Home / General / Most Prominent Politicians From Each State (I): Delaware

Most Prominent Politicians From Each State (I): Delaware


Now that I’m writing at a site with something I understand is called “readership,” I thought I might revisit a few older ideas of mine from time to time. I hope nobody minds.

Last year, I started compiling lists of the most prominent politicians in the history of each state. I didn’t finish, but I thought it would be fun to repost the states I had gotten through and then go on to finish the project up. We can have discussions of people I left out. Feel free to tell me how stupid I am, etc. I really like stupid lists. And I like remembering obscure political figures.

For some states, I’ll have as many as 10 people. For others, significantly less.

A note: some people can be argued for multiple states. I’m going to just choose the state I think best. And my definition of politician is basically an elected official, sometimes an appointed official in the Cabinet, or a Supreme Court justice. I define politician how I want to, but tell me if you disagree.

Delaware has an incredibly pathetic list of politicians. This probably reflects its historical marginality as a state. Really, the leader of this list should be whoever thought of milking the entire east coast by charging insane toll rates for the 5 miles of I-95 that runs through the state.

If I have insulted any Delaware residents out there, don’t hate me forever.

Again, here’s an underwhelming list.

1. Joe Biden. It’s Biden by a landslide. In over 200 years as a state, Biden’s really the only national leader to come out of Delaware. No Delaware politician had ever reached a position of such universal respect. Even without becoming Vice-President, Biden wins.

2. William Roth. Yes, the creator of the Roth IRA is #2. Not to demean Roth, a respectable Republican who served as Senator from 1971 to 2001. Interestingly, Roth is actually a Northwesterner by birth. Raised in Helena, Montana, Roth is one of the most prominent graduates of my own alma mater, the University of Oregon. Roth didn’t even move to Delaware until he was 33 years old. But he quickly rose in Delaware politics, reaching the House in 1966 and then the Senate.

And now it gets really grim:

3. Thomas Bayard. Bayard was a Senator from 1869 until 1885, when Grover Cleveland named him Secretary of State. Bayard was a pro-Southern nominal Unionist during the Civil War and was arrested for resisting the breakup of a paramilitary group in the state supporting the South. But he did play an important role in convincing Delaware not to secede. He came in 2nd for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1880 (losing to Winfield Scott Hancock) and 1884 (losing to Cleveland). His most prominent act as Secretary of State was negotiating a fisheries treaty with Canada.

And a man who negotiated a late 19th century fisheries treaty is the 3rd most prominent politician from Delaware.

Other competitors:

By any rights, none. But given the fact that Bayard is #3, we might consider Caesar Rodney (Attorney General under Jefferson and the obscure man on the Delaware quarter), John Clayton (Secretary of State under Zachary Taylor), and that’s about it.

Though one might give Outerbridge Horsey props for one of the great names in American political history.

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  • Guest

    Christine O’Donnell

    • Warren Terra

      Distinctive, I’ll give you, but hardly distinguished.

    • Right, what about the Witch ?
      1. made conspicuous by excellence; noted; eminent; famous: a distinguished scholar.
      2. having an air of distinction, dignity, or eminence: a distinguished old gentleman.
      3. conspicuous; marked.

      I’d go with 3. Especially that tattoo of Satan that she never mentioned the whole campaign.

    • Halloween Jack

      Well, he did say elected officials, although it’s relatively unusual for there to be a multiple loser to have anywhere that degree of national prominence (the only other name that comes to mind is Alan Keyes). Even if she hadn’t hitched her wagon to the Tea Party star and then entertained us all as it careened all over the place, though, she’d be more prominent than just about anybody this side of Biden and Roth simply by being a semi-regular on Bill Maher’s show.

  • Glad to see this back. Who will top Ohio? What distinguished people has Indiana proffered up? Just how great is Montana? Inquiring minds want to know!

  • Atticus Dogsbody


  • Are you going in order of admission to the Union?

  • wengler

    If Delaware had seceded that could’ve been a fun weekend for the Union army.

    • Hogan

      The Battle of Where Now?

  • Scott de B.

    John Dickenson should at least get an honorable mention.

