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Richard Stockton (1730-1781)

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Richard Stockton

Richard Stockton
(NSHC statue)

An illustrious lawyer, jurist, legislator, and a signer of the Declaration of Independence, Richard Stockton (October 1, 1730February 28, 1781), was born near Princeton, New Jersey attended Samuel Finley's academy at Nottingham, which later became West Nottingham Academy, and the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University), graduating in 1748. He studied law with David Ogden, of Newark, who was at that time the head of the legal profession in the province. Stockton was admitted to the bar in 1754 and soon rose to great distinction.

Stockton initially showed little interest in politics. He once wrote, "The public is generally unthankful, and I never will become a Servant of it, till I am convinced that by neglecting my own affairs I am doing more acceptable Service to God and Man." Stockton did, however, later take an active role as a trustee of the College of New Jersey.

In 1768 Stockton had his first taste of government service when he was appointed to the governing Council of New Jersey; he was later (1774) appointed to the New Jersey Supreme Court. He first took a moderate stance in the troubles between the colonies and Great Britain. He did not favor separation; rather, he suggested in 1764 that some colonial members be appointed to the Parliament. However, he changed his position a year later when the controversy over the Stamp Act arose. In 1774 he drafted and sent to Lord Dartmouth "a plan of self-government for America, independent of Parliament, without renouncing allegiance to the Crown."

In 1776 Stockton was elected to the Continental Congress, where he took a very active role. Shortly after he signed the Declaration of Independence, he was taken prisoner by the British. It was at this point that he became a turncoat. He renounced the revolution and signed a different declaration, a "Declaration of Allegence" to the King, George III and gave "his word of honor that he would not meddle in the least of American affairs". Thus, he has the dubious honor of being the only signer of the Declaration of Independence to betray the cause.

Although he remained in prison for only a month, his health was broken. He became an invalid and died at Princeton on February 28, 1781.

In 1888, the state of New Jersey donated a marble statue of Stockton to the U.S. Capitol's National Statuary Hall Collection.

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