The Declaration's Last Signer - Thomas McKean

The Declaration's Last Signer - Thomas McKean

Recently, I realized I had not yet written an article about Thomas McKean. This is surprising as McKean signed most of the major documents of the American Revolution.

Additionally, McKean has the strange distinction of spending five years in the Continental Congress as a Delegate from Delaware while simultaneously serving as Chief Justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Thomas McKean at the Stamp Act Congress

Thomas McKean was an established lawyer in both Pennsylvania and Delaware when he was chosen to attend the Stamp Act Congress.

McKean was outspoken about his unhappiness with Parliament.

According to historian C. A. Weslager, Thomas harshly criticized President of Congress Timothy Ruggles. When the time came to sign the petition to the King, Ruggles refused to affix his name to the paper.

McKean took to the floor and proceeded to lecture Ruggles about the fault in his ‘conscience.’ Ruggles, who was really only at the Congress to make trouble for the Patriots, could only take so much. He openly challenged McKean to a duel on the floor of the Congress.

The duel was set for the following day, though Ruggles (snake that he was) quietly left the city early the next morning. He would go on to be a leading Loyalist in Massachusetts.

Signing the Declaration

As for McKean, he would go on to serve in the First and Second Continental Congresses, signing the Continental Association, Declaration of Independence and Articles of Confederation.

His signing of the Declaration, however, is in question. Not so much if he signed, but when.

You see, after voting for independence in July of 1776, Thomas left to join the Continental Army in New York. Although he would later write that he signed with the rest of the Delegates in August of 1776, some of his memories have proven to be incorrect. Additionally, his name is not among the original publication of signers.

Chances are he signed in January of 1777, though there are some sources who say he may have autographed the document as late as 1781.

Though the exact date will never be known., it seems that Thomas McKean was the last person to sign America’s birth certificate.


By this time, McKean was serving as a Representative to the Continental Congress from Delaware.

He was also chosen as Chief Justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. He held these two high ranking positions simultaneously!

As Chief Justice, McKean became an early proponent for Judicial Review. Though this was done at the State level, his decisions were a strong influence on John Marshall, who would famously implement this practice in the National Government.

Thomas would finish his public service spending a decade as Governor of Pennsylvania.

Many Declaration signers had interesting stories, for example:

John Hart - Cave Dweller

Congress Impeaches Samuel Chase

Lyman Hall Doesn’t Wait For Georgia

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McKean was one of the longest serving members of the Continental Congress.

‘Suspected of Independence’ is a great biography on this Founder who was involved with all the major moments of the Continental Congress.

If you’d like a copy for your own you can through the Amazon affiliate link below (you’ll support this site, but don’t worry, Amazon pays me while your price stays the same).

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