This Day in History: William Paca, signer of the Declaration
On this day in 1790, a signer of the Declaration of Independence is nominated to be a federal judge. William Paca was once described as a man who was “beloved and respected by all who knew him, and considered at all times as a sincere patriot and honest man.”
And yet Maryland nearly denied this “sincere patriot” the opportunity to vote for independence!
During the spring of 1776, Maryland was a bit divided. Many still hoped for reconciliation with the King and Great Britain. Indeed, as late as May 21, 1776, Maryland’s Provincial Convention was still actively refusing to give its congressional delegates permission to vote for independence.
Emergency meetings were held in many Maryland counties. These local conventions didn’t think too much of their colonial leaders. They wanted stronger action. Immediately! In the words of the Charles County Convention: “The sooner they [the colonies] declare themselves separate from, and independent of the Crown and Parliament of Great Britain, the sooner they will be able to make effectual opposition, and establish their liberties on a firm and permanent basis.”
It worked. The colony’s provincial convention was persuaded to change its mind. On June 28, it authorized its congressional delegates to vote for independence. Samuel Chase quickly sent a letter to John Adams, delivering the news. “See the glorious Effects of County Instructions,” Chase exulted to Adams. “Our people have fire if not smothered.” Adams promptly responded to Chase’s letter. He hoped for a unanimous vote, but “one or two Gentlemen, may possibly be found, who will vote point blank against the known and declared Sense of their Constituents, Maryland, however, I have the Pleasure to inform you, behaved well: Paca, generously and nobly.”
The Maryland delegates then in Philadelphia, including Paca, cast their votes for independence on July 2 and July 4. In the end, each and every colony consented to the vote for independence, making it unanimous.
Chase soon sent another letter to Adams. He was really upset that he’d missed the historic vote on independence! “I envy you,” he wrote to Adams. “How shall I transmit to posterity that I gave my assent?”
He got his chance several weeks later. In August, when the Declaration of Independence was being signed, four Maryland delegates were present to sign their name to that document. Chase and Paca signed their names right next to each other, immediately under the bold and famous flourish of John Hancock.
Benjamin Rush, Memorial Containing Travels Through Life Or Sundry Incidents in the Life of Dr. Benjamin Rush (Louis A. Biddle, pub. 1905)
Charles A. Goodrich, Lives of the Signers to the Declaration of Independence (1832)
Dennis Brindell Fradin, The Signers: The 56 Stories Behind the Declaration of Independence (2003)
John Sanderson & Robert Taylor Conrad, Sanderson’s Biography of the Signers to the Declaration of Independence (1846)
John Thomas Scharf, History of Maryland from the earliest period to the present day (1879)
Letter from John Adams to Samuel Chase (July 1, 1776)
Letter from Samuel Chase to John Adams (June 28, 1776)
Letter from Samuel Chase to John Adams (July 5, 1776)