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  Thomas Mifflin (1744–1800), by John Singleton Copley, 1773 [with his wife, Sarah Morris] Thomas Mifflin (1744–1800), by John Singleton Copley, 1773 [with his wife, Sarah Morris]
Mifflin, Thomas (1744–1800), revolutionary army officer and politician in the United States of America, was born on 10 January 1744 in Philadelphia, the eldest son of John Mifflin, wealthy merchant and later Pennsylvania provincial councillor, and his wife, Elizabeth Bagnell. His father's progenitors were Quakers from England. Thomas graduated from the College of Philadelphia in 1760, and then after apprenticeship formed a successful mercantile partnership with his brother George. After he became heavily involved in public affairs he invested in only occasional mercantile ventures. On 4 March 1767 he married his cousin Sarah Morris (1747–1790), daughter of Morris Morris jun., Quaker merchant. The couple had one daughter.

Mifflin took a leading role in Pennsylvania's anti-British resistance because he believed men of property were obligated to channel resistance carefully. In 1769–70 he served on Philadelphia's committee to superintend non-importation of goods dutied by the Townshend Acts. In 1772 he won election to the assembly on the ticket of the pro-resistance Patriotic Society, and became a top-ranking leader in the house. During the tea crisis of 1773 he was again very active. The assembly chose him as a delegate to the continental congress in 1774, and in December 1774 re-elected him as delegate to the second continental congress. In April 1775 Mifflin raised volunteers for defence against the British. Four months later George Washington made Colonel Mifflin quartermaster-general of the continental army. The Philadelphia monthly meeting disowned him in July, and he never became religiously affiliated again.

Mifflin, brigadier-general by May 1776, was a successful battlefield commander at Trenton and Princeton in early 1777, but he found his quartermaster duties onerous and frustrating, and so he submitted his resignation as quartermaster-general in October 1777. In August 1778 congress began investigating Mifflin for corruption and neglect of duty, but the charges were not substantiated. Offended, Mifflin resigned his major-general's commission. Washington's friends also accused him of plotting to replace the commander-in-chief with Horatio Gates, victor at Saratoga, or perhaps himself. Mifflin grumbled at Washington's mistakes and missed opportunities, but no evidence has shown him involved in any plan to remove the commander.

Mifflin returned to state politics in 1778, winning election to the assembly. He opposed the egalitarian unicameral Pennsylvania constitution, and contributed to the formation of the Republican (anti-constitutionalist) Society. In November 1782 and again in the next year he was elected to the confederation congress by the now republican assembly. In December 1783 congress elected him its president. He succeeded in the difficult task of assembling nine state delegations to ratify the treaty of peace with Britain in early 1784. He was ousted as a delegate in 1784 by the constitutionalists, but a republican resurgence made him assembly speaker (1785–8) and then supreme executive council president (1788–90).

Mifflin was also a delegate to the federal constitutional convention of 1787, and presided over the Pennsylvania constitutional convention of 1790. In both of these he was not an active speaker or floor leader. Both documents established what his experience had led him to demand—a bicameral legislature and a stronger executive. Pennsylvanians overwhelmingly elected him their first state governor in October 1790. He was re-elected for the maximum three terms in 1793 and 1796.

Although formerly of the more conservative party in Pennsylvania, Mifflin by 1793 was a democratic-republican follower of Thomas Jefferson, chiefly because Mifflin was pro-French. He at first opposed the use of force against the Whiskey rebels in Pennsylvania in 1794, advocating to President Washington that judicial process be attempted. When this failed, Mifflin avidly recruited volunteers for the militia detachments to be sent against the rioters. In 1798, abandoning his Francophile sympathies, he co-operated with the administration of the federalist John Adams in defence preparations against the French.

In 1799 Mifflin was elected to the Pennsylvania legislature, although he was drinking heavily and becoming increasingly unwell. He died on 20 January 1800 while attending the legislature's sessions in Lancaster. Because he lived on his government salaries and loans from friends, his estate was small and Pennsylvania provided his funeral; he was buried in the Lutheran church in Lancaster.

Benjamin H. Newcomb


K. R. Rossman, Thomas Mifflin and the politics of the American revolution (1952) · J. K. Alexander, ‘Mifflin, Thomas’, ANB · R. L. Brunhouse, The counter-revolution in Pennsylvania, 1776–1790 (1942) · P. H. Smith and others, eds., Letters of delegates to congress, 1774–1789, 26 vols. (1976–2000) · J. H. Peeling, ‘Mifflin, Thomas’, DAB · R. A. Ryerson, The revolution is now begun: the radical committees of Philadelphia (1978) · W. W. Hinshaw, Encyclopedia of American Quaker genealogy, ed. [T. W. Marshall and others], 7 vols. (1936–50), vol. 2 · G. Mackinney and C. F. Hoban, eds., Votes and proceedings of the house of representatives of the province of Pennsylvania, 8 vols. (1754–76), vol. 6 · Minutes of the supreme executive council of Pennsylvania (1851–3)


Hist. Soc. Penn., society collection · Hist. Soc. Penn., Irvine MSS · National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, DC, MSS · NYPL, Reed MSS


J. S. Copley, double portrait, oils, 1773, Hist. Soc. Penn. [see illus.] · G. Stuart, oils, 1795, priv. coll. · C. W. Peale, oils, Independence Hall National Historical Park · J. Trumbull, oils, priv. coll.

Wealth at death  

debtor; few assets: Rossman, Thomas Mifflin