Essay 81 – Guest Essayist: Edward Lee

In the summer of 1776, four well-educated men of social, economic, and political prominence stepped forward in Philadelphia to place their names on the Declaration of Independence. These Founding Fathers hailed from the rice-rich, slave-holding South Carolina Low Country. They, and the other signatories, boldly and courageously risked their lives and property by endorsing a formal break from the Mother Country’s North American Empire. Three of them would be imprisoned by England aboard a vessel harbored at St. Augustine when Charleston was besieged in 1780, and the fourth would be lost at sea the previous year, while the Revolution was underway.

These four signatories were connected by family ties, the land, and the economic power of the Low Country of South Carolina. They were well-educated advocates for their state and ably spoke for the colony’s planters and legal community. By July 1776, all of them grasped that the time had come for independence which manifest itself in Mr. Thomas Jefferson’s timeless explanation of an abusive Mother Country, Great Britain, which was trampling on the rights of its American children.

The first South Carolina signer, who is the focus of this essay, is Edward Rutledge (November 23, 1749-January 23, 1800), one of the youngest South Carolina signatories. Rutledge was the last of seven children born in Charleston to physician Dr. John Rutledge and Sarah Hext Rutledge. Like his two older brothers, John and Hugh, Edward studied law in London at Oxford’s Inns of Court. During his time in London, he witnessed Parliament’s debates concerning the colonies. In 1772, he was admitted to the English bar (Middle Temple) and returned to South Carolina where in 1774 he was married to Henrietta Middleton, the sister of signer Arthur Middleton. Edward and Henrietta had three children, one of whom died in infancy.

In Charleston, Edward had a successful law practice and owned more than fifty slaves. From 1774-1776, he and older brother, John, represented their state in the Continental Congress. He advocated the expulsion of African Americans from the newly formed Continental Army.

As a delegate to the Congress, Rutledge initially opposed Virginian Richard Henry Lee’s June 1776 plan for independence, arguing that the time was not yet “ripe.” Persuaded that the urgency of independence and the actions of Parliament called for southerners like himself to line up in the pro-Revolution group, he argued that the vote by Congress be unanimous and became the first South Carolina delegate to affix his signature. His oratorical style was said to resemble Cicero.

Returning to South Carolina in November, Rutledge served in the state’s General Assembly. He served as captain of the 2nd Independent Company of artillery in the militia and saw action at the 1779 Battle of Beaufort. He and signatories Arthur Middleton and Thomas Heyward were captured the following year when Charleston fell to the British. During July 1781, the men were released in a prisoner exchange.

Returning to the General Assembly where he served until 1796, Rutledge supported the harsh confiscation of Loyalist property. That year, he supported Thomas Jefferson’s unsuccessful presidential bid. He differed with Jefferson’s pro-France position and found himself often allied with President John Adams despite the latter’s support of England in its war with France. He served as a state senator for two years and was elected South Carolina’s governor in 1798. He did not complete his term and died in Charleston in 1800. It was said that his stroke was aggravated by the previous year’s death of George Washington.

Edward Lee, Ph.D., is Professor of History at Winthrop University. Lee is a former mayor of the City of York, South Carolina.

 

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

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Essay 80 – Guest Essayist: Barb Zakszewski

John Penn was a lawyer, North Carolina delegate to the Continental Congress, patriot, and some might say a bit of a rebel. Most importantly, he was one of 56 men who pledged to each other, “our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor” by signing the Declaration of Independence.

John Penn was not the most famous of the 56 signers. In fact, not much is written about him in the usual literature; however, from what is known and written, Mr. Penn led a fairly fascinating life. He was born May 17, 1741 (his birth has also been recorded as May 6, 1740) in Port Royal Virginia to Moses and Catherine Penn, an only child. The family was not wealthy and since the senior Mr. Penn did not see value in a formal education, John attended only two years of school before working with his father on the family farm. John’s father died when John was 18; he then went to live with his uncle, Edmund Penderton, where he completed his education by entering law school. In 1762, Penn became an attorney in Virginia.

After marriage to Susanna Lyne in 1763, and 2 children, the family moved to North Carolina in 1774, where they purchased a farm in Granville County. It was in North Carolina that Penn developed some very patriotic views about taxation especially, and firmly believed the only way to resolve the problems with the mother country of Great Britain was complete separation from her. He was vehemently against the Stamp Act and King George III, and some would say almost to the point of being disrespectful. As a consequence of his outspokenness, Penn was brought up on charges and found guilty. However, a sympathetic judge set Penn’s sentence at ONE CENT which Penn refused to pay on principle.

Subsequently, Penn entered a career in politics where he served in various capacities until his untimely death in 1788. Penn was elected to the Third Provincial Congress in 1775. These provincial congresses were governmental bodies that led the transition from royal government to states governments. The Third Congress established an executive committee and six military districts. Bills of credit that were issued were used as currency to fund organized armies in defense of the colonies. From there, Penn was sent as a delegate to the Continental Congress where he served until 1780.

Penn was a supporter and signer of a document called the Olive Branch Petition. Adopted in July of 1775, this petition was considered a last chance effort to appeal to the King of England and avoid war. The Petition contained a Declaration of Causes and outlined the necessity and reasons for the 13 colonies to take up arms in the American Revolutionary War. The King ultimately rejected the Olive Branch petition and the formal push for Independence from England began.

In 1776, as a champion of liberty, John Penn affixed his signature, along with 55 other men, to the Declaration of Independence. Continuing his belief that a permanent union of states was necessary, he also signed the Articles of Confederation.

Penn served in the Continental Congress until 1780. During that time, Penn, a very zealous man when it came to the Colonies separating from England, clashed with other members of the Congress who were not as convinced. This included the President of the Congress, Henry Laurens. As it turned out, Mr. Penn and Mr. Laurens roomed together during this time. Mr. Laurens, who was much older than Penn and in disagreement with his views, challenged Penn to a duel. But the duel was canceled the morning of, as Mr. Penn suggested such an idea was just foolish. Mr. Laurens agreed and the duel was canceled.

British victory at Camden in august of 1780 paved the way for the British invasion of North Carolina. Because the governor did not seem to have adequate emergency powers, he requested the formation of a Board of War, a three-member board, on which Penn was appointed to serve. Because the other two members rarely attended meetings, Penn had extra latitude to decide on several courses of action including where to send military supplies, and the coordination of military activities. The State assembly abolished the Board in January 1781 after complaints from military officers who opposed civilian interference and supposed usurpation of power.

Penn continued to hold various positions in government until his death in 1788, at the young age of 47. Originally, he was buried near his home in Granville County. In 1894, his remains were reinterred at Guilford Courthouse National Military Park, in North Carolina, site of one of the turning-point battles late in the American Revolutionary War.

Barb Zakszewski is a wife, mother and grandmother, lifelong conservative, regular civic volunteer and writer.

 

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

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Essay 79 – Guest Essayist: Jeff Broadwater

History remembers Joseph Hewes as one of the three North Carolina signers of the Declaration of Independence. John Adams, who served in the Continental Congress with Hewes and who would later become president, believed Hewes was critical in persuading moderate members of Congress to support the break with Great Britain.

Raised on his family’s estate near Kingston in what was then West Jersey, Hewes received a classical education in a Quaker grammar school. Rather than obtaining a degree at the nearby College of New Jersey, the forerunner of Princeton University, however, Hewes, in 1749, apprenticed himself to Joseph Ogden, a Philadelphia merchant. Five years later, Hewes declined an offer to join Ogden as a partner, and with money from his father’s estate, went into business for himself. Hewes’s work for Ogden had taken him to North Carolina, and apparently dissatisfied with his Philadelphia enterprise, Hewes moved in 1755 to Edenton, a small but prosperous commercial center on the Carolina coast.

With a likeable, easy-going personality; a natural head for business; and a vigorous work ethic, Hewes quickly rose to the top of Edenton society. He formed a close friendship with Samuel Johnston, one of the colony’s most influential lawyers and political leaders, becoming engaged to Johnston’s younger sister, Isabella, in 1760. She died before they could be wed, but Hewes never married and was treated as a member of the Johnston family for the rest of his life. The year Isabella died, Hewes replaced Johnston as Edenton’s representative to the colonial assembly and served on committees on appropriations and finance, appropriate assignments considering his commercial background.

Hewes eventually became involved in the Whig resistance to British imperial policies, especially the Tea Act of 1773 and the punitive Coercive Acts of 1774, which had been adopted in response to the Boston Tea Party, and he was an original member of North Carolina’s Committee of Correspondence. In June 1774, the committee endorsed a Massachusetts’s proposal for a continental congress, and in August of that year, assembly members meeting in New Bern approved the committee report and elected Hewes, along with William Hooper and Richard Caswell, to represent North Carolina in a meeting in Philadelphia of all the colonies.

While some members of the First Continental Congress seemed ready to resort to force, the North Carolina delegates sided with moderates who held out hope for a peaceful resolution of the crisis. Hewes admired Britain’s constitutional monarchy and feared a violent revolution could lead to virtual mob rule, but he later wrote that he could accept any government the people supported. Despite their differences, the delegates did approve the Continental Association, proclaiming a boycott of British goods as long as Parliament’s objectionable policies remained in place.

Hewes returned to Edenton in late November 1774, suffering from a fever, probably malaria, that would continue to plague him intermittently. He nevertheless remained active, serving on Edenton’s Committee of Safety, which had the responsibility for enforcing the Continental Association in Edenton. The outbreak of fighting at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts and King George III’s subsequent refusal to negotiate with the colonies undermined the position of moderates like Hewes and led him to act more aggressively. When Congress reconvened in May 1775, Hewes recruited two Presbyterian ministers to rally support for the American cause among Highland Scots in the North Carolina backcountry. Mainly Presbyterians, the Scots had long been estranged from the colony’s politically dominant English Anglican faction to their east. Hewes also served as secretary to Congress’s Naval Board and helped secure John Paul Jones’s commission in the Continental Navy.

In the first half of 1776, Hewes found himself overtaken by events. Parliament’s Prohibitory Act of 1775, outlawing trade with the colonies, had created widespread resentment. In January 1776, Thomas Paine published Common Sense, his fiery call for American independence; Hewes reluctantly forwarded it to North Carolina. In February, the victory of North Carolina militia over a Loyalist force at the Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge emboldened the colony’s Whigs. In April, the Fourth Provincial Congress, meeting in Halifax, authorized North Carolina’s congressional delegation to support independence. Reserved by nature, preoccupied with his committee assignments, and at the moment the only North Carolina delegate in Philadelphia, Hewes did not introduce the so-called Halifax Resolves in Congress until May 27, when Richard Henry Lee of Virginia presented a similar resolution.

Hewes readily signed the Declaration of Independence and thereafter worked tirelessly for the success of the Revolution, particularly in securing ships and supplies for the American cause, but his conservatism created enemies for him at home. In November 1776, a Fifth Provincial Congress met to draft a constitution for what was now the independent state of North Carolina. The convention split between what historians have traditionally labeled “conservative” and “radical” factions. Conservatives favored a strong executive and property qualifications for voting and holding political office. Radicals wanted to concentrate power in the legislature and to expand the political rights of the less affluent. The result was a compromise that pleased neither side. Hewes had identified with the conservatives, and when the state’s new General Assembly met in April 1777, the radicals, alleging Hewes had enriched himself in his business dealings with Congress and violated the ban in the recently adopted constitution on dual office-holding, defeated his bid for reelection to the Continental Congress.

Hewes might have made a political comeback if not for his failing health. Still popular in Edenton, he was elected to the General Assembly in 1779, and the assembly almost immediately returned him to Congress. An arduous trip to Philadelphia in the summer heat weakened his delicate constitution. By late September he was virtually bed-ridden, and in October he resigned from Congress. Too sick to come home, Hewes died in November at the age of 49 and was buried in the graveyard of Christ’s Church in Philadelphia.

Jeff Broadwater is professor emeritus of history at Barton College in Wilson, North Carolina, where he taught courses on the American Revolution and on the history of the American South. His publications include Jefferson, Madison, and the Making of the Constitution (2019); James Madison, A Son of Virginia and a Founder of of the Nation (2012); and George Mason, Forgotten Founder (2006). He also co-edited, with Troy Kickler, North Carolina’s Revolutionary Founders (2019).

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

Bibliography:

Martin, Michael G. “Hewes, Joseph.” In William Powell, ed. Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, 6 vols. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1979-1991, 3: 123-125.

Mitchell, Memory F. North Carolina’s Signers: Brief Sketches of the Men Who Signed the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Raleigh, N.C.: State Department of Archives and History, 1964.

Morgan, Daniel T. and William J. Schmidt. North Carolinians in the Continental Congress. Winston-Salem, N.C.: John F. Blair, 1976.

Sikes, E.W. and S.A. Ashe. “Joseph Hewes.” In S.A. Ashe, ed. Biographical History of North Carolina: From Colonial Times to the Present, 8 vols. Greensboro, N.C.: Charles L. Van Nappen, 1906, 3: 172-80.

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Essay 78 – Guest Essayist: Jeff Broadwater
William Hooper at Guilford Courthouse National Military Park

William Hooper is generally considered to have been one of the most impressive North Carolinians to have served in the Continental Congress. Yet his career is marked by irony. Initially a key figure in mobilizing opposition to Great Britain, Hooper nevertheless struggled after 1776 to adjust to the politics of a revolutionary era.

Born in Boston in 1742, Hooper was educated first by his father, the Reverend William Hooper of Trinity Episcopal Church, and later at Boston’s Public Latin School. At the age of 15, he entered Harvard College as a sophomore and graduated in 1760. Hooper continued his studies at Harvard, receiving a master’s degree in 1763, and read law with James Otis, an early defender of American rights and an obvious influence on Hooper’s political views.

Shortly after completing his studies, Hooper moved to Wilmington. The North Carolina seaport had fewer lawyers than did Boston, and it offered Hooper other advantages. The Boston merchant James Murray was a family friend, and Murray’s brother-in-law, Thomas Clark, lived in Wilmington and served as his business agent. Clark’s family provided Hooper invaluable support, and in August 1767, he married Clark’s much-admired daughter, Anne.

Hooper prospered in Wilmington and became identified with the colony’s eastern faction. Appointed deputy attorney general for the Salisbury District, he clashed on more than one occasion with the Regulators, backcountry farmers who protested—sometimes violently—against taxes, debt collection, and political corruption at the local level. In 1773, Hooper entered the colonial assembly as a representative of what is today the city of Fayetteville, and at about the same time, he began buying land south of Wilmington on Masonboro Sound, where he would eventually build a house he called Finian.

As a member of the assembly, Hooper became embroiled in the foreign attachment controversy, which involved the power of colonial courts to seize the North Carolina property of debtors in Great Britain who owed money to North Carolina residents. The royal governor Josiah Martin had been instructed by the crown to end the practice. In response, Hooper wrote a series of essays under the pseudonym “Hampden” that demonstrated considerable learning and eloquence in defending the jurisdiction of North Carolina’s courts.

Hooper returned to the assembly from New Hanover County in December 1773 and was appointed to the colony’s Committee of Correspondence. Britain’s closing of the port of Boston after the Boston Tea Party helped radicalize him. He sensed as early as April 1774 that events were driving the American colonies to independence, an end he did not relish. But he considered “the cause of the Town of Boston” to be “the common cause of British America,” and in Wilmington he led a call for a provincial congress and helped raise money and supplies for the citizens of Boston.

North Carolina’s First Provincial Congress met in New Bern in August 1774, and elected Hooper to North Carolina’s delegation to the Continental Congress. In November, he was elected to Wilmington’s Committee of Safety. Hooper became a regular fixture in North Carolina’s provincial congresses, which, as royal authority disintegrated, governed the colony until a new state government could be organized. He authored several important public papers defending American rights, but by the end of 1775, Hooper privately grew disillusioned. Politics, he wrote, “drives men to expedients that morality must condemn.”

Hooper’s defense of American rights did not spring from a hostility to the British constitution. Consistent with the classical republicanism then common in America, he believed Britain’s commercial success had produced a widespread luxury that had undermined civic virtue. The resulting corruption manifested itself in the oppression of the colonies.  Oppression in America, Hooper seemed to believe, could spread to Britain itself, making the survival of colonial liberty essential to the survival of British liberty. Hooper envisioned for North Carolina, should it become independent, a British-style government purged of corruption. This, he thought, required a strong executive, an independent judiciary, a bicameral legislature, and popular deference to an educated elite.

His service in the Fourth Provincial Congress of April 1776 only increased his frustration. He served on a committee that tried but failed to produce a new state constitution. As prospects for reconciliation with Great Britain evaporated, Hooper supported the Halifax Resolves, endorsing independence, but his presence at the North Carolina congress meant he missed the Continental Congress’s debate over the Declaration of Independence. He did, however, participate in the general signing of the document on August 2.

Hooper struggled as the Revolutionary War went on with no end in sight. Early in 1777, he contracted yellow fever and sometime later, malaria. In April he resigned his seat in the Continental Congress, partly because the new General Assembly failed to reelect his friend and congressional colleague, the Edenton merchant Joseph Hewes. Hooper remained in the state assembly, but fearing British warships, he abandoned Finian for Wilmington and then fled Wilmington before it fell to the British in January 1781. He, Anne, and their three children eventually settled in Hillsborough. There he resumed a profitable law practice while his political fortunes declined.

In 1782, Hooper won a Hillsborough seat in the General Assembly, but lawmakers voided the election results, and the next year he lost a race to tavern keeper Thomas Farmer. Hooper returned to the state legislature in 1784, but it was a last hurrah. His elitism and his support for the lenient treatment of former Loyalists and a stronger national government alienated many North Carolina voters, and in 1788 he lost his last election: a bid for a seat in the Hillsborough convention called to consider ratification of the United States Constitution. Undeterred, he continued to champion the Constitution and received a measure of vindication when a second convention, meeting in Fayetteville, ratified the document. Weakened by disease, sometimes delirious, and drinking heavily, the 48-year-old Hooper died in 1790, the day before his daughter was to be married.

Jeff Broadwater is professor emeritus of history at Barton College in Wilson, North Carolina, where he taught courses on the American Revolution and on the history of the American South. His publications include Jefferson, Madison, and the Making of the Constitution (2019); James Madison, A Son of Virginia and a Founder of of the Nation (2012); and George Mason, Forgotten Founder (2006). He also co-edited, with Troy Kickler, North Carolina’s Revolutionary Founders (2019).

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

Bibliography:

Engstrom, Mary Claire. “Hooper, William.” In William Powell, ed. Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, 6 vols. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1979-1991, 3: 199-202.

Ashe, S.A. “William Hooper.” In S.A. Ashe and Stephen B. Weeks, eds. Biographical History of North Carolina: From Colonial Times to the Present, 8 vols. Greensboro, N.C.: Charles L. Van Nappen, 1906, 7: 233-244.

Watson, Alan D. Harnett, Hooper and Howe: Revolutionary Leaders in the Lower Cape Fear. Wilmington, N.C.: Lower Cape Fear Historical Society, 1979.

Williams, Patrick G. “Hooper, William.” In John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds. American National Biography, 26 vols. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999, 3: 145-147.

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Essay 77 – Guest Essayist: Jay McConville

When studying history, it is important to remember a few things. First, historic events were not singular moments as we often view them; instead, they developed as events today do, over time, and as a result of many influences.

Second, it is important to not oversimplify the past because people and events then were as complicated, conflicted, and convoluted as they are today. How people lived, the decisions they made, and the challenges they faced were complex, even if some of the details may have been lost to history.

When reading of the life of Carter Braxton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence from Virginia, it is important to keep these considerations in mind. Born into wealth, Braxton did not, however, live an easy life though it may have been privileged and full of material comforts. He died at an early age, having lost his once significant fortune, yet given the struggles he faced throughout his life, he might be excused for some of these failures.

Braxton was born on September 10, 1736 into one of the wealthiest and most distinguished families in the colonies. He was born on the Newington Plantation, east of Richmond on the Mattaponi River, which connects to the York River and Chesapeake Bay, and sits at the western end of Virginia’s beautiful Middle Peninsula. He was a planter and merchant. His grandfather had immigrated from England, and his father, who received a large land grant from George II, would expand the family’s wealth and prestige, serving frequently in the House of Burgesses from 1718 to 1734. His grandfather on his mother’s side was Robert “King” Carter, a man of great wealth and prominence, who also served in the House of Burgesses, including as Speaker. King Carter even served as the colony of Virginia’s Acting Governor for a year.

From this auspicious beginning, one might assume that Carter led a happy and contented life of comfort. Yet his wealth did not shield him from tragedy. His mother died just a week following his birth, and his father passed away when Carter was only 13. He married Judith Robinson upon leaving the College of William and Mary after only one year, but sadly she also died after they had been married for only two years. Perhaps to ease his grief, he traveled to Europe and England where he learned a great deal about the rulers of his colonial home, knowledge and perspective that would inform his decisions when revolutionary fervor gripped the colonies. After two years in Europe, he returned, marrying a second time in 1760 to Elizabeth Corbin. It is reported that they had 16 children together.

In keeping with family tradition, Braxton served in the House of Burgesses following his return, beginning in 1761. Then, when Peyton Randolph died suddenly in October 1775, he was made a member of Virginia’s delegation to the Second Continental Congress where he would serve for two years.

Carter was loyal to Virginia, but also to the Crown, at first. He was a reluctant revolutionary and argued against independence, fearing that it, and specifically a republican government, would lead to disaster and despotism in the colonies. While disinclined, he continued to work alongside the familiar names of the eventual revolution, including George Washington and Peyton Randolph. He did not relish conflict with the British, and worked to quell it when he could.

One historical incident shows the character and conservative nature of the man, when he worked with Patrick Henry to avoid direct conflict with the Royal Governor Lord Dunmore. Following the events at Lexington and Concord, Dunmore had confiscated gunpowder stored in Williamsburg, Virginia. Militia units were ready to fight over their lost supplies, led by the fiery Patrick Henry. Braxton was able to use the good connections he had through his father-in-law, Richard Corbin, who was serving as receiver general of the Colony, to pay the militia for the gunpowder, thus avoiding a military confrontation.

While Braxton was reluctant, he was not without independence sentiments. While a member of the House of Burgesses, likely as a result of his knowledge of the financial designs England had for the colonies which he learned through his travels there, he signed the Virginia Resolves which asserted that only the House of Burgesses had the right to tax Virginians. He also signed the Virginia Association, a non-importation agreement, and in 1775 became a member of the Virginia Colonial Convention.

Students of history know that there was a raging debate in the colonies at that time regarding independence. Many American leaders wanted England to change its policies toward the American Colonies, but did not support independence, nor did they desire revolution. Carter Braxton was initially of that opinion, and advocated a conservative approach. His essay which was published in June 1776, however, an excerpt of which is below, demonstrates his eventual acceptance of the need for independence:

When depotism had displayed her banners, and with unremitting ardour and fury scattered her engines of oppression through this wide extended continent, the virtuous opposition of the people to its progress relaxed the tone of government in almost every colony, and occasioned in many instances a total suspension of law. These inconveniencies, however, were natural, and the mode readily submitted to, as there was then reason to hope that justice would be done to our injured country; the same laws, executed under the same authority, soon regain their former use and lustre; and peace, raised on a permanent foundation, bless this our native land.

But since these hopes have hitherto proved delusive, and time, instead of bringing us relief, daily brings forth new proofs of British tyranny, and thereby separates us further from that reconciliation we so ardently wished; does it not become the duty of your, and every other Convention, to assume the reins of government, and no longer suffer the people to live without the benefit of law, and order the protection it affords?

So, rather hesitatingly, but eventually, he came to support the Revolution, voted for the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, and signed it on August 2, 1776.

In response to his cautious and conservative views about democracy, Braxton was not initially returned to Congress after 1776. He did, however, remain active in Virginia politics and eventually returned to Congress where he served until 1783. He died of a stroke at the age of only 61 in 1797.

Like many of the founders, the revolution was not kind to Braxton. He lent significant financial support to the American Independence effort, including both money and ships, many of which were destroyed. His business was greatly curtailed, and his lands and plantations ransacked and pillaged. He made some unfortunate financial decisions of his own, as well, and ended his life in debt. His reputation as a clear thinker, honorable public servant, and patriot did not suffer, however, from his lack of financial success. He was described by his peers as a sensible and accomplished gentleman, and by others as a man of cultivation and talent. Despite the many challenges and tragedies that punctuated his life, he is remembered most for his honorable service to the cause of liberty.

Jay McConville is a military veteran, management professional, and active civic volunteer currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Public Policy and Administration at the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs, Virginia Commonwealth University. Prior to beginning his doctoral studies, he held multiple key technology and management positions within the Aerospace and Defense industry, including twice as President and CEO. He served in the U.S. Army as an Intelligence Officer, and has also been active in civic and industry volunteer associations, including running for elected office, serving as a political party chairman, and serving multiple terms as President of both his industry association’s Washington DC Chapter and his local youth sports association. Today he serves on the Operating Board of Directors of Constituting America. He has a Bachelor of Arts in Government from George Mason University, and a Master of Science in Strategic Intelligence from the Defense Intelligence College. Jay lives in Richmond with his wife Susan Ulsamer McConville. They have three children and two grandchildren.

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

References:

Cruz, Shelly (2014). Carter Braxton, Descendant, Descendants of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence (DSDI), https://www.dsdi1776.com/carter-braxton/

Revolutionary War (2020). Carter Braxton, Revolutionary War: A colorful, story-telling overview of the American Revolutionary War, https://www.revolutionary-war.net/carter-braxton/

Hyneman, C., & Lutz, D. (1983). American Political Writing During the Founding Era, 1760-1805. Liberty Fund, Incorporated. https://oll.libertyfund.org/title/lutz-american-political-writing-during-the-founding-era-1760-1805-vol-1

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Essay 76 – Guest Essayist: Andrew Langer

Any successful enterprise, whether it be a large business or a political movement, will have within it the widest cross section of people both leading that effort or participating within it—individuals who bring a multitude of different skills and experiences to the table in order to make certain that the endeavor will succeed. This is the true definition of “diversity,” something that looks past the cosmetic and draws on the outlook and experience of its participants.

This is certainly true with our founders, men who couldn’t have been more different than each other, despite their similarities. The authors of the Declaration of Independence:  Jefferson (the principal author), John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Livingston and Roger Sherman (who were all on the Continental Congress’ Declaration Committee), all brought with them unique perspectives.

These differences extended to the pair of brothers who signed the Declaration, Richard Henry Lee and Francis Lightfoot Lee, both of Virginia. The only pair of brothers to sign the Declaration of Independence, both brought with them different outlooks and temperament.

The older brother, Richard Henry Lee, with his European education and charming likeability, became a major political force in the budding liberty movement in Virginia—especially with his writing and speaking.

But Francis Lightfoot Lee, a planter born in 1734 in Westmoreland, Virginia, contemporarily known as Frank, the second-youngest of the Lee brothers, was a determined worker, someone who did things out of duty and a devotion to getting done whatever task lay before him. He didn’t seek the spotlight, but was seen as a tireless worker. A leader, certainly, but one who led by doing.

Political movements need both, and while much praise and attention is bestowed on the former, it is the latter which is just as important (if not more so).

It is important to note that this branch of the Lee family played a prominent role in the first three centuries of not only American history, but Virginia history as well. The Lees were what is known as “FFVs” one of the “First Families of Virginia”—the families who first settled Virginia in Colonial Times. Richard Lee I, the first Lee in Virginia, migrated to the Colonies in 1639, and served as Virginia’s Attorney General several years after his arrival. His grandson was Thomas Lee, who became Governor in 1749, and was the father of both Frank Lee and Richard Henry Lee (among the other descendants of Richard Lee I are both Gen. Robert E. Lee and President Zachary Taylor, as well as Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, Edward Douglass White).

Frank Lee served as a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses, the elected legislature that was Colonial Virginia’s precursor to today’s House of Delegates. But from his statements, it is clear that he did so out of a duty to serve, and not to satisfy any greater political ambition. Lee wrote to his older brother at one point, when it looked like he might not get re-elected:

The people are so vexed at the little attention I have given them that they are determined it seems to dismiss me from their service, a resolution most pleasing to me, for it is so very inconvenient to me that nothing should induce me to take a poll, but a repeated promise to my friends there, enforced by those here who consider me as a staunch friend to Liberty.

Lee was focused on achieving the cause of liberty for the American Colonies, as he (like others) had grown both frustrated and dismayed by the increasing mistreatment of the Colonial Citizens by the British Crown.

He continued to serve and was eventually sent as a delegate to the Continental Congress—and John Adams remarked at the constancy of both Lee brothers who were in service together.

Frank Lee signed the Declaration and continued to serve as a Delegate to the Continental Congress, but he grew increasingly frustrated with the ambition and mismanagement of those around him. He wrote to Richard Henry Lee, his brother, again, saying:

I am as heartily tired of the knavery and stupidity of the generality of mankind as you can be; but it is our duty to stem the Current, as much as we can and to do all the service in our power, to our Country and our friends. The consciousness of having done so, will be the greatest of all rewards… [W]e may give a fair opportunity to succeeding Patriots, of making their Country flourishing and happy, but this must be the work of Peace.