    • elm

      Although maybe he’s considered a Pennsylvanian.

      Also, what about George Read? Signed the Declaration of Independence (though he had voted against it) and the Constitution. Led the ratification efforts in Delaware. Served as the first Senator from Del. and then as Chief Justice of Delaware. Not a bad resume.

      • Jestak

        Not only did Read sign the Constitution, he was a significant participant in the Constitutional Convention. Read and Dickinson allowed Delaware to punch significantly above their weight at the convention.

  • Tyto

    Who was the governor of Delaware responsible for envisioning and creating the “favorable business climate” that resulted in the widespread relocation of credit card companies to that state? Sure, he may never have reached national renown, but the long-term effects of his policy are rather profound.

    • allium

      Pete du Pont.

      Interesting – I’m looking over the Wiki-info on his abortive run for the 1988 Republican presidential nomination. He favored privatizing Social Security, dropping farm subsidies, and random drug testing for students – clearly he needs to get back into the game. Perhaps he could drive one of his family’s tanker trucks around the Eastern Seaboard.

      • Warren Terra

        Um, if you read your gilded age history – Frederick Allen’s The Lords Of Creation is a good read – Delaware started down the path of lax-regulation-to-attract-corporate-headquarters quite a long time before the career of any politician still active in 1988.

        Indeed, if there is one identifiable politician who started Delaware and thus the country down that disreputable and ultimately disastrous path, that politician has had a much greater impact than Biden ever will.

        • And I wonder if there was a particular individual with primary responsibility for making Delaware the corporate home. If so, that person should probably top #1 on the most important list, if not most prominent.

          • Rarely Posts

            I’m guessing you might find these individuals in the Delaware State Court system. Certainly, the Delaware courts have developed most of the law of corporate governance that law students learn today, and they began developing an incredibly management friendly approach to corporate governance a long time ago.

            • Tyto

              This is very true, but Delaware statutes were modified specifically to provide the requisite protection to credit card companies in particular, weren’t they? Did that effort have a champion?

      • Hogan

        The most politically influential people in the history of Delaware are almost certainly named DuPont, but Pierre “Call me Pete” isn’t one of them. Like Nelson Rockefeller, he was merely the first one in the family too thick to understand that you don’t become elected officials; you buy them.

  • Brett Turner

    There were two Caesar Rodneys. The one you mention is Caesar Augustus Rodney. The original Caesar Rodney, who died in 1784, signed the Declaration of Independence. He also rode from Delaware to Philadelphia in a thunderstorm to break a 1-1 deadlock in the Delaware delegation and vote for independence. This was kind of a big deal, because all 13 states had to vote for independence in order for the Declaration to pass.

    Unless you’re limiting the selection to he current Constitution (1789 and after), I would put Rodney at least ahead of Roth and maybe ahead of Biden. In 1776, he was a pretty big deal.

    • elm

      Yeah, I really think Erik isn’t giving enough credit to the colonial/revolutionary period in general and Rodney in particular. While I don’t think Rodney should be #1 on this list, #2 is valid. And he definitely should get a number and not just listed at the end as deserving consideration.

      • Richard Hershberger

        There is also the coolness factor of his being the only Caesar on a U.S. coin.

        • DocAmazing

          Render therefore unto…hmmm.

  • R. Johnston

    That’s Outerbridge Horsey III, unless you consider some mostly pre-revolutionary schmuck from Maryland who never did anything to be a politician from Delaware. Which may not be an unreasonable thing to consider, but I’d just like to make sure.

  • I’m happy to see you revisit this topic. The articles and the comments will be a good civics/history lesson for all of us.

  • Never heard of Outerbridge Horsey — my thanks to you sir. But now to find that there was also an Outerbridge Horsey III (and, I assume, an Outerbridge Horsey II) is just too much excitement for one evening.

    • snarkout

      Thanks to the miracle of Wikipedia, I have learned that there was an Outerbridge Horsey VI, who was ambassador to Czechoslovakia in the 20th century.

      • The Outerbridge name has a long distinguished history in America.

        I don’t know if the Horsey set precedes or is descendant from the Outerbridges themselves.

