Gunning Bedford Jr., Delaware

Gunning Bedford Jr., Delaware

Gunning Bedford, Jr. (1747 - March 30, 1812) was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1747. He was the fifth of eleven children and one of a long line of Gunning Bedfords, including his father, grandfather, son, and three cousins, and is distinguished from the remaining Gunning Bedfords with the designation “Jr.”.

Bedford left his home at the tender age of twenty to study law at Nassau Hall which was later to become Princeton University. He graduated in 1771 and was called to the bar in 1779, moving into his own law practice situated in Delaware in 1779. Gunning Bedford Jr. was elected to the legislature and appointed Attorney General in 1784, a position which he continued to serve in the following five years.

During the US Constitutional Convention in 1787, Gunning Bedford Jr. served both as a delegate and as a Continental Congressman. In 1788, Bedford served as a Delaware State Senator. Gunning Bedford Jr. was in favor of the idea that smaller states should have the same power as larger states within the federal government, and he took every opportunity to vocalize his views.


Gunning Bedford Jr. was described as a “bold speaker” who had “a very commanding and striking manner”, however was “warm and impetuous in his temper and precipitate in his judgement” by William Pierce, a Georgia delegate, who made these descriptive statements after listening to one of Bedford’s speeches in support of equal representation amongst states within the legislature. Gunning Bedford Jr. made several bold statements during the Convention, which he attempted to explain later by stating that he did not mean his words to “intimidate or alarm” anyone.

While Bedford had been extremely steadfast in his initial position, he did later adopt a more flexible position during the Convention Sessions so that he would not derail any efforts to bring the states together. He did eventually agree to join in on the committee which was in charge of drafting the “Great Compromise” which allowed the complete acceptance of both the layout and direction of the government by all of the states.

Delaware was the very first state to approve the Constitution, due in large part to the efforts of Gunning Bedford Jr. and several others. Bedford believed that establishing, building and maintaining schools was one of the most important endeavors to be undertaken by any community. Bedford was on the Board of Trustees at Wilmington College and later became their first president. Bedford was also an activist in the movement towards the abolishment of slavery.

President George Washington personally selected Gunning Bedford Jr. to be the first Judge appointed to the United States District Court in the District of Delaware on September 24, 1789. Gunning Bedford Jr. was then confirmed two days after that appointment by the United States Senate with a commission to the court, a position he continued in until his death in 1812.
Gunning Bedford Jr. passed away at the age of 65 in Wilmington, Delaware, on March 30, 1812.

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