to the Constitutional Convention.

A quiet delegate who did more listening than speaking, he was nevertheless an important and respected member.

Brearley was appointed head of the Committee on Postponed Parts.  Also known as the Brearly Committee (and the Third Committee of Eleven), this group was tasked with reviewing the many, many issues that had been tabled for a later date.

The Brearley Committee settle many debates over how the United States Government should be organized.  They gave many powers usually held by an Executive Branch over to the Legislature.  Among these issues were:

  • The power to declare war.
  • The ability to choose ambassadors.
  • The power to raise and support armies (for no more than two years).

Some additional important decisions made by the Brearley Committee were:

  • The method of electing the President (electoral college).
  • The office of Vice-President and its responsibilities.
  • Copyright and patent regulation.
  • Shortened the Presidency from seven years to four.

It is interesting to note, the issues facing the Brearly Committee were postponed through the summer because they were so hotly contested.  This Committee was appointed on August 31.  The Final Draft of the Constitution was submitted on September 12.

Brearley led his team to resolve some of the most difficult decisions of the Constitutional Convention in under two weeks.


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