He returned to Virginia following his service in the Continental Congress and served as a member of the Virginia State Senate. He retired from public and political life in 1785, having seen his deliberate “work of Peace” achieve the end he so desired. He and his wife died within one week of each other in 1797.

Andrew Langer is President of the Institute for Liberty.

 

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Essay 75 – Guest Essayist: Val Crofts

Thomas Nelson Jr. of Virginia gave his fortune and his health to further the cause of American Independence. When he and his fellow signers pledged “our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor,” the men of the Second Continental Congress took that risk seriously. Some paid more than others and Thomas Nelson Jr. may have paid more than all of them. He was never a healthy man, but the mission of independence took much of the health that he did have, resulting in an early death at the age of 50. He also sacrificed his family’s fortune, spending and donating it to help win the War of Independence. This was truly a man who risked and gave all so that we could live in the nation that we do today.

Nelson was born in Yorktown, Virginia in 1738 to a very wealthy family. As many members of wealthy Virginia families were, Thomas was sent to England for his education. He graduated from Cambridge and returned to Virginia soon after. He married Lucy Grymes, a young widow who was a member of Virginia’s Randolph family, in 1762 and they had 13 children. The young family settled down as Nelson became a planter and an estate manager.

He was elected to Virginia’s House of Burgesses and was a very outspoken opponent of Britain and their policies toward the colonies and was one of the first leaders in the colonies to entertain the idea of an independency for the colonies. He believed that it was absurd to have the colonists hold an “affection for a people who are carrying on the most savage war against us.” On November 7, 1774, Nelson was a member of the Yorktown Tea Party. Citizens of York County, Virginia had passed a non-importation boycott in response to the Tea Act of 1773. When the British ship Virginia docked at Yorktown, enraged citizens marched onto the ship and dumped two imported half-chests of tea into the water.

Nelson was appointed as a member of the Second Continental Congress in mid-1775, replacing George Washington when Washington left the Congress to go to Boston to take command of the Continental Army. He had returned to Virginia and was in Williamsburg on May 15, 1776 when the Fifth Virginia Convention passed a series of resolutions declaring Virginia was no longer a part of the British Empire. Nelson immediately carried the news from Virginia to Philadelphia where Richard Henry Lee on June 6, 1776 made the official resolution for independence within the Second Continental Congress, that would lead to the Declaration of Independence. He eventually had to resign from the Congress due to poor health.

Nelson was later appointed a brigadier general in the Continental Army and commanded the Virginia militia during the battle of Yorktown in 1781 during the American Revolutionary War. It was here that one of the most selfless acts of his life took place as he ordered the artillery of the Continental Army to fire on his home, where several British officers were headquartered. The home was heavily damaged. The surrender of the British troops at Yorktown occurred soon after.

In June of 1781, Nelson became the second governor of Virginia, succeeding Thomas Jefferson. He had to resign in November of 1781 due to poor health. By this point in his life, he had lost almost everything. His businesses were destroyed. He was owed over two million dollars by the United States government for his loans to help finance the French fleet and their aid to the war effort. He was never repaid and his financial well-being was destroyed.

Nelson passed away at his home at the age of 50 in 1789 from severe asthma. His body was originally buried in an unmarked grave in Yorktown because of a fear that creditors may hold his body for collateral until his debts were paid. He now rests under a fitting stone that pays tribute to him and his service to the United States, including honoring his service as a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

Once, after the war, when he was asked if his treatment was worth it, Nelson replied that if he had to, he “would do it all over again.” After his countless sacrifices, Thomas Nelson Jr. still believed in his nation and his service to it.

Val Crofts serves as Chief Education and Programs Officer at the American Village in Montevallo, Alabama. Val previously taught high school U.S. History, U.S. Military History and AP U.S. Government for 19 years in Wisconsin, and was recipient of the DAR Outstanding U.S. History Teacher of the Year for the state of Wisconsin in 2019-20. Val also taught for the Wisconsin Virtual School as a social studies teacher for 9 years. He is also a proud member of the United States Semiquincentennial Commission (America 250), which is currently planning events to celebrate the 250th birthday of the Declaration of Independence.

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Essay 74 – Guest Essayist: William Rasmussen

One of the most influential and conspicuous of the delegates at the 1775 Second Continental Congress was Benjamin Harrison V of Berkeley (1726-1791). Elected Chairman of the Congress’s Committee of the Whole, he presided, with flair, over the final deliberations that shaped the Declaration of Independence. Harrison was given that important position because he was “a favorite of the day,” stated Edmund Randolph, his colleague from Virginia: “With strong sense and a temper not disposed to compromise with ministerial power, he scruples not to utter any untruth.”

To explain the respect that Harrison received in Philadelphia, Randolph pointed to his colleague’s years of legislative experience in Virginia: “During a long service in the House of Burgesses, his frankness, though sometimes tinctured with bitterness, has been the source of considerable attachment [to him].” The “bitterness” had resulted when Harrison said whatever he pleased, with sometimes brutal frankness. John Adams used the words “obscene,” “profane,” and “impious” to describe the sometimes-boisterous behavior of Harrison that was the antithesis of what the New Englander considered proper. Adams even compared Harrison—an obese man—to Shakespeare’s comical figure Falstaff, although—in confirmation of Edmund Randolph’s observations—he admitted that “Harrison’s contributions and many pleasantries steadied rough sessions” of the Congress.

Harrison’s conspicuousness at the Congress was confirmed by accounts of the time and by the painter John Trumbull’s famous canvas of 1818 that recreates the “Signing of the Declaration of Independence.” Harrison is pictured at the table on the extreme left, easy to spot. The “Signers” passed in front of him to sign what they feared might be a death warrant. According to delegate Benjamin Rush, there was a “pensive and awful silence” that Harrison dared to interrupt. His best-known exchange was with Eldridge Gerry, a slight man: “I shall have a great advantage over you, Mr. Gerry, when we are all hung for what we are now doing. From the size and weight of my body I shall die in a few minutes and be with the Angels, but from the lightness of your body you will dance in the air an hour or two before you are dead.”

The fact that Benjamin Harrison is little known today would have shocked his contemporaries. The explanation, however, is simple: Harrison has been overshadowed by the fame of Virginia colleagues who became some of the most illustrious figures in all of American history—George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Patrick Henry, George Mason, and John Marshall. In addition, it is easy to lose sight of Harrison because he was fifth in his family line to carry exactly the same name, as did his oldest son, Benjamin Harrison VI. (The Roman numerals have been added by modern historians; the confusion was even greater without the numerals.)

All six of the Benjamin Harrisons were active in public service. For that reason, the fifth Benjamin Harrison is generally dubbed “Benjamin Harrison the Signer.” Benjamin I (who arrived in the colony c. 1630) became Clerk of the Governor’s Council, and Benjamin II, III, and IV all served in the House of Burgesses. Benjamin IV built the house at Berkeley plantation, where in 1745, at age fifty-one, he—and a child he had with him—died when struck by lightning while closing an upstairs window. Son Benjamin V, the principal heir, inherited at age nineteen a vast empire of land and slaves. For the next forty-six years, however, Harrison spent little of his time and energy managing the vast operations at both Berkeley and other plantations he had inherited on both sides of the James River. Instead, Harrison gave his time to public service.

The decades prior to 1775 formed a tumultuous period in American history when Harrison involved himself in numerous pursuits that culminated in the decisions of the Second Continental Congress and the establishment of a new nation. Those experiences developed Harrison into an effective legislator, and they made him as well the “favorite” that Edmund Randolph recognized.

Harrison served three decades in the Virginia House of Burgesses, representing Surry County and Charles City County. In 1752, as a member of the Committee of Propositions and Grievances, he assisted in drafting a complaint to the governor and to King George and Parliament regarding the taxing of land patents—that was taxation without representation. Harrison with that stance became one of the earliest of the patriots. A decade later, when Britain passed the Townsend Acts in 1767 that asserted Parliament’s right to tax the colonies, he helped draft a response from the Virginia Burgesses that claimed the opposite—British subjects can be taxed only by their elected representatives.

In the next decade, as more issues came to the fore, Harrison became more involved in the resistance. In 1770, he joined an association of Virginia lawmakers and merchants that boycotted British imports until the British Parliament repealed its tea tax. He was as well a sponsor of a bill that declared illegal any laws passed by Parliament without the consent of the colonists. In 1772, Harrison and Jefferson were among six Virginians who petitioned the King to end the importation of slaves from Africa. Although Harrison sided with the East India Company’s demand for payment when its tea was dumped into the Boston harbor in 1773, he condemned the Intolerable Acts that were the response of the British Parliament. He was among eighty-nine Virginia Burgesses who denounced the new policy—and invited colonies to convene a Continental Congress. It followed that Harrison was selected as one of Virginia’s delegates to that gathering.

On the eve of the Second Continental Congress, Harrison was present when Patrick Henry presented his “Give me liberty, or give me death!” speech at a March 1775 convention in Richmond. Two months later when the Second Continental Congress convened, Harrison’s choice of roommates signaled his importance there. They were his brother-in-law Peyton Randolph, who was elected president of both the First and the Second Continental Congresses (he died in October 1775), and George Washington, who soon left to take command of the Continental Army. Harrison served on a committee that reviewed the needs and morale of that army.

For his prominence at the Second Continental Congress and the signing, Harrison won election to positions in the newly formed state of Virginia, but he also paid a price—when the British ravaged his Berkeley plantation. In 1777 Harrison was elected Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates, soundly defeating Thomas Jefferson for that position, to which he was reelected several times. He next served as Virginia’s fifth governor, from 1781 to 1784. It was early in 1781 that Benedict Arnold led a British force of 1,600 up the James River in an effort to shift both the setting and course of the Revolutionary War, and to punish the rebellious leaders of Virginia. A specific target was Harrison’s plantation, which Arnold succeeded in only partially burning, though he was able to burn its furnishings, including the family portraits on its walls. (A rare and priceless miniature painting of Benjamin the Signer is in the collection of the Virginia Museum of History & Culture.)

Before he died in 1791, Harrison was elected to the Virginia House for two additional terms. In 1788 he cast one of his last votes in opposition to ratification of the new Constitution, due to its lack of a bill of rights.

Harrison and his wife Elizabeth Bassett, who married in 1848, were blessed with eight children during their 40-year marriage. The youngest was William Henry Harrison (1773-1841), who served as a congressional delegate for the Northwest Territory, became a governor of the Indiana Territory, then a general who turned back Indian uprisings, and, finally, became the ninth president of the United States. Benjamin Harrison’s great-grandson (1833-1901), also named Benjamin Harrison (probably to no family member’s surprise), was a Union general in the Civil War, a senator, and, finally, the twenty-third U.S. president.

William M.S. Rasmussen serves as Senior Museum Collections Curator & Lora M. Robins Curator of Art at the Virginia Museum of History & Culture. He is co-author of The Story of Virginia, Highlights from the Virginia Museum of History & Culture, with Jamie O. Bosket, among many other books and articles on Virginia history.

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Essay 73 – Guest Essayist: Tony Williams

Colonial Virginia was a hierarchal society in which wealthy, slave owning planters provided political and civil leadership. Their financial independence gave them the leisure to serve in the House of Burgesses, local offices such as the militia, and Anglican parishes as vestrymen, to name a few. These planter-statesmen were the leaders of the patriot resistance movement to British tyranny in the 1760s and 1770s: George Washington, James Madison, Patrick Henry, Richard Henry Lee, and Thomas Jefferson.

On April 13, 1743, Jefferson was born to Peter and Jane at Shadwell Plantation on the Virginia frontier. His father was a planter-statesman who passed away in 1757, leaving Thomas and his brother significant landholdings. Jefferson was destined to become a planter-statesman in his own right, though the imperial crisis and American Revolution would provide him an opportunity for greatness on a world stage as a founder and lawgiver.

In 1825, Thomas Jefferson wrote to his friend, Henry Lee, reflecting on the meaning of the Declaration of Independence. He disclaimed originality in the ideas that shaped the Declaration of Independence.

This was the object of the Declaration of Independence. Not to find out new principles, or new arguments, never before thought of, not merely to say things which had never been said before; but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent…it was intended to be an expression of the American mind, and to give to that expression the proper tone and spirit called for by the occasion. All its authority rests then on the harmonizing sentiments of the day, whether expressed in conversation, in letters, printed essays, or in the elementary books of public right, as Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, Sidney, &c. ….”

Jefferson disclaimer to any originality in writing about the principles of natural rights republicanism in the Declaration of Independence was based upon the “harmonizing sentiments of the day” circulating in colonial newspapers, pamphlets, taverns, and colonial legislatures.

The “harmonizing sentiments” of the 1760s and 1770s supported a natural law opposition to British tyranny in the American colonies. James Otis was one of the earliest proponents of natural law resistance. In 1764, he wrote, “Should an act of Parliament be against any of his natural laws, which are immutably true, their declaration would be contrary to eternal truth, equity, and justice, and consequently void.” The speeches of Patrick Henry, the debates in the House of Burgesses and Continental Congresses, and the pamphlets of John Dickinson, Alexander Hamilton, and Thomas Paine expressed many of the same natural rights sentiments.

Jefferson also discovered these “harmonizing sentiments” during his classical education and in the books he read. He studied with Rev. William Douglas and Rev. James Maury. They provided young Jefferson with a rigorous classical education. He studied Latin and Greek, and read the poetry of Horace and Virgil, the Roman historians, and the political ideas of Cicero and Aristotle. He derived much of his thinking about natural law and political principles from these sources.

During his time with these tutors, Jefferson did not neglect his study of modern languages and political thought. He learned French and began his reading in the thinkers of the Enlightenment such as John Locke. He continued his study of the Enlightenment, especially the ideas of the Scottish Enlightenment, when he went to the College of William and Mary. While he was at college, he studied and read English law with George Wythe.

Jefferson said of his beloved teacher, Wythe, “No man ever left behind a character more venerated than George Wythe…and, devoted as he was to liberty, and the natural and equal rights of man, he might truly be called the Cato of his country.”

Jefferson’s education thus had a strong foundation in the study of natural law and popular government from a variety of traditions: ancient Greece and Rome, the English tradition, the ideas of John Locke and other Enlightenment thinkers combined with Protestantism woven together into a rich tapestry.

By the mid-1770s, Jefferson was ready to join the arguments of other patriots as a writer and statesman in the Second Continental Congress. In 1774, he authored a pamphlet entitled Summary View of the Rights of British America. He wrote that God was the author of natural rights inherent in each human being. The Americans were “a free people claiming their rights, as derived from the laws of nature, and not as the gift of their chief magistrate… the God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time: the hand of force may destroy, but cannot disjoin them.”

At the Second Continental Congress, Jefferson and John Dickinson wrote the Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms. Congress resolved, “The arms we have been compelled by our enemies to assume, we will, in defiance of every hazard, with unabating firmness and perseverance, employ for the preservation of our liberties; being with one mind resolved to die freemen rather than to live as slaves.”

Almost exactly a year later, the Congress declared independence and the ideas liberty and self-government. On June 7, 1776, Virginian Richard Henry Lee rose in Congress and offered a resolution for independence. “That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.” Congress appointed a committee to draft a Declaration of Independence including thirty-three-year-old delegate, Jefferson.

John Adams later explained why he and the committee asked Jefferson to draft the Declaration of Independence. Among the several reasons, Adams stated, “I had a great opinion of the elegance of his pen and none at all of my own.” The elegance of Jefferson’s writing—and of his mind and political thought—was deeply rooted in his classical education.

The committee submitted the document to Congress, where it was considered, edited, and then adopted on July 4, 1776, enunciating the natural rights principles of the American republic. The Declaration claimed that the natural rights of all human beings were self-evident truths that were axiomatic and did not need to be proven. They were equally “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

The equality of human beings meant that they were equal in giving consent to their representatives in a republic to govern. All authority flowed from the sovereign people equally. The purpose of that government was to protect the rights of the people. “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” The people had the right to overthrow a government that violated the people’s rights with a long train of abuses.

Thomas Jefferson’s early life and classical education prepared him to author the Declaration of Independence. After this watershed contribution to the creation of the American republic, Jefferson led a life of patriotic public service as a member of Congress, diplomat, Secretary of State, Vice-President, and President during the early republic that witnessed the creation of American institutions, the formulation of domestic and foreign policies, and the expansion of the new nation.

Jefferson died providentially on July 4, 1826 along with his friend, John Adams. It was fitting that Jefferson and Adams died on the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence that they submitted to the Continental Congress, the American people, and the world.

Tony Williams is a Senior Fellow at the Bill of Rights Institute and is the author of six books including Washington and Hamilton: The Alliance that Forged America with Stephen Knott. Williams is currently writing a book on the Declaration of Independence.

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Constituting America Founder & Co-President Actress Janine Turner

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Constituting America first published this message from Founder & Co-President Janine Turner over Memorial Day Weekend, 2010, the inaugural year of our organization.  We are pleased to share it with you again, as we celebrate our 11th birthday!  

On this Memorial Day weekend, I think it is appropriate to truly contemplate and think about the soldiers and families who have sacrificed their lives and loved ones, and given their time and dedication to our country.

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Essay 72 – Guest Essayist: Joerg Knipprath

If one lived in Virginia during the first couple of centuries or so of European settlement, one could do much worse than being born into the Lee family. Founded in the New World by the first Richard Lee in 1639, its wealth was based initially on tobacco. From that source, the family expanded, intermarried with other prominent Virginians, and established its prominence in the Old Dominion State. Richard Henry Lee and his brother Francis Lightfoot Lee, both signatories of the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation, were scions of one branch of the family. Henry “Light-Horse Harry” Lee III was a son of Richard Henry Lee’s cousin. Henry III was a precocious officer in the Continental Army, major-general in the United States Army, governor of Virginia, and father of Confederate States Army General Robert E. Lee.

Despite this illustrious background, Richard Henry Lee was in relatively straightened financial circumstances, compared to others in his political circle. Though he was the son of a royal governor of Virginia and plantation owner, Lee inherited no wealth other than some land and slaves. He rented those assets out for support, but depended on government jobs to help maintain his participation in politics. Although Lee studied law in Virginia after returning from an educational interlude in England, it appears he never practiced law. Still, his training became useful when he was appointed Justice of the Peace in 1757 and elected to the House of Burgesses in 1758.

Once in politics, Lee quickly took on radical positions. In September, 1765, he protested the Stamp Act by staging a mock ritual hanging of the colony’s stamp distributor, George Mercer, and of George Grenville, the prime minister who introduced the Stamp Act. Soon it was discovered that Lee himself had applied for that distributor position, which proved rather awkward for his bona fides as a fire-breathing patriot. After a mea culpa speech delivered with the trademark Lee passion, he was absolved and, indeed, lauded for his honesty.

He escalated the protest in 1766 by writing the Westmoreland Resolves, which promised opposition to the Stamp Act “at every hazard, and, paying no regard to danger or to death.” Further, anyone who attempted to enforce it would face “immediate danger and disgrace.” The signatories, prominent citizens of Westmoreland County, Lee’s home, pledged that they would refuse to purchase British goods until the Stamp Act was repealed. Eight years later, this type of boycott was the impetus for the Continental Association, an early form of collective action by the colonies drafted by the First Continental Congress and signed by Lee to force the British to repeal the Coercive Acts.

On March 12, 1773, Lee was appointed to Virginia’s Committee of Correspondence. The first such committee was established in Massachusetts the previous fall under the leadership of Sam Adams to spread information and anti-British propaganda to all parts of the colony and to communicate with committees in other colonies. The trigger was the Gaspee affair. The British cutter Gaspee, enforcing custom duties off Rhode Island, ran aground on a sand bar. Locals attacked and burned the ship and beat the officer and crew. The government, keen on punishing the destruction of a military vessel and the assault on its men, threatened to have the culprits tried in England. The specter of trial away from one’s home was decried by the Americans as yet another violation of the fundamental rights of Englishmen. Other colonies soon followed suit and established their own committees. Letters exchanged between Lee and Adams expressed their mutual admiration and laid the foundation for a lifelong friendship between the two.

Amid deteriorating relations between Britain and her American colonies, Parliament raised the ante by adopting the Coercive or Intolerable Acts (Boston Port Act, Massachusetts Government and Administration of Justice Act, Quartering Act) against Massachusetts Bay. Virginia’s House of Burgesses responded with the Resolve of May 24, 1774, concocted by Lee, his brother Francis Lightfoot Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, and George Mason, which called for a day of “Fasting, Humiliation, and Prayer” for June 1. Time being of the essence, the authors were not above a dash of plagiarism. They took the language from a similar resolution made by the House of Commons in the 1640s during their contest with King Charles I. The Resolve denounced the British actions as a “hostile invasion.” It called for the Reverend Thomas Gwatkin to preach a fitting sermon. The reverend declined the invitation, not eager to have his church drawn into what he viewed as a political dispute. The royal governor, the Earl of Dunmore, reacted by dissolving the Burgesses. Lee and other radicals thereupon gathered at Raleigh’s Tavern in Williamsburg on May 27. They adopted a more truculent resolution, which declared that “an attack made on one of our sister Colonies, to compel submission to arbitrary taxes, is an attack made on all British America.”

Lee’s visibility in the colony’s political controversies paid off, in that he was selected by Virginia as a delegate to the First Continental Congress and, the following year, to the Second Continental Congress. It was in that latter capacity that Lee made his name. In May, 1776, the Virginia convention instructed its delegates to vote for independence. On June 7, Lee introduced his “resolution for independancy [sic].” The motion’s first section, adopted from the speech by Edmund Pendleton to the Virginia convention, declared:

“That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.”

Debate on the motion was delayed until July due to the inability or unwillingness of some delegations to consider the issue.

In the meantime, colonies were declaring themselves independent and adopting constitutions of their own. With events threatening to bypass Congress, a committee was selected to draft a declaration of independence. Lee was unavailable. He had hurried back to Virginia, apparently to attend to his wife who had fallen ill. That absence prevented him from participating in the debate on his resolution on July 2. He returned in time to sign the Declaration of Independence.

Lee’s terms in Congress demanded much from him. He was what today would be described as a “workaholic.” On several occasions, this led to illness and absence due to exhaustion. He served in numerous capacities, including as chairman of the committee charged with drafting a plan of union, though most of the work on that project was done by John Dickinson as the principal drafter of the eventual “Articles of Confederation.” Lee was one of sixteen delegates who signed both the Declaration and the Articles.

From 1780 to 1782, Lee put his position in Congress on hold to tend to political matters in Virginia. The state was in relatively sound financial shape and keeping up with its war debt obligations. Lee opposed making the highly-depreciated Continental Currency legal tender. He also took the unpopular position of denouncing the law to cancel debts owed by Virginians to British creditors. “Better to be honest slaves of Great Britain than to become dishonest freemen,” he declared.

On the topic of slaves, Lee inherited 50 from his father. Despite that, he had strong anti-slavery sentiments. In 1769, he proposed that a high tax be assessed against importation of slaves, in order to end the overseas slave trade. Some critics grumbled that he did this only to make his own slaves more valuable, the same charge made against those Virginians who supported the provision in the Constitution which ultimately ended the trade after 1808. His pronouncements on the moral evil of slavery continued. It is unclear if Lee ever manumitted his slaves. The charge of hypocrisy is readily leveled at someone like Lee. But this history also demonstrates the difficulty of extricating oneself from an economic system on which one’s livelihood depends.

One pressing problem at the time was the parlous state of Congress’s finances, made even more dire by the looming obligations of the war debt. Lee’s role in stabilizing the financial situation in Virginia added to his stature in Congress. His fellow-delegates elected him their president during the 1784-1785 session. He was the sixth to serve as “President of the United States in Congress Assembled” after approval of the Articles of Confederation in 1781. Despite the impressive-sounding title as used in official documents, the position was mainly ceremonial. However, a skillful politician such as Lee could use it to guide the debates and influence the agenda of Congress.

Lee opposed proposals to give Congress a power to tax, especially import duties. He also believed that borrowing from foreign lenders would corrupt. Instead, he aimed to discharge the war debts and fund Congress’s needs through sales of land in the newly-acquired western territory. With the end of British anti-migration policy, millions of acres were potentially open to settlers. He hoped that the Western Land Ordinance of 1785, with its price of $1 per acre of surveyed land would raise the needed cash. Alas, poor sales soon dashed those hopes. Indian tribes and the pervasive problem of squatters who simply occupied the land mindful of the government’s lack of funds for troops to evict them contributed to uncertainty of land titles. With Lee’s prodding, Congress belatedly adopted the Land Ordinance of 1787, better known as the Northwest Ordinance. This law, reenacted by the Congress under the new Constitution of 1787, provided some needed stability, but it came too late to benefit the Confederation.

When Virginia accepted the call in Alexander Hamilton’s report on the Annapolis Convention of 1786 to send delegates to a convention to meet the following May in Philadelphia to consider proposals to amend the Articles of Confederation, Lee was elected as one of those delegates. Lee declined the position, as did his political ally Patrick Henry and a number of prominent men in other states. Henry summed up the views of many non-attendees. When asked why he did not accept, Henry, known as a man of many words over anything or nothing, stepped out of character and declared simply, “I smelt a rat in Philadelphia, tending toward the monarchy.”

Once the draft Constitution was approved, the Philadelphia convention sent it to the states for ratification as set out in Article VII. They also sent a copy to the Confederation Congress, with a letter that requested that body to forward its approval of the proposed charter to the states. Lee now attempted a gambit, innocuous on its face, which he hoped would nevertheless undo the convention’s plan. He moved to have Congress add amendments before sending the Constitution to the states. Taking clues from his friend George Mason, the most influential delegate at the convention who refused to support its creation, Lee submitted proposals on free exercise of religion, a free press, jury trials, searches and seizures, frequent elections, ban on a peace-time army, excessive fines, among others. These particulars echoed portions of Mason’s Declaration of Rights which he had drafted for Virginia in 1776.

Lee’s strategy was that the states should ratify either the original version, or a revised one with any or all of the proposed amendments. If no version gained approval, a second convention could be called which would draft a new document that took account of the states’ recommendations. One facet of this “poison pill” approach alone would have doomed the Constitution’s approval. As drafted, assent of only nine states’ conventions was needed for the new charter to go into effect among those states. For anything proposed by Congress, the Articles of Confederation required unanimous agreement by the state legislatures. Since support of a bill of rights, which the Constitution lacked, was a popular political position, it was likely that enough states would vote for proposed amendments to that end. In that event, the original Constitution would fall short of the nine states requirement, and Lee’s approach would require a second convention. It was feared—or hoped, depending on one’s view of the proposed system—that this would doom the prospect of change to the structure of governing the United States.

The pro-Constitution faction had the majority among delegations to Congress. Lee’s clever maneuver was defeated. However, rather than conveying the “Report of the convention” to the states with its overt approval, Congress sent it on September 28, 1787, without taking a position.

In the Virginia ratifying convention, Henry and others continued on the path Lee had laid out, of seeking to derail the process and to force a second convention. Like many other Americans, Lee was not opposed to all of the new proposals, but believed that, on the whole, the general government was given too much power. The new Constitution was a break with the revolutionary ethos that had sparked the drive to independence and was alien to the republicanism which was a part of that ethos. The opponents’ conception of unitary sovereignty clashed with that of the Constitution’s advocates who believed, such as Madison asserted in The Federalist, that the new government would be partly national and partly confederate. To the former, such an imperium in imperio was a mirage. Sooner or later, the larger entity would obliterate the smaller, the general government would subdue the states. Likewise, in the entirety of human history, no political entity the size of the United States had ever survived in republican form. To the classic republicans rooted in the struggle for independence who now were organizing to oppose the Constitution, the very existence of an independent central government threatened the republic. Of course, if any version of such a government were to be instituted, a bill of rights was indispensable.

The writings of an influential Antifederalist essayist, The Federal Farmer, have often been attributed to Lee. As with the works of William Shakespeare, historians debate these essays’ authorship. The claim that Lee wrote them was first made nearly a century after these events. No contemporary sources, including Lee or his political associates, mention him as the writer. The essays, presented in the form of letters addressed to The Republican, were collected and published in New York in late 1787 to influence the state ratifying convention. The Republican is Governor George Clinton, a committed Antifederalist who was the presiding officer of that convention and a powerful politician who remains the longest-serving governor in American history. Clinton himself is believed to have authored a number of important essays under the pseudonym Cato. Both Federal Farmer and Cato were so persuasive that they alarmed the Constitution’s supporters to the point that The Federalist addresses them by name to dispute their assertions.

Lee was in New York attending Congress during this time, and he was a prolific writer of letters, so it is possible he composed these, as well. Moreover, the arguments in the essays paralleled Lee’s objections about the threat the new system posed to the states and to American republicanism. The similarity extended even to the specific point that Lee made that the composition of the House of Representatives was far too small to represent adequately the variety of interests and classes across the United States.

However, Lee never wrote anything as systematic and analytically comprehensive as the Federal Farmer letters. What he intended for public consumption, such as his resolves, motions, and proclamations were comparatively brief and, like his rhetoric, to the point and designed to appeal to emotions. John Adams wrote during the First Continental Congress, “The great orators here are Lee, Hooper and Patrick Henry.” St. George Tucker, a renowned attorney from Virginia and authority in American constitutional law, described Lee’s speeches: “The fine powers of language united with that harmonious voice, made me sometimes think that I was listening to some being inspired with more than mortal powers of embellishment.” Historian Gordon Wood has contrasted Lee’s passionate style with the moderate tone and thoughtfulness of the Federal Farmer letters and asserts that Lee did not write them.

