Thomas Fitzsimons


AP Government


Thomas Fitzsimons, who represented Pennsylvania in the Constitutional Convention, viewed government as a logical extension of the relationship that existed among families, ethnic communities, and business groups. His own immigrant family, Philadelphia\'s Irish-Catholic community, and the city\'s fraternity of merchants all figured prominently in Fitzsimons\' rise to wealth and status, and he sought a government strong enough to protect and foster the natural interplay of these elements in a healthy society.


Experiences in the Revolution reinforced Fitzsimons\' nationalist sympathies. Like many immigrants, he demonstrated his devotion to his adopted land by springing to its defense. Participation at the battle of Renton and the later defense of Philadelphia convinced him of the need for central control of the nation\'s military forces. Similarly, his wartime association with Robert Morris and the other fiscal architects of the nation convinced him that an effective national government was essential for the prosperity of the country. Though his talents brought him great wealth, Fitzsimons never lost sight of the aspirations and concerns of the common people. He retained their respect and affection because his career reflected not only a sense of civic duty but also a profound honesty. He judged each political issue on ethical grounds. "I conceive it to be a duty," he said, "to contend for what is right, be the issue as it may." Using this standard, he concluded with justifiable pride that the Constitution he helped devise was a "treasure to posterity."


Fitzsimons was concerned about the inflation and other serious economic problems that marked the latter years of the Revolution. Pennsylvania, burdened with a weak government, was unable to cope with these issues. Fitzsimons\' experiences both in uniform and on the states Navy Board convinced him that stronger central authority did not pose a threat to liberty and was in fact the only solution to the new crisis. Many leaders who felt this way were unpopular in Philadelphia because of their wealth, but Fitzsimons\' reputation as a caring officer, as well as his work for the poor on numerous local relief committees, sustained his popularity. At this time he also became associated with the Patriot financier Robert Morris, helping to organize the banking facilities that Morris used to support the Continental Army and Navy in the last years of the war. In fact, Fitzsimons served as a director of the Bank of North America from its founding in 1781 until 1803.


Pennsylvania sent Fitzsimons to the Continental Congress in 1782. There he concentrated on financial and commercial matters, working closely with Morris and the nationalist faction led by Hamilton and Madison on developing a centralized economy. He supported the growth of domestic industry and the payment of the nation\'s debts, particularly those owed to the soldiers of the Continental Army, but he argued that it was essential "that the weight of the taxes fall not too heavily upon any particular part of the community." Although his integrity impressed Madison, his political evenhandedness did not sit so well with the voters, who began to criticize his stand on fiscal matters. Chagrined by the criticism and distracted by business obligations, Fitzsimons resigned in 1783.


But Fitzsimons could not abandon politics. He accepted election to Pennsylvania\'s Council of Censors, a unique group that reviewed the constitutionality of executive and legislative actions. In 1786 he began the first of three terms in the state legislature, where he was a floor leader of the more conservative forces. He also represented Pennsylvania in a commission that met in 1785 with Delaware and Maryland to try to work out interstate commerce issues.


In 1787 the state selected Fitzsimons to represent it at the Constitutional Convention. There he spoke often on issues relating to commerce and finance, arguing that the central government should have the right to tax both exports and imports to raise revenue and regulate commerce-reiterating a position that he had advocated with little success in the Continental Congress. Following the completion of the Convention\'s work, Fitzsimons resumed his seat in the Pennsylvania legislature, where he led the fight for a special convention to ratify the Constitution, arguing that since the document derived its power from the people, the people must approve it through representatives elected solely for that purpose.


Fitzsimons sat for six years as a Federalist in the new House