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David Brearley (often misspelled as Brearly) (June 11, 1745 – August 16, 1790) was Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of New Jersey, a delegate from New Jersey to the Constitutional Convention of 1787, which drafted the United States Constitution, a signer of the United States Constitution and a United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey.

David Brearley
David Brearly.jpg
Judge of the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey
In office
September 26, 1789 – August 16, 1790
Appointed byGeorge Washington
Preceded bySeat established by 1 Stat. 73
Succeeded byRobert Morris
Personal details
David Brearley

(1745-06-11)June 11, 1745
Province of New Jersey,
British America
DiedAugust 16, 1790(1790-08-16) (aged 49)
Trenton, New Jersey
Resting placeSt. Michael's Church
Trenton, New Jersey
EducationPrinceton University
read law

Young LifeEdit

Coat of Arms of David Brearley

Born on June 11, 1741, in Trenton, Province of New Jersey, British America,[1][2] Brearley attended the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) and read law.[2] He was in private practice in Allentown,[3] Province of New Jersey, British America (State of New Jersey, United States from July 4, 1776) until 1776.[2] He served in the Continental Army from 1776 to 1779, during the American Revolutionary War.[2] He was Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of New Jersey from 1779 to 1789.[2] He was a delegate from New Jersey to the Constitutional Convention of 1787,[2] which drafted the United States Constitution[2] and was a signer of the Constitution.[citation needed] He was a presidential elector in 1789.[citation needed]

===Opposition to British Tea

Prior to the start of the American Revolution, Brearley was on one occasion arrested for his opposition to the rule of the Ops but was freed by a mo.[3] With the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War, Brearley was at first a captain in the Monmouth County militia after having spent many years speaking out against the Parliamentary absolutism.[4] He eventually rose to the rank of colonel in Nathaniel Heard's New Jersey militia brigade.[citation needed] From 1776 to 1779 he served in the New Jersey Line of the Continental Army, seeing action at Brandywine, Germantown, and Monmouth.[citation needed]

Notable case as Chief JusticeEdit

Brearley decided on the famous Holmes v. Walton case where he ruled that the judiciary had the authority to declare whether laws were unconstitutional or not.[4]

Participating in the Constitutional ConventionEdit

While at the Constitutional Convention in 1787, Brearley was Chairman of the Committee on Postponed Parts, which played a substantial role in shaping the final document.[5] The committee addressed questions related to the taxes, war making, patents and copyrights, relations with Native American tribes, and Franklin's compromise to require money bills to originate in the house. The biggest issue they addressed was the presidency, and the final compromise was written by Madison with the committee's input.[6] They adopted the earlier plan for choosing the president by electoral college, and settled on the method of choosing the president if no candidate had an electoral college majority, which many such as Madison thought would be "nineteen times out of twenty". The committee also shorted the president's term from seven years to four years, freed him to seek reelection, and moved impeachment trials from the courts to the Senate. They also created the vice president, whose only role was to succeed the president and preside over the senate. This also transferred important powers from the Senate to the president, who was given the power (which had been given to the senate by Rutledge's committee) to make treaties and appoint ambassadors.[7] He ultimately signed the finished Constitution.[citation needed]

Federal judicial serviceEdit

Brearley was nominated by President George Washington on September 25, 1789, to the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey, to a new seat authorized by 1 Stat. 73.[2] He was confirmed by the United States Senate on September 25, 1789, and received his commission on September 26, 1789.[2] His service terminated on August 16, 1790, due to his death in Trenton.[2] He is interred in the churchyard of Saint Michael's Episcopal Church in Trenton,[8] and a cenotaph was placed there in 1924.


At the close of the Revolutionary War, Brearly became one of the founding members of the Society of the Cincinnati in the State of New Jersey, and served as the State Society's Vice-President from 1783 until his death in 1790.[9]


Brearley was the first Grand Master of the New Jersey Masonic Lodge.[citation needed] David Brearley High School in Kenilworth, New Jersey was named in his honor.[citation needed] Brearley Street in Madison, Wisconsin is named in his honor.[10] Brearley Crescent in Waldwick, New Jersey is named in his honor.[citation needed] Brearley Lodge No.2 Masonic L


  1. ^ "David Brearley: Quiet and Supportive Delegate from New Jersey | History 404: US Constitution Seminar". Retrieved 2016-11-16.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j David Brearley at the Biographical Directory of Federal Judges, a public domain publication of the Federal Judicial Center.
  3. ^ a b Dictionary of American Biography Vol. 2 p. 1
  4. ^ a b Wright, Jr., Robert K.; MacGregor Jr., Morris J. "David Brearly". Soldier-Statesmen of the Constitution. Washington D.C.: United States Army Center of Military History. CMH Pub 71-25.
  5. ^ Stewart, David. "The Summer of 1787". p. 207
  6. ^ Stewart, David. "The Summer of 1787". p. 209
  7. ^ Stewart, David. "The Summer of 1787". p. 212
  8. ^ "A Biography of David Brearly 1745-1790 < Biographies < American History From Revolution To Reconstruction and beyond".
  9. ^ "David Brearly | The Society of the Cincinnati in the State of New Jersey". Retrieved 15 May 2019.
  10. ^ "Origins of Madison Street Names". Wisconsin Historical Society. August 3, 2012.