Kurt's Historic Sites

Abraham Baldwin

Abraham Baldwin

Interment Location Visited Sequence in Graves I Have Visited
Washington, D.C. November 12, 2011 15th Constitution Signer visited; 5th President Pro Tempore visited

Photographed November 12, 2011.

Just as there is only one signer of the Declaration of Independence buried in Washington, D.C., so too is a solitary signer of the Constitution consigned to the earth in the capital city. That distinction goes to Abraham Baldwin, who represented his adopted state of Georgia at the 1787 Constitutional Convention. Baldwin went on to serve in the Legislative Branch he helped create for exactly 18 years, from March 4, 1789 until his death on March 4, 1807. He is buried in northwest D.C. at Rock Creek Cemetery. His weather-worn stone is shown at the right side of this image, in the foreground.

During the Revolutionary War, Baldwin served as a chaplain in the Continental Army. Not long after his discharge from the Army in June 1783, the Connecticut native headed south to start anew in Georgia. There he secured the passage of a charter establishing the University of Georgia and became the institution’s first president. The project was protracted, though — the school’s charter was approved in 1785, but its first classes were not taught until 1801. In the meantime, Baldwin engaged in politics. He was elected to the state legislature and later was selected on February 10, 1787 to represent Georgia at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. One of the great questions that consumed the convention was whether states would receive congressional representation equally or based on population. In the initial discussions and vote, Baldwin was in favor of equal representation. He went on to contribute to the Great Compromise — or Connecticut Compromise — which provided for a bicameral legislature with one body of equal representation among the states and another with representation based on population. Baldwin and fellow Georgia delegate William Few voted in favor of the new Constitution and signed it in September 1787.

Photographed November 12, 2011.
Photographed November 12, 2011.

In 1788, Baldwin was elected to serve in the 1st U.S. Congress as a member of the House of Representatives. He represented Georgia on the eleven-member House select committee that determined which amendments to the Constitution would be brought to the floor for a vote. During his House tenure, Baldwin was concerned with informing citizens of the country about the laws that the Federal Government was passing. On this matter, he is quoted as having said, “Those whose eyes are weak, or who sit in bad light, are most easily made to see specters and goblins, in their most hideous forms. The only cure against these mischiefs is to pour light into every corner of the country. Let all the measures of government be accompanied by a blaze of day and like the birds of the night these animals are dislodged.” The Georgia Historical Society writes, “Baldwin suggested that federal laws should be sent to all county courthouses. In 1795, a law was passed providing for books of laws to be sent to each state’s governor for distribution to each county within the state.” After five terms in the House, he was chosen to be one of Georgia’s two senators in the 6th U.S. Congress, with a term that started in March 1799. He was chosen to be president pro tempore in December 1801 and held that position for one year. He began his second and final Senate term in 1804.

A biography of Baldwin published in 1926 states that the framer was “evidently” initially buried at “the old Congressional Cemetery,” and that he was subsequently removed to Rock Creek. The author, Henry Clay White, comes to this incorrect conclusion because of a letter written by diplomat Joel Barlow that says Baldwin was buried beside General James Jackson, who died a year prior in 1806. White says Congressional was where Jackson “was (and still lies) buried.” Congressional’s records, however, note that Jackson was not buried within its confines until August 10, 1832, indicating that he was the one relocated, not Baldwin. Furthermore, Congressional was not founded until April 1807, a month after Baldwin’s demise and thirteen months after Jackson’s. To top it off, Barlow’s account even says that it was five miles of distance between the Capitol and Baldwin’s burial place, a measurement accurate to Rock Creek and not Congressional, which is less than two miles from the seat of government. White also asserts that Baldwin was “most probably” moved to a tomb on Barlow’s estate between his alleged time in Congressional and his burial at Rock Creek. However, since White’s Congressional Cemetery hypothesis is wrong, I am inclined to think that Baldwin has continuously lain in the same soil he was buried in on March 6, 1807, within Rock Creek Cemetery.

Photographed November 12, 2011.

Fast Facts

Born: November 22, 1754 in Guilford, Connecticut Colony

Political Affiliation: Democratic-Republican Party

House Tenure: 1789-1799

Senate Tenure: 1799-1807

President Pro Tempore Tenure: 1801-1802

Died: March 4, 1807 in Washington, D.C.

Cause of Death: Unspecified Brief Illness

Age: 52

Interment: Rock Creek Cemetery, Washington, D.C.

"The world has already arrived at too great a degree of civilization to need any proofs of the necessity of forming the minds and morals of men to prepare them to exist together in a state of Society. Luxuriance of soil and free commerce must bring property into a country and be the natural foundation of riches; but great riches in a savage uncultivated state of men is only a greater cause of war, and calls forth the rougher passions into more horrid exercise."
- Abraham Baldwin
February 25, 1784, in a speech to the trustees of the University of Georgia

Sources Consulted and Further Reading

Coulter, E.M. “Abraham Baldwin’s Speech to the University Of Georgia Trustees.” Georgia Historical Quarterly 10, no. 4 (1926): 326-334. Accessed March 30, 2024. https://www.jstor.org/stable/40575870?seq=1.

Coulter, E. Merton. Abraham Baldwin: Patriot, Educator, and Founding Father. St. Petersburg, FL: Vandamere Press, 1987.

Georgia Historical Society. “Congressional Years, 1789-1807.” Accessed April 27, 2024. https://www.georgiahistory.com/resource/abraham-baldwin/congressional-years-1789-1807/.

Georgia Historical Society. “Drafter and Signer of the Constitution.” Accessed April 27, 2024. https://www.georgiahistory.com/resource/abraham-baldwin/drafter-and-signer-of-the-constitution/.

White, Henry C. Abraham Baldwin: One of the Founders of the Republic, and Father of the University of Georgia, the First of American State Universities. Athens, GA: The McGregor Company, 1926. https://play.google.com/books/reader?id=V4sBAAAAMAAJ&pg=GBS.PP1&hl=en.

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