Governors of Connecticut

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Roger Griswold

From: The Governers of Connecticut
By: Frederick Calvin Norton
Published: 1905


THE second Governor Griswold was descended from two governors of Connecticut, he being the son of Matthew Griswold, and grandson of Roger Wolcott. He inherited many of the distinguished traits of his able ancestors.

Roger Griswold was born in Lyme on May 21, 1762, and entered Yale College at the age of fourteen. He was graduated in 1780, and immediately began the study of law in his father’s office.

In 1783 Griswold was admitted to the bar and commenced his brilliant career in the town of Norwich. Great success was his from the first, and few men in this state have ever acquired a greater reputation at the bar than Roger Griswold. He returned to his native town of Lyme in 1794 and was elected as a Federalist to represent his district in the national House of Representatives. He was re-elected five consecutive times, serving from 1795 to 1805. During the time he served as a congressman his ability and profound judgment placed him in the front ranks. The period covered a portion of Washington’s administration, the whole of John Adam’s, and a part of Jefferson’s. He ranked with the first of his party, was distinguished “for his powerful talents in debate, and the independence and decision of his conduct.”

In 1798 Griswold had a “violent personal encounter” with Matthew Lyon, the famous Vermont politician. Lyon appeared to be the aggressor, although an attempt to expel him from the House was unsuccessful. In 1801 President Adams offered Griswold the position of secretary of war in his cabinet, but he declined the office, having previously requested the president to withdraw the nomination.

Returning to Connecticut, Griswold was in 1807 chosen a judge of the Supreme Court, and remained on the bench two years, when the Legislature elected him lieutenant governor.

The same year, 1809, he was also a presidential elector on the Pinckney and King ticket. Harvard College honored him in 1811 by conferring the degree of Doctor of Laws, and Yale followed in 1812 with the same degree.

Griswold served as lieutenant governor two years, when in i8i 1 he was elected governor of Connecticut. During his administration the president made a requisition on Connecticut for four companies of troops for garrison duty, but Governor Griswold refused to furnish them on the ground, that they were not needed to “repel invasion.” Governor Griswold had been in office nearly a year and a half when he died on Sunday, October 25, 1812. Taken away in the prime of life, his death was generally lamented. The Honorable David Daggett delivered an eloquent eulogy upon his character before both houses of the legislature at New Haven.

Leading public men at the time agreed that Governor Griswold had few equals in his day. The late Chief Justice Waite wrote of him, “In all positions he proved himself a born master of men.” A writer in the New England Review said: “Few have been more universally esteemed and loved. He lived in a critical and eventful time in our existence; and pre-eminently acted well his part, deserving and receiving the highest honors his native state could bestow upon him.”

In personal appearance Governor Griswold was “a very handsome man, with large flashing eyes, a commanding figure, and majestic mien —he seemed by outward presence born to rule.”

Of his executive ability it has been said that “the secret of his
power lay in the wonderful promptness of his mind, which penetrated every subject presented to it and saw it clearly in all its connections.”

The following is on the family monument near Black Hall:

“He was respected in the university as an elegant classical scholar. Quick discernment, sound reasoning, legal science, manly eloquence, raised him to the first eminence at the bar. Distinguished in the national council among the illustrious statesmen of his age — revered for his inflexible integrity and pre-eminent talents, his political course was highly honorable. . . . His fame and honor were the first rewards of noble action, and of a life devoted to his country. . . . His memory is embalmed in the hearts of surviving relatives and of a grateful people. When this monument shall have decayed his name will be enrolled with honor among the great, the wise, and the good.”

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