Jonathan Dayton
3rd Speaker of the United States House of Representatives
In office
December 7, 1795 – March 3, 1799
Preceded byFrederick Muhlenberg
Succeeded byTheodore Sedgwick
United States Senator
from New Jersey
In office
March 4, 1799 – March 3, 1805
Preceded byRichard Stockton
Succeeded byAaron Kitchell
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New Jersey's at-large district
In office
March 4, 1791 – March 3, 1799
Preceded byJames Schureman
Elias Boudinot
Succeeded byMark Thomson
John Condit
Delegate from New Jersey to the Congress of the Confederation
In office
Personal details
Born(1760-10-16)October 16, 1760
Elizabethtown, Province of New Jersey, British America
DiedOctober 9, 1824(1824-10-09) (aged 63)
Elizabethtown, New Jersey, U.S.
Political partyFederalist
Other political
SpouseSusan Williamson
ParentElias Dayton (father)
RelativesGeorge Dayton (great-grandson)
Alma materCollege of New Jersey

Jonathan Dayton (October 16, 1760 – October 9, 1824) was an American Founding Father and politician from New Jersey. At 26, he was the youngest person to sign the Constitution of the United States. He was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1791 and later served from 1795 to 1799 as its third Speaker. He left the House in 1799 after being elected to the U.S. Senate, where he served one term. Dayton was arrested in 1807 for alleged treason in connection with Aaron Burr's conspiracy to establish an independent country in the Southwestern United States and parts of Mexico. He was exonerated by a grand jury,[1] but his national political career never recovered.


Jonathan Dayton was born in Elizabethtown (now known as Elizabeth), New Jersey. He was the son of Elias Dayton, a merchant prominent in local politics who had served as a militia officer in the French and Indian War, and his wife the former Hannah Rolfe. He graduated from the local academy, run by Tapping Reeve and Francis Barber, where he was classmates with Alexander Hamilton. He then attended the College of New Jersey (now known as Princeton University). He left college in 1775 to fight in the American Revolutionary War and received an honorary degree in 1776.[2]

Military career

Dayton was 15 at the outbreak of the war in 1775 and served under his father in the 3rd New Jersey Regiment as an ensign. On January 1, 1777, he was commissioned a lieutenant and served as paymaster. He saw service under General George Washington, fighting in the battles of Brandywine Creek and Germantown. He remained with Washington at Valley Forge and helped push the British from their position in New Jersey into the safety of New York City.[2] In October 1780, Dayton and an uncle were captured by Loyalists, who held them captive for the winter before releasing them in the following year. Dayton again served under his father in the New Jersey Brigade. On March 30, 1780, at age 19, he was promoted to the rank of captain and transferred to the 2nd New Jersey Regiment, where he took part in the Battle of Yorktown.[2] The Revolutionary War pension records indicate that he served as aide-de-camp to General John Sullivan on his expedition against the Indians from May 1 to November 30, 1779.

At the close of the Revolutionary War, Dayton was admitted as an original member of The Society of the Cincinnati in the state of New Jersey.[3][4][5] On July 19, 1799, Dayton was offered a commission as major general in the Provisional United States Army, but he declined.

Legal and political career

After the war, Dayton studied law and opened a practice, dividing his time between land speculation, law, and politics. After serving as a New Jersey delegate to the Continental Congress and Constitutional Convention (of which he was the youngest member, at age 26[6]), he became a prominent Federalist legislator. He was a member of the New Jersey General Assembly in 1786–1787, and again in 1790, and served in the New Jersey Legislative Council (now the New Jersey Senate) in 1789.[2]

Dayton was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1789, but he did not take his seat until he was re-elected in 1791. He served as speaker for the Fourth and Fifth Congresses. Like most Federalists, he supported the fiscal policies of Alexander Hamilton, and he helped organize the suppression of the Whiskey Rebellion. He supported the Louisiana Purchase and opposed the repeal of the Judiciary Act of 1801.[2]