If not Lee, who? More recent scholarship has claimed that Melancton Smith, a prominent New York lawyer who attended the state convention, wrote these essays. Smith eventually voted for the Constitution in the narrow 30-27 final vote, which might explain the essays’ moderation in their critiques of the Constitution. His background as a lawyer might account for the close analysis of the document’s provisions. That said, the case for Smith and against Lee is also based on conjecture.

Once the Constitution was adopted, Lee, like Patrick Henry, made his peace. Henry used his influence in the state legislature to take the “unusual liberty” of nominating Lee to become one of Virginia’s two initial United States Senators. In that position Lee supported the Bill of Rights, although he considered its language a weak version of what it was supposed to achieve. Soon, however, Lee parted ways with his old political ally Henry and sided with Hamilton’s expansionist vision of the national government and its financial and commercial policies.

Lee died, age 62, on June 19, 1794. Thus ended the life of a man whose advice still commands attention: “The first maxim of a man who loves liberty, should be never to grant to rulers an atom of power that is not most clearly and indispensably necessary for the safety and well being of society.”

Joerg W. Knipprath is an expert on constitutional law, and member of the Southwestern Law School faculty, Professor Knipprath has been interviewed by print and broadcast media on a number of related topics ranging from recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to presidential succession. He has written opinion pieces and articles on business and securities law as well as constitutional issues, and has focused his more recent research on the effect of judicial review on the evolution of constitutional law. He has also spoken on business law and contemporary constitutional issues before professional and community forums, and serves as a Constituting America Fellow. Read more from Professor Knipprath at: http://www.tokenconservative.com/.

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

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Essay 71 – Guest Essayist: Suzanne Harman Munson

George Wythe, Thomas Jefferson’s surrogate father, is recognized as the Godfather of the Declaration of Independence by such authorities as Supreme Court Justice Lewis F. Powell, Jr. and other scholars. Wythe’s significant contributions to America’s founding document include: serving as Jefferson’s influential mentor; co-authoring a precursor to the Declaration; and organizing the Declaration’s legal brief of grievances.

Wythe is also known as the Prophet of the American Revolution for his early call for independence and for his resistance to taxation without representation. In honor of his unflagging contributions to the Revolution, Wythe’s signature was given the top place of honor among Virginia signers of the Declaration, above that of the younger Jefferson. On July 4, 1776, Wythe at age fifty was considered Virginia’s senior statesman, while Jefferson, only thirty-three, was just beginning his career in public life. Wythe was revered for his unflinching patriotism, honorable character, and principled statecraft.

Wythe and his friend John Adams of Massachusetts had been among the indefatigable workers in the Continental Congress in Philadelphia during the months leading to independence. They and their committee members labored daily to raise funds and provide supplies for General George Washington as he prepared for a David and Goliath contest against the western world’s mightiest military force.

Later, Adams was irritated that Jefferson, who had been a quiet member of Congress and also absent much of the time, “ran away with all the glory of it,” simply by putting pen to paper to draft the Declaration. Yet, Adams had strongly asserted that Jefferson should compose the document, as he was the best writer in their group and from Virginia, considered the thought-leader among Southern colonies necessary to win the Revolution.

Years later, Jefferson acknowledged that the ideals he expressed in the lofty preamble were not necessarily original, but reflected thinking prevalent at the time. Specifically, his work drew from that of John Locke, the influential English philosopher who had articulated mankind’s basic rights to life and liberty some decades earlier. During his five years as Wythe’s legal apprentice in Williamsburg, young Jefferson studied Locke, other Enlightenment thinkers, and eminent Greek philosophers. The Declaration of Independence reflects Jefferson’s comprehensive education in the humanities under Wythe’s direction.

When Jefferson began his association with Wythe in his mid-teens, he had recently lost his beloved father, Peter, at age fourteen and was in need of an excellent adult role model. Wythe had no surviving children from his marriage and took the youth under his wing, leading him on a path to greatness. Jefferson referred to him as “my second father,” “my beloved Mentor,” and “one of the greatest men of the age.”

In Philadelphia, when Jefferson was tasked with writing the Declaration of Independence, he studied a document drafted a short time earlier by a committee consisting of Wythe, Edward Rutledge, Sam Adams, and himself, considered a precursor to the Declaration. On May 29, the Continental Congress resolved to publish a “animated address” to the inhabitants of the colonies to “impress the minds of the people with the necessity of their now stepping forward to save their country, their freedom and property.” Significant numbers of Americans were not convinced of the need to sever ties with the Mother Country. The address persuaded the colonies that they must act to deliver their country from bondage by “uniting firmly, resolving wisely, and acting vigorously.” The surviving draft is in Wythe’s handwriting, and Jefferson preserved it among his most important papers.

In another contribution to the Declaration of Independence, attorney Wythe considered this document to be America’s legal brief before the court of world opinion. As such, its accusations against King George III had to be credible and verifiable. The Declaration includes a second part, after Jefferson’s inspired preamble. This consists of a long list of grievances against the king and his military, in acts of plunder, assault, murder, and other atrocities. Several months earlier, Wythe had sent letters to officials in the colonies soliciting their documented grievances.

Wythe was also instrumental in the success of the United States Constitution. If Virginia failed to ratify during the Constitution’s ratification rounds among the thirteen states, the document would have become effectively worthless; Virginia at the time was America’s largest, richest, and most powerful state. Wythe had served as chairman of the Rules Committee at the national Constitutional Convention in 1787 in Philadelphia and was a forceful advocate for a more unified nation.

At the Richmond, Virginia, Ratifying Convention in 1788, Wythe served as chairman of the Committee of the Whole. Patrick Henry and other states’ rights activists threatened to torpedo the ratification vote, fearing an over-reaching federal government. At the end of weeks of heated dispute, senior statesman George Wythe swayed the vote in favor, 89 to 79, with the promise of the addition of a Bill of Rights and a vision for a stronger America under the Constitution. “But for Wythe’s services in the Convention of 1788, Virginia would not have ratified the Constitution of the United States as it stood . . . The entire course of American history may have been materially changed,” noted Oscar Shewmake, former dean of the School of Law at the College of William and Mary.

Wythe served at William and Mary as America’s first collegiate professor of law between 1779 and 1789. He quickly turned his law school into the nation’s first leadership training program for future statesmen. At his death in 1806, his former pupils virtually ran the country, with Jefferson as president, John Marshall as influential chief justice of the Supreme Court, Henry Clay as a rising statesman, and a host of other former students in high offices at every level of the government and judiciary. Wythe arguably ranks as the most influential teacher in American history. He is recognized as the Father of American Jurisprudence.

George Wythe was born near Hampton, Virginia, spent his middle years in Williamsburg as attorney, professor, and leading legislator, and his last two decades in Richmond as a prominent judge in Virginia’s High Court of Chancery. Today, NASA’s Langley Research Center stands near his birthplace, and he would have been fascinated by his beloved country’s advancement in the greater world.

Suzanne Munson is author of the George Wythe biography, Jefferson’s Godfather: The Man Behind the Man. She lectures frequently on the Wythe-Jefferson legacy at university affiliates, historical societies, and other venues. She is currently writing a new book, America’s First Leadership Crisis: 1776.

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

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Essay 70 – Guest Essayist: Colleen Sheehan

Charles Carroll of Carrollton was a third generation American.  His grandfather emigrated from Great Britain to America in the late seventeenth century, procuring a large tract of land in Maryland. At ten Charles was sent to a Jesuit school, subsequently attending Jesuit colleges in French Flanders and Reims, and then attending the College Louis le Grand in Paris. The next few years he studied law in France and then in England, at the Temple, London.

Charles Carroll was impeccably educated in the classics. He spoke five languages and, according to Tocqueville, personified the “European gentleman.” In 1764, with his education completed, he crossed the Atlantic and returned to his native Maryland. In 1768, he married Mary Darnall, with whom he had seven children, three of whom survived beyond childhood.

Charles Carroll was a member of the Continental Congress, a framer of the Maryland Constitution of 1776, a member of the Maryland legislature, and a member of the U.S. Senate. The respect he earned among his peers was not easily obtained, for Carroll was of Irish descent (originally of County Offaly, between Dublin and Galway), and a Catholic – or Papist, as Roman Catholics were often then called – the pariah of 18th century Anglo-American Protestant society. Even in his home state of Maryland, which had the largest concentration of Roman Catholics of any of the states, Catholics were denied the right to vote and to hold office. Carroll set about to change that, penning the “First Citizen” letters, ultimately succeeding in placing a provision in the Maryland Constitution of 1776 guaranteeing all Christians (i.e., including Catholics) the right to participate in public life.

The years leading up to the American Revolution were for Carroll a time of intense public spiritedness in defense of the rights and liberties of the colonists. Among many posts of leadership, Carroll was a member of a Committee of Correspondence, of the Maryland Convention of 1775, and of the delegation to Canada (with Benjamin Franklin and Samuel Chase) seeking Canadian support for the American war for independence. Like many others, Carroll pronounced the doctrine of no taxation without representation, and he prodded and provoked, persuaded and led his fellow Marylanders to join the cause of independence.

Elected delegate to the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, Carroll took his seat on the 18th and signed the Declaration of Independence on August 2nd, when the engrossed parchment copy was presented for signature.

After the war, the implementation of the Articles of Confederation, and finally the establishment of the new Constitution, Carroll became a Senator in the first Congress of the United States. Supportive of Alexander Hamilton’s national and financial program (and opposed to the Republican financial and foreign policy agenda), Carroll became a member of the Federalist Party, helping broker deals such as placing the temporary capital in Philadelphia and the permanent one on the Potomac, and adjusting land claims between Virginia and his home state of Maryland.

One of the wealthiest families in America at the time of the founding – some would say the wealthiest, with an estate estimated at over 2 million pounds sterling at that time – Charles Carroll was in a position to contribute substantially to the financing of the war. At the same time, he did not take his good fortune for granted. In the old world, the family has been systematically stripped of their holdings by hostile Protestant Englishmen. In the new world, the security of property, freedom of religion, and equal treatment before the law was a work in progress.  Writing to James Warren in 1776, John Adams noted that Charles Carroll “continues to hazard his all: his immense Fortune, the largest in America, and his Life. This Gentlemans Character, If I foresee aright” Adams remarked, “will hereafter make a greater Figure in America.”

Charles Carroll inherited a ten-thousand-acre plantation from his father, and with that estate, hundreds of slaves. He was a slaveholder; he was also an abolitionist. He worked for the gradual abolition of slavery, sponsoring a bill in the Maryland legislature that required all slave girls to be educated and then at 28 years old set free, that they may in turn educate their husbands and children.

Charles Carroll was the last surviving signer of the American Declaration of Independence, called by one contemporary “the last of the Romans.” Of the principles of the Declaration, he said, “I do hereby recommend [them]to the present and future generations…as the best earthly inheritance their ancestors could bequeath to them.”

While the name Carroll may not be as renown as Washington, Jefferson, Adams, or Franklin, or as familiar as Kennedy or Reagan, and though there be no cities, states, rivers or colleges that serve as eternal reminders of his deeds and sacrifices, that does not make us any the less in his debt.

Indeed, if some Americans look to the presidential election of John F. Kennedy as the moment that marked the acceptance of Irish Catholics in the Anglo-Protestant dominated political mainstream of 20th century America, the possible pathway for an Irish Catholic president in America was originally paved by the Carroll family, particularly Charles Carroll and his cousin Daniel, a signer of the U.S. Constitution.

The war for independence and the founding of the United States was a work that could only have been accomplished by the dedicated work of many minds and many hands. Charles Carroll was one of the men who made this land we call America and who left to us the earthly inheritance – and the ongoing work – of keeping alive the principles of ’76.

 

Colleen A. Sheehan is Professor and Director of Graduate Studies with the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership of Arizona State University.

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

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Essay 69 – Guest Essayist: Ron Meier

Mary Land, the State of Maryland, was originally established in the early 17th century as a haven for Catholic immigrants to the American colonies. It was named after Henrietta Maria who was married to King Charles I, and was also a tribute to the Virgin Mary. But the American colonies were largely settled by Protestants with Puritans to the north, Anglicans to the South. Maryland, in spite of its Catholic heritage, tolerated religious diversity, so it was just a matter of time until Protestants dominated in Maryland. By the end of the 17th century, it had become largely inhabited by Protestants.

In 1688, the Glorious Revolution in England resulted in the Catholic King being replaced by Protestant monarchs. The proprietary Catholic colony in Maryland reverted to the British Crown.

In 1689, following the spirit of the Glorious Revolution in the mother country, Protestants in Maryland revolted and established a new Protestant government in the colony. Catholics were removed from office, prohibited from holding public office in the future, from practicing law, and from voting. Maryland’s citizens became loyal to the Crown over the next several generations before the onset of differences with the Crown in the 1760s.

Maryland’s principal cash crop was tobacco.  Disputes among the growers in the colonies and the merchants in Britain who controlled the trade grew over time. After the French and Indian War, when Britain imposed taxes on the colonies to pay for Britain’s costs in prosecuting the war, additional disputes with Britain grew and a Sons of Liberty chapter was formed in Maryland.

Maryland citizens sympathetic to the patriot cause joined with other colonies in establishing Committees of Correspondence and its merchants joined with merchants in other colonies to boycott British imports. Sensing problems, Maryland’s Royal Governor prorogued the Colonial Assembly in the spring of 1774. Taking their cue from the Boston Tea Party, Maryland’s patriots held their own protests, the Chestertown Tea Party and the Annapolis Tea Party, against the British Tea Act.

A Provincial Convention was formed in Annapolis by the former members of the Colonial Assembly in 1774 and served as the patriots’ governing body until the signing of the Declaration of Independence.  Delegates were sent to the First and Second Continental Congress. The Annapolis Convention, in January 1776, firmly instructed its delegates which included Thomas Stone, to attempt reconciliation with Britain and to not join in any attempt of the Continental Congress to declare the independence of the colonies. In spite of these instructions, Maryland already had its soldiers in the field with George Washington. Maryland’s soldiers became some of Washington’s most reliable Continentals after the “Maryland 400” held the line in Brooklyn allowing Washington and the remainder of his forces to escape annihilation by crossing the East River to Manhattan.

It was not until June 28, 1776 that Maryland’s Convention instructed its delegates to vote for Independence; this is the same day that Jefferson and the Committee of Five charged with drafting the document presented its draft of the Declaration of Independence to the Congress.  Interestingly, not all delegates who voted for the Declaration on July 2 were official signatories. For example, John Rogers voted for independence on behalf of Maryland, but due to subsequent illness, was unable to sign the document.

Many delegates to the First and Second Continental Congresses considered themselves British citizens and sought reconciliation with Britain rather than revolution.

Thomas Stone was among those preferring reconciliation. He was born in Maryland in 1743 into a wealthy family which emphasized a classical education for Thomas who, like many other young men of the time, used their classical education as a springboard into the study of law.

In 1764, he entered the practice of law and spent the subsequent decade focused on serving his legal clients. Little is known about his life until his marriage in 1768 to seventeen-year-old Margaret Brown, daughter of a prominent and wealthy Maryland family. Thomas and Margaret purchased land on which to build their home and establish their family.  The family owned slaves to work the large tobacco plantation established on the land and because Thomas was often absent riding the law circuit, his brother managed the plantation.

In 1774, Thomas was chosen to be on his county’s Committee of Correspondence, the vehicle through which patriots in the colonies communicated with each other. Think of the Committees of Correspondence as a Private Facebook Group of the 18th century – not providing instantaneous communication among the colonies, but enabling each of the colonies to coordinate their efforts to reconcile with the British Crown and simultaneously provide support to those colonies already engaged in conflict with the British military and blockades.

Stone is variously known as a “Reluctant Revolutionary,” a “Quiet Patriot,” and a “Moderate” who used his legal skills in the background rather than as a great orator, like Patrick Henry and John Adams, whose names are more recognizable as the movers and shakers of the Revolution.

He was then appointed to represent Maryland at the Second Continental Congress. Even after the battles at Lexington, Concord, and Boston, Stone and most members of the Continental Congress strove for reconciliation. Stone strongly supported the 1775 Olive Branch Petition, which King George refused to read and which was rejected by Parliament. Even after rejection of the Olive Branch Petition, as noted above, the Annapolis Convention in January 1776 instructed its delegates to the Continental Congress to vote against independence.

As the British Navy, with more than 30,000 troops aboard hundreds of ships, assembled in New York’s harbor to prepare to do battle with Washington’s troops, including the Maryland Line, on Long Island, reconciliation appeared hopeless and sentiment among the delegates to the Congress moved more towards independence. Virginia’s Richard Henry Lee introduced the independence resolution to the Congress in early June and Jefferson began writing the Declaration of Independence.  Thomas Stone moved ever so slowly, but firmly, in favor of independence, and cast his Yea vote on July 2. He returned on August 2 to sign the Declaration.

The next year, after having been appointed to the committee to draft the Articles of Confederation, he declined reappointment to the Congress because of health problems his wife experienced due to complications from smallpox. He returned to Maryland and was appointed to the Maryland Senate, where he served for the rest of his life. Maryland’s commitment to the Confederation was weak, but Stone used his persuasive powers to support the Confederation, which Maryland ratified in February 1781, the last state to do so almost two years after the 12th state.

Stone was appointed to represent Maryland at the Constitutional Convention, but his wife died in June, 1787, causing him to decline appointment. He became deeply depressed upon the death of Margaret and died just four months later with a “broken heart” apparently being the cause. He and Margaret were buried on their plantation which is administered today by the National Park Service.

Ron Meier is a West Point graduate and Vietnam War veteran.  He is a student of American history, with a focus on our nation’s founding principles and culture, the Revolutionary War, and the challenges facing America’s Constitutional Republic in the 20th and 21st centuries.  Ron won Constituting America’s Senior Essay contest in 2014 and is author of Common Sense Rekindled: A Rejuvenation of the American Experiment, featured on Constituting America’s Recommended Reading List.

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

Sources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maryland_in_the_American_Revolution

Protestant Revolution (Maryland) – Wikipedia

https://msa.maryland.gov/msa/mdmanual/01glance/chron/html/chron17.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Annapolis_Convention_(1774%E2%80%931776)

https://digital.lib.niu.edu/islandora/object/niu-amarch%3A103286

https://msa.maryland.gov/msa/mdstatehouse/html/independence.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Rogers_(Continental_Congress)

https://www.nps.gov/people/thomas-stone.htm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Stone

https://www.nps.gov/articles/000/a-reluctant-revolutionary.htm?utm_source=article&utm_medium=website&utm_campaign=experience_more&utm_content=small

https://www.thebaynet.com/articles/0616/the-quiet-patriot-thomas-stone-of-haberdeventure.html

http://colonialhall.com/stone/stone.php

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olive_Branch_Petition

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Essay 68 – Guest Essayist: Val Crofts
Signer William Paca 1823 by Charles Willson Peale - Public Domain Image in the United States https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Paca#/media/File:William_paca.jpg

Benjamin Rush once referred to his fellow signer of the Declaration of Independence, William Paca, as “beloved and respected by all who knew him, and considered at all times as a sincere patriot and honest man.” John Adams called Paca the “great deliberator,” for the work that Paca did during the First and Second Congressional Congresses. William Paca was a tireless advocate for freedom and justice for Maryland and the 13 colonies, as well as a brilliant lawyer and champion for veterans’ benefits. He was one of four signers of the Declaration from Maryland. He was also one of two signers, Caesar Rodney being the other, who were of Italian heritage.

Paca was born in Maryland in 1740 and very little is known about his early life and education. Most of his papers and diaries were destroyed in a fire at his former home in Maryland in 1879. As a result, we do not have the volumes of information on William Paca that we have regarding other members of the Founding generation.

William Paca graduated from the College of Philadelphia (now the University of Pennsylvania) in 1759, and he soon moved to Annapolis, Maryland to begin his legal career. He wanted to become a lawyer, which he did, and in the process of doing so he became very good friends with Samuel Chase and Thomas Stone, two fellow lawyers who would both sign the Declaration of Independence with Paca in 1776.

Paca and Chase also started a Sons of Liberty organization in Annapolis in 1765 to protest the passage of the Stamp Act. Here is where William began his career in politics and his strong opposition to the policies of the British crown. He was a strong early supporter of independence and a lifelong advocate for states’ rights and a person’s individual rights. Paca had a reputation for being more of a quiet, behind the scenes type of a politician, but on one noteworthy occasion, he proved that he could stand in the spotlight to protest a cause as well as anyone. The governor of Maryland refused to rule favorably on a law that Chase and Paca wanted him to support. As a result, and to protest the ruling, Paca and Chase protested the governor’s ruling by “hanging” a paper copy of the law in a public ceremony, then burying it in a tiny coffin with a cannon firing in the distance. A very theatrical and powerful way to prove your point!

William Paca was known as a very charming man who dressed well and married well (twice). He came from a very wealthy family and he married into two wealthy families. He married Mary Chew, known as Molly in 1763 and she passed away in 1774, possibly due to childbirth complications. His second wife, Ann Harrison also passed away at a young age. Paca fathered six children and never re-married after Ann died.

William Paca served in both the First and Second Continental Congresses as a delegate from Maryland. During the debate over independence in the Second Continental Congress, Maryland was a colony that had much debate over whether or not to vote in favor of independence. As Paca waited for word on how to vote on the matter, instructions eventually arrived in Philadelphia that Maryland had agreed to vote for independence and have its delegates sign the document. Paca then cast his vote in favor of independence on July 2, 1776 and he signed the Declaration of Independence on August 2, 1776.

William Paca cared deeply for the veterans of the American Revolution and he did everything possible after the war to help them in any way that he could, personally, legally and financially. As a result of these actions, in 1783, he became an honorary member of the society of the Cincinnati. Membership in the Society was usually reserved for Revolutionary War officers, but Paca was given this honor due to his constant efforts to support the Revolutionary war veterans.

After the Revolutionary War ended, Paca served in various legal roles within the state of Maryland, including serving as their third governor. He would also later help to push forward many of the amendments to the constitution that would become the Bill of Rights. His commitment to personal and individual freedoms in the Bill of Rights is part of his lasting legacy. William Paca died in 1799.

Val Crofts serves as Chief Education and Programs Officer at the American Village in Montevallo, Alabama. Val previously taught high school U.S. History, U.S. Military History and AP U.S. Government for 19 years in Wisconsin, and was recipient of the DAR Outstanding U.S. History Teacher of the Year for the state of Wisconsin in 2019-20. Val also taught for the Wisconsin Virtual School as a social studies teacher for 9 years. He is also a proud member of the United States Semiquincentennial Commission (America 250), which is currently planning events to celebrate the 250th birthday of the Declaration of Independence.

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Essay 67 – Guest Essayist: Joerg Knipprath

In his work E Pluribus Unum, the historian Forrest McDonald provides a succinct profile of Samuel Chase: “But for Samuel Chase, Maryland’s immediate postwar history would have been dull in the extreme….At the time, all that seemed to be happening—or most everything with salt and spice, anyway—appeared to revolve around Samuel Chase….

“Chase was a man of peculiar breed, perfectly consistent by his own standards but wildly inconsistent by any other….[W]henever he appeared in public life in the capacity of an elected official, he artfully duped the people, led them by demagoguery into destructive ways, and exploited them without mercy; and they loved him and sang his praises and repeatedly reelected him….

“But when he appeared in public life in a different capacity, the capacity of institution-maker or institution-preserver, he worked with sublime statesmanship to protect the people against themselves, which is to say, against the like of himself. Thus in 1776, as the principal architect of Maryland’s revolutionary constitution, he created a system so fraught with checks and balances, and with powers so distributed between aristocracy and people, that destructive radicalism seemed impossible. Less than a decade later, as a member of the state’s House of Delegates, he engineered a movement to subvert that very constitution, and did so for the most flagrantly corrupt reasons and with the enthusiastic support of ‘the people,’ in whose name he did it….

“As a rogue who exploited public trust, Chase pursued private gain, but he probably did so more because he enjoyed the role than because he really coveted its fruits. Whatever his motives, he led Maryland’s proud and pretentious aristocrats by the nose for nearly a decade, and in so doing executed a dazzling series of maneuvers that accounted for most of the state’s major policy decisions.”

A physically large man, “Old Baconface,” a sobriquet he was given as a young attorney for his ruddy complexion, was in many ways, then, a larger-than-life character in Maryland. And that all happened before Chase’s rise to high federal judicial office, and the vortex of controversy in which he placed himself once more, precipitating an existential institutional crisis for the Supreme Court.

The expulsion in 1762 of Chase, the young attorney, from a debating club was for unspecified “extremely irregular and indecent behavior.” The founding of the local Sons of Liberty in 1765 was with another eventual signer of the Declaration of Independence, his friend William Paca, a wealthy planter and future governor, who was himself no stranger to political corruption. There was a failed attempt to corner the grain market through inside information after being elected to the Second Continental Congress. These incidents were the overture to the dynamic that marked the increasingly consequential relationship between Samuel Chase and the established political and social order.

Chase’s scheming then moved to the Maryland legislature, which, in the 1781-1782 session, adopted two laws favorable to Chase. The first was the creation of the office of Intendant of the Revenues, which placed in one office complete control over the state’s finances. The appointment went to a Chase associate, Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer, a future signer of the U.S. Constitution. The second deprived Loyalists of their rights and confiscated their property with a value of more than 500,000 Pounds Sterling at the time. That property was to be sold at public auction. Chase and various associates placed their men in crucial administrative positions and manipulated the sales to their advantage. Among those associates was Luther Martin, an influential Antifederalist who began a long tenure as Maryland’s attorney general in 1778 through Chase’s influence. Another was Thomas Stone, who also had signed the Declaration of Independence.

The Chase syndicate acquired confiscated property valued between 100,000 and 200,000 Pounds Sterling, an amount far beyond what they could pay. Their solution was to choreograph the auction process with the help of Intendant of Finance Jenifer so as to cancel that sale through questionable legal technicalities and end up, in a second sale, with a price that was one-tenth that of the original auction price. Even that amount was more than the syndicate had, so they undertook a several-year-long effort to delay payment and procure a law that would enable them to pay their obligation with an issue of depreciated Maryland paper currency.

Chase’s questionable dealings and political scheming caused him and his associates trouble at times. In the end, however, the scandals, investigations, and attendant calumnies did him no harm. The personal charm he could invoke when needed, the political demagoguery to which he freely resorted to portray himself as a tribune of the people and an opponent of aristocracy and Toryism, and the willingness to deflect attention from the negative consequences of a failed political scheme by fomenting another even more base and outrageous, served him well.

It is a cliche of a certain genre of entertainment that a plot featuring a lovable scoundrel or band of misfits needs a straight-laced, establishment foil. In the tale of Samuel Chase, that part was played by Charles Carroll of Carrollton. Carroll came from the leading family of Maryland Catholics. He was a wealthy planter, thought to have been the wealthiest person in the new nation, worth about $400 million in today’s money. He was also the most lettered of the generally well-educated signers of the Declaration of Independence. Carroll was an early pro-independence agitator. As the leader of the Maryland Senate during the 1780s, he jousted politically with Chase and his allies over Chase’s schemes. While Carroll was able to blunt some of those schemes, Chase, in turn, succeeded in painting Carroll as a Tory. This was a supreme irony, indeed, in light of Carroll’s bona fides as a patriot who had been advocating violent revolution against Britain when Chase was still urging discussions.

In 1791, Chase became chief justice of the Maryland General Court, where he stayed until he was appointed to the United States Supreme Court by President George Washington in 1796. Chase served in that capacity until his death in 1811.

As the political temperature in the country heated up after passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798, Chase was drawn into the rhetorical clashes between Federalists and Jeffersonians. With relish, Chase denounced Jefferson’s Democratic Republicans as the party of “mobocracy.” Drawing on his experience as a partisan brawler during his days in Maryland politics, he denounced Jefferson, the Republicans, and Jeffersonian policies with his accustomed sharp tongue. Crucially for the events to follow, he did so while performing his judicial duties.

The nature of his position as a supposedly impartial and nonpolitical jurist had no impact on him.

Examples were Chase’s ham-handed actions in the trials in 1800 of, respectively, Thomas Cooper and James Callender for publishing libelous materials about John Adams and Alexander Hamilton. While Cooper was a sympathetic figure, Callender was a scandalmonger whose fate in the courtroom probably would not have stirred anyone, had Chase not made him a political martyr. Callender’s attacks on Hamilton had impressed Jefferson, who was pleased with anyone willing to sling rhetorical mud at the Federalists. Jefferson encouraged and subsidized Callender’s efforts and later pardoned him for his conviction in Chase’s courtroom. However, Jefferson soon became much less enchanted with Callender when the latter demanded he be appointed to a federal office. Upon Jefferson’s refusal, Callender switched political allegiances and, as a Federalist Party newspaper editor, published scurrilous articles that claimed Jefferson’s paternity of children born to Sally Hemings, one of his slaves.