      • Innerbridge van Helsing

        It’s really all the same guy. Outerbridge Horsey was one of the first vampires to emigrate to North America. The reason for attracting the corporate headquarters is so that he’ll be able to dominate the heads of those companies more conveniently. He essentially runs the country from behind the scenes.

  • James E. Powell

    Roth was an asshole. He was the Paul Ryan of his day. Kemp-Roth was the original tax cuts for the rich.

  • Uncle Kvetch

    Delaware has an incredibly pathetic list of politicians.

    Having spent the ages of 7 to 14 living there, I find this unsurprising. It’s an incredibly pathetic place.

    • Name

      When you’re a kid, sure. It’s boring. It’s nicer when you’re older. I’ve lived in more “interesting” places, and they make me miss it. At least it has steady work, decent schools, and cheap housing. That’s more than I can say for about 90% of the rest of the country.

  • Biden is not the most influential pol in Delaware history. It arguably is this man.

    • Your choice raises an interesting question: are we talking about the most nationally significant politician from each state, or the one who was most significant for that particular state?

      The preservation of Delaware’s beaches is incredibly important for Delaware, but it barely registers for the country as a whole.

      • Wrong. The Delaware model has been copied by other states and European countries.

        • Bobby Thomson

          You are correct, sir. Gov. Peterson is almost singlehandedly responsible for the federal Coastal Preservation Act.

          • Okay, I give up: how is a state office-holder “almost singlehandedly responsible” for a piece of federal legislation?

        • Then I guess that makes Mitt Romney the most significant political figure ever to come from Massachusetts.

          Because more important figures used his policy as a model.

  • Bill Macintire

    I think you should give Russell W. Peterson a mention, a Republican who would be to the left of today’s Democratic party.

    • Why is it always treated as such a shocker that there uses to be liberal Republicans? Yup, Peterson was to the left of many modern Democrats, just as the Dixiecrats of century preceding LBJ were to the right of many modern Republicans. The parties used to have more ideological diversity than they do today.

      This is probably a sufficiently well-known fact that it doesn’t need to be repeated whenever any such historical figure comes up.

      • Joe, if you visit my blog, I posted as my subhead a quote from one episode of The West Wing, discussing the accomplishments of liberals down thru history (mostly the 20th Century)

        Not a year goes by that I don’t get a few snarky replies about “Those are Republican accomplishments,” forgetting completely that liberals like Rockefeller and Javits were Republicans and would make Obama look white.

        It’s an issue that should be raised as frequently as possible in my opinion.

        • Richard Hershberger

          I also frequently point out that in the context of post-Civil War politics, “radical Republican” meant someone who supported radical ideas such as voting rights for blacks.

          I know a guy who insists, apparently in all seriousness, that blacks should vote Republican because it is the party of Lincoln. My response is that small-government types should vote Democratic because it is the party of Jefferson.

      • Bill Macintire

        I don’t think the shocking part is that there were Republican liberals back then so much as it is the fact that there really are no liberals in government anymore.

        • John Olver and Nancy Pelosi will be stunned to discover that they’re actually unemployed.

          • Bill Macintire

            Just because Tea partiers label them Liberal doesn’t mean they are.

            • And because they label themselves that way.

              And because other liberals label them that way.

              And because they’ve been considered liberals by everyone across the political spectrum for their entire careers.

              I love this idea that Nancy Pelosi and John Olver were first describes as liberals only after the Tea Party was founded.

            • Bill Macintire

              I admittedly exaggerate about there being “no” liberals, but in the current political climate, supporting sane conservative principles like having clean water or safe food will get you labeled as a raging left wing socialist, while hardly anyone blinks an eye if you support radical right wing policy like torture.

              • Sure, sure, this a lot of mislabeling going on, but don’t denigrate the contributions of the liberals out there.

            • You don’t actually know who John Olver is, do you?

              Trust me – the sponsor of the National Health Care Act doesn’t need to be considered a liberal by the Tea Party in order to count as a liberal.

              • Hogan

                Co-sponsor, please. John Conyers, God bless him, has been the main sponsor of the various versions of this bill since 2003.

