Jonathan Dayton (October 16, 1760 – October 9, 1824) was an American politician from the State of New Jersey. He was the youngest person to sign the United States Constitution and a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, serving as the fourth Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, and later the U.S. Senate. Dayton was arrested in 1807 for treason in connection with Aaron Burr’s conspiracy. He was never put on trial but his national political career never recovered.
Dayton was born in Elizabethtown (now known as Elizabeth) in New Jersey. He was the son of Elias Dayton, a merchant who was prominent in local politics and had served as a militia officer in the French and Indian War. He graduated from the local academy, run by Tapping Reeve and Francis Barber, where he was classmates with Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. He then attended the College of New Jersey (now known as Princeton University). He left the College of New Jersey in 1775 to fight in the revolution, though he would later receive an honorary degree in 1776.
During the Revolutionary War Dayton, 15 at the outbreak in 1775, served under his father in the 3rd New Jersey Regiment as an ensign. By 1777 Dayton had become a lieutenant serving under Washington fighting, at both the battles of Brandywine Creek and Germantown. The Daytons remained with Washington at Valley Forge, and helped push the British from their position in New Jersey into the Safety of New York City. In October 1780, Dayton along with an uncle were captured by loyalist who held him captive for the winter, released in the coming year. They again served under Dayton’s father, Elias Dayton, in the New Jersey Brigade. Now only 19, Dayton was promoted to rank of captain and transferred to the second New Jersey, where he took part in the ensuing Yorktown Campaign fighting at the Battle of Yorktown.
After the war, Dayton studied law and established 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, which he was the youngest member of, at the age of 26, he became a prominent Federalist legislator. He was a member of the New Jersey General Assembly from 1786–1787, and again in 1790, and served in the New Jersey Legislative Council (now the New Jersey Senate) in 1789.
Dayton was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1789, but he did not take his seat until he was elected again in 1791. He served as speaker for the Fourth and Fifth Congress. Like most Federalists, he supported the fiscal policies of Alexander Hamilton, and helped organize the suppression of the Whiskey Rebellion. He supported the Louisiana Purchase and opposed the repeal of the Judiciary Act of 1801.
Wealthy from his heavy investments in Ohio where the city of Dayton would later be named after him, Dayton lent money to Aaron Burr becoming involved by association in the “conspiracy” in which Burr was accused of intending to conquer parts of what is now the western United States. (This was never proven.) Dayton was exonerated, but this effectively ended his political career.
Late life and family
He married Susan Williamson and had two daughters but their marriage date is unknown.
After resuming his political career in New Jersey, he died in 1824 in his hometown and was interred in an unmarked grave now under the present St. John’s Episcopal Church in Elizabeth which replaced the original church in 1860.
The city of Dayton, Ohio, was named after Jonathan Dayton. While he never set foot in the area, he was a signatory to the constitution and, at the time the city was established in 1796, he owned, in partnership with Arthur St. Clair, James Wilkinson and Israel Ludlow, 250,000 acres in the Great Miami River basin.
The Jonathan Dayton High School in Springfield Township, Union County, New Jersey, the Dayton neighborhood of Newark, New Jersey, Dayton Street in Madison, Wisconsin, and Dayton, Ohio are named in his honor.
- 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. http://www.history.army.mil/books/RevWar/ss/brearly.htm.
- Abeka United States History: Heritage of Freedom, page 126
- Brief History of Dayton, Dayton, Ohio
- Important Daytonians, Preservation Dayton