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Jonathan Dayton - Revolutionary and Politician

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Jonathan Dayton was an American revolutionary figure, living from 16 October, 1760 to 9 October, 1824. His life started in Elizabethtown, in eastern New Jersey. He was born at the right time (or perhaps a bit late) to take part in the American Revolution. His family was one of the most important during the colonial and revolutionary times. His father had served as an officer in the French and Indian War.

Dayton possessed a very strong and stubborn philosophy of what was right. He believed that the government was supposed to defend the rights and freedoms of its citizens, but only when it was practical to do so. He believed in a social hierarchy supported by the government.


Dayton went to the Reeves School, near his birthplace, where future patriots and governmental figures Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton stood among his classmates. After this, he went to the College of New Jersey, which is now Princeton University. He was absent from the university for the length of the war, because his father (who led the Third New Jersey Regiment) had arranged for him to join the war as an ensign as his education continued. Nevertheless, he received a diploma and was later granted a Doctor of Laws degree.

Dayton entered the Continental Army to fight for American Independence, and so his political beliefs were based on this and his experience there. During eight years in the army, he encountered much poor leadership. His idea of a strong central government was also firmly planted. He decided that in order to protect the people of the nation and the states and manage an army, a powerful national government would be necessary.

He was sent to Canada with his regiment, but they were then sent to New York to hold back Loyalist Americans and rebelling Indians. They set up Fort Schuyler and Fort Dayton as Yankee strongholds. In the cold winter of 1777, Dayton endured the harsh times, as George Washington did in Valley Forge. Dayton, while marching with his regiment through the wild, began to understand the economic prosperity possible from using the resources beyond the 13 original colonies.

In 1780 New Jersey was filled with loyalist Americans fighting against patriots. In one raid, Dayton was captured. He was held in New York, but released in 1781. He was then sent to the New Jersey Brigade, which had been created during his capture. His father commanded the brigade, and his son - promoted to captain - was sent to the second New Jersey regiment.

Dayton's regiment was sent to Yorktown, where he fought in the decisive battle. His company helped to assure a victory there, which signalled the end of the war. Dayton then remained in the service until the army was dissolved in 1783.


After the war, Dayton turned to studying law and taking part in the merchant business of the Daytons. His family influence and his role in the war made it easy for him to find a place in state politics. In the New Jersey legislature, Dayton assumed the seat of Elizabethtown while his father (the obvious choice for the post) was in the Continental Congress.

Dayton's father was again offered the position of a delegate from New Jersey in 1787, but for the Constitutional Convention. He declined to go, and decided his son Jonathan should take his place. He arrived a little late1, but was a fairly active speaker in the convention. He supported the 'New Jersey Plan', which gave equal power to each state: it guaranteed small states (such as New Jersey) a strong presence in the Federal government. This plan, along with one to make a congress where densely populated states had more representatives, created the two-house system of Congress. This comprised the Senate and House of Representatives. Only 26 years old, Dayton was one of those with the honour of signing the Constitution.

After the Constitutional Convention, Dayton enjoyed a good reputation in his home state. He was made a delegate to the last session of the Constitutional Convention. He was elected as a New Jersey Representative in the national Congress, but did not serve that post. Then, he served on the state level as a Speaker of the state House of Representatives. After this, he was elected again to US Congress, and served. He also served four terms as a representative from New Jersey, the last four years of which were spent as Speaker of the US House of Representatives.

Dayton was a Federalist, having known several important people from the party from the war and his education. He worked with Alexander Hamilton on his financial plan and advice to President Washington. He used his influence to have Congress approve Jay's Treaty, which helped restart relations with Great Britain.

In 1799, Dayton served one term in the US Senate. He considered himself a moderate Federalist there.

Falling Down

Dayton made enormous land purchases, especially in the Ohio area in between the Great Miami and Little Miami Rivers. He claimed to own a quarter of a million acres of land there. Aaron Burr, an old friend of Dayton, met him on his way west and Dayton loaned him some money. Burr would go on to do crazy things with it, like commit what many thought to be treason by starting an empire in the west and starting a revolution in Mexico (no one really knows exactly what his intentions were). When Burr's plans were brought into the public eye, suspicion was cast on Dayton as well. He was indicted in 1807, but not convicted of treason. After this, he was unable to keep his national political career afloat.

He managed an election to the New Jersey legislature from 1814 to 1815, but after that, his political career was over. He died in his hometown on 9 October, 1824. He left behind him two daughters, and most significantly, the name of Dayton, Ohio - a city in between the Great Miami and Little Miami Rivers.

  • See which ideas of the past made it to the present day, and which were confined to history.

1Ironic, considering how close New Jersey is to Philadelphia, where the meeting was held.

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