                • A thousand pardons.

                  Denying John Conyers the recognition he deserves for fighting this good fight is the last thing I would ever want to do.

    • Vadranor

      I definitely agree about the importance of Peterson. I would also like to note that when he died, he was a Democrat. In 2004, I remember that he introduced Wes Clark at a campaign rally.

  • Bill Macintire

    I see now that was actually a second on Peterson.

  • Western Dave

    Folks who travel between Long Island and Philly are always shocked to learn that the Outerbridge Crossing is named after a person and not, in fact, called Outerbridge because of it’s southernmost position. No idea if that Outerbridge (a Philly-born guy who had it as a last name and was the first head of the Port Authority) is related to Outerbridge Horsey.

    • Dave, he might be, but likely not closely as I posted in response above. Outerbridge is a common Dutch name, pronounced “Ooterbridge”

  • PTLindy

    I assume by “most prominent” you mean nationally. Biden and Roth would be 1, 2 (and I would have reversed that until Biden became VP).

    Ceaser Rodney, Thomas McKean, and George Read were the delgates to make Delaware the “First State” (heh, “First!” hundreds of years before the internet). John Dickenson was also fairly influental. Thomas Bayard? I’m from Delaware and didn’t have a clue who he was.

    And whine about the “idiot” border toll on I-95 all you want. If you voluntarily go through a $4 toll that can be avoided by using the last exit in Delaware and first exit in Maryland (+~1.0 miles to trip), that’s your fault :-)

    • Richard Hershberger

      This is incorrect. Delaware is the “First State” because it was the first to vote to ratify the constitution. Rodney was dead by then. His claim to fame was as a delegate to the Second Continental Congress a decade earlier.

      • elm

        Yeah, Read normally gets the credit for the ratification issue and, as I said above, should be on the list, too, though I think Rodney should be ahead of him anyway.

  • Dennis Brennan

    No love for Judge Myron T. Steele (of the Court of Chancery, and later, the Chief Justice of the Delaware Supreme Court)?

  • arthur

    When the Delaware state quarter came out, there was a widespread rumor among elementary school kids in other states that some part of the design had been done by prison labor (sort of like stamping license plates, I guess), and that a crimegang member had contrived to get his gang leader’s name on to the coin in microscopic print. Because why else would see something as badass as “Caesar Rodney” in the smallest type on the coin of the almost smallest state?

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  • Jestak

    John Dickinson definitely belongs on this list for representing Delaware at the Constitutional Convention and playing a substantial part in the deliberations, and then for serving as presiding officer of the ratificaiton convention in Delaware.

    George Read was also a substantial player at the Constitutional Convention and then became one of Delaware’s first Senators.

    Both Dickinson and Read were significant political figures in the revolutionary and early national period, definitely comparable in stature to Biden or Roth in the present/recent past.

    • elm

      The one knock against Dickinson is that he’s as much a Pennsylvanian as he is a Delawarean. While he represented Del. at the Continental Congress, he led a brigade of Pennsylvania militia in the war. And the college and the law school named after him are both in PA.

      • Yeah–some people could be claimed by multiple states. It’s a judgment call. With Dickinson I went with PA. Though as I recall he doesn’t make the PA list.

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  • Bobby Thomson

    In addition to your unforgivable slight of Russell Peterson, one of the last of the great liberal Republicans, you left out Chancellor Collins Seitz, who ordered desegregation under the Plessy v. Ferguson “separate but equal” standard, and whose ruling was one of those appealed and decided in the Brown case.

  • Cackalacka

    Really, the leader of this list should be whoever thought of milking the entire east coast by charging insane toll rates for the 5 miles of I-95 that runs through the state.

    This. Delaware and DC traffic are the principal reasons I take an extra 150 minutes and drive up the Shenandoah/Scranton axis to the Tapanzee whenever I drive up the east. It used to be a lot easier to drive into Christina or New Ark and avoid that nonsense. Y’all tax your businesses or something already.

    • elm

      I love the Tappen Zee. One of the prettiest bridges I’ve seen. The way it curves over the Hudson is phenomenal.

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