The Signers Thomas McKean

Thomas McKean
by T.B. Welch from a painting
by Stuart, n.d.
Pat and Jerry B. Epstein
American history Document Collection

Thomas McKean


No single colony or state could contain the ambition and vision of Thomas McKean. Born in Pennsylvania, he studied law in Delaware and practiced in those two colonies as well as New Jersey. While serving in the Delaware Assembly, he moved to Philadelphia to enhance his law practice and become more active in the move toward independence. McKean represented Delaware in the Continental Congress, and he was present in July 1776 to vote for independence and the adoption of the Declaration.

After helping to draft Delaware's new constitution, and in spite of being a vocal opponent of Pennsylvania's, McKean accepted the chief justiceship in the latter state and remained in that position for 22 years. This apparent hypocrisy, and his mobility, made him unpopular, but he became a moderate jurist and made a lasting contribution to the Pennsylvania courts.

McKean supported ratification of the federal constitution but allied himself with the Republican faction in Pennsylvania. He was elected Governor in 1799 and served three controversial terms, surviving impeachment proceedings in 1807. He was an advocate of education, moderate judicial reform, and internal improvements.

Thomas McKean might have been the last to sign the Declaration of Independence, but the evidence in inconclusive. He left Philadelphia shortly after July 4 and did not return until late August 1776. He might have signed at that time, and in fact he told John Adams that he did. But the Goddard printing of the Declaration casts doubt on an early signing.

Return to the Signers timeline