From 1776 to 1792, the executive leader of Delaware was known as the President and was elected by the State General Assembly. After the ratification of the United States Constitution, Delaware developed its own new constitution that called for the popular election of a governor.
JOSHUA CLAYTON, Delaware’s last president and first popularly elected governor, was born in Cecil County, Maryland, on July 20, 1744. He was educated at the University of Pennsylvania, earning a medical degree in 1762, and practicing in Middletown, Delaware. Clayton served during the Revolutionary War as a major in the Bohemia battalion of the Maryland Line, and as an aide and surgeon to General Washington at the battle of Brandywine. Clayton entered politics as a delegate to the Provincial Congress, a position he held from 1782 to 1784. He was elected to the Delaware House of Representatives in 1785 and 1787, served on the bench of the Court of Appeals, and was elected Delaware’s state treasurer in 1786. Clayton also cofounded the Delaware Medicine Society in 1789. On June 2, 1789, Clayton was selected by the General Assembly to serve as president of Delaware, however this would be the last time that the legislature would have the power to select a president. Under the Delaware Constitution of 1792, Clayton was elected by popular vote on October 2, 1792, becoming Delaware’s first governor. During his tenure, cock-fighting and shooting contests, as well as, horseracing were forbidden, and space was provided for the state legislature in the newly constructed Kent County courthouse. Legislation was passed that provided additional relief to the poor, and under the revisions of the 1776 Delaware State Constitution a voter’s prerequisite of property ownership was abolished. Clayton finished his term on 13, 1796, and did not run for reelection, due to the 1792 Delaware Constitution, which banned a governor from succeeding himself. Two years later he was elected to the U.S. Senate, and he served in that capacity until August 11, 1798, when at age 54 he passed away. Governor Joshua Clayton was buried on his estate at Bohemia Manor, but was later reinterred next to his wife in the Bethel Church Cemetery.