Monday, March 5, 2012

Benjamin Harrison V

Benjamin Harrison V (April 5, 1726 – April 24, 1791) was an American planter and revolutionary leader from Charles City County, Virginia. He earned his higher education at the College of William and Mary, and he was perhaps the first figure in the Harrison family to gain national attention. Harrison was a representative for Surry County, Virginia, (1756–1758) and Charles City County (1766–1776) to the House of Burgesses. He was a Virginia delegate to the Continental Congress from 1774 to 1777 and, during the Second Continental Congress, was a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

John Adams in his diary recalled Harrison as having said that he was so eager to participate in the Continental Congress "he would have come on foot." Adams also commented that "Harrison's contributions and many pleasantries steadied rough sessions." Harrison served frequently as Chairman of the Committee of the Whole in the Continental Congress, presided over the final debates on an independence resolution offered by Virginia delegate Richard Henry Lee, and presided as well as over the final debates and amendments to the Declaration itself.

On June 28, 1776, Jefferson's draft including initial alterations of a Declaration of Independence was reported to Congress by the Committee of Five charged with the initial drafting; Congress then "laid it on the table". The Congress resolved on July 1 that the Declaration be considered by the Committee of the Whole. Having further amended the Declaration on July 2 and 3, the Committee adopted the Declaration in final form on Thursday, July 4; Harrison duly reported this to the Congress, and delivered to Congress a final reading of the Declaration. The Declaration was then unanimously agreed upon and Congress resolved to have the Declaration engrossed and signed by those present, which signing took place on August 2, 1776.

Harrison was also a member of the Committee of Secret Correspondence for the Congress.

Harrison served as the fifth Governor of Virginia from 1781 to 1784. He then again ran for the state legislature, but he was defeated by John Tyler, Sr., the father of the future president John Tyler. Harrison was elected from a neighboring district, however, and he served (including as speaker of the House when it adopted the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom) until his death.

In 1788, Harrison was a member of the Virginia convention which ratified the Federal Constitution, though he, along with Patrick Henry and other men of prominence, opposed it—largely because of the absence of a bill of rights.

Harrison was a son of Benjamin Harrison IV and Anne Carter, and a grandson of Robert Carter I, who was an ancestor of Robert E. Lee. Harrison's cousin was the plantation owner Robert Carter III. Benjamin Harrison V, was married to his second cousin, Elizabeth Bassett. Their son William Henry Harrison and great-grandson Benjamin Harrison would both become the President of the United States—ironically, John Tyler, son of the man who had once defeated him for office, would serve as his son's Vice President. Harrison's grandson was the Congressman John Scott Harrison. His great-great-great-grandson was the Congressman William H. Harrison of Wyoming (1896–1990). Besides William Henry, their youngest child, Mr. and Mrs. Harrison had six other children; Elizabeth, Anna, Benjamin VI, Lucy, Carter, and Sarah. Harrison's brother-in-law was the Speaker of the House of Burgesses, Peyton Randolph, who was the first cousin once removed of Thomas Jefferson. Harrison's brother-in-law, Burwell Bassett, was married to the sister of Martha Washington. His nephew Edmund (son of brother Nathaniel) was married to Martha Skipwith, Jefferson's sister-in-law. Edmund's great-great-great grandson J. Hartwell Harrison, a urologist, collaborated in the first kidney transplant.

Harrison lived all his life at Berkeley Plantation, the Harrison family home in Virginia, and his children were born there.

Harrison County, West Virginia was formed in 1784 and named in Governor Harrison's honor. Reportedly no contemporary portrait of Benjamin Harrison "The Signer" survives; the figure labeled as "Benjamin Harrison" in John Trumbull's Declaration of Independence is actually based on his son Benjamin Harrison.

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