Chase, meanwhile, continued his political activism. Not content to campaign as a sitting judge for President Adams’s reelection, he harangued a Baltimore grand jury in 1803 with a long charge which criticized the Jeffersonians for having repealed an Adams-era judiciary statute that Chase favored, and which condemned the idea of universal suffrage as unrepublican. The last was particularly ironic in light of his public persona as a man of the people and opponent of Toryism in his earlier political career in Maryland.

Having made himself the lightning rod for the Jeffersonians’ fury at what they saw as the Federalists entrenching themselves in the judiciary following the latters’ election loss in 1800, Chase became the target of an impeachment effort in the House of Representatives. The grand jury charge in 1803 may have been the catalyst, but Jefferson’s distaste for his cousin Chief Justice John Marshall and outrage at Marshall’s lectures to the executive branch in Marbury v. Madison that same year, helped produce the reaction. Indeed, it was broadly understood that a Chase impeachment was a dry-run for a more consequential attempt to remove Marshall.

Led by another of Jefferson’s cousins, the flamboyant ultra-republican majority leader John Randolph of Roanoke, Virginia, the House voted out eight articles of impeachment on March 12, 1804. The first seven denounced Chase’s “oppressive conduct” in the Sedition Act trials. The eighth dealt with the “intemperate and inflammatory political harangue” in Baltimore which was intended to “excite the fears and resentment…of the good people of Maryland against their state government…[and] against the Government of the United States.” In short, the Jeffersonians accused Chase of the seditious speech they previously claimed Congress could not prohibit under the Sedition Act. With that statute no longer in effect, there was no criminal act on which the impeachment was based. More significantly, since the Republicans had claimed that a federal law that targets seditious speech violates the First Amendment, Chase’s remarks were not even potentially indictable offenses. The vote was a strict party-line matter, 73-32. If party discipline held in the Senate trial, where the Republicans enjoyed a 25-9 advantage, Chase’s judicial tenure was doomed.

The trial was held in February, 1805, supervised by Vice-President Aaron Burr, still under investigation for his killing of Alexander Hamilton in a duel. Chase’s lawyers, including his old political crony, close friend, and successful Supreme Court litigator, Luther Martin, argued that conviction required proof of an act that could be indicted under law. The House managers claimed that impeachment was not a criminal process. Since impeachment was the only way to remove federal judges, they asserted that “high Crimes and Misdemeanors” must include any willful misconduct or corrupt action that made the person unfit for judicial office. Their charges met that test, they averred, because Chase had acted as prosecutor as well as judge in the trials.

The effort failed. Even on the eighth charge, the Baltimore grand jury speech, six Republican Senators voted to acquit, leaving the prosecution four votes short of the necessary two-thirds vote for conviction. On the other, weaker, charges, the House fared worse. Chase’s acquittal diminished the threat which impeachment posed to the independence of the judiciary. Still, the two sides’ respective arguments over the purpose of impeachment and the meaning of the phrase “high Crimes and Misdemeanors” were replayed in subsequent such proceedings and continue to be contested today. After his trial, Chase stayed on the Court another six years. He remains the only Supreme Court justice to have been impeached.

Samuel Chase died in Baltimore in 1811 at the age of 70.

Joerg W. Knipprath is an expert on constitutional law, and member of the Southwestern Law School faculty, Professor Knipprath has been interviewed by print and broadcast media on a number of related topics ranging from recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to presidential succession. He has written opinion pieces and articles on business and securities law as well as constitutional issues, and has focused his more recent research on the effect of judicial review on the evolution of constitutional law. He has also spoken on business law and contemporary constitutional issues before professional and community forums, and serves as a Constituting America Fellow. Read more from Professor Knipprath at: http://www.tokenconservative.com/.

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

 

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Essay 66 – Guest Essayist: Gordon Lloyd
SignerThomasMcKean1787CharlesWPeale Public Domain Image - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_McKean#/media/File:Thomas_McKean_by_Charles_Willson_Peale.jpg

Thomas McKean (1734-1817) was born of Scotch-Irish ancestry in New London, eastern Pennsylvania near the border of New Jersey and Delaware. He married Mary Borden with whom he had six children. Mary was the sister of Francis Hopkinson’s wife. Hopkinson was a signer from New Jersey. After Mary died, McKean married Sarah Armitage and together they had five children.

McKean practiced law in both Pennsylvania and Delaware, and served as a colonel in the New Jersey militia. He was politically active in all three states, even while elected to federal office. In 1756, he became deputy Attorney General in Pennsylvania. In 1757, he was admitted to the Bar of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania and appointed clerk of the Delaware Assembly.

In 1762, the Assembly appointed McKean and Caesar Rodney, another signer of the Declaration of Independence, to revise and publish the laws of the province of Delaware. Also in 1762, he was elected to the Delaware Assembly, and re-elected for seventeen years despite a six-year residence in Philadelphia during that time. No other Signer of the Declaration took part in so many different State activities simultaneously as did McKean.

In 1775, he represented Delaware at the Stamp Act Congress in New York and then Pennsylvania at the Continental Congress from 1774-1777. On July 1, 1776, two of the three Delaware delegates were in attendance. McKean voted in favor of Independence and George Read voted against it. McKean strongly opposed the power that the British were imposing upon the colonies. He sent an urgent message to Caesar Rodney in Dover to come at once to Philadelphia to break the deadlock. Rodney rode overnight in a rainstorm, having arrived wearing boots and spurs as described by McKean, and the deadlock was broken on July 2.

McKean also served on the Congressional committee that drafted the Articles of Confederation. In 1777, he was appointed Chief Justice of Pennsylvania, an office that he held for nearly twenty years. He was elected President of the Continental Congress in 1781. In 1787, he attended the Pennsylvania ratifying convention and voted in favor of ratification. In 1789, he was elected Governor of Pennsylvania and served in that office before retiring in 1812, but his governorship was controversial as he survived an impeachment effort due to strife within differing partisan viewpoints.

Toward the end of his life, though McKean had mostly retired, he participated in a discussion to guard against possible British invasion of Philadelphia in the War of 1812. McKean admonished the people to set aside differences and consider there were only two parties which consisted of America and its invaders.

McKean died in Philadelphia on June 24, 1817 at the age of 83.

Gordon Lloyd is the Robert and Katheryn Dockson Professor of Public Policy at Pepperdine University, and a Senior Fellow at the Ashbrook Center. He earned his bachelor of arts degree in economics and political science at McGill University. He completed all the course work toward a doctorate in economics at the University of Chicago before receiving his master of arts and PhD degrees in government at Claremont Graduate School. The coauthor of three books on the American founding and sole author of a book on the political economy of the New Deal, he also has numerous articles, reviews, and opinion-editorials to his credit. His latest coauthored book, The New Deal & Modern American Conservatism: A Defining Rivalry, was published in 2013, and he most recently released as editor, Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787, in September 2014. He is the creator, with the help of the Ashbrook Center, of four highly regarded websites on the origin of the Constitution. He has received many teaching, scholarly, and leadership awards including admission to Phi Beta Kappa and the Howard White Award for Teaching Excellence at Pepperdine University. He currently serves on the National Advisory Council for the Walter and Leonore Annenberg Presidential Learning Center through the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation.

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Essay 65 – Guest Essayist: Gordon Lloyd

George Read (1733-1798) was born in Maryland from a line of Irish and Welsh immigrants. However, he was raised in Delaware. He died in New Castle and is buried in Immanuel Episcopal Churchyard in Newcastle. Read was educated in Pennsylvania where he studied law and admitted to the Philadelphia Bar at age 20. In 1754, he returned to Delaware. In 1763, he married the widowed sister of George Ross, fellow signer of the Declaration of Independence from Pennsylvania and uncle of Betsy Ross. What is impressive is Read’s forty-year involvement in local, state, and national politics during which time he embraced both the politics of reconciliation with Britain in 1776 and the politics of change from 1786.

Read was attorney general in the colonial government from 1763-1774, but opposed the Stamp Act despite his reputation as a moderate. He was elected to the first and second Continental Congress from 1774-1776 along with Thomas McKean. The third delegate, Caesar Rodney, attended at the conclusion of the discussions. Read initially voted against Richard Henry Lee’s Resolution for Independence on July 2; he was the only eventual signer to do so. He preferred to continue pursuing possible reconciliation with Britain rather than agreeing to a complete break.

McKean sent an urgent message to Rodney in Delaware to come to Philadelphia to break the tie in the Delaware vote on independence because of Read’s reluctance to make the final step to endorse independence. Rodney’s vote broke the tie. When Lee’s Resolution was adopted, however, Read accepted the vote of his two Delaware colleagues and signed the Declaration.

In 1776, Read was selected to the Constitutional Convention in Delaware, where he served on the committee to draft the new Delaware Constitution. In 1777, the British captured Delaware President (Governor) John McKinley and Read became emergency governor replacing Thomas McKean who served as acting president for a short time prior.

Read was twice elected State Senator under the new Delaware Constitution. Between 1782-1788, he devoted himself to political activities in Delaware.

Read attended the Annapolis Convention in 1786 that called for a Grand Convention to meet in Philadelphia May 1786 to reconsider the structure and powers of the general government under the Articles of Confederation. He then represented Delaware at the Constitutional Convention, where he signed the Constitution, attended the 1787 Delaware Ratifying Convention, served in the United States Senate (1789-1793), and then as Chief Justice of Delaware. George Read was among six delegates who signed both the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and then, eleven years later, the United States Constitution in 1787.

Read actually signed the Constitution twice, signing once for himself and once for fellow Delaware delegate John Dickinson who was at home sick with a migraine. William Pierce, a delegate from Georgia at the Constitutional Convention, penned sketches of fellow delegates to the 1787 Convention. According to William Pierce, Read’s “legal abilities are said to be very great, but powers of Oratory are fatiguing and tiresome to the last degree.”

Yet George Read was known for his consistency in moral duties and benevolent ways. He was respected for setting standards Delaware would find as useful precedents or even authoritative. Having lived to the age of 65, Read died on September 21, 1798.

Gordon Lloyd is the Robert and Katheryn Dockson Professor of Public Policy at Pepperdine University, and a Senior Fellow at the Ashbrook Center. He earned his bachelor of arts degree in economics and political science at McGill University. He completed all the course work toward a doctorate in economics at the University of Chicago before receiving his master of arts and PhD degrees in government at Claremont Graduate School. The coauthor of three books on the American founding and sole author of a book on the political economy of the New Deal, he also has numerous articles, reviews, and opinion-editorials to his credit. His latest coauthored book, The New Deal & Modern American Conservatism: A Defining Rivalry, was published in 2013, and he most recently released as editor, Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787, in September 2014. He is the creator, with the help of the Ashbrook Center, of four highly regarded websites on the origin of the Constitution. He has received many teaching, scholarly, and leadership awards including admission to Phi Beta Kappa and the Howard White Award for Teaching Excellence at Pepperdine University. He currently serves on the National Advisory Council for the Walter and Leonore Annenberg Presidential Learning Center through the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation.

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

 

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Essay 64 – Guest Essayist: Robert M. S. McDonald

Can one person’s vote make a difference? Just ask Caesar Rodney.

One of Delaware’s three delegates to the Continental Congress, in July 1776 he broke the tie within his delegation on the question of independence. This was a vote that mattered.

By no means was independence a foregone conclusion—even though Great Britain, for more than a decade, had trampled on Americans’ rights. It placed off limits to Americans lands they helped conquer in the French and Indian War, subjected colonists to taxation without representation, disregarded the right to trial by jury, closed down Boston harbor, dissolved elected legislatures, banned town meetings, and in April 1775 sent troops from Boston to Concord to seize the Massachusetts militia’s arms and ammunition, triggering a war.

Attempts to end the conflict while restoring American liberties went nowhere.

On June 7, 1776, Virginia delegate Richard Henry Lee advanced the momentous proposition that “these United Colonies are, and, of right, ought to be, Free and Independent States.”

Congress, which was meeting in Philadelphia, tabled the motion to give members time to consult with their colonies’ legislatures.

It also appointed Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Roger Sherman, Robert Livingston, and Thomas Jefferson to draft a declaration of independence in the event that Lee’s motion won Congress’s approval. Jefferson did nearly all the work, but it could have been a wasted effort.

Indeed, it almost was. On July 1 members of Congress took a non-binding test vote. While the delegations of nine colonies stood ready to vote for independence, New York—still awaiting instructions from its provincial assembly—had to abstain. Worse, the Pennsylvania and South Carolina delegations opposed independence.

And then there was Delaware. One delegate, Thomas McKean, supported cutting ties with Great Britain. The other, George Read, opposed the move.

McKean, anticipating this result, had already dispatched an urgent message to the colony’s third delegate, Caesar Rodney, who had absented himself from Congress to thwart a potential uprising of Delaware colonists still loyal to the king.

Learning that Congress would vote the next day on the question of independence, Rodney, a 47-year-old lawyer, rode more than 70 miles through thunder and lightning. He crossed several swollen rivers and fast-moving creeks. One account has him making the journey by carriage. Another has him on horseback and notes that he arrived the next morning, just in the nick of time, wearing his boots and spurs.

As he took his seat at the Pennsylvania State House (which, thanks in part to him, is now known as Independence Hall), all eyes focused on the unlikely hero. He was frail and suffered from chronic asthma. Worse still, advanced skin cancer had disfigured his nose and one side of his face, which he covered with a green silk scarf tied across his head.

John Adams, one of the fiercest proponents of independence, had described him uncharitably as “the oddest looking Man in the World.” On the morning of July 2, however, Adams must have considered him one of the most important men in the world.

Addressing the Continental Congress, Rodney declared that “I believe the voice of my constituents and of all sensible and honest men is in favor of Independence.” Adding that “my own judgment concurs with them,” he announced that “I vote for Independence.”

Delaware was now the tenth colony ready to declare itself an independent state.

To anxious supporters of independence, it must have seemed as if, after the previous night’s storm, the clouds had parted.

South Carolina delegate Edward Rutledge, who had hesitated the day before, moved South Carolina to favor breaking from Britain as well. Then Pennsylvanians John Dickinson and Robert Morris, who in the July 1 test vote had also opposed Lee’s resolution, rose from their chairs and left the remainder of Pennsylvania’s delegation to make theirs the twelfth to support independence.

With twelve colonies in favor of independence, none opposed, and New York’s delegation abstaining (until July 15, when finally it received instructions to favor independence as well), the United States of America was born.

Adams wrote home to predict that July 2 “will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary” and “the Day of Deliverance.” He predicted future “Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires, and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other.”

Instead, of course, the significance of July 2 is now largely forgotten. July 4—when Congress ratified Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence—came to be celebrated as the anniversary of America’s birth.

Like July 2, Caesar Rodney is now also largely forgotten. That’s a shame since his life was one of consequence. His epic ride alone earns him a place in America’s pantheon of heroes. He was also a militia officer, a member of his colony’s legislature, a delegate to the 1765 Stamp Act Congress, a judge, “president” (i.e., governor) of Delaware, and a member of Congress under the Articles of Confederation before succumbing to cancer in 1784.

In 1999 Rodney was honored when he was featured (on horseback) on the special-edition Delaware state quarter. In 2020, however, his statue (also on horseback) was removed from its pedestal in Rodney Square in Wilmington, Delaware’s capital city. The fundamental reason for this controversial decision is that he lived and died as a slaveholder.

Slavery as well as many other abhorrent forms of inequality were considered normal in the eighteenth century. Monarchy and tyranny were common nearly everywhere. To Caesar Rodney’s credit, he helped to establish the United States as an exception to this rule. He not only voted to break free from Britain but also signed the Declaration of Independence, which asserted the “self-evident” “truths” that all mankind are equally “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” Almost immediately, states with fewer slaves began either to abolish slavery or enact plans for gradual emancipation. Eventually, as the Civil War concluded, President Abraham Lincoln invoked the ideas of the American Revolution to outlaw slavery throughout the United States. The Revolution sparked many other gains for equality, as well. Even today, people appropriate its principles in support of liberty and equal rights.

Whether or not Caesar Rodney returns to his pedestal, his efforts in behalf of independence laid the foundation for a nation that continues to set an example for the world in the messy, dangerous, and uncertain struggle for individual rights.

Robert M. S. McDonald is Professor of History at the United States Military Academy at West Point, where he has taught since 1998. A specialist in the eras of the American Revolution and the Early American Republic, he is a graduate of the University of Virginia, Oxford University, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he earned his Ph.D. Professor McDonald is editor of the audio series, Thomas Jefferson: American Revolutionary (2020). He is the author of Confounding Father: Thomas Jefferson’s Image in His Own Time (2016) and editor of Thomas Jefferson’s Lives: Biographers and the Battle for History (2019), The American Revolution: Core Documents (2019), Sons of the Father: George Washington and His Protégés (2013), Light & Liberty: Thomas Jefferson and the Power of Knowledge (2012), and Thomas Jefferson’s Military Academy: Founding West Point (2004). He has published articles in the Journal of the Early Republic, The Historian, and Southern Cultures. A native of Stratford, Connecticut, he lives with his family in Cornwall-on-Hudson, New York.

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Essay 63 – Guest Essayist: Gary Porter
* Printmakers include Asher B. Durand, Henry Bryan Hall, Albert Rosenthal and Max Rosenthal. Draughtsmen include David McNeely Stauffer. Title from Calendar of Emmet Collection. Includes some photomechanical reproductions. Citation/reference : EM391 - This image is available from the New York Public Library's Digital Library under the digital ID 79df7b90-c605-012f-73bc-58d385a7bc34: digitalgallery.nypl.org → digitalcollections.nypl.org

Every American has heard the name Elizabeth Griscom, right? No? Perhaps you will recognize her by her married name: Elizabeth “Betsy” Ross, wife of John Ross. Ah, now we’re getting somewhere. Yes, Mrs. Ross was an accomplished seamstress and her particular work on a particular flag immortalized her name in American history. But Betsy also had a not-so-distant relative who should be just as famous, but is not. This relative is her uncle, George Ross, Jr. George Ross, Jr. signed an important American document in the summer of 1776.[i] It is to this “Colonel Ross” we turn today.

There were three sorts of delegates who attended the Continental Congress in the early to mid-summer of 1776. The first were those who took part in the debates over independence and were able to eventually sign the Declaration of Independence which resulted from those debates. The second were those who took part in the debates over independence and would not or never got to sign the declaration. The third were those who did not take part in the debates themselves but nevertheless had the opportunity to sign the final document. George Ross of Pennsylvania falls into the third category.

George Ross Jr. was born May 10, 1730, in Newcastle, Delaware, into a large family that could trace its lineage back to 1226 when Farquhar Ó Beólláin (1173-1251) was named the 1st Earl of Ross by King Alexander II of Scotland. Reverend George Ross Sr., with a fresh degree from Edinburgh, had arrived America in 1705[ii] as a missionary sent by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel.[iii] He served first as rector for Immanuel Church in Newcastle, Delaware[iv] from 1705 until 1708 and then again from 1714 to 1754. Ross served in other area churches as well. At St. James’ Mill Creek Church in Wilmington, Delaware, he conducted their first service on July 4, 1717. Reverend Ross thought highly enough of learning to see that each of his sixteen children (by two successive wives) received a solid homeschool education. George Jr. reportedly became proficient in Latin and Greek.[v]

At age twenty, without attending college (that we can document), George Jr. was admitted to the Pennsylvania Bar after two years of study in his half-brother John’s law office, and soon set up his own practice in nearby Lancaster, Pennsylvania. At some point Ross took on a client, a young lady, named Ann Lawler. A romance soon blossomed and they were married August 14, 1751. Ann was reportedly a strikingly beautiful young woman, the only child of a prominent local family. Together, George and Ann produced two sons and a daughter. “Beauty was a word that defined Ann Lawler Ross and her children, in particular. Tradition states that prior to 1760 the artist Benjamin West came to make the portraits of the Ross family at their lovely country home in Lancaster… Mr. Flower, a friend of both George Ross and Benjamin West stated, ‘The wife of Mr. Ross [Ann] was greatly celebrated for her beauty and she had several children so remarkable in this respect as to be objects of general notice.’”[vi] George, Ann and their growing family attended St. James Episcopal Church in Lancaster,[vii] where George became a vestryman.[viii]

Ross’ skill as a lawyer was quickly noticed, resulting in his appointment as Crown Prosecutor (Attorney General) for Carlisle, Pennsylvania, serving for 12 years. In 1768, he was elected to the Pennsylvania legislature, representing Lancaster. There his Tory politics began to change and he was soon heard supporting the growing calls for American independence.

On May 30, 1773, Ann Ross died unexpectedly at age 42, and was buried at Saint James Church Cemetery in Lancaster.

The next year George was elected to the First Continental Congress, receiving one less vote than Benjamin Franklin himself.[ix] The Congress opened on September 5, 1774 in Philadelphia and was notable for producing a compact among the colonies to boycott British goods unless parliament rescinded the Intolerable Acts (which they did not). The Congress is also notable for producing the Declaration and Resolves[x] which laid out the grievances of the colonies. While at the Congress, Ross continued to serve as a member of Pennsylvania’s Committee of Safety.

“Both his own State Legislature and the National Council (i.e. the Continental Congress), made [Ross] a mediator in difficulties which arose with the Indians, and he acted the noble part of a pacificator, and a true philanthropist.”[xi]

The Second Continental Congress convened May 10, 1775, in response to the skirmishes at Lexington and Concord. A commission as a Colonel in the Continental Army was soon added to Ross’ resume although there is no indication he saw combat. The following year, on June 7, 1776, Richard Henry Lee of Virginia offered a resolution in the Congress declaring the colonies independent. In the debate which ensued, it quickly became apparent that some delegations needed time to communicate with their legislatures, so a vote on the measure was postponed until July 1. News that the resolution had been introduced spread quickly and Ross was noted to be “a warm supporter of the resolution of Mr. Lee.”[xii]

On July 15, 1776, the Pennsylvania Legislature appointed Benjamin Franklin and George Ross president and vice-president, respectively, of a convention to draft Pennsylvania’s first state constitution. The convention meeting “above stairs” in the State House (above the room Congress was using) adopted a new constitution for the state on September 28, 1776.

The journal of Congress for July 19, 1776 reports: Resolved, That the Declaration passed on the 4th, be fairly engrossed on parchment, with the title and stile of “The unanimous declaration of the thirteen United States of America,” and that the same, when engrossed, be signed by every member of Congress.” It is this record which gives historians reason to claim that the Declaration was not signed on July 4, as was long the traditional narrative; the signing actually began much later after the engrossed copy was delivered.

There are 56 signatures on the engrossed copy of the Declaration. Eight men who had taken part in the July 4 vote to approve the Declaration never signed the document they debated.[xiii]

On July 20, Ross was appointed to replace either John Dickinson, Charles Humphreys or Thomas Willing (we are not sure which) as part of Pennsylvania’s delegation to the Congress.

John Dickinson presents an interesting case: Married to a Quaker, Dickinson strongly opposed going to war with Great Britain in order to obtain independence. When the July 1 vote took place – a non-binding, “test vote” in the Committee of the Whole – after an impassioned speech against the measure, Dickinson voted “No,” joining three other members of the Pennsylvania delegation in doing so. This made the delegation’s vote 4-3 against Lee’s resolution and a “No” vote was recorded for Pennsylvania (each colony got a single vote). Lee’s resolution passed, with nine of the thirteen colonies in favor, but the hoped-for unanimity had not materialized, as both Pennsylvania and South Carolina voted against it, New York’s delegation abstained since new instructions from their state had not yet arrived, and Delaware entered a null (split) vote as the votes of the two delegates who were present canceled each other.  South Carolina requested the formal vote, as the Congress, be delayed to the following day, July 2.

On July 2, several “providential” events occurred. First, Caesar Rodney of Delaware walked in, still in his spurs. Rodney was a Delaware delegate, but was too sick to attend the Congress the previous day.  Someone had ridden to his house the previous evening and informed him of Delaware’s split vote. Hearing this, Rodney had roused himself from his sickbed and ridden all night to Philadelphia. His vote in favor tipped the Delaware delegation’s vote to “Yes.” Over at the Pennsylvania table, there were two empty chairs where the day before had sat John Dickinson and Robert Morris, two of the previous day’s “No” votes.  Without these two gentlemen present, Pennsylvania’s delegation vote changed from 4-3 against the measure to 3-2 in favor of the measure.  South Carolina’s delegation had had an overnight change of heart and now voted in favor of the resolution. This left New York. Without new instructions (they did not arrive until July 19), New York had to once again abstain. This put the vote at twelve colonies in favor and one abstention. This was as close to the unanimity they were going to get that day, so President of Congress, John Hancock, declared the measure passed.

Dickinson promptly resigned his position in the Pennsylvania delegation, as did Humphreys and Willing. On July 20, George Ross joined the rest of the Pennsylvania delegation. Returning members were Dr. Benjamin Franklin, George Clymer, Robert Morris, Colonel James Wilson, John Morton, Dr. Benjamin Rush; and new members, Colonel James Smith, and George Taylor.

It was not unusual in that period for competent gentlemen to be given multiple, important responsibilities or postings. From July 20 to September 28, Franklin and Ross must have been quite the sight, walking upstairs and down, attending to their concurrent responsibilities in the Congress and the Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention. In addition to presiding as Vice-President, Ross also participated in drafting Pennsylvania’s Declaration of Rights.[xiv]

On August 2, George Ross joined the assembled delegates in adding his signature to the “Unanimous Declaration,” the last of the Pennsylvania delegation to do so.

The following year, 1777, Ross was reelected to the Continental Congress, but was forced to resign his seat before the session ended due to a recurrence of his chronic gout. The next year, he was elected Vice President of the Pennsylvania Assembly. In March of 1779, he was appointed a judge in the Pennsylvania Court of Admiralty, but four months later, on July 14, he died at the ripe young age of 49.[xv] He is buried in Philadelphia’s Christ Church Burial Ground.

The good citizens of Lancaster thought so highly of George Ross and his service to his country that they passed the following resolution:

“Resolved, that the sum of one hundred and fifty, pounds, out of the county stock, be forthwith transmitted to George Ross, one of the members of assembly for this county, and one of the delegates for this colony in the continental congress; and that he be requested to accept the same, as a testimony from this county, of their sense of his attendance on the public business, to his great private loss, and of their approbation of his conduct. Resolved, that if it be more agreeable, Mr. Ross purchase with part of the said money, a genteel piece of plate, ornamented as he thinks proper, to remain with him, as a testimony of the esteem this county has for him, by reason of his patriotic conduct, in the great struggle of American liberty.”[xvi]

Ross, however, declined this generous gift, stating to the committee which presented the resolution that his services to his country had been overrated, that he had been driven simply by his sense of duty, and that every man should contribute all his energy to promote the public welfare, without expecting pecuniary rewards.[xvii]

Visit Lancaster, Pennsylvania today and you will encounter George Ross Elementary School, Ross Street, and several historical markers commemorating “The Patriot George Ross.”

Many men seek greatness; a few of them find it. Some men have greatness thrust upon them. Other men quietly do their duty, to God and their country; George Ross was one of these men.

Gary Porter is Executive Director of the Constitution Leadership Initiative (CLI), a project to promote a better understanding of the U.S. Constitution by the American people. CLI provides seminars on the Constitution, including one for young people utilizing “Our Constitution Rocks” as the text. Gary presents talks on various Constitutional topics, writes periodic essays published on several different websites, and appears in period costume as James Madison, explaining to public and private school students “his” (i.e., Madison’s) role in the creation of the Bill of Rights and the Constitution. Gary can be reached at gary@constitutionleadership.org, on Facebook or Twitter (@constitutionled).

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

[i] Interestingly, George Ross’ sister, Gertrude, married George Read, who also went on to sign the Declaration.

[ii] https://www.immanuelonthegreen.org/.

[iii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Society_Partners_in_the_Gospel.

[iv] The church had been founded in 1689.

[v] J. B. Lossing, Signers of the Declaration of Independence, New York: Derby & Jackson, 1856, p. 130.

[vi] Descendants of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence – George Ross, accessed on 14 April 2021 at https://www.dsdi1776.com/signers-by-state/george-ross/.

[vii] St. James Episcopal Church of Lancaster was founded in 1744, also by a Church of England missionary.

[viii] https://www.hmdb.org/m.asp?m=5204.

[ix] https://lifewithldub.blogspot.com/2014/10/the-lancasters-hero-and-patriot-george.html.

[x] Read the Declaration at https://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/resolves.asp.

[xi] Ibid p. 132.

[xii] Op cit.

[xiii] Those unable or unwilling to sign the Declaration were John Alsop, George Clinton, Robert R. Livingston and Henry Wisner of New York; John Dickinson, Charles Humphreys and Thomas Willing of Pennsylvania; and John Rogers of Maryland.  All had left the Congress by August 2nd when the signing of the engrossed copy began.

[xiv] https://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/document/pennsylvania-declaration-of-rights-and-constitution/

[xv] One source sets Ross’ death in 1780 and the age of 50.  See https://www.patriotacademy.com/george-ross-lives-fortunes-sacred-honor/.

[xvi] http://colonialhall.com/ross/ross.php.

