Thomas Fitzsimons - A Catholic at the Constitutional Convention
Thomas Fitzsimons was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention representing Pennsylvania. His presence there demonstrates the slowly changing attitudes toward religious sects in the young nation.
Thomas Fitzsimons immigrated to Pennsylvania from Ireland at the age of 19 seeking the freedom to practice Catholicism. He soon married and began a mercantile business.
Although his business found quick success, it ran into difficulties when the Stamp Act was passed. Fitzsimons joined the angry colonists in protesting Parliament. As British regulations became more intense, he helped create a committee to organize protests against the Coercive Acts.
Fitzsimons was also a charter member of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick. This group was an organization of Irish immigrants who helped each other in business. They also served as a charity which assisted new arrivals in getting acclimated to living in Pennsylvania.
During the Revolutionary War, Fitzsimons served as a Captain in the militia. He saw limited action across New Jersey.
Additionally, Fitzsimons assisted in the creation and operation of the Pennsylvania Navy.
As the War drew to a close, Thomas was a representative in the Pennsylvania House as well as a delegate to the Continental Congress. Eventually, he was sent to the Constitutional Convention.
Fitzsimons was a passive member of the Constitutional Convention. Though he did not contribute much to the debates, he was a supporter of a strong federal government.
At the time, Catholics were looked down upon by much of society. They were viewed as ‘other.’ When Fitzsimons signed the Constitution, he was one of only two Catholics to do so. Although this sounds controversial today, he was considered a minority.
It is also noteworthy that the other Founders were beginning to view a person’s spiritual beliefs as less important than their moral character. It is no surprise, then, that only a few years later the Bill of Rights was written with freedom of religion etched into Amendment Number One.
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