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Matthew Thornton (1714 – June 24, 1803) is an American Founding Father. He was a prosperous surgeon, the president of the Provincial Assembly, a justice of the peace and a Colonel of the Londonderry Militia. As a member of the Committee of Safety he would draft a plan for the government of New Hampshire after the royal government was dissolved. Thornton became the first president of the New Hampshire House of Representatives and a justice to the Superior Court. He was elected to the Continental Congress as a delegate of New Hampshire that would sign the Declaration of Independence.
Matthew Thornton was born in Ireland. At age three, he immigrated to the United States with his father and settled in Wiscasset, Maine before moving to Worcester, Massachusetts. The family paid their way across the Atlantic through Indentured servitude, and Thornton spent many of his early years in indenture. He received a formal education in the study of medicine and in 1740 started his own practice. Thornton was appointed surgeon of New Hampshire troops in the expedition against Cape Breton. Eventually he became Colonel of the New Hampshire Militia during the American Revolution.
In 1758, Matthew Thornton became a delegate to the New Hampshire Assembly. He would become president of the first Provincial Assembly in 1775 and chairman of the Committee of Safety. His plan to dissolve the royal government was immediately adopted and it became the first constituition for the state before the outbreak of hostilities with England. Under the new constitution, Thronton became the first president of the New Hampshire House of Representatives. In 1776, he was elected to the Continental Congress. He arrived after the vote for independence but in time to sign the Declaration. He was again selected to Congress in 1777, but declined to attend due to poor health. After Congress, Thornton would serve in the State Senate in 1784 and State councilor in 1785.
In 1789, Thornton moved to a large farm estate in Merrimack, New Hamphire where he wrote political essays for newspapers. He passed away while visiting his daughter in Newburyport, Massachusetts, at the age of 89. Matthew Thornton was buried at Thornton’s Ferry Cemetery, Merrimack, New Hamphire.
Adams, Charles Thornton. Matthew Thornton of New Hampshire: A Patriot of the American Revolution. Philadelphia, Pa.: Dando Print and Publishing Company, 1903.
To the Inhabitants of the Colony of New Hampshire
Exeter, June 2, 1775.
Friends and Brethren, You must all be sensible that the affairs of America have at length come to a very affecting and alarming crisis. - The Horrors and Distresses of a Civil War, which, till of late, we only had in contemplation, we now find ourselves obliged to realize. Painful beyond expression have been those Scenes of Blood and Devastation, which the barbarous cruelty of British troops have placed before our eyes. Duty to GOD - to ourselves - to Posterity - enforced by the Cries of slaughtered Innocents, have urged us to take up Arms in our Defence. Such a day as this was never before known, either to us or to our Fathers. You will give us leave therefore - in whom you have reposed special confidence, as your representative body, to suggest a few things which call for the serious attention of everyone who has the true interest of America at Heart. We would therefore recommend to the Colony at large to cultivate that Christian Union, Harmony and tender affection which is the only foundation upon which our invaluable privileges can rest with any security, or our publick measures be pursued with the least prospect of success.
We also recommend that a strict and inviolable regard be paid to the wise and judicious councils of the late American CONGRESS: and particularly, considering that the experience of almost every day points out to us, the danger arising from the collection and movements of bodies of men, who, notwithstanding, we willingly hope would promote the common cause and serve the interest of their country; yet are in danger of pursuing a track which may cross the general plan, and so disconcert those publick measures which we view as of the greatest importance. We must, in the most express and urgent terms, recommend it that there may be no movements of this nature, but by the direction of the Committees of the respective towns or counties; and those Committees, at the same time, advising with this Congress or with the Committee of Safety in the recess of Congress, where the exigence of the case is not plainly too pressing to leave room for such advice.
We further recommend, that the most industrious attention be paid to the cultivation of Lands and American Manufactures, in their various branches - especially the Linen and Woollen; and that the husbandry might be particularly managed with a view thereto - accordingly that the Farmer raise flax and increase his flock of sheep to the extent of his ability.
We further recommend a serious and steady regard to the rules of temperance, sobriety and righteousness - and that those Laws, which have heretofore been our security and defence from the hand of violence may still answer all their former valuable purposes, though persons of vicious and corrupt minds, would willingly take advantage from our present situation.
In a word - We seriously and earnestly recommend the practice of that pure and undefiled religion, which embalmed the memory of our pious ancestors, as that alone, upon which we can build a solid hope and confidence in the Divine protection and favour, without whose blessing, all the measures of safety we have, or can propose, will end in our shame and disappointment.
MATTHEW THORNTON, President.
- America at 1750: A Social Portrait, by Richard
- THORNTON, Matthew, (1714 - 1803), Biographical Directory of the United States Congress
- Matthew Thornton, USHistory.gov
- Collections, Topographical, Historical, and Biographical Relating Principally to New Hampshire, Volume 1