Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer
Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer was an honored and effective local leader who, when conflict arose with Great Britain, embraced the Patriot cause, willingly abandoning the ordered society of colonial Maryland for the uncertainty of revolution. One of the oldest delegates in Philadelphia, he used his prestige to work for a strong and permanent union of the states. Contemporaries noted his good humor and pleasant company, which won him many friends at the Convention. When Luther Martin, who refused to sign the document, said that he feared being hanged if the people of Maryland approved the Constitution, Jenifer told him, humorously, that Martin should stay in Philadelphia, so that he would not hang in his home state. Along with Benjamin Franklin, Jenifer used laughter to help reconcile the opposing views of the delegates and to formulate the compromises that made the Convention a success.
CAREER BEFORE THE CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION. Jenifer was the son of a colonial planter of Swedish and English descent. Born long before conflicts with Great Britain emerged, he was for many years a leader in Maryland's colonial government. As a young man, he acted as a receiver-general, the local financial agent for the last two proprietors of Maryland. Jenifer served as justice of the peace for Charles County and later for the western circuit of Maryland. He sat on a commission that settled a boundary dispute between Pennsylvania and Maryland (1760) and on the Governor's Council, the upper house of the Maryland legislature that also served as the colony's court of appeals and as a board of senior advisers to the governor (1773-76).
Despite his close ties with the colonial government, Jenifer strongly resented what he and most of the colonial gentry saw as Parliament's arbitrary interference with the colonies' affairs, especially its laws concerning taxation and trade regulation. Years before the struggle for independence began, he had defended the proprietors of Maryland against those who sought to make Maryland a Royal colony, and when the Revolution came he lent his considerable support as a wealthy landowner to the Patriot cause, despite the fact that many leading Patriots had been his enemies in the proprietorship struggle. He became the president of Maryland's Council of Safety, the Patriot body established to organize Maryland's military forces for the Revolution (1775-77). When, in 1776, a new constitution was framed for the state of Maryland, Jenifer commented on the document's neglect of popular sovereignty: "The Senate does not appear to me to be a Child of the people at Large, and therefore will not be Supported by them longer than there Subsists the most perfect Union between the different Legislative branches." He represented his state in the Continental Congress (1778-82) while simultaneously serving as president of the state's first senate (1777-80). As manager of the state's finances between 1782 and 1785, he drew on his experiences as a landholder to help the state survive the critical postwar economic depression.
During these years, Jenifer became increasingly concerned with national affairs. Along with James Madison, John Dickinson, and his good friend George Washington, he began to explore ways to solve the economic and political problems that had arisen under the weak Articles of Confederation. Consequently, he attended the Mount Vernon Conference, a meeting that would lead eventually to the Constitutional Convention.
CONTRIBUTIONS TO THE CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION. Like his old friend Benjamin Franklin, Jenifer enjoyed the status of elder statesman at the Philadelphia Convention. He took stands on several important issues, although his advanced age restricted his activity in the day-to-day proceedings. Business experience gained while managing a large plantation had convinced him that an active central government was needed to ensure financial and commercial stability. To that end, he favored a strong and permanent union of the states in which a Congress representing the people had the power to tax. Concerned with continuity in the new government, he favored a three-year term for the House of Representatives. Too frequent elections, he concluded, might lead to indifference and would make prominent men unwilling to seek office. Jenifer was outvoted on this point, but his reaction was to marvel at the delegates' ability to come to agreement on a plan of government: "The first month we only came to grips, and the second it seemed as though we would fly apart forever, but we didn't-we jelled."
CAREER AFTER THE CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION. Jenifer, now in his sixty-fourth year, retired to "Stepney;" his great plantation near Annapolis.
BIRTH: 1723 (exact date unknown), at "Coates Retirement" (now "Ellerslie"), an estate near Port Tobacco in Charles County, Maryland
DEATH: 16 November 1790, in Annapolis, Maryland
INTERMENT: Exact location of his grave, which is on the Ellerslie estate, is unknown.
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