Wealthy from his heavy investments in Ohio, Dayton lent money to Aaron Burr, becoming involved by association in the alleged conspiracy in which Burr was accused of intending to conquer parts of what is now the Southwestern United States. Dayton was exonerated, but his association with Burr effectively ended his political career.[2]

Late life and family

Dayton married Susan Williamson in 1779 and had two daughters.[7]

Dayton died on October 9, 1824 in his hometown. He was interred in an unmarked grave that is now under the St. John's Episcopal Church in Elizabeth, New Jersey, which replaced an original church in 1860. Shortly before Dayton's death, Lafayette visited him, as reported in an obituary in the Columbian Centinel on October 20, 1824: "In New-Jersey, Hon. JONATHAN DAYTON, formerly Speaker of the House of Representatives of Congress, and a Hero of the Revolution. When the Nation's Guest lately passed New-Jersey, he passed the night with General Dayton, and such were the exertions of this aged and distinguished federalist, to honor the Guest, and gratify the wishes of his fellow citizens to see, that he sunk under them; and expired, without regret, a few days after."[8]

Commemoration and legacy

The city of Dayton, Ohio, was named after him. While he never visited the area, he was a signatory to the Constitution and, at the time the city of Dayton was established in 1796, he owned (in partnership with Arthur St. Clair, James Wilkinson and Israel Ludlow) 250,000 acres (1,011 km2) in the Great Miami River basin.[9][10] The Jonathan Dayton High School in Springfield Township, Union County, New Jersey, the Dayton neighborhood of Newark, New Jersey, Dayton Street[11] in Madison, Wisconsin, and Dayton, New Jersey,[12] are named in his honor.


  1. ^ Jonathan Dayton
  2. ^ a b c d e f Wright, Robert K. Jr.; MacGregor, Morris J. Jr. "David Brearly". Soldier-Statesmen of the Constitution. Washington D.C.: United States Army Center of Military History. CMH Pub 71-25. Archived from the original on October 9, 2019. Retrieved November 22, 2014.
  3. ^ "Jonathan Dayton | The Society of the Cincinnati in the State of New Jersey". Retrieved May 15, 2019.
  4. ^ Metcalf, Bryce (1938). Original Members and Other Officers Eligible to the Society of the Cincinnati, 1783-1938: With the Institution, Rules of Admission, and Lists of the Officers of the General and State Societies Strasburg, VA: Shenandoah Publishing House, Inc., p. 104.
  5. ^ "Officers Represented in the Society of the Cincinnati". The American Revolution Institute of the Society of the Cincinnati. Retrieved April 9, 2021.
  6. ^ Abeka United States History: Heritage of Freedom, page 126
  7. ^ Susan's Revolutionary War Pension Application W.6994 states that the marriage occurred on March 28, 1779. A supporting letter, written by Aaron Ogden, a captain in the New Jersey Brigade, states that he "was present at the marriage of the said Jonathan Dayton and Susan his wife; which marriage ceremony was performed by the Reverent Mr. Hoyt, a Presbyterian Clergyman... in the fore part of spring of the year seventeen hundred and seventy nine while the New Jersey Brigade lay at Elizabethtown in the Borough of Elizabeth and state of new Jersey."
  8. ^ "Columbian Centinel". October 20, 1824.
  9. ^ Brief History of Dayton Archived 2015-11-12 at the Wayback Machine, Dayton, Ohio. Accessed January 13, 2010.
  10. ^ Important Daytonians Archived August 22, 2007, at the Wayback Machine, Preservation Dayton. Accessed January 13, 2010.
  11. ^ "Odd Wisconsin Archives". Archived from the original on April 23, 2006.
  12. ^ Federal Writers' Project (1938). The Ocean Highway: New Brunswick, New Jersey to Jacksonville, Florida. American guide series. Works Progress Administration. p. 1.
U.S. House of Representatives Preceded byElias Boudinot Member of the U.S. House of Representatives from New Jersey's at-large congressional district March 4, 1791 – March 3, 1799 Succeeded byWilliam Helms U.S. Senate Preceded byRichard Stockton U.S. senator (Class 2) from New Jersey March 4, 1799 – March 3, 1805 Succeeded byAaron Kitchell