[xvii] Robert R. Conrad, ed, Sanderson’s Biography of the Signers to the Declaration of Independence, Philadelphia, 1846. P.439

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Essay 62 – Guest Essayist: Joerg Knipprath

James Wilson was one of the most intellectually gifted Americans of his time. His cumulative influence on pre-Revolutionary War political consciousness, formation of the governments under the Constitution of 1787 and Pennsylvania’s constitution of 1790, and early Supreme Court jurisprudence likely is second-to-none. Along the way, he amassed a respectable fortune, and took his place as a leading member of the political and economic elite that played such a critical role in the events leading to American independence. That said, he was not immune to the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,” in the words of the Bard, but, for the most part, he did not suffer them in the mind. Rather, more often, he chose “to take arms [sometimes literally]…and, by opposing, end them.”

Wilson moved to Philadelphia from his native Scotland in 1766, at age 24. Prior to emigrating, he was educated at Scottish universities. There, he was influenced by the ideas of Scottish Enlightenment thinkers, such as David Hume and Adam Smith. Their ruminations about human nature, the concept of knowledge, and the ethical basis of political rule shaped Wilson’s intellectual ideas which he made concrete in later political actions and judicial opinions.

It appears that Smith’s influence was more constructive than Hume’s. The latter denied the essential existence of such concepts as virtue and vice. Hume instead characterized them as artificial constructs or mere opinion. Wilson was critical of Hume’s patent skepticism, deeming it flawed and derogatory of what Wilson saw as the moral sensibilities integral to human nature. He considered Hume’s skepticism inconsistent with what he viewed as the ethical basis of the political commonwealth, that is, consent of the governed. As he wrote later, “All men are, by nature equal and free: no one has a right to any authority over another without his consent: all lawful government is founded on the consent of those who are subject to it.” However, Wilson also believed, along with John Adams and many other republicans of the time, that such consent could only be given by a virtuous people. In short, Wilson’s democratic vision was elitist in practice. The governed whose consent mattered were the propertied classes. The others might register their consent, but only under the watchful eyes of their virtuous betters in society.

After arriving in Pennsylvania, he studied law under John Dickinson, another member of the emerging political elite. While so occupied, he also lectured, mostly on English literature, at the College of Philadelphia, site of the first medical school in North America. He had arrived at an institution that was connected to an astonishing number of American founders. Despite its relatively recent founding in 1755, it counted 21 members of the Continental Congress as graduates; nine signers of the Declaration of Independence were alumni or trustees; five signers of the Constitution held degrees from the College, and another five were among its trustees.

There, Wilson successfully petitioned to receive an honorary Master’s degree, to remedy his failure to complete his studies for a formal degree at the Scottish universities. His scholarly association with the College of Philadelphia continued the rest of his life, including after its merger into the University of Pennsylvania in 1791. At that time, Wilson took on a lectureship in law for a couple of years, only the second such position established in the United States, after the Chair in Law and Police held by George Wythe at the College of William and Mary. The University of Pennsylvania traces its eventual law school to Wilson’s position.

Wilson practiced law in Reading, Pennsylvania. His talent and connections quickly produced financial security. He turned his attention to politics amid the stirrings of conflict with the British government. In 1768, he wrote, “Considerations on the Nature and Extent of the Legislative Authority of the British Parliament.” In this pamphlet, Wilson denied the authority of Parliament to tax the American colonists because of the latters’ lack of representation in that body. Perhaps because it was too early to mount a direct constitutional challenge to the authority of Parliament to govern, this seminal work was not published until 1774. Despite his negation of Parliamentary authority, Wilson did not advocate sundering all ties with the mother country. Rather, he emphasized the connection between England and her colonies through the person of King George. Wilson’s union cemented by a pledge of allegiance to the king was a rudimentary plan for the type of dominion system that John Adams and Thomas Jefferson also proposed in separate missives that same year. In an ironic postscript, the British ministry offered, too late, a similar structure as a way to end the war in 1778. It was a system the British a century later instituted for other parts of their empire.

In 1774, Wilson was elected to the local revolutionary Committee of Correspondence. When the Second Continental Congress was called in 1775, Wilson was elected to the Pennsylvania delegation. With the Adamses—John and Sam—, Jefferson, the Lees of Virginia— Richard Henry and Francis—, and Christopher Gadsden—the “Sam Adams of the South” and designer of the Gadsden Flag—Wilson was among the most passionate pro-independence voices as that Congress deliberated.

Then occurred an odd turn of events. When Richard Henry Lee’s motion for independence came up for debate on June 7, 1776, consideration had to be postponed because Pennsylvania, along with four other colonies, was not prepared to vote in favor. John Dickinson, Wilson’s close friend and law teacher, was part of the peace faction. Did that influence Wilson’s vote? Was Wilson really a pro-independence radical, as his writings and soaring rhetoric in Congress indicated? Or was he an elite conservative reluctantly floating along with the tide of opinion among others of his class? Wilson and others in his delegation claimed that they merely wanted clearer instructions from their colony’s provincial congress. In a preliminary vote within the Pennsylvania delegation on July 1, 1776, Wilson broke with Dickinson and voted for independence. When Congress voted on Lee’s motion the next day, Dickinson and Robert Morris stayed away. Wilson, Benjamin Franklin, and John Morton then cast Pennsylvania’s vote in favor of the motion and independence.

During the Revolutionary War, Wilson divided his time between Congress and opposing Pennsylvania’s new constitution. He also returned to private law practice and served on the board of directors of the Bank of North America. That bank was the brainchild of fellow-Pennsylvanian Robert Morris, another personal friend with whom Wilson also worked closely on the financial matters of the United States.

Wilson continued his life-long practice of land speculation, the vocation of some among the American elite, and the avocation of most others, elite or not-so-elite. The country was land-rich and people-poor. Investors gambled that, after peace was restored, the British pro-Indian and anti-settlement policy of the Proclamation of 1763, which had prohibited American settlement of the interior, would be overturned. Western lands finally would be opened to immigrants. Wilson, along with Robert Morris and many other prominent Americans and some foreigners, had organized the largest of the land companies, the Illinois-Wabash Company, even before the war. Wilson eventually became its head and largest investor. The intrigue among the Company, politicians in various states, delegates to Congress, and agents of foreign governments to gain access to large tracts of trans-Appalachian lands presents a fascinating tale of its own.

The Illinois-Wabash Company was not Wilson’s only venture in land speculation. He co-founded another company and also purchased rights to large tracts individually or in partnership with others. It has been estimated that, directly or through investment entities, Wilson had interests in well over a million acres of Western land. Much of this land bounty was financed through debt. Creditors want cash payment, and highly-leveraged debtors are particularly vulnerable to economic contractions. Land values drop as land goes unsold, and cash in the form of gold and silver specie becomes scarce. Bank notes no longer trade at par, reflecting the financial instability of their issuers. Like his business associate and political ally Robert Morris, Wilson was hit hard by the Panic of 1796-7. He was briefly incarcerated twice in debtor’s prison, even after fleeing Pennsylvania for North Carolina to avoid his creditors. More astounding even was that these events occurred while he was on the U.S. Supreme Court and performing his circuit riding duties.

One sling of outrageous fortune against which Wilson literally took arms occurred on October 4, 1779. After the British abandoned Philadelphia, the revolutionary government undertook to exile Loyalists and seize their property. As John Adams had done for the British soldiers accused of murder in the Boston Massacre in 1770, Wilson successfully took up the unpopular cause of defending 23 of the Loyalists. The public response to Wilson’s admirable legal ethics was more militant than what Adams had experienced. Incited by the speeches of Pennsylvania’s radical anti-Loyalist president, Joseph Reed, a drunken mob attacked Wilson and 35 other prominent citizens of Philadelphia. The mob’s quarry managed to barricade themselves in Wilson’s house and shot back. In the ensuing melee, one man inside the house was killed. When the mob tried to breach the back entrance of the house, the attackers were beaten back in hand-to-hand combat. The fighting continued, with the mob using a cannon to fire at the house. At that point, a detachment of cavalry appeared, led by the same Joseph Reed, and dispersed the mob. It is estimated that five of the mob were killed and nearly a score wounded. Members of the mob were arrested, but no prosecutions were launched, allegedly to calm the situation. Eventually, all were pardoned by Reed.

The Fort Wilson Riot, as it became known colloquially, had more complicated origins and produced more profound changes than one can address in detail in an essay about Wilson. It arose from difficult economic circumstances and rising prices due to food shortages. The lower classes were particularly hard hit, and popular resentment simmered for months, punctuated by gatherings and publications which none-too-subtly threatened upheaval. During that volatile time, Wilson was accused of “engrossing,” that is, hoarding goods with the intent to drive up prices. This may have made him an even more likely target for the mob’s wrath than having defended Loyalists.

As well, the friction between the lower classes and the merchant bourgeoisie was manifested in competing political factions, the Constitutionalists and the Republicans. The former supported the radically democratic Pennsylvania constitution of 1776, which placed power in a unicameral legislature closely monitored through frequent elections. They stressed the need for sacrifice for the common good, done on a voluntary basis or by government force. The latter opposed that charter as the cause of ineffective government and destructive policies which threatened property rights. In the end, the two competing visions of republicanism settled their political conflict during the riot. The mob had violated an unwritten rule of protest, and popular opinion shifted against the Constitutionalists. Wilson’s Republicans had won. They would determine the subsequent political direction of the state, which became the critical factor in Pennsylvania’s struggle to approve the proposed U.S. Constitution in the fall of 1787. The shift in political fortunes culminated in 1790 in a significantly different constitution, one of more balanced powers controlled by the political elite and containing explicit protections of property rights.

Perhaps Wilson’s greatest contribution to America’s founding was his participation in the constitutional convention in Philadelphia in May, 1787. He became one of only six to sign both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, the others being George Clymer, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Morris, George Read, and Roger Sherman.

One of the most accomplished lawyers in the country, John Rutledge of South Carolina, future Supreme Court justice and, briefly, the Court’s chief justice, stayed at Wilson’s home during this time. The historian Forrest McDonald describes a plan by Rutledge and Wilson to “manage” the convention. Apparently, Wilson made similar plans with James Madison, Robert Morris, and Gouverneur Morris (no relation). Rutledge, in turn, was scheming with others. To complete the intrigue, Wilson and Rutledge kept their side discussions secret from each other. The plan seemed to bear fruit when Wilson and Rutledge were appointed to the Committee of Detail, charged with writing the substantive provisions of the Constitution from the delegates’ positions manifested in the votes of the state delegations. Considering the committee’s final product, however, their success appears to have been less than spectacular. It was not for lack of trying, however. Wilson spoke 165 times at the convention, more than anyone other than Gouverneur Morris.

Like his fellow connivers, Wilson took a very strong “nationalist” position in the convention. He was instrumental in the creation of the executive branch. Reacting against the weakness of the multiple executive structure of the Pennsylvania executive council model and the lack of an effective balance of power among the branches of government under his state’s constitution, he, like Alexander Hamilton, believed a unitary executive to be essential. The necessary “energy, dispatch, and responsibility to the office” would be assured best if a single person were in charge of the executive authority. As well, such a person would be positioned to blunt the self-interest of political factions which are endemic to legislatures. Wilson objected to the original proposal to have the president elected by the whole Congress or by the Senate alone. Instead, he proposed, the president should be elected by the people. Very few delegates had a taste for such unbridled democracy. Wilson then fell back to his second line of argument, that the president be selected by presidential electors chosen by the people of the states, but with the states divided into districts proportioned by population, like today’s congressional districts. This, too, was defeated by eight states to two. The matter was tabled for weeks. In the end, the current system, one that dilutes majoritarian control and favors the influence of states in their corporate capacity, prevailed.

An explanation of the term “nationalist.” As used herein, it has the classic meaning associated with the concept as it relates to the period of the founding of the United States and subsequent decades. It describes those who identified more with the new “nation,” i.e. the United States, than with the individual colonies, soon to become states, of their birth. Generalizations are, by definition, imprecise. Still, the most ardent American nationalists of the time were those who, like Wilson, Robert Morris, and Hamilton, were born abroad; those who, like Rutledge and Dickinson, had traveled or otherwise spent considerable time in Europe; and those who had significant business connections abroad. They also tended to be younger. The difference between these outlooks was less significant for the process of separating from Britain, than it was for the controversies over forming a “national” government and an identity of the “United States” through the Articles of Confederation and, subsequently, the Constitution of 1787. The nationalists sought to amend and, later, to abandon the Articles. As to the Constitution, the nationalists at the Philadelphia convention supported a stronger central government and, on the whole, more “democratic” components for that government than their opponents did. They also generally opposed a bill of rights as ostentatious ideological frippery. In the struggle over the states’ approval of the Constitution, they styled themselves as “Federalists” as a political maneuver and characterized their opponents as “Anti-Federalists.” After the Constitution was approved, most of them associated with Hamilton’s policies and the Federalist Party. In the sectionalist frictions before the Civil War, they were the “Unionists.” Regrettably, like other words in our hypersensitive culture, the term has been ideologically corrupted recently, so that its obvious meaning has become slanted. Paradoxically, even as the central government becomes powerful beyond the wildest charges of the Constitution’s early critics, the very concept of the United States as a “nation” is today under attack.

In the long wrangling over the structure of Congress, Wilson urged proportional representation, as he had done unsuccessfully a decade earlier in the debate over the Articles of Confederation. He also supported direct election of Congress by the people. In light of his moderate democratic faith in the consent of the governed, and coming as he did from a populous state, his position is hardly surprising. That noted, he favored a bicameral legislature with an upper chamber that would restrain the more numerous lower chamber and its tendency towards radical policies. The insecurity of property rights that resulted from the policies of the Constitutionalist-dominated unicameral Pennsylvania legislature had alarmed Wilson. Wilson adhered to his support for proportional representation in the Senate and direct popular election. Like his fellow large-state delegates Madison and Hamilton, eventually he resigned himself to the state-equality basis of the Senate under Roger Sherman’s Connecticut compromise and to election of that body by the state legislatures. He also supported the three-fifths clause of counting slaves for the purpose of apportionment of representatives. The purpose of that clause, first presented in 1783 as a proposed amendment to the Articles of Confederation, originally was part of a formula to assess taxes on the states based on population rather than property value. That purpose is also reflected in Article I of the Constitution.

During the debate in the Pennsylvania convention over the adoption of the Constitution, Wilson delivered his famous Speech in the State House Yard, a precursor to many arguments developed more fully in The Federalist. Wilson systematically addressed the claims of the Constitution’s critics. He defended his opposition to a Bill of Rights, declaring such a document to be superfluous and, indeed, inconsistent with a charter for a federal government of only delegated and enumerated powers. Copies of the speech were circulated widely by the Constitution’s supporters.

There were those, like Richard Henry Lee of Virginia, who claimed that the drafting convention in Philadelphia had gone beyond its mandate to propose only amendments to the Articles of Confederation and that, as a consequence, the proposed Constitution was revolutionary. Wilson drew on his philosophical roots to declare that “the people may change the constitutions whenever and however they please. This is a right of which no positive institution can ever deprive them.” This notion of popular constitutional change outside the formal amendment method set out in Article V of the Constitution was a self-evident truth to many Americans at the time. It has become much more controversial, as Americans have moved from the revolutionary ethos of the 1780s and a robust commitment to popular sovereignty to today’s more pliant population governed by an increasingly distant and unaccountable elite.

Wilson next turned his attention to the adoption of a new state constitution in Pennsylvania. At the same time, he sought the chief justiceship of the United States Supreme Court. Although that office went to John Jay of New York, President Washington appointed Wilson to be an associate justice. In that capacity, he participated in several significant early cases. As expected, he consistently took a nationalistic position. Thus, in 1793 in Chisholm v. Georgia, he joined the majority of justices in holding that the federal courts could summon states as defendants in actions brought by citizens of other states and to adjudicate those states’ obligations without their consent. Wilson reasoned that the Constitution was the product of the sovereignty of the people of the United States. This sovereignty, exercised for purposes of Union, had subordinated the states to suits in federal court as defined in Article III. The decision ran contrary to the long-established common law doctrine of state sovereign immunity. Swift and hostile political reaction in Georgia and Congress culminated in the adoption of the Eleventh Amendment to overturn Chisholm.

Wilson joined two other nationalistic decisions. One was the unpopular Ware v. Hylton in 1796, which upheld the rights of British creditors to collect fully debts owed to them. Those rights were guaranteed under the Paris Treaty that ended the Revolutionary War, but conflicted with a Virginia law that sought to limit those rights. Like his fellow-justices, Wilson applied the Supremacy Clause to strike down the state law. But he also recognized the binding nature of the law of nations, which had devolved to the United States on independence. The other was Hylton v. U.S. the same year, which upheld the constitutionality of the federal Carriage Tax Act. The case was an early exercise of the power of constitutional review by the Court over acts of Congress and a precursor to Marbury v. Madison. That power was one which Wilson had strenuously urged in the constitutional convention nine years earlier in support of a strong federal judiciary.

Depressed about his precarious economic situation and worn out from the rigors of circuit-riding duties as a Supreme Court justice, Wilson died from a stroke in 1798.

Joerg W. Knipprath is an expert on constitutional law, and member of the Southwestern Law School faculty, Professor Knipprath has been interviewed by print and broadcast media on a number of related topics ranging from recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to presidential succession. He has written opinion pieces and articles on business and securities law as well as constitutional issues, and has focused his more recent research on the effect of judicial review on the evolution of constitutional law. He has also spoken on business law and contemporary constitutional issues before professional and community forums, and serves as a Constituting America Fellow. Read more from Professor Knipprath at: http://www.tokenconservative.com/.

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

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Essay 61 – Guest Essayist: Tom Hand

George Taylor was a foreign-born patriot who began his adult life as an indentured servant, but rose to be one of the 56 Signers of the Declaration of Independence. This relatively unknown man’s life is emblematic of the many everyday Americans who helped in our cause for independence.

Taylor’s story began in Ireland where he was born sometime in 1716, though we do not know the exact date or location. Interestingly, Taylor was one of eight foreign-born Signers. Button Gwinnett, Francis Lewis, Robert Morris, James Smith, George Taylor, Matthew Thornton, James Wilson, and John Witherspoon were the others, all from the British Isles.

It is generally agreed that his father was a Protestant minister, but not much else of his childhood was documented. We do know that to obtain the money required for passage to America in 1736, Taylor agreed to become an indentured servant to Samuel Savage, Jr., an ironmaster at Coventry Forge near Philadelphia.

Indentured servitude was a system by which a person would agree to teach someone (the indentured servant) a profession or pay the fare for them to come to America and, in return, the indentured servant would agree to work for room and board, but no wages, for that person for a period of about three to five years.

Interestingly, this practice of indentured servitude was quite common in early America. It is estimated over half of all European immigrants to America between the early 1600s and the 1770s came as indentured servants. Not surprisingly, they tended to be the very poor. Taylor was the only one of the Signers who was ever an indentured servant.

In any event, Taylor began his time for Mr. Savage as a shoveler of coal into the blast furnace at the forge. Probably owing to some education he received as a boy, Taylor was brighter than most and soon moved into a clerk’s position. He must have done well and impressed those around him because when his boss died in 1742, Taylor married Savage’s widow, Ann, just a few months later. Eventually, they had two children together.

Incredibly, in the space of six years, Taylor had gone from a penniless laborer who could not afford passage to America to the ironmaster of two iron works with a wealthy wife thrown into the bargain. Moreover, in 18th century British America, Taylor’s position as ironmaster, which was essentially an entrepreneur of a large-scale operation, made him a person of significance in the local community. Not surprisingly, Taylor was the one and only ironmaster among the Signers.

In 1752, when Taylor’s stepson, Samuel Savage III, came of age, Taylor had to relinquish the family business to him. The next year, George and Ann moved to Durham, Pennsylvania, and took out a five-year lease with an option for five more at the Durham Iron Works. The business prospered and even manufactured munitions for the Pennsylvania Provincial militia during the French and Indian War.

In 1763, when the Durham lease expired, the Taylors moved to Easton, about ten miles away. Here, George got more involved in politics and was elected to the Provincial Assembly from 1764-1772 and was elected as Justice of the Peace for Northampton County. He also built a beautiful stone mansion which still stands today overlooking the Lehigh River. Unfortunately, Ann died soon after completing the house. George lived there for a couple years before moving in with his son James in Allentown, Pennsylvania.

Perhaps bored and missing work, Taylor returned to Durham in 1774 and took out another five-year lease at the iron works. By 1775, relations with England had deteriorated and war had broken out at Lexington and Concord on April 19. Taylor soon signed a contract to produce cannon balls for the Continental Army, becoming the first foundry in America to supply this new force.

In the summer of 1776, the Second Continental Congress was prepared to declare our independence from England. Unfortunately, five of the nine delegates, a majority, from Pennsylvania were opposed to this declaration. The Pennsylvania Assembly quickly fired these unwilling men and found five that were more willing to vote in favor of the resolution. George Taylor was one of these new delegates and he proudly signed his name to our Declaration of Independence.

Taylor’s health soon declined and his time in Congress was limited to only seven months. When his lease at Durham expired in 1779, Taylor returned to Easton where he leased a small stone house. When he died on February 23, 1781, George was with his companion and housekeeper, Naomi Smith, a woman he met after Ann passed away and by whom he had fathered five children.

WHY IT MATTERS: So why should George Taylor and what he did for America matter to us today?

George Taylor was a patriot who began his adult life as an indentured servant, but rose to be one of the 56 Signers of the Declaration of Independence. Perhaps no other Signer so greatly exemplifies the opportunity our great country affords to those willing to work to better themselves.

While most people are unfamiliar with George Taylor, he was a significant man and a great patriot, nonetheless. George Taylor was there when his country needed him and you cannot ask more than that of anyone.

SUGGESTED READING: The History of Weapons of the American Revolution by George Newman is an excellent book published in 1967. It provides a thorough analysis of the weaponry of the 1700s.

PLACES TO VISIT: Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site near Elverson, Pennsylvania (50 miles east of Philadelphia) is a beautifully restored “iron plantation” of over 800 acres and includes 14 buildings from the early 1800s. Founded in 1781, this sort of site was key to America’s Industrial Revolution. It is a great place to visit.

Until next time, may your motto be “Ducit Amor Patriae,” Love of country leads me.

Tom Hand is creator and publisher of Americana Corner. Tom is a West Point graduate, and serves on the board of trustees for the American Battlefield Trust as well as the National Council for the National Park Foundation. Click Here to Like Tom’s Facebook Page Americana Corner. Click Here to follow Tom’s Instagram Account.

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Essay 60 – Guest Essayist: Ertis Tereziu

James Smith was born in Ireland in 1719. He spent his formative years in Ireland, arriving in Pennsylvania between the ages of ten to twelve.  James’ father was a humble farmer but was able to put James through an average education from a local Church Minister. As James grew older, he started to take interest in the law. Through his hard work, James was admitted to the Pennsylvania Bar at the age of twenty-six. He set up his practice in Cumberland County, near Shippensburg. However, business was slow in Cumberland County, so, after four years James made the choice to move to the more populated New York. During the 1760s Smith joined the local Whig party, quickly rising to leadership.

As relations with Great Britain deteriorated, Smith emerged as an advocate of ideas that would soon come to define the new nation. For example, in 1774, he attended a provincial assembly where he offered a paper titled: “Essay on the Constitutional Power of Great Britain over the Colonies in America.” James recognized the purchasing power of the colonies and sought to leverage that against the British. As such, his paper spoke on a boycott of British goods. Mercantilism had built Great Britain into an empire and James Smith wanted mercantilism to do the same for the colonies. He saw Parliament’s policies as stifling to colonial trade.  The paper advocated for a boycott because Smith believed a boycott would force Parliament to acquiesce to colonial demands by applying pressure to the British economy.

The paper also spoke on a more independent version of the colonies, promoting the idea of a General Congress of the Colonies. The best way to protect one’s rights is to be in charge of them, to keep them as a bundle of sticks in one’s own bag. These ideas would become major points in the First Continental Congress adjourned in Philadelphia in the Fall of 1774.

Always the leader, James Smith then went on to organize a volunteer militia company in New York. Earning the respect of his men, he was elected as Captain. Smith was also a great recruiter, growing the company into a battalion. He understood the concept of the price of freedom. He also understood the age-old truth that the pen is mightier than the sword. James Smith would pass leadership of the militia to younger men so that he could focus on rallying the young nation around the ideas of freedom and self-determination.

While still serving the state assembly in 1775, Smith made a name for himself as a supporter of the causes of American freedom which now appeared to be possible only by separation. Thomas Paine’s articles in Common Sense began to turn public opinion to the idea of independency. The Second Continental Congress had been meeting in Philadelphia since May 10, 1775. Soon after, the colonies would raise their own army, appointing George Washington as its General.

James Smith was appointed to the provincial convention in Philadelphia in 1775, then the state constitutional convention in 1776, and eventually was elected to the Continental Congress the same year. Smith was in Congress for only two years, retiring in 1777. He then served in a few public offices: one term in the State assembly, a few months as a judge of the state High Court of Appeals. In 1782, Smith was appointed Brigadier General of the Pennsylvania militia. He was reelected to Congress in 1785, but declined to attend due to growing old in age.

However, a fire destroyed his office and papers shortly before he passed away. Because of this incident, not much is known about James Smith’s work. The result is that historians study Smith not through his journals, but through his actions. And his act of bravely signing the Declaration of Independence shows the world that James Smith believed that all men are created equal and are endowed with certain unalienable rights.

Ertis Tereziu came to America as a child, and he possesses a background that gives him a unique appreciation for the United States system of government. Ertis is currently an attorney at Novara Tesija Catenacci McDonald & Baas, where he loves getting lost in the law. Connect with Ertis on LinkedIn at ertistereziu.

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

Sources:

  1. https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/declaration-transcript
  2. https://www.ushistory.org/declaration/signers/smith.html
  3. https://www.dsdi1776.com/james-smith/

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Essay 59 – Guest Essayist: Gordon Lloyd

George Clymer (1739-1813) was born in Philadelphia, orphaned the next year, and then mentored to be a merchant and responsible citizen by his wealthy uncle. He died in Morrisville, Pennsylvania at age 74 and was buried in Trenton, New Jersey. In addition to being economically, and politically, active, Clymer supported the abolition of slavery and the development of the practical arts and sciences.

Clymer was an early supporter of the movement for independence; he opposed both the Tea Act and the Stamp Act in the early 1770s. He served as Continental treasurer, a representative in the Pennsylvania legislature, and delegate to the Second Continental Congress.

He was one of six delegates to sign the 1776 Declaration of Independence, and then the 1787 Constitution as part of the Constitutional Convention. The other five delegates who signed both documents included Benjamin Franklin, Robert Morris, George Read, Roger Sherman, and James Wilson.

Clymer was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1789 where he supported Sherman in the successful effort to pass the Bill of Rights in 1791. He also helped President George Washington enforce whiskey excise taxes in Pennsylvania.

Despite Clymer’s extensive involvement in the story of the American founding, he is not on the list of influential, or even underrated founders.  We attribute this to Clymer’s inclination to work behind the scenes on the various committees to which his colleagues elected him. He reminds us of the steady and vital work done by individuals who do not seek the limelight. Contemporary William Pierce of Georgia, who provided character sketches of multiple founders, portrayed him as “a respectable man, and much esteemed.”

Gordon Lloyd is the Robert and Katheryn Dockson Professor of Public Policy at Pepperdine University, and a Senior Fellow at the Ashbrook Center. He earned his bachelor of arts degree in economics and political science at McGill University. He completed all the course work toward a doctorate in economics at the University of Chicago before receiving his master of arts and PhD degrees in government at Claremont Graduate School. The coauthor of three books on the American founding and sole author of a book on the political economy of the New Deal, he also has numerous articles, reviews, and opinion-editorials to his credit. His latest coauthored book, The New Deal & Modern American Conservatism: A Defining Rivalry, was published in 2013, and he most recently released as editor, Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787, in September 2014. He is the creator, with the help of the Ashbrook Center, of four highly regarded websites on the origin of the Constitution. He has received many teaching, scholarly, and leadership awards including admission to Phi Beta Kappa and the Howard White Award for Teaching Excellence at Pepperdine University. He currently serves on the National Advisory Council for the Walter and Leonore Annenberg Presidential Learning Center through the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation.

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

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Essay 58 – Guest Essayist: Ron Meier
Public Domain in the United States - John Morton, Signer of the Declaration of Independence

In the 2016 and 2020 general elections, Pennsylvania was considered a “battleground state” and a “swing state.”  It seems that not much has changed since 1776.

Pennsylvania’s political landscape and physical location insulated it to some extent from the revolutionary fever of New England. The stability of the Colonial government was popular among many Pennsylvanians, with the Penn family ruling over the colony since 1681 when William Penn received the land grant from King Charles II.  Revolutionary activists were considered a threat to this stability and a personal threat to the power and wealth of the Penn family. Even in the spring of 1776, Pennsylvania’s official political position was opposition to independence. Fortunately, Philadelphia was somewhat central among the colonies and was chosen as the place where delegates from each of the colonies would meet.

The state with the most signers of the Declaration of Independence was Pennsylvania with nine, leading one to believe that the colony was among the most united in favor of independence. However, six of the nine were not even present on the critical days of voting for independence. In the spring of 1776, a more apt description of the situation in Pennsylvania might be “chaos.” A clash of the more radical against the ruling class was in play. John Dickinson and Robert Morris were strong supporters of the status quo, preferring reconciliation with Britain rather than revolution. Pennsylvania’s provincial legislature had instructed its delegates to the Second Continental Congress to vote against independence.

