The last signatory to the Declaration of Independence was one of the earliest to sign up for the Revolution: Thomas McKean lived a radical, boisterous, politically intriguing life and was one of the most influential and enduring of America’s Founding Fathers.
Present at almost all of the signature moments on the road to American nationhood, from the first Continental Congress onward, Thomas McKean was a colonel in the Continental Army; president of the Continental Congress; governor of Pennsylvania; and, perhaps most importantly, chief justice of the new country’s most influential state, Pennsylvania, a foundational influence on American law. His life uniquely intersected with the many centers of power in the still-formative country during its most vulnerable years, and shows the degree of uncertainty that characterized newly independent America, unsure of its future or its identity.
Thomas McKean knew intimately not only the heroic figures of the Revolutionary era — George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin — but also the fascinating characters who fought over the political identity of the new country, such as Caesar Rodney, Francis Hopkinson, and Alexander Dallas. His life reminds us that America’s creation was fraught with dangers and strife, backstabbing and bar-brawling, courage and stubbornness. McKean’s was an epic ride during utterly momentous times.