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the youngest member of the Constitutional Convention
Jonathan Dayton was born at Elizabethtown (now Elizabeth), New Jersey, on October 16, 1760. He graduated from the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) in 1776 and immediately entered the Continental Army. He saw extensive action during the war, including a stint under his father, General Elias Dayton, and as a prisoner of the British for a time. After the war he studied law and established a practice. His political career began in 1786, when he was elected to the New Jersey General Assembly (served 1786-1787).
In 1787, Dayton was chosen as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention in place of his father, who had declined to attend. At 27 years of age, he was the youngest member of the convention. He spoke with moderate frequency during the debates and signed the final document, even though he objected to some of its provisions. He then served in the Continental Congress in 1788.
Elected as a Representative to the first Congress in 1789, Dayton declined to take his seat in order to become a member of the New Jersey Council and Speaker of the State Assembly. He finally entered the House of Representatives in 1791, and served there until 1799. During his tenure he backed Alexander Hamilton's fiscal program, suppression of the Whiskey Rebellion, Jay's Treaty, and many other Federalist measures. He served in the Senate from 1799 to 1805, during which time he supported the Louisiana Purchase and opposed the repeal of the Judiciary Act of 1801.
A friend of Aaron Burr, Dayton was alleged to have been part of Burr's plan to conquer Spanish lands in the Southwest and establish an independent nation. He was arrested for treason but was never formally tried. Although Dayton's national political career was ruined, he remained popular in New Jersey and continued to hold local offices and serving in the State Assembly (1814-1815). He died in Elizabethtown on October 9, 1824, and is buried at St. John's Episcopal Church.
Because he owned 250,000 acres of land between the Big and Little Miami rivers, the city of Dayton, Ohio, was named for him.
This page was last updated on March 19, 2017.