In late May, with the backing of the Second Continental Congress, the radicals effectively orchestrated a coup to create a new constitution and government. A newly created and short-lived Provincial Conference, consisting of those arguing for independence, replaced the existing legislature and, as one of the existing legislature’s last acts, the Assembly gave new instructions to the delegates at the Continental Congress to vote for independence. Among the five delegates to the Continental Congress remaining on July 1, only two of them, Ben Franklin and James Wilson were in favor of independence; John Dickinson and Robert Morris were not in favor when the first vote for independence was taken on July 1. John Morton was on the fence, somewhat surprising since, in his last act as Speaker of the Pennsylvania Assembly, he signed the document giving instructions to the Pennsylvania delegation to vote in favor of independence. Several other delegates opposed to independence had become frustrated and either resigned or simply ceased attending the Congress.

When the final vote for independence was taken in the Congress on July 2, Dickinson and Morris abstained, Morton finally declared support, ensuring a 3-0 vote for independence. Thus, John Morton became Pennsylvania’s swing vote and the man largely responsible for ensuring a “yes” vote for independence on July 2, 1776. So, who was this swing voter?

John Morton was born in 1725. He was a descendent of a Finnish family which had come to the colonies in the mid-17th century. His father died while John’s mother was pregnant. His mother remarried an English farmer and surveyor. John had little formal education, but his stepfather home-schooled John, giving him the ethical and practical education he needed to succeed in life.

At 31, he was elected to the Pennsylvania Assembly, Pennsylvania’s legislative branch, where he remained for all but two years until the Assembly’s dissolution in 1776, at which time he was the Assembly’s Speaker. His two years outside of the Assembly were when his county’s sheriff died and Morton was appointed sheriff.

Among his other political positions, he was Justice of the Peace, Presiding Judge of the Court of General Quarters Session, Common Pleas of the County of Chester, Associate Judge of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania and Justice of Orphan’s Court.

Morton’s first responsibility for petitioning the King for redress of rights was his appointment to the Stamp Act Congress in 1765. From that first act of the colonists until the final vote on July 2, 1776, the colonists’ primary objective was not to seek independence, but to protest unjust actions of the British Parliament and to remain loyal to the mother country by seeking reconciliation. The repeated refusal of the British Parliament and King to consider their requests over the subsequent 10 years drove the colonists to unite for independence in the end.

So highly regarded was Morton in Pennsylvania’s Assembly that he was chosen to represent Pennsylvania in both the First and Second Continental Congresses. His decisiveness on July 2 was critical since only Pennsylvania and Delaware had not yet committed to approving Richard Henry Lee’s resolution “that these united colonies are and of right ought to be free and independent states.” Morton’s Yea vote may have been the primary reason the resolution was approved by the Congress and for our annual celebration of Independence Day on July 4. Unfortunately, Morton is not represented on John Trumbull’s famous portrait of the Continental Congress meeting on June 28, 1776, when the Committee of Five presented its draft to the Congress.

Morton thereafter served as Chairman of the Committee of the Whole that wrote the Articles of Confederation, the document under which the United States operated during the Revolutionary War. He was the first of the signers of the Declaration of Independence to die, in 1777, not living to see the adoption of the Articles of Confederation.

During the Revolutionary War, the British destroyed the Morton family home and its contents, including many of Morton’s papers, leaving little documentary evidence of his role in state and national politics. Morton is one of the least known signers of the Declaration of Independence, but one without whom the document may not have come into existence.

Ron Meier is a West Point graduate and Vietnam War veteran.  He is a student of American history, with a focus on our nation’s founding principles and culture, the Revolutionary War, and the challenges facing America’s Constitutional Republic in the 20th and 21st centuries.  Ron won Constituting America’s Senior Essay contest in 2014 and is author of Common Sense Rekindled: A Rejuvenation of the American Experiment, featured on Constituting America’s Recommended Reading List.

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

Sources:

https://www.nps.gov/inde/learn/historyculture/resources-declarationofindependence.htm

http://dev.ushistory.org/pennsylvania/birth2.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_colonial_governors_of_Pennsylvania

https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Franklin/01-22-02-0280

https://declaration.fas.harvard.edu/blog/facts-1776

https://declaration.fas.harvard.edu/blog/trumbull

https://archive.schillerinstitute.com/educ/hist/eiw_this_week/v1n17_jul1_1776.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Signing_of_the_United_States_Declaration_of_Independence

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_delegates_to_the_Continental_Congress#Pennsylvania

https://staffweb.wilkes.edu/harold.cox/legis/indexcolonial.html

https://www.revolutionary-war.net/john-morton/

https://www.dsdi1776.com/john-morton/

http://dev.ushistory.org/declaration/signers/morton.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stamp_Act_Congress

https://archive.org/details/biographicalsket00lossing/page/262/mode/2up?q=morton

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Essay 57 – Guest Essayist: Val Crofts

Benjamin Franklin has always seemed to be the most “approachable” of the Founding Fathers. While most of the Founding Fathers can appear unapproachable and distant in their biographies and portraits (students of mine always seemed to think that the Founding generation were all 50 plus years old at birth), Franklin’s slight smile and grandfatherly appearance reaches out to us 231 years after his death and invites us into a conversation with him. He was the Founder who felt that our nation’s new Republic in 1787 would thrive and succeed as long as we, the people, took care of it and kept it going. Dr. Franklin was also a valuable part of the process and completion of the Declaration of Independence. As the only delegate to be known worldwide in 1776, he helped to guide discussions and bring about compromises to unite the 55 delegates to the Second Continental Congress. He understood that the delegates must hang together or most assuredly, they would all “hang separately.”

Although he is now a synonymous figure with Philadelphia, Franklin was actually born in Boston in 1706. He was one of seventeen children born to Josiah and Abiah Franklin. The original plan was to have young Benjamin study to be a minister, which did not exactly fit with Franklin’s unique skill set so he needed to try other career paths. He became an apprentice for his brother James, who was a printer. This was a perfect trade for young Benjamin as he was an excellent writer and loved books and reading. At age 16, he began writing a series of essays under the pseudonym of “Mrs. Silence Dogood.” His character was a middle-aged widow who had humorous opinions to share with “her” readers. Franklin wrote 14 of these letters and his brother (who did not know who the author of them was) published them in his Boston newspaper. In 1723, Benjamin Franklin left his brother’s printing business and ran away to Philadelphia.

After not immediately finding a printing job that he liked, Franklin traveled to London where he worked in printing houses for a short time and then returned to Philadelphia which he then felt was his home. He became the publisher of the Pennsylvania Gazette which became the most popular newspaper in the colonies. Franklin married Deborah Reed in 1730 and the couple eventually had 2 children, Francis and Sarah. Deborah also raised Franklin’s illegitimate son, William. Franklin and his wife were apart for large portions of their marriage. She died in 1774 when Dr. Franklin was in England.

In 1732, Franklin began the publication of Poor Richard’s Almanac. It was published annually until 1758 and it became a must-have of colonial society. It contained news, weather forecasts, farming and domestic advice, poetry and other sections. It appealed to the normal, everyday person and many of Franklin’s most iconic sayings come from within its pages.

Benjamin Franklin also lived approximately 30 years in Europe where he was awarded honorary doctorates from British universities in 1759 and 1762.The title of Dr. Franklin comes from these awards. He also was in England during the passing of the Stamp Act in 1765 when the word of colonial uproar towards the legislation reached England. Franklin was, at first, unaware of the colonists’ hatred of the Stamp Act and went back and forth on the matter which caused him problems in the colonies. Later, he was of the opinion that the best way to get the act repealed was to boycott or not purchase the good affected. He also began to argue in England for colonial representation in Parliament if taxes were to be levied against the colonies. His idea fell on deaf ears.

As Dr. Franklin gradually became a supportive voice of the American colonies in England, his residency there was becoming less comfortable. This culminated in 1774 when he was brought in front of the Privy Council in London and was absolutely humiliated in front of the audience there. The speaker, Alexander Wedderburn, attacked his character and integrity over the emergence of a series of letters that were in Franklin’s possession. The letters somehow got released, angering the colonists further, due to their content that said some colonial rights may be further curtailed. Franklin chose not to speak on his own behalf. The next day, he was removed as Postmaster to the colonies. Franklin was furious and it is from this point that he tirelessly devotes himself to the idea of colonial independence. He returned home to the colonies in 1775, possibly to retire. He was sixty-nine years old.

Franklin’s arrival back in the colonies was celebrated in New York and Philadelphia. He was the world’s most famous American citizen and he was elected to the Second Continental Congress in 1775 as a representative of Pennsylvania. He advocated for the appointment of George Washington as the Commander of the Continental Army and was instrumental in helping to provide support and money for the Continental Army throughout the war.

Franklin was later appointed to the “Committee of Five” to draft a declaration of independence for the colonies. He served on the committee with Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Roger Sherman and Robert Livingston. Jefferson was the primary author, but Franklin did suggest some important edits. His most famous edit was changing the phrase, “We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable” to “We hold these truths to be self-evident.” Franklin believed that the term “sacred” sounded too religious and that “self-evident” sounded more scientific. Even though he was not the primary author, many of the ideas within the Declaration of Independence had been spoken by Dr. Franklin in the previous months and years. He wholeheartedly supported the document and voted in favor of Independence on July 2, 1776.

Throughout the Revolutionary War, Dr. Franklin was constantly working in some way toward American independence: from helping gain funds to finance it to traveling to France in efforts to help convince them to be our ally against Britain. He was extremely popular in France and was a large factor in the United States’ alliance with them which helped the colonies to win the war. He was a rock star in France, to use today’s expression. His face was on merchandise there and he claimed he was quite prominent there.

Franklin was called upon again in 1787 to be a part of the Constitutional Convention which resulted in our Republic that we are now entrusted to keep. Upon the Convention’s end, he is noted for his response to a woman asking what type of government the delegates had formed, whether a republic or a monarchy, to which Franklin replied, “A republic, Madam, if you can keep it.”

Benjamin Franklin seemed to do everything in his lifetime. In his 84 years he was a printer, publisher, writer, scientist (maybe most famous for his experiments with electricity), inventor, philanthropist, politician, diplomat, musician (he also created his own instrument, the glass armonica), postmaster and even a volunteer fireman. His lasting impact on Philadelphia is felt even today. He helped to create the first hospital there in 1751. He also strongly believed that books, ideas and information should be readily available to everyone and not just a select few. As a result, he created the first lending library in Philadelphia in 1731. He was part of the group that created Philadelphia’s first volunteer fire department. He also helped to create what is now the University of Pennsylvania, as well as founding the American Philosophical Society. He seemed to be the proudest of his earliest job which was that of a printer. As a result, he signed many letters as, “Ben Franklin, Printer.”

When Franklin died in 1790, an estimated 20,000 people attended his funeral in a city whose population in 1790 was around 28,000. His legacy in Philadelphia and the United States was secure then and should still be celebrated today.

Val Crofts serves as Chief Education and Programs Officer at the American Village in Montevallo, Alabama. Val previously taught high school U.S. History, U.S. Military History and AP U.S. Government for 19 years in Wisconsin, and was recipient of the DAR Outstanding U.S. History Teacher of the Year for the state of Wisconsin in 2019-20. Val also taught for the Wisconsin Virtual School as a social studies teacher for 9 years. He is also a proud member of the United States Semiquincentennial Commission (America 250), which is currently planning events to celebrate the 250th birthday of the Declaration of Independence.

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

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Essay 56 – Guest Essayist: William J. Federer

John Adams wrote from Philadelphia, June of 1776: “Our misfortunes in Canada are enough to melt a heart of stone. The smallpox is ten times more terrible than Britons, Canadians, and Indians together. This was the cause of our precipitate retreat from Quebec.”

George Washington wrote his concerns regarding inoculating his troops: “Should we inoculate generally, the enemy, knowing it, will certainly take advantage of our situation.”

The threat of smallpox did not lessen until widespread inoculations were called for by Dr. Benjamin Rush, born January 4, 1745. Dr. Benjamin Rush was a surgeon general of the middle department of the Continental Army, tending to wounded soldiers during the Battle of Princeton, including General Hugh Mercer. Dr. Rush personally inoculated Virginia Governor Patrick Henry against smallpox, as well as Pennsylvania troops, resulting in their low rate of illness.

Skepticism of vaccines haunted the British in other colonies. A century later, the British faced an accusation in India, as recorded in The Indian Medical Gazette, “Dr. K. C. Bose on Small-pox in Calcutta” (March 1890, 82): “The affection for their children has driven them to regard vaccination as an operation intended by government to thin the number of its poor subjects.”

Trinidad and the West Indies continued this skepticism, as William Tebb’s The Recrudescence of Leprosy and Its Causation: A Popular Treatise (1893) recounted Dr. Bakewell’s testimony before the Select Vaccination Parliamentary Committee in 1871: “There is a very strong opinion prevalent in Trinidad, and in the West Indies generally, that leprosy has been introduced into the system by vaccination.”

Dr. Benjamin Rush had studied medicine in Philadelphia, then in Europe under the world’s foremost physicians, and then returned to Philadelphia in 1769. Though his practices were archaic by today’s standards, he is considered by some as the “Father of American Medicine” for his work on staff at the Pennsylvania Hospital, where he opened the first free medical clinic.

He was among the first to recognize alcoholism as a disease and began to promote temperance. Dr. Rush wrote the first textbook on mental illness and psychiatry, recommending treatment with kindness, earning him the title “Father of American Psychiatry.”

He was a member of the Continental Congress and signed the Declaration of Independence. His wife was Julia, was the daughter of Richard Stockton, also a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

Thomas Paine consulted with Dr. Benjamin Rush when writing his stirring pamphlet Common Sense. Rush helped write Pennsylvania’s Constitution and was as a member of the Pennsylvania State Convention which ratified the U.S. Constitution in 1787. He was Treasurer of the U.S. Mint. Rush helped found Dickinson College to train physicians, and the Philadelphia Dispensary. A statue of Dr. Benjamin Rush stands on the campus of Dickinson College.

During the dread summer of 1793, Dr. Rush stayed in Philadelphia battling the disease of Yellow Fever which killed thousands. He was the first to recognize that yellow fever was not contagious, leading to the later discovery that it was spread by mosquito bites.

Dr. Benjamin Rush supported ending slavery prior to the Revolution, forming a Society for the Abolition of Slavery. He founded a Sunday School Union and the Philadelphia Bible Society.

Perhaps Dr. Benjamin Rush’s most beloved contribution to American history was in 1812 encouraging John Adams to write to Thomas Jefferson, breaking the silence which had existed between them for years due to earlier political differences.

A proponent of public education for young women as well as men, Dr. Benjamin Rush wrote his Thoughts Upon the Mode of Education Proper in a Republic, 1786:

“I proceed … to inquire what mode of education we shall adopt so as to secure to the state all of the advantages that are to be derived from the proper instruction of the youth; and here I beg leave to remark that the only foundation for a useful education in a republic is to be laid on the foundation of religion.

… Without this there can be no virtue, and without virtue there can be no liberty, and liberty is the object and life of all republican governments. But the religion I mean to recommend in this place is that of the New Testament … Its doctrines and precepts are calculated to promote the happiness of society and the safety and well-being of civil government.”

Dr. Benjamin Rush wrote in A Plan for Free Schools, 1787:

“Let the children … be carefully instructed in the principles and obligations of the Christian religion. This is the most essential part of education.”

Rush wrote to Jeremy Belknap, July 13, 1789: “The great enemy of the salvation of man, in my opinion, never invented a more effectual means of extirpating (removing) Christianity from the world than by persuading mankind that it was improper to read the Bible at schools.”

Dr. Benjamin Rush wrote in an essay, “A Defense of the Use of the Bible as a School Book,” included in his 1798 work, Essays, Literary, Moral and Philosophical:

“The Bible, when not read in schools, is seldom read in any subsequent period of life … It should be read in our schools in preference to all other books from its containing the greatest portion of that kind of knowledge which is calculated to produce private and public temporal happiness.”

Rush wrote in Essays, Literary, Moral, and Philosophical, 1798:

“I know there is an objection among many people to teaching children doctrines of any kind, because they are liable to be controverted. But let us not be wiser than our Maker. If moral precepts alone could have reformed mankind, the mission of the Son of God into all the world would have been unnecessary. The perfect morality of the Gospel rests upon the doctrine which, though often controverted has never been refuted: I mean the vicarious life and death of the Son of God.”

“Vicarious” is defined in Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary as: “suffered by one person as a substitute for another or to the benefit or advantage of another: substitutionary.”

Dr. Rush stated: “Without religion, I believe that learning does real mischief to the morals and principles of mankind.”

He wrote his Thoughts Upon the Mode of Education Proper in a Republic, 1786: “A Christian cannot fail of being a republican … for every precept of the Gospel inculcates those degrees of humility, self-denial, and brotherly kindness which are directly opposed to the pride of monarchy … A Christian cannot fail of being useful to the republic, for his religion teaches him that no man ‘liveth to himself.’ And lastly a Christian cannot fail of being wholly inoffensive, for his religion teaches him in all things to do to others what he would wish, in like circumstances, they should do to him.”

Dr. Benjamin Rush explained in Essays, Literary, Moral, and Philosophical, 1798: “Christianity is the only true and perfect religion, and that in proportion as mankind adopts its principles and obeys its precepts, they will be wise and happy … In contemplating the political institutions of the United States, I lament that we waste so much time and money in punishing crimes and take so little pains to prevent them.

… We profess to be republicans, and yet we neglect the only means of establishing and perpetuating our republican forms of government, that is, the universal education of our youth in the principles of Christianity by the means of the Bible. For this Divine book, above all others, favors that equality among mankind, that respect for just laws, and those sober and frugal virtues, which constitute the soul of republicanism.”

On July 9, 1788, in a letter to Elias Boudinot regarding a parade in Philadelphia, Dr. Benjamin Rush stated: “The Rabbi of the Jews locked arms of two ministers of the Gospel was a most delightful sight. There could not have been a more happy emblem.”

Dr. Benjamin Rush wrote:

“I have been alternately called an Aristocrat and a Democrat. I am neither. I am a Christocrat. I believe all power … will always fail of producing order and happiness in the hands of man. HE alone who created and redeemed man is qualified to govern him.”

Rush died in Philadelphia on April 19, 1813, and was buried in the yard of Christ’s Church.

Thomas Jefferson wrote:

“Another of our friends of seventy-six is gone, my dear Sir, another of the co-signers of the Independence of our country …

… A better man than Rush could not have left us, more benevolent, more learned, of finer genius, or more honest. I know of no Character living or dead who has done more real good in America.”

Memorials to Dr. Benjamin Rush stand on Navy Hill in Washington, D.C., and near the Harvard Square Library.

During his final illness, he wrote to his wife:

“My excellent wife, I must leave you, but God will take care of you.

By the mystery of Thy holy incarnation;

by Thy holy nativity;

by Thy baptism, fasting, and temptation;

by Thine agony and bloody sweat;

by Thy cross and passion;

by Thy precious death and burial;

by Thy glorious resurrection and ascension, and

by the coming of the Holy Ghost, blessed Jesus, wash away all my impurities, and receive me into Thy everlasting kingdom.”

Excerpt reprinted with permission from: The American Minute with Bill Federer, “‘Smallpox Is Ten Times More Terrible!’– Diseases During the Revolution, Dr. Benjamin Rush” https://americanminute.com/blogs/todays-american-minute/smallpox-is-ten-times-more-terrible-diseases-during-the-revolution-dr-benjamin-rush-american-minute-with-bill-federer

William J. Federer is a nationally known speaker and best-selling author of many books including “America’s God and Country Encyclopedia of Quotations” which has sold over a half-million copies. He is president of Amerisearch.net, a publishing company dedicated to researching America’s Christian heritage. Bill’s American Minute radio feature is broadcast daily across America and via Internet. His Faith in History television program airs on the TCT Network on stations across America and via DIRECTV. A former U.S. Congressional Candidate, Bill has appeared on CSPAN, FOXNews, MSNBC, ABC, CBN, FamilyNet, The Eric Metaxas Show, Prager U, Starnes Country on FOX Nation, Coral Ridge Hour, 700 Club, and Focus on the Family. He has been quoted or referenced in USA Today, Human Events, New York Times, Washington Times, Washington Post, to name a few, among numerous other television shows and documentaries, publications, and radio programs.

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

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Essay 55 – Guest Essayist: Joerg Knipprath
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Morris_(financier)#/media/File:Robert_Morris.jpg Robert Morris of Pennsylvania: Merchant, Superintendent of Finance, Agent of Marine, and Signer of the Declaration of Independence – Guest Essayist: Joerg Knipprath

Robert Morris, Jr., is one of only two men who signed the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution of 1787. He thus was present at three critical moments in the founding of the United States. His most significant contributions to that founding occurred during the decade of turmoil framed by the first and last of these, that is, the period of the Revolutionary War and the Confederation.

Morris was of English birth, but came to Pennsylvania as a child. He inherited a substantial sum of money when his father, a tobacco merchant, died prematurely. After serving an apprenticeship with his father’s former business partner, Morris started a firm with that partner’s son. The firm became a success in the tobacco trade, marine insurance, and commerce in various merchant goods. For these reasons, Morris opposed British taxes on merchants and laws that hindered trade, especially that done with American vessels.

After the skirmishes at Lexington and Concord, Morris was selected to Pennsylvania’s Committee of Safety. His efforts to secure ammunition for the Continental Army led to his appointment to Pennsylvania’s delegation to the Second Continental Congress, which met in the capital at Philadelphia. Morris was torn between opposition to the British government’s actions and his loyalty to the Crown. He sought to mediate between the radicals pressing for independence and the traditionalists seeking to negotiate continued connection with the motherland. When it came time to vote on Richard Henry Lee’s motion for independence on July 2, 1776, Morris and fellow Pennsylvania moderate John Dickinson absented themselves to allow that colony’s delegation to vote in favor. Independence having been declared, Morris went with the tide and signed the Declaration the following month.

During the Revolutionary War, the very wealthy Morris assumed two roles befitting his talents, finance and shipping. Even before independence, he served on the Committee of Trade and the Marine Committee. Once the Articles of Confederation were finally approved in 1781, he was given more formal executive offices, Superintendent of Finance, analogous to the current Secretary of the Treasury, and Agent of Marine, the former version of the Secretary of the Navy. As well, he continued his efforts to secure supplies for the Continental Army through those positions.

It was particularly in the former capacity that he excelled and later received the appellation “Financier of the Revolution.” The new country was, not to mince words, a financial basket case. To term the promissory notes of the Confederation “junk bonds” would be flattery. The British had refused to allow the creation of a domestic banking system in the colonies, in order to maintain control over the economy, thwart independence, and promote the ascendancy of London as the world’s financial center over Amsterdam. Each colony had had its separate financial relationship with London. In the colonies themselves, someone wanting credit had to obtain loans from local merchants. The country was utterly without even a rudimentary integrated banking system.

Commerce, as well, had been regulated by the British to their advantage. Restriction on colonial trade with the West Indies and with continental European countries had been a recurring source of friction in the decade before the War. Shortly before American independence was declared, Parliament in December, 1775, had passed the Prohibitory Act, which outlawed commerce even between the colonies and England. With independence, the gloves came off entirely. The British navy threw a blockade around American ports, which brought legal sea-borne trade to a standstill. American efforts to avoid this blockade through smuggling and eventual licensing of privateers were spirited, but nothing more than a nuisance to the British maritime stranglehold on American commerce.

Money itself was both scarce and overabundant. Scarce, in the form of gold and silver; overabundant in the form of paper currency. Not only British coins circulated, but also those from many other European countries, especially Spanish silver pieces-of-eight (akin to the future silver dollar) and gold doubloons. States issued a few small copper coins along with significant amounts of “bills of credit,” that is, paper scrip which depreciated in value and was at the center of much commercial speculation, economic chaos, and political intrigue over the first decade of independence.

The Confederation’s currency, the Continental Dollar, was, if anything, even more pathetic. Aside from a few pattern coins struck in 1776 mostly in base metals, the currency was issued as paper. Although historians’ research has not been able to reach a definitive conclusion, it appears that, over the course of about five years, about 200 million dollars’ worth was printed. To put this in perspective, the population of the United States at the time was about .8% of that of today. The current purchasing power of the dollar is about one-thirtieth of the value of coins then, and the value of gold was about a hundred times the current nominal value. Due to massive British counterfeiting, even more than that amount of Continental currency actually may have circulated. Congress had no domestic sources of income, because it lacked the power to tax directly. Instead, it must seek requisitions from the states. Although the states were obligated under the Articles of Confederation to pay those requisitions, their performance was unsteady and varied from state to state, especially as the financial demands of the war, the turmoil of military campaigns, and the strangulation of commerce by the British blockade took their toll on their economies.

The printing of vast amounts of currency, out of proportion with what the country could back up with hard assets, such as gold and silver, led to serious inflation. The currency depreciated to such a point that, by 1781, it ceased to be used as a medium of exchange. It did, however, gain linguistic currency through the commonly-used contemptuous aphorism, “Not worth a Continental” to signify something of no value.

Enter Robert Morris. Congress appointed him Superintendent of Finance in 1781. Attempting to ameliorate the desperate financial situation of a bankrupt country, he began to finance the Continental Army’s supplies and payroll himself through “Morris notes” backed by his own credit and resources. His efforts over the next three years, while crucial in averting political disaster, still fell short. The seriousness of the matter was underscored by several near-mutinies among elements of the officer corps of the Army: the Pennsylvania Line Mutiny of January, 1781, the McDougall delegation’s delivery to Congress in December, 1782, of an ominous petition signed by a number of general officers, and the Newburgh Conspiracy by a large contingent of Army officers in early 1783. They all showed the simmering threat to the young republic from Congress’s broken promises caused by the lack of funds to pay the military. Morris’ correspondence with some staff officers at General Washington’s headquarters revealed a desire for new ways to force Congress to compel the states to meet their financial obligations. This gave rise to unsubstantiated rumors that the military’s discontent, especially the Newburgh Conspiracy, was supported, or even instigated, by Morris and other “nationalist” members of Congress.

In other financial matters, Morris directed his efforts to create a banking system, in order to improve access to private credit and to stabilize public credit. In this matter he was assisted by his able protege, Alexander Hamilton, himself trained in business and finance before joining the military. Morris issued a “Report on Public Credit” in 1781, which proposed that Congress assume the entire war debt and repay it fully through new revenue measures and a national bank. The first part of this ambitious endeavor failed when, in 1782, Rhode Island alone refused to approve an amendment to the Articles of Confederation to give Congress the power to tax imports at 5% as a source of revenue.

However, Morris did obtain a charter from the Confederation Congress on May 26, 1781, for the Bank of North America. Modeled after the Bank of England, it began its operation as the first commercial bank in the United States in early 1782. It also took on some functions of a proto-central bank in its attempt to stabilize public credit. About one-third of the bank shares were purchased by private entities, the rest by the United States. Morris used $450,000 of silver and gold from loans to Congress by the French government and Dutch bankers to fund the government’s purchase of its bank shares. He then issued notes backed by that gold and silver for loans, including to the United States. When Congress appeared unable to repay the loans, Morris sold portions of the government’s shares to investors to raise funds. Using those funds, he repaid the bank and then issued more notes to lend to the government to meet its financial obligations.

Unfortunately, despite Morris’ energy and financial wizardry, the Confederation’s debts continued to expand, with no clear way to repay them that was constitutionally permitted and politically feasible. European lenders had reached the end of their patience. Unwilling to remain a part of this calamitous system, Morris resigned from Congress in 1784, having been preceded in exit by Hamilton for similar reasons a year earlier.

As a constitutional matter, the Bank’s charter was challenged early as beyond Congress’ limited powers under the Articles of Confederation. Morris obtained a second charter, from Pennsylvania, in 1782. That state’s legislature briefly revoked the charter in 1785, before reinstating it in 1786. With the end of the Confederation in 1788 due to the adoption of the new Constitution, the Bank’s charter under the Articles expired. It continued to operate as a state institution within Pennsylvania. Through a series of mergers and acquisitions since then, the Bank’s remains are part of Wells Fargo & Co. today. Its role as a national bank, but one supported by a much sounder constitutional and economic foundation, was recreated by the Bank of the United States, chartered by Congress in 1791 at the urging of Alexander Hamilton, and by-then, Senator Robert Morris.

In his role as official Agent of Marine, as well as in an informal capacity before then, it was Morris’ job to supervise the creation of a navy and to direct operations. Congress authorized the construction of more than a dozen warships. These were no match for the Royal Navy. They were primarily used as commerce raiders to capture British merchant ships. Almost all were sunk, scuttled, or captured by 1778. Most American naval ships were armed converted merchant vessels often owned by private individuals. The most effective raiders, favored by Morris, were privateers, which were private vessels licensed by Congress to attack British shipping. Nearly 2,000 such letters of marque were issued by Congress, which caused an estimated $66 million of losses to British shipping. Privateering was so profitable for a time that Morris and other investors built and sent out their own privateers.

After the Revolutionary War, Morris focused on private business, including the favorite investment activity of moneyed Americans, land speculation. On the political side, he was selected by Pennsylvania for its delegation to the Constitutional Convention of 1787. He presided at the opening session on May 25, where he moved to make George Washington the presiding officer. He was a nationalist in outlook and, based on his experience as Superintendent of Finance under the Confederation, wanted to assure the general government a power to tax. He favored replacing the Articles, rather than just amending them. Beyond that, he had no real philosophical commitment to the particulars of the new constitution. Not being a politician or political theorist, he had little influence on the proceedings.

With the new government in place, the Pennsylvania legislature elected Morris to the United States Senate. President Washington wanted to make Morris Secretary of the Treasury. Morris demurred and recommended Hamilton in his stead. The two were closely aligned on economic and commercial policy. Hamilton’s “First and Second Reports on the Public Credit” in 1790 reflected Morris’ own “Report” of a decade earlier respecting the assumption and funding of war debts and the creation of a national commercial bank.

Morris’ genius in financial matters did not save him from economic disaster. He overextended himself in his land speculation. His company owned millions of acres of land. The Panic of 1797, triggered by the damage to international trade and immigration caused by the Napoleonic Wars in Europe, left Morris land-rich and cash-poor. As a consequence of depreciating land values and insufficient cash to pay creditors and taxes, he spent three and a half years in debtor’s prison. The incarceration only ended in August, 1801, after Congress passed a bankruptcy law for the purpose of obtaining his release. He was adjudged bankrupt, and his then-almost inconceivable remaining debt of nearly $3 million was discharged. Still, Morris and his wife were left virtually penniless, having received just a small pension. He died in 1806.

Joerg W. Knipprath is an expert on constitutional law, and member of the Southwestern Law School faculty, Professor Knipprath has been interviewed by print and broadcast media on a number of related topics ranging from recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to presidential succession. He has written opinion pieces and articles on business and securities law as well as constitutional issues, and has focused his more recent research on the effect of judicial review on the evolution of constitutional law. He has also spoken on business law and contemporary constitutional issues before professional and community forums, and serves as a Constituting America Fellow. Read more from Professor Knipprath at: http://www.tokenconservative.com/.

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

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Essay 54 – Guest Essayist: Heather B. Bailey

A Founder for the Common Man

If you’ve ever spoken with someone who lives in New Jersey, you may know that many of us introduce ourselves by explaining what exit we’re from off the New Jersey Turnpike or the Garden State Parkway.

It’s a way to identify ourselves and our connection to the state. It’s also a source of humor, especially to those who do NOT reside in New Jersey.

If you happen to be traveling thru New Jersey on the Garden State Parkway and find yourself at Exit 135 – Clark/Westfield, then you are at a place rich in our nation’s history and a crossroads of the American revolution formerly known as the 5th Ward of Rahway.

It’s worth noting, by the way, that in 1864 – amid the Civil War – 357 5th Ward residents declared independence from Rahway and established the town – Clark, New Jersey, named after Abraham Clark, delegate to the Second Continental Congress, one of the 56 men to have signed America’s Declaration of Independence, and my ancestor.

My father’s family – the Brubakers of Somerset County in Pennsylvania, are Clark relations. Before writing this essay, I took some time to journey into his past and found it a rewarding experience. Abraham was a person dedicated to fairness and service and was esteemed by the members of his community. Learning about him enriched me and inspired me to find ways to honor the life of this brave, just, and extraordinary, common man and patriot.

Taking time to reread the Declaration of Independence every once in a while, is time well spent. Many of us lead busy lives and haven’t thought about it or what it means or the dangers the men who signed it were inviting since we were in school. Looking at it again, with the school years so far behind me, was a new and meaningful experience I can highly recommend.

In these unsettling times, this piece of history and its vision for America we all share is the common thread that ties us together as one people and one nation. There is a beautiful quote in Barb Baltrinic’s book: A Founder for All: Abraham Clark, Signer of the Declaration of Independence: “Those who do not know the history of their land will certainly display a lack of commitment in protecting it when time demands.”

Knowing that Abraham Clark and the other signers were not presidents, royalty or celebrities, makes them relatable. These were common citizens who made the decision to protect their land at unimaginable risk when the time demanded. Their legacy is now ours to protect and to do that, we need to know, as a people, from where we came.

Having some relation, even if distant or as a collateral descendant has always been a personal source of pride. It has added some dimension to my family’s lineage.

Taking this journey was a reminder that the study of history is a study of common people who did extraordinary things. The dates are incidental.  When we take the time to learn about these Founders, we see that it was many small heroic decisions and acts over a lifetime. One cannot help but be inspired to do one’s best in small ways over the course of a lifetime and to strive to be there if called upon – when times demand.

They say human nature doesn’t change. When you examine the events leading up to the American Revolution, it is not hard to see how a dedicated servant of the Crown, like Abraham Clark, would be compelled to risk all in the name of fairness. His story and his part in the revolution relate strongly to things we speak of in conversation today, about themes that are still relevant to life in this country. The signers were extraordinary people, carrying along with them on their journey to sign the Declaration, a family, a community, a legacy, and a life each put at risk, completely. Captured by the British during the war, as happened to at least one other New Jersey signer, was an unenviable event.

A Journey in Lineage and Profession

Abraham Clark was born on February 15, 1726, and lived in Elizabethtown New Jersey, now “Elizabeth,” located approximately 7 miles from what is now Clark, situated across the river from Staten Island.

He was the only child of Thomas Clark and Hannah Winans, but his ties to New Jersey extend back at least two generations. His paternal grandfather, Richard Clark, emigrated in 1643 from England via Barbados then to Long Island. Richard fought in the Indian Wars and worked as a shipbuilder and planter. It is estimated that he and his wife moved the family to Elizabethtown in 1675 where the family became well established and was known for their service to the community.

Abraham’s mother, Hannah Winans, was also from deeply grounded New Jersey colonial stock. Her parents and great grandparents were among Elizabethtown’s founding families, present at the creation in 1664.

Today, over one hundred and fifty Winans family members are buried in the cemetery adjacent to the First Presbyterian Church, still in operation today. This is the same church where the Clark and the Winans families worshiped during the Revolutionary War period. It is also a site of critical points during the revolution that, no doubt, influenced Abraham Clark’s resolve and dedication to the cause that led him to become one of the signers.

History records that Abraham was too frail for farming, but excelled in math and studies. As the only son of a farming family, we can assume much was expected of Abraham as a helper on the farm. With college being expensive, even in those times, it is noteworthy that Abraham’s father supported his natural abilities and hired a tutor to teach him math and surveying rather than expecting him to take up the business of the family farm. This would set Abraham up well for a respected and much-needed profession, and one to which he was well suited.

The Poor Man’s Lawyer

Always a studious person, Abraham later fervently studied law and cases that were naturally related to his work, surveying land, even though he had little formal education.

It was assumed by many that he was never admitted to the New Jersey bar but, through his work as a surveyor, he was naturally involved in legal matters like the preparation of deeds, mortgages, and the drafting of legal papers. In these ways, he became a respected and trusted legal counselor in the community – a role that placed him at the very heart of the highly critical civil disputes developing in his community and across the colonies.

Through his work, Abraham had the opportunity to witness firsthand the misuse of authority and abuse of the poor at the hands of the privileged. He was deeply troubled by how poor people were cheated out of their land because of their inability to read or understand deeds and, by their lack of representation. Clark began to represent his poorer neighbors free of charge, leading his friends and neighbors to call him the “Poor Man’s Counselor” after he began to refuse to accept payment for legal advice.

Sarah

At the age of 22, Abraham Clark married Sarah Hatfield (or Hetfield). The Hetfield’s were considered a well-to-do and respectable family of Essex County, New Jersey. Together, they had ten children, two of whom (Thomas and Aaron) served as First Lieutenants and Captains during the revolution, both of whom, history tells us, were captured and singled out for torture because their father had signed the Declaration. At one point, the British offered to release them both if Abraham agreed to renounce the document but, nobly, he refused.

It was reported that Sarah was a resourceful, energetic woman with a large family within Elizabeth. As civil tensions began to mount, Clark’s oldest sons were in their teens and able to work the farm. Additionally, Sarah had many family members around her. This strong family support enabled her to manage the home front and remain supportive of Abraham’s involvement in Public Service, a role that kept him away for long periods and largely unpaid.

Always the Quest for Fairness

Through his profession and commitment to community, Abraham was placed in a position to observe and become a part of the budding conflicts that were beginning to take shape as the inevitability of a Revolution began to loom.

Abraham’s role as a public servant began in support of the Crown and he served as a clerk of the New Jersey Colonial Legislature. As British control over the trade and finances of the Colonies intensified, Abraham was called upon to act as High Sheriff of Essex County.

No doubt the proximity of tensions created by British Control were driving forces behind his decisions, at the time, again to pursue fairness, even if that meant risking all and joining forces to work toward independence.

According to various sources, he remained in the Continental Congress through 1778 when his election to the New Jersey Legislative Council brought him home. As one of the state’s three representatives at the aborted Annapolis Convention of 1786 – an early attempt to repair the Articles of Confederation – James Madison recalled Clark as having been the delegate who formally motioned for the Constitutional Convention because New Jersey’s instructions allowed for consideration of non-commercial matters.

More than many of his contemporaries, Clark is regarded by scholars of the period as a man who was a friend to farmers and mechanics because they produced things. In his eyes, this made them virtuous when compared to those in more learned professions like the law, finance, and medicine. He actively encouraged the involvement of his fellow citizens in the affairs of government and was an enthusiastic advocate of the petition to recommend a needed change to elected officials.

Abraham Clark retired from public life in 1794, just before New Jersey’s Constitutional Convention, and died later that year at his home from sunstroke.

Under the pen name, A Fellow Citizen, he wrote several books or pamphlets including: The True Policy of New-Jersey, Defined; or, Our Great Strength led to Exertion, in the Improvement of Agriculture and Manufactures, by Altering the Mode of Taxation, and by the Emission of Money on Loan, in IX Sections in February 1786.

Heather Brubaker Bailey, who now lives in New Jersey, is a descendent of Abraham Clark. Heather graduated from Elizabethtown College and now works as a real estate agent in Morristown, New Jersey.

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

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Essay 53 – Guest Essayist: James C. Clinger

John Hart of New Jersey was one of the lesser-known signers of the Declaration of Independence. He was also among the oldest, being one of seven signers who was sixty years of age or older.[1] His life prior to his attendance at the Second Continental Congress was full of public service, primarily to his local community and the colony, and then the state of New Jersey. He died before the final battles of the Revolutionary War were fought and won.

His exact date of birth is subject to some dispute. Most sources claim that he was born in 1713, but some have his birth listed as 1711 or even earlier. He grew up in Hopewell Township, New Jersey, and resided in that area virtually his entire life. His father was active in civic affairs, serving as a justice of the peace, assessor, and farmer.[2] Hart had relatively little formal education, but was considered well-read, knowledgeable about the law, and possessed with business acumen.   Like his father, John Hart was a farmer, raising cattle, sheep, hogs, and poultry. He also owned and operated grist mills, some of which were co-owned by his brother. At one time, Hart owned four slaves.[3] Slavery had not yet been abolished in all of the northern colonies. New Jersey did not begin a gradual abolition of slavery until 1804. Under that law, children born to slaves after July 4, 1804 would gain their freedom after serving the master of their mother for twenty-five years for males and twenty-one years for females.[4]

Hart was a Presbyterian, but he donated land from the lower meadow in front of his home to a Baptist congregation in 1747. A Baptist Meeting House was constructed there, and Baptists were enthusiastic in their support of Hart when he began his political career. Hart was elected to the Hunterdon County Board of Chosen Freeholders in 1750 and as Justice of the Peace in 1755. He served on the Colonial Assembly from 1761 to 1771, and was appointed to the Court of Common Pleas in 1768.   He was selected for a committee to appoint delegates to the First Continental Congress. In 1775, he was elected to the New Jersey Committee of Correspondence and later served on the Committee of Safety.[5] The committees of correspondence were designed to maintain communication among the colonies and to oppose British customs enforcement and bans on paper money issued by the colonies.[6]

In 1776, Hart was elected to the New Jersey Provincial Congress which was created to supersede the power of the royal governor. The Provincial Congress designated Hart to sign “Bill of Credit” notes issued by New Jersey.[7] These notes were a form of paper money that would later be forbidden for state governments by Article 1, Section 10 of the United States Constitution.

The New Jersey delegates to the First Continental Congress had not supported independence for the American colonies but, on June 22, Hart along with four other delegates from New Jersey were elected to the Second Continental Congress. Hart arrived so late in the proceedings that he had little opportunity to participate in the deliberations over the Declaration, but he voted to approve the document on July 4. Benjamin Rush, another signer of the Declaration, described Hart as “a plain, honest, well-meaning Jersey farmer, with but little education, but with good sense and virtue enough to pursue the interests of his country.”[8]

On August 13, Hart was elected to the State Assembly of New Jersey and on August 29 he was elected Speaker of the General Assembly.   Hart presided over the Assembly briefly but was called home to care for his sick wife. He returned to the Assembly on October 7, but was called home once more. The Assembly adjourned on August 8, the same day that his wife died, leaving behind her husband and thirteen children, two of whom were still minors. In November, the British army invaded New Jersey and Hart was forced to hide out in some rock formations in the nearby Sourwood Mountains to escape British soldiers and Hessian mercenaries who damaged, but did not destroy, the farm.[9]

The British forces retreated after American victories at Trenton and Princeton, after which Hart returned to his home and then to the General Assembly. Hart was re-elected twice as Speaker of the Assembly. In June 1778, Hart invited George Washington to have his troops encamp at the Hart farm. Washington accepted the invitation, and around 12,000 soldiers rested there before fighting and winning the Battle of Monmouth on June 26. A few months later, on May 11, 1779, Hart died painfully from kidney stones. Hart was in debt at the time of his death, and the war, currency of dubious value, and damage to his property, forced his heirs to sell most of his assets. Hart had spent much of his life in some form of public service for which he was given little monetary compensation. He did not live to see final victory in the war for independence, but his role in the creation of the new republic and the early government of the state of New Jersey should not be forgotten.[10]

James C. Clinger is a professor in the Department of Political Science and Sociology at Murray State University. He is the co-author of Institutional Constraint and Policy Choice: An Exploration of Local Governance and co-editor of Kentucky Government, Politics, and Policy. Dr. Clinger is the chair of the Murray-Calloway County Transit Authority Board, a past president of the Kentucky Political Science Association, and a former firefighter for the Falmouth Volunteer Fire Department.

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

[1] Marberry, Mark, “The 56 Men who Signed the Declaration of Independence.”  Farmington Press.   July 11, 2019.  https://dailyjournalonline.com/community/farmington-press/news/the-56-men-who-signed-the-declaration-of-independence/article_a2641ea9-9158-5aee-a9b2-6ebca5c6fe3f.html#:~:text=A%20third%20of%20the%20signers,Seven%20were%20over%2060.

[2] Staller, Grace Keiper, “John Hart,” Descendants of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence.  https://www.dsdi1776.com/john-hart/

[3] Ibid.

[4] Gigantino, James J. 2014. “‘’The Whole North Is Not Abolitionized’’.” Journal of the Early Republic 34 (3): 411–37. doi:10.1353/jer.2014.0040.

[5] Staller, op cit.

[6] “Committees of Correspondence.” The History Channel.   https://www.history.com/topics/american-revolution/committees-of-correspondence.  Retrieved 4/24/2021.

[7] Staller, op cit

[8] Staller, op cit.

[9] http://www.doublegv.com/ggv/JHart.html

[10] Staller, op cit.

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Essay 52 – Guest Essayist: Ron Meier

To a twenty-first century political strategist, the summer of 1776 would seem like a foolish time to have voted for independence. Little had gone well so far and a large force of the British Navy and Army was assembling in New York’s harbor to launch a decisive attack on Washington’s ragtag army. Only an Act of God could have prevented Washington’s defeat – in fact, an Act of God did prevent defeat two months later.

New Jersey had not yet been in the fight. The significant military action so far had been in New England and Canada. While Thomas Jefferson was busy writing the Declaration of Independence in June, New Jersey was one of three colonies that had not yet authorized its delegates to vote for independence, largely because of internal discord between the patriots; the loyalists; and New Jersey’s Royal Governor, William Franklin, Ben Franklin’s son. Its five delegates to the Continental Congress also opposed secession. On June 21, the New Jersey Provincial Congress authorized secession, named five new delegates all in favor of secession, to the Continental Congress, and ordered the imprisonment of Loyalist Governor Franklin. Among those new delegates was Francis Hopkinson.

Hopkinson was born in Philadelphia in 1737. His father was a friend of Benjamin Franklin who helped young Francis pursue his college studies. Hopkinson graduated from the College of Philadelphia, after which he studied law and began his life in Colonial public service as Secretary of the Pennsylvania Provincial Council, where he negotiated treaties with native American tribes.

He then turned his public service focus to trade and became Collector of Customs in Salem, New Jersey in 1763. Customs agents in the American colonies were not always diligent in executing their assigned duties, resulting in a loss of revenue for London at a time when additional revenue was needed to pay for the costs of the French and Indian War. Wanting to expand his role in Customs, he spent 15 months in London during 1766 and 1767, hoping to be appointed one of five Commissioners of Customs for North America, posts created under the despised 1767 Townsend Acts which attempted to enhance customs enforcement in the colonies. Hopkinson failed in his attempt to be named a Commissioner, which was a good thing in the long run, given the soon-to-be enhanced collection efforts that would antagonize the colonists and, in short order, lead to war. However, during his stay in London, he learned much about British politics and politicians, including Lord North, which would soon prove valuable as the Revolutionary flames rose.

Hopkinson’s interests outside the law included music, writing, and art. From 1759 to 1766, he served as secretary of the Philadelphia Library. His poems and other writings inspired patriots during the Revolutionary War. He used those literary and artistic talents while serving on the Navy Board in 1780 to design the first American flag, a fact not discovered until well after Betsy Ross had gained fame for having created the original design. He later designed the Great Seal, among other devices.

Hopkinson returned from London to Philadelphia where he became a successful merchant in 1768 and married Ann Borden, daughter of a wealthy family that had founded Bordentown, New Jersey. During this time, he continued to pursue public service opportunities. Four years later, he relocated to Delaware to resume his public service role for one year as Collector of Customs.

At this time, Revolutionary fervor was accelerating in the colonies over customs fees and Hopkinson relinquished his role as Customs Collector when New Jersey Royal Governor, William Franklin, well aware of Hopkinson’s apparent loyalty to the British government and of his political connections in London, named him to the New Jersey Provincial Council, the upper house of the New Jersey Legislature, in 1773. Hopkinson then moved his family to his wife’s hometown of Bordentown, New Jersey where he once again entered the practice of law. During this time, he became disenchanted with the British government’s hostility to Americans’ rights and freedoms and joined the patriot cause, writing many patriotic pamphlets and satires, employing a common practice of using a variety of pseudonyms, that were widely circulated in the colonies.

Hopkinson took his seat as a New Jersey delegate to the Second Continental Congress on June 22, 1776. Soon after, Congress passed the Declaration of Independence. He remained a member of the Congress for only five months, leaving to serve on the Navy Board in Philadelphia. Later, Hopkinson was appointed treasurer of the Continental Loan Office in 1778, and judge of the Admiralty Court of Pennsylvania in 1779.

The British and Hessians pillaged and burned much of Bordentown, New Jersey during the war; Hopkinson’s home was spared burning because of his extensive library. The British then used the home as their headquarters during the town’s occupation.

Although Hopkinson was not a Delegate to the Constitutional Convention, he was a member of the Pennsylvania Convention that ratified the Constitution and Chairman of the Committee of Arrangement which organized the grand July 4, 1788 celebration in honor of the ratification of the Constitution, officially ratified on June 21. Today, it may be difficult to envision a parade that included members of 44 trades and professions in addition to the traditional military units and political luminaries.

Francis Hopkinson died in 1791 at the age of 53, young for a man with such a distinguished career. While the names of Hopkinson, Stockton, Clark, Hart, and Witherspoon are immortalized on the Declaration of Independence after less than a week of service on the Second Continental Congress, the names of the dismissed members, Sergent, DeHart, Smith, Cooper, and Livingston, who had the opportunity for immortality, tend toward being forgotten.

Ron Meier is a West Point graduate and Vietnam War veteran.  He is a student of American history, with a focus on our nation’s founding principles and culture, the Revolutionary War, and the challenges facing America’s Constitutional Republic in the 20th and 21st centuries.  Ron won Constituting America’s Senior Essay contest in 2014 and is author of Common Sense Rekindled: A Rejuvenation of the American Experiment, featured on Constituting America’s Recommended Reading List.

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

Sources:

New Jersey State Library:  https://www.njstatelib.org/research_library/new_jersey_resources/highlights/american_revolution/

Hopkinson Biography:  https://www.revolutionary-war.net/francis-hopkinson/

Customs:  Commissioners of Customs Act (revolutionary-war-and-beyond.com)

Townshend Acts:  https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/customs-commissioners

Ann Borden Hopkinson Biography:  https://www.womenhistoryblog.com/2009/12/ann-borden-hopkinson.html

Hopkinson’s American Flag Design:  https://blog.usaflagco.com/francis-hopkinson/

http://www.virtualology.com/francishopkinson.com/

https://bordentownhistory.org/francis-hopkinson-1737-1791/

Miracle at Philadelphia by Catherine Drinker Bowen

Order of Procession: https://www.loc.gov/resource/bdsdcc.c1501/

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Essay 51 – Guest Essayist: Tony Williams

Despite the best efforts of several excellent historians, the contributions of the dissenting Protestant clergy, known as the “Black Robe Regiment” or “Black Regiment,” to the dissemination of revolutionary principles has largely gone unnoticed. The ministers were instrumental in propagating the ideas of John Locke from the pulpit for congregations that were consistent with the revolutionary ideas they read about in pamphlets and newspapers and heard in taverns and legislative halls that formed “the American mind.”

The ministers preached about the ideas of natural rights, self-government by consent, and the right of revolution against tyranny. They urged the young men in their congregations to pick up their muskets and go to war in the defense of their sacred rights from God. The clergy delivered what are called political sermons as they easily wove together their religious and political ideals with their covenant theology that Americans were a new Chosen People.

George III recognized the significance of the clergy and American Revolution and specifically labeled it a “Presbyterian Rebellion.” Scottish Presbyterianism had a strong strain of fierce individualism that blended well with the ideas of the Scottish Enlightenment. The character of Scottish Presbyterianism was particularly strong on the American frontier among a people who defended their liberty against all forms of spiritual and civil tyranny.

Reverend John Witherspoon was born in Scotland in 1723 and educated at the University of Edinburgh, the center of the Scottish Enlightenment. Rev. Witherspoon’s ideas were particularly influenced by thinker, Francis Hutcheson’s System of Moral Philosophy. He emigrated to the American colonies in 1768 to become the President of the College of New Jersey (Princeton) at the urging of Benjamin Rush; First Great Awakening Preacher, Rev. George Whitefield; and the college trustees.

Under Rev. Witherspoon’s brilliant leadership and guidance, Princeton students were inculcated with the ideas of the Scottish Enlightenment and Presbyterianism that supported the revolutionary principles they embraced. Indeed, Witherspoon’s Princeton became a nursery of statesmen as his students included a future president (James Madison), a vice-president (Aaron Burr), a secretary of state, three attorneys general, two foreign ministers, forty-nine U.S. Representatives, twenty-eight U.S. Senators, twelve members of the Continental Congress, five delegates to the Constitutional Convention, and fourteen delegates to state ratifying conventions.

Rev. Witherspoon did not just train revolutionary statesmen for the new republic, he served as an important statesman as well. He served in the New Jersey Provincial Congress, the Continental and Confederation Congress, and the New Jersey ratifying convention. His revolutionary credentials were impeccable and noted by other founders. John Adams thought that, “Dr. Witherspoon enter with great spirit into the American Cause. He seems a Friend as any of the [native colonists]—an animated friend of liberty.” Adams also said that Rev. Witherspoon was a “clear, sensible” minister and, “as high a Son of Liberty, as any Man in America.”

During a congressional day of fasting and prayer in May 1776, Rev. Witherspoon preached a sermon entitled, “Dominion of Providence Over the Passions of Men.” The sermon was a prime example of covenant theology between the American colonists and God. The colonists were bound to have firm beliefs in God and to act with civic virtue which was the basis for good republican government. “They must renounce sin and corruption and virtuously act with justice, prudence, firmness, selflessness, and patience.” Governing themselves and their passions would “make you truly independent in yourselves.” A providential God would bless the American cause of liberty if they followed their part of the covenant, Rev. Witherspoon explained.

In late June 1776, Rev. Witherspoon joined the Continental Congress just as the body was preparing to discuss Richard Henry Lee’s resolution for independence and the draft of the Declaration of Independence. He participated in the debates and said the colonies were “in danger of becoming rotten for want of [independence].” The Congress adopted Lee’s resolution and Jefferson’s Declaration.

In 1782, Rev. Witherspoon was honored to write the congressional proclamation for a day of thanksgiving and continued to proclaim covenant theology in the American republic. He urged his fellow Americans to the “practice of true and undefiled religion, which is the great foundation of public prosperity and national happiness.” He said in a sermon associated with the day of thanksgiving: “Civil liberty cannot long be preserved without virtue…a republic once equally poised, must either preserve its virtue or lose its liberty.”

Perhaps a British officer summed up Witherspoon’s significance as a member of the Black Regiment and influence as president of Princeton had in advancing revolutionary principles and independence. “Dr. Witherspoon…the political firebrand who perhaps had not a less share in the Revolution as Washington himself. He poisons the minds of his young students and through them the Continent.”

Tony Williams is a Senior Fellow at the Bill of Rights Institute and is the author of six books including Washington and Hamilton: The Alliance that Forged America with Stephen Knott. Williams is currently writing a book on the Declaration of Independence.

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

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Essay 50 – Guest Essayist: Daniel A. Cotter

New Jersey had five signers to the Declaration of Independence, including Richard Stockton. Stockton’s statue is one of two from New Jersey in the United States Capitol as part of the National Statuary Hall Collection.

Stockton was born on October 1, 1730, near Princeton, New Jersey, to John and Abigail Stockton. A wealthy landowner, John donated land to the town of Princeton to help attract the College of New Jersey located in Newark to Princeton, later changing its name to Princeton University.

Stockton attended the College of New Jersey and after graduating, studied law with David Ogden, a prominent lawyer in Newark. Stockton was admitted to the bar in 1754 and began a prominent legal career.

In 1766, Stockton traveled to London and spent significant time in London, Scotland and Ireland. Eventually, he was able to convince John Witherspoon, a Presbyterian minister, to move to New Jersey to become President of the College of New Jersey. While on the trip, Stockton acquired his personal coat of arms and motto, “Omnia Deo Pendent,” meaning all depends on God.

Upon his return, in 1768 Stockton was elevated to a seat in the New Jersey Provincial Council, and in 1774, he was placed on the bench of the New Jersey Supreme Court.

In the same year, he drafted and sent to Lord Dartmouth, Secretary of the Colonies, “An Expedient for the Settlement of the American Disputes,” which would have provided for self-government for America without renouncing Great Britain. That proposal was rejected.  Stockton initially was advocating for representation in Parliament by the colonies and a more moderate approach to peace with Great Britain. That changed over time with the Stamp Act and other initiatives by Great Britain.

In June 1776, Stockton was elected to the Second Continental Congress.  Stockton and Witherspoon were elected to the Congress to replace two other members after New Jersey learned that the delegates were against independence. Stockton, along with his friend, Witherspoon, signed the Declaration of Independence. Stockton was the first to sign for New Jersey. One thing that Stockton requested and Congress agreed to do was to allow both sides of the argument to present reasoning. As noted, Stockton was convinced of the need and signed the Declaration.

Congress sent Stockton and a fellow signer to Fort Ticonderoga, Saratoga and Albany, New York on a fact-finding tour. When he returned to New Jersey, the British had overrun New Jersey. Stockton quickly moved his family to safety, but the British captured him. Originally, he was jailed at Perth Amboy, then moved to Provost Prison.

Stockton was the only person who was arrested by the British for adding his name to the Declaration. Reportedly, he had agreed to recant his support and signed an oath of allegiance to King George III.

After five weeks in prison, Stockton was released on parole, returning to his estate, Morven, which had been looted and much of the furnishings destroyed, his extensive library burned. While Stockton was the only person arrested, others in the fifty-six signers knew when they agreed to the action that they were subjecting their lives, their liberties, their properties to danger, including death, having committed treason, defined as “the betrayal of allegiance toward one’s own country, especially by committing hostile acts against it or aiding its enemies in committing such acts.”

These brave patriots did in fact suffer, Stockton not being the only person to suffer losses. Five signers reportedly were captured by the British and brutally tortured as traitors. Nine signers fought in the Revolutionary War and died from wounds or hardships. A large number of the 56, a dozen or more, had their homes pillaged and burned. Benjamin Franklin, one of the few signers of the Declaration and the Constitution, said after signing the Declaration, “We must indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall hang separately.”

Stockton returned to the practice of law, but developed cancer of the lip that moved to his throat, and Stockton died on February 28, 1781.

In 1969, a school in Atlantic City, the Richard Stockton State College, was named after him, and later changed its name to Stockton University.  In 2017, the school began the Stockton Exhibition Project to explore why the school was named after him. There are questions about Stockton’s having slaves at his Morven estate and not releasing them at his death. In his will, Stockton included this provision:

“And whereas I have heretofore mentioned to some of my negroe slaves, that upon condition of their good behavior & fidelity, I would in some convenient period grant them their freedom—this I must leave to the discretion of my wife, in whose judgment & prudence I can fully confide.”

Some have suggested that Stockton’s statue be replaced in the Capitol Rotunda, but no major effort has been made to do so. His statue is one of only six signers of the Declaration to have a statue in the United States Capitol. One of five New Jersey signers of the Declaration, Stockton was the only signer to be imprisoned and abused for doing so.

Dan Cotter is Attorney and Counselor at Howard & Howard Attorneys PLLC. He is the author of The Chief Justices, (published April 2019, Twelve Tables Press). He is also a past president of The Chicago Bar Association. The article contains his opinions and is not to be attributed to anyone else.

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

 

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Essay 49 – Guest Essayist: Tom Hand

Lewis Morris III was a wealthy man living a fairly quiet life when America’s quest for independence heated up in the 1770s. Morris, who was from an old, well-respected family in New York, risked family and fortune by joining the Patriotic cause, but he joined it, nonetheless.

Morris was born on April 8, 1726 at the family manor of Morrisania, a two-thousand-acre estate located in what is today the Bronx of New York City. He was the oldest son of Lewis Morris II and Katrintje (Catherine) Staats. Interestingly, his Dutch ancestry on his mother’s side, makes Lewis Morris III one of only two Dutch Americans to sign the Declaration of Independence.

In any event, Morris was educated largely by private tutors and was a good student. He entered Yale at the age of 16 and graduated four years later in 1746. He returned home and helped his father manage their properties. Three years later, on September 24, 1749, he married Mary Walton, the daughter of Jacob Walton, a wealthy merchant. Lewis and Mary had ten children together, and three of their sons served as officers in the American Revolution.

In 1762, his father died and Morris, as the oldest son, inherited the vast bulk of the family estate. (At that time, primogenitor law in which the eldest son inherits the entire estate of the father prevailed in English America.) He was only 36 years old and already one of the wealthiest men in the colony. However, his comfortable situation was soon to change as the 1760s brought increased tensions between England and her American colonies.

When the British passed the Stamp Act which taxed most printed materials, on March 22, 1765, relations between England and her colonies became strained. Although this legislation was rescinded about a year later, Parliament continued to assert they had the right to tax the colonies. Later in 1765, the Quartering Act which required the colonies to pay to house and feed the army Britain decided to station in North America was given Royal approval.

In 1767 and 1768, Parliament passed the Townshend Acts, a series of laws which included new taxes to pay the salaries of colonial government officials as well as new restrictions and punitive regulations on the colonies.

The first of these laws was the New York Restraining Act of 1767 which threatened to punish the colony of New York unless they agreed to adhere to the Quartering Act. New York complied, but Lewis Morris began to sour on English rule and became an outspoken critic of it.

In 1774, colonial leaders organized the First Continental Congress to address the growing crisis. Because other leaders in New York considered Morris too outspoken, he was not chosen as a delegate to this conference.

Sentiments changed over the next year, especially after the conflict at Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775, and the Second Continental Congress was convened. This time, New York selected Morris to represent their interests partly because of his enthusiasm for the patriotic cause. Morris served on several committees including one chaired by George Washington that was tasked with improving the supply system for the Continental Army.

When the fateful day came to affix his signature to the Declaration of Independence, Morris was warned by family members that doing so would result in the loss of his estate and fortune since British troops were stationed near his home. Morris famously replied, “Damn the consequences, give me the pen.”

As it turned out, his relations were correct. The British quickly devastated his 1,000-acre forest, confiscated all his livestock, and destroyed his beautiful home at Morrisania. Additionally, Morris and his family were forced to go into exile for the duration of the war.

Interestingly, New York, because of its large population of Loyalists (people loyal to England), was the last of the thirteen colonies to approve the Declaration of Independence. It did so on July 9, 1776 making the decision to separate from England unanimous.

Morris resigned from Congress in 1777 and returned to New York where he became a state Senator (he served from 1777-1781 and from 1784-1788) and a Major General in the militia. He was also a member of the first Board of Regents of the University of New York from 1784 until his death in 1798.

But Morris also spent a great deal of time in his final years restoring his beloved estate of Morrisania. He was there when he passed away on January 22, 1798 surrounded by children and grandchildren.

WHY IT MATTERS: So why should Lewis Morris and what he did for America matter to us today?

Lewis Morris was a wealthy man with much to lose by joining the American cause for independence. Moreover, by disposition, his preferred station in life was to quietly live out his life on his family estate of Morrisania.

However, when his country needed him, Lewis Morris was there to answer the call. By all accounts, he did so with no regrets. A man that unselfish and with that much regard for his country deserves to be remembered by us today.

SUGGESTED READING: Thomas Paine’s Common Sense written in 1776 is one of the most impactful books in American history. The importance of its message and the timing of its publication combined to convince a large portion of the American people that complete independence from England was the best course of action for the colonies. This is a must-read for all Americans.

PLACES TO VISIT: If you get the chance, you must visit Independence Hall in Philadelphia. This is where Lewis Morris and the other Signers crafted our Declaration of Independence. Entering the Hall where it all began in the summer of 1776, cannot fail to choke you up.

Until next time, may your motto be “Ducit Amor Patriae,” Love of country leads me.

Tom Hand is creator and publisher of Americana Corner. Tom is a West Point graduate, and serves on the board of trustees for the American Battlefield Trust as well as the National Council for the National Park Foundation. Click Here to Like Tom’s Facebook Page Americana Corner. Click Here to follow Tom’s Instagram Account.

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

 

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Essay 48 - Guest Essayist: Joerg Knipprath

It is unlikely that many Americans today, even many New Yorkers, have heard of Francis Lewis. Even though he is one of only sixteen to have signed both the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation, he seems not to have had much impact on the political direction or the constitutional development of the country. Still, he was reputed by a 19th-century biographer to have been admired by his contemporaries. Today, Francis Lewis High School in Queens, New York, preserves his name. According to its website, the school is one of the most applied-to public high schools in New York City.

Lewis was born on March 21, 1713, in Llandaff, Wales. He was orphaned by age 5 and raised by an aunt. After attending school in Scotland and England, he became an apprentice at a mercantile house in London. At age 21, he inherited property from his father’s estate, sold it, converted the proceeds to merchandise, and sailed for New York in 1734. He left a portion of the merchandise for his business partner, Edward Annesley, and took the rest to Philadelphia to sell. He returned to New York in 1736.

Having become a successful businessman with contacts in several countries, he was entrusted by the British military with a contract to supply uniforms during the French and Indian War. In 1756, the first official year of that war, Lewis was at Fort Oswego in upstate New York. During his stay, the French and their Indian allies attacked in August. Lewis was standing next to the English commander when the latter was killed in the battle. The British surrendered the fort to the French, and Lewis was captured and eventually taken to France. It has been written that he was kept in a box or crate during that voyage. His harrowing captivity ended through a prisoner exchange when peace was achieved in 1763. Lewis returned to New York. The British government awarded him 5,000 acres in New York as compensation for the lost years of his life.

Lewis once more turned his attention to business, and he quickly prospered. With his large fortune firmly established, he retired from running his businesses and became active in politics. When Parliament passed the Stamp Act in 1765, he changed his pro-Royalist sentiments and joined the Stamp Act Congress organized to protest the tax.

Thereafter, his political activism deepened. That same year, he was a founding member of the local chapter of the Sons of Liberty, one of a loosely-connected collection around the colonies of silk-stockinged rabble-rousers with their lower-class auxiliaries as enforcers. When the crisis between Britain and her colonies began to worsen, Lewis joined the Committee of Fifty-one, organized in New York in 1774 to protest the closing of the port of Boston to commerce. When the Committee was succeeded by the Committee of Sixty in 1775 to enforce the colonies’ trade embargo against British goods, which had been adopted by the First Continental Congress, Lewis joined that, as well. That committee was replaced, in short order, by the Committee of One Hundred, which directed the colonists’ program against Parliament until the first New York Provincial Assembly met and took over that task on May 23, 1775. The Assembly soon elected Lewis to be a delegate to the Second Continental Congress, where he served between 1775 and 1779.

In the Congress, he signed the Olive Branch Petition on July 5, 1775. That missive, written by John Dickinson of Pennsylvania, was a last attempt by the moderates in the Congress to avert war. The petition assured King George of the Americans’ loyalty to him. Dickinson pleaded with the king to create a more equitable and permanent political and trade arrangement between Britain and her colonies than existed as a result of Parliament’s various unpopular and, to the Americans, unconstitutional, acts. The petition failed to achieve its purpose. The King refused even to read it. Instead, on August 23, 1775, he declared the American colonies to be in rebellion. The message of peace and compromise of the Olive Branch Petition likely was undermined by the Congress’ adoption the following day of the Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms. Drafted in parts by Thomas Jefferson and John Dickinson, that document castigated Parliament’s tax and trade policies and its punitive acts. It did so in rather incendiary language, in sharp contrast to the tone of the Olive Branch Petition. As well, John Adams’ letter to a friend, intercepted by the British and forwarded to London, which belittled the petition and complained that the Americans should have built up a navy and taken British officials prisoner, could not have helped the effort to persuade the British government of the Americans’ sincerity.

As the final break with Britain loomed, the Second Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence. The vote on Richard Henry Lee’s resolution to declare independence, on July 2, 1776, was approved by 12 delegations. Lewis and the rest of the New York delegates had to abstain because they had not yet received instructions from the provincial assembly to proceed. After his delegation received the proper authorization from New York, Lewis and the other members signed the Declaration on August 2.

Lewis used his wealth and business acumen to assist the new country. He is estimated to have been the fifth-wealthiest signer of the Declaration. Before and during the war, he was instrumental in procuring uniforms, arms, and supplies for the Continental Army, both on his own account and through his administrative talents. He strongly sided with General George Washington against the latter’s critics in the “Conway Cabal” who sought to replace Washington with the politically popular, but militarily incompetent, General Horatio Gates. Lewis’ service in the Congress also included approving the Articles of Confederation in 1777 and being Chairman of the Continental Board of Admiralty.

Despite his wealth and his involvement in public affairs at an exceptional time, Lewis was no stranger to personal tragedy. Already mentioned was his loss of both parents as a young child, left also without siblings. Only three of his seven children reached adulthood. Perhaps most traumatic was the fate that befell his wife. Lewis had married Elizabeth Annesley, his business partner’s sister, in 1745. While Lewis was away, in 1776, his house in Whitestone, in today’s Queens, New York, was destroyed by the British after the Battle of Brooklyn. Soldiers from a light cavalry troop pillaged the house, and a warship then opened fire. Worse, the British took his wife prisoner and held her for two years. Historical sources aver that the conditions of her captivity were inhumane in that the British denied her a bed, a change of clothing, or adequate food over several weeks.

Eventually, General Washington was apprised of her situation. He thereupon ordered the seizure of the wife of the British Pay-Master General and the wife of the British Attorney General for Pennsylvania. Both were to be held under the same conditions as Elizabeth Lewis. A prisoner exchange was then arranged, and Elizabeth was released in 1778. She returned to be with her husband in Philadelphia. Unfortunately, her captivity had so ravaged her health that she died not long afterwards, in June, 1779. This episode illustrates the suffering that befell families on both sides of what was, in essence, a civil war. It often was a war between neighbors, former friends, and even family members, not one between organized armies of strangers with different lands, cultures, and languages.

Francis Lewis retired from public service in 1781. Thereafter, he lived a life of leisure, with books and plenty of family time with his two sons and their children. A daughter had married an English naval officer and left North America, never to return, a none-too-rare sad consequence of the war, and one that befell Benjamin Franklin’s family, as well. Lewis died on December 31, 1802.

Joerg W. Knipprath is an expert on constitutional law, and member of the Southwestern Law School faculty, Professor Knipprath has been interviewed by print and broadcast media on a number of related topics ranging from recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to presidential succession. He has written opinion pieces and articles on business and securities law as well as constitutional issues, and has focused his more recent research on the effect of judicial review on the evolution of constitutional law. He has also spoken on business law and contemporary constitutional issues before professional and community forums, and serves as a Constituting America Fellow. Read more from Professor Knipprath at: http://www.tokenconservative.com/.

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

 

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Essay 47 - Guest Essayist: Richard K. Sala

“And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”[1]

In 1903, in Huntington, New York, President Theodore Roosevelt delivered a Fourth of July oration celebrating American independence. During his impassioned remarks, he noted that “[i]t is a good thing, on the Fourth of July […], for us to come together, and we have the right to express our pride in what our forefathers did […].”[2]

For Americans from “sea to shining sea,” the saga of American independence begins in July 1776.[3] For Philip Livingston, one of four New York delegates to sign the Declaration of Independence, the origins of this great epoch commenced some eleven years earlier under comparable duress and at similar risk.[4]

The second lord of Livingston Manor (an estate encompassing approximately 160,000 acres on the Hudson River, a home in Manhattan, and a forty-acre estate in Brooklyn Heights), a graduate of Yale University and a prosperous merchant of considerable wealth, Philip Livingston initially opposed American independence.[5] Livingston opined that “[…] the thought of establishing a republic in America, breaking off our connection with Great Britain, and becoming independent: [was] the most vain, empty, shallow, and ridiculous project that could possibly enter into the heart of man.”[6] Over time, and upon repeated transgressions against the colonies, Great Britain would erode Livingston’s fealty to the British Crown—beginning in 1765.

In March 1765, the British Parliament passed The Stamp Act, “the first direct tax on the American colonies […] to raise money for Britain. [The Act] taxed newspapers, almanacs, pamphlets, broadsides, legal documents, dice, and playing cards. Stamps, issued by Britain, were affixed to documents or packages to show that the Colonists had paid the tax.”[7] The enactment of the Stamp Act enraged the colonist. Parliament passed The Stamp Act absent colonial representation. This passage defied the colonists’ understanding of representative government. Not only were the colonists aware that “the British constitution guaranteed the right to be taxed only by consent, [but] they regarded this right as a product of natural as well as of British Law […].”[8] Colonists “regarded taxation […] not as an act of sovereign power by the whole legislature, but as a free gift of the people by their representatives.”[9]

In October 1765, in response to The Stamp Act, and without the requisite authorization from Great Britain to form a Congress, twenty-seven delegates of the colonies gathered in New York to synchronize a colonial response to The Stamp Act.[10] The gathering became known as The Stamp Act Congress. Philip Livingston was among the twenty-seven delegates. Interestingly, Philip was joined as a delegate to the Stamp Act Congress by his cousin, Robert R. Livingston.[11]

Over the course of twelve days, The Stamp Act Congress drew up a statement of the rights and privileges of the British American Colonists.[12] This document is known as The Declaration of Rights and Grievances.[13] The tripartite effect of The Stamp Act Congress was momentous. First, the Parliament relented and repealed The Stamp Act as a result of the unified colonial response. Second, the colonies united in a way that seemed impossible before The Stamp Act Congress. Finally, “[t]he resolutions of the […] intercolonial assembl[y] in 1765 laid down the line on which Americans stood until they cut their connections with England” in 1776.[14]

Nearly eleven years later, Philip Livingston would pledge his life, considerable fortune, and sacred honor to American independence and sign the Declaration of Independence as the delegate from New York. As the fates would have it, Philip and Robert Livingston’s destinies were once again intertwined. Although Robert R. Livingston would not sign the Declaration of Independence, he was one of the Committee of Five responsible for drafting this Charter of Freedom.[15]

In August 1776, true to his oath, Livingston would flee New York after the Continental Army’s defeat at the Battle of Long Island—leaving his New York homes in the hands of the British. Two years later, under the pressure of an advancing British Army occupying Philadelphia, Livingston traveled to York, Pennsylvania, to attend a secret session of Congress. Without knowing whether the fledgling nation would survive, Philip Livingston died of congestive heart failure shortly after arriving in York. He was sixty-two years old.[16]

Richard Sala is a retired Marine Corps Judge Advocate and currently serves as the Academic Success Program Director and Assistant Professor of Law at Vermont Law School. Professor Sala teaches National Security Law, Constitutional Law, various bar preparation courses, and is the faculty advisor to the Vermont Law School chapter of The Federalist Society.

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

[1] The Declaration of Independence para. 32 (U.S. 1776).

[2] Theodore Roosevelt, Remarks at the Celebration of the 250th Anniversary of Huntington, Long Island, New York Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/343692 (last visited Apr. 20, 2021).

[3] Fisher, William Arms, and Katharine Lee Bates. America the Beautiful. Oliver Ditson Company, Boston, MA, 1917. Notated Music. https://www.loc.gov/item/ihas.100010520/ (last visited on Apr. 20, 2021).

[4] National Archives, America’s Founding Documents, Signers of the Declaration of Independence. https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/signers-factsheet (last visited Apr. 20, 2021).

[5] Denise Kierman & Joseph D’Agnese, Signing Their Lives Away: The Fame and Misfortune of the Men Who Signed The Declaration of Independence, 68-69 (2009).

[6] Philip Livingston, The Other Side of the Question (1774), The Magazine of History With Notes and Queries. Extra numbers · Issues 49-52, Volume 13, 246 (1916).

[7] Library of Congress. Documents from the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention, 1774 to 1789. https://www.loc.gov/collections/continental-congress-and-constitutional-convention-from-1774-to-1789/articles-and-essays/timeline/1764-to-1765/ (last visited Apr. 20, 2021).

[8] Edmund S. Morgan & Helen M. Morgan, The Stamp Act Crisis, 118 (1995).

[9] Id at 88.

[10] Id at 108.

[11] Id.

[12] Id at 110.

[13] Yale Law School, The Avalon Project, Resolutions of the Continental Congress October 19, 1765.

https://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/resolu65.asp (last visited Apr. 20, 2021).

[14] Edmund S. Morgan & Helen M. Morgan, The Stamp Act Crisis, 307 (1995).

[15] History, Art & Archives, U.S. House of Representatives, “LIVINGSTON, Robert R.,” https://history.house.gov/People/Listing/L/LIVINGSTON,-Robert-R–(L000372)/ (April 20, 2021);

[16] Denise Kierman & Joseph D’Agnese, Signing Their Lives Away: The Fame and Misfortune of the Men Who Signed The Declaration of Independence, 68-69 (2009).

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Essay 46 - Guest Essayist: Jay McConville

For those of us who spent our formative years in the suburbs of Long Island, including the Village of Setauket where I grew up, the name William Floyd is familiar, though I would venture a guess that very few are likely to know the story behind the name. As families travelled around those areas, or perhaps to the beach, including the famous Fire Island, the children would hear the familiar words, the “William Floyd Parkway.” I vaguely remember being aware of a historic home named for William Floyd as well, but I have no recollection of being taught who the man was, or what he did to earn such recognition. I may have been taught something in passing, but there is no doubt that as a young boy I was unlikely to pay much attention to such things. Our collective ignorance of Mr. Floyd’s life, however, does not detract from the distinction of it. It is only a shame, as there in our little village of Setauket we lived on ground trampled by history, a history in which William Floyd was a central character. It is also a shame that during those formative years, more effort was not made to teach us of the momentous events that took place where we lived and played. Perhaps, with some more effort and respect for the past, we all would have grown up more grateful and more respectful of our nation and its founders.

Even to those of us who traveled the road named for him, and lived in the town that his family founded, William Floyd did not achieve the lasting fame of George Washington, or Thomas Jefferson, or many others of the Founders and Signers of the Declaration of Independence. Yet together with them, he worked to bring about a new nation, conceived in liberty. He struggled and sacrificed, and did his duty, and his service to the future. He took the same pledge to risk his life, his (significant) fortune, and his sacred honor. Few know, however, of his life, and in that way, he was a man much like most of us. A man whose name, while respected during his time, will fade into history, and his years of service will go unappreciated by those who follow. He is one of the millions of American souls whose contributions comprise the fabric that has weaved itself into the tapestry of our nation.

Floyd was born in 1734 to a wealthy landowning family who had emigrated from Wales. His grandfather, Richard Floyd, founded the village of Setauket, where I grew up. The land was purchased by white settlers from the Setalcott tribe, one of the 13 native tribes of Long Island, which had its central location in that area at the time. William Floyd inherited significant lands from his father and, foregoing the educational opportunities available to a man of his wealth, he took to running those estates at only 21 years of age. He married Hannah Jones and they settled in to raise a family, steeped in the privileges of the landowning class. Floyd was a man of his times, which is a euphemistic way of saying that he owned slaves who worked his fields and tended to his operations. Slavery was then still a common practice around the world, but the concept behind it, especially the degradation of other humans before the law, had already begun to fall from favor. While this debate was prominent among the founders, Floyd, as far as history can tell us, was not an active supporter of abolition, and unlike many signers and political thinkers of those days, did not appear see a contradiction in the quest for liberty and the rights of man, and the slavery that supported his lifestyle. The census of 1820, a year before his death, still listed Floyd as a slaveholder (slavery did not end in New York until July 4, 1827).

Despite this glaring failing, Floyd was what we would call a reliable volunteer today. He was the person that the town turned to when they needed someone to run the committee, chair the meeting, represent the people at an event somewhere far away. Certainly, his wealth and status as a landowner must have first thrust him into positions of leadership, but it must have been his steadfast service and trustworthiness that kept him in positions of responsibility year after year, as the idea of a free and independent nation germinated across the colonies. Floyd was not a rabble-rouser, not a vocal rebel calling for revolution. He was a businessman, extremely wealthy, who sought independence from the abuses of England against his free enterprise. Respected by his community, he was appointed as a Colonel in the militia just as the Revolutionary War exploded across the Colonies. He would eventually achieve the rank of Major General, but his service was more organizational than combative. He was also selected to serve as a New York representative to the First Continental Congress beginning in September of 1774, and attended sessions in Philadelphia between then and 1776, when, along with the other original signers, he risked everything he had, and put his name to the Declaration of Independence. It was a risk that he took on freely, and one that he and his family would pay dearly for.

Many today are aware of the battles that took place on Long Island due to the popular television show “Turn,” a dramatic depiction of the events surrounding the capture, occupation, and eventually abandonment of Long Island by British forces. Many of these dramatized events take place in the Village of Setauket, and history records the Battle of Setauket as a major event in the war. As a boy I do remember being shown the bullet marks that are still visible in the old church and on the rock memorial that sits in the middle of the town. Floyd was in Philadelphia as a Delegate during this time, and when he returned to Long Island after the British left in 1777, he found his estate ransacked, his property stolen, and his lands plundered. His family had evacuated during the occupation, and the strain of the ordeal brought despair and sickness to his wife, who died in 1781.

Despair and loss, however, did not deter Floyd from his duties. Following his service in the Continental Congress, including multiple terms until 1789, Floyd was elected to the first United States Congress in 1789, serving one term. He ran unsuccessfully for Lieutenant Governor of New York against the (still famous) John Jay. He was later elected as a Delegate to the New York Constitutional Convention in 1801 and to the State Senate in 1804. Having reestablished his estate, Floyd lived a long life, remarrying to Joanna Strong in 1784, and adding two additional children to the three that he had with Hannah Jones. He died in August 1821 at the age of 86. The William Floyd estate still stands on Long Island (although Floyd moved to Westernville, New York, in 1803), and is owned by the National Park Service as part of Fire Island National Seashore.

It was a life well lived, in times of struggle and change. Records from the time do not make much mention of Floyd. He was not a visible presence or vocal voice in the Congress. Records from the proceedings mention his presence, but his impression on other delegates might well be summarized in a contemporary’s letter to John Jay, that named William Floyd as one of the “good men, [who] never quit their chairs” (Grossman, 2014, p. 397). We should all be grateful to those, who like Floyd, never quit their chairs, and ensured the founding of our nation through their service and sacrifice.

Jay McConville is a military veteran, management professional, and active civic volunteer currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Public Policy and Administration at the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs, Virginia Commonwealth University. Prior to beginning his doctoral studies, he held multiple key technology and management positions within the Aerospace and Defense industry, including twice as President and CEO. He served in the U.S. Army as an Intelligence Officer, and has also been active in civic and industry volunteer associations, including running for elected office, serving as a political party chairman, and serving multiple terms as President of both his industry association’s Washington DC Chapter and his local youth sports association. Today he serves on the Operating Board of Directors of Constituting America. He has a Bachelor of Arts in Government from George Mason University, and a Master of Science in Strategic Intelligence from the Defense Intelligence College. Jay lives in Richmond with his wife Susan Ulsamer McConville. They have three children and two grandchildren.

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

References:

Bayles, Richard (n.d.), Long Island Indians and The Early Settlers http://longislandgenealogy.com/indians.html

Grossman, M. (2015). Encyclopedia of the continental congresses. Grey House Publishing. Retrieved from https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.proxy.library.vcu.edu/lib/vcu/reader.action?docID=3299586

Landy, Craig A. (n.d.), Legal history matters; When did slavery end in New York, Historical Society of the New York Courts, https://history.nycourts.gov/when-did-slavery-end-in-new-york/

National Park Service (2020). William Floyd Estate, Fire Island National Seashore, https://www.nps.gov/fiis/planyourvisit/williamfloydestate.htm

Revolutionary War (2020). William Floyd, Revolutionary War, https://www.revolutionary-war.net/william-floyd/

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Essay 45 - Guest Essayist: Robert Brescia

William Shakespeare said, “Some men were born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them.” It seems that Oliver Wolcott certainly had greatness thrust upon him in the events leading up to American independence, but also achieved greatness by his own stellar leadership throughout this crucial period in our national history.

Oliver Wolcott was born in Windsor, Connecticut on November 20, 1726. Often the case, we didn’t know then that a regular fellow from a small New England town would achieve such prominence as an American patriot. Not only did he eventually sign the United States Declaration of Independence, but also the Articles of Confederation as a representative of Connecticut. He served as the nineteenth

Governor of Connecticut and as a major general for the Connecticut Militia in the Revolutionary War under George Washington.

As the youngest of 14 children by colonial governor Roger Wolcott and Sarah Drake Wolcott, Oliver began showing his potential at an early age. He graduated from Yale College in 1747 at the top of his class. Shortly thereafter, military duties called – he led a militia company as a Captain in the French and Indian Wars, defending our northern border against French incursions. Returning to Goshen, Connecticut after the war ended, he practiced medicine with his brother, Alexander. On January 21, 1755, Oliver Wolcott married Laura Collins. They had five children together. Oliver then became a merchant and was subsequently elected as sheriff of Litchfield County, Connecticut, a role he sustained for the next twenty years. By 1774, Oliver was known as a wise and good leader especially in difficult situations. For these qualities and demonstrated leadership, he was appointed the town’s Counselor, a role he served in for twelve years. While he was fulfilling these duties, Oliver also took a position as a judge in the Court of Common Pleas.

From the beginning of his service to Connecticut, and as a principal delegate to the Continental Congress, he took a strong stand and position against the wrongs that Great Britain had been perpetuating on the colonists. He became well known for these positions, vehemently supporting independence and freedom against tyranny. In February 1776, he stated: “Our difference with Great Britain has become very great. What matters will issue in, I cannot say, but perhaps in a total disseverance from Great Britain.”

Willing to fight for these strong beliefs of freedom and self-determination, Wolcott led Connecticut’s Seventeenth Regiment of militia to New York, joining George Washington’s army. At that moment, then Connecticut Governor Jonathan Trumbull appointed Wolcott as a Brigadier General, commanding all the state’s militia regiments in New York, later being promoted to Major General. Oliver never wavered in his fierce opposition to Great Britain, describing the British in his memoirs as “a foe who have not only insulted every principle which governs civilized nations but by their barbarities offered the grossest indignities to human nature.”

Wolcott was elected to the Continental Congress in 1775, serving as Commissioner of Indian Affairs. Because he possessed such diplomatic skills, he was able to persuade the Indians to remain neutral in the Revolutionary War. It was this same set of skills that steered him into post-war pursuit of public service. He was elected as Lieutenant Governor of Connecticut in 1786, then Governor, succeeding Samuel Huntington, holding that position until his death in 1796.

His legacy can be characterized by the extraordinary amount and diverse nature of public service to his state and nation. In fact, historian Ellsworth Grant remembers Wolcott’s Revolutionary war efforts in stating that, “It is doubtful if any other official in Connecticut during this period carried so many public duties on his shoulders.” He was also remembered for his love of poetry and family.

Charles Goodrich had this to say about Oliver Wolcott in his book, Lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence:

Mr. Wolcott never pursued any of the learned professions, yet his reading was various and extensive. He cultivated an acquaintance with the sciences, through the works of some of the most learned men of Europe, and was intimately acquainted with history, both ancient and modern. He has the reputation, and it is believed justly, of having been an accomplished scholar. Mr. Wolcott was also distinguished for his love of order and religion. In his last sickness he expressed, according to Dr. Backus, who preached his funeral sermon, a deep sense of his personal unworthiness and guilt. For several days before his departure, every breath seemed, to bring with it a prayer. At length, he fell asleep. He was an old man, and full of years, and went to his grave distinguished for a long series of services rendered both to his state and nation. The memory of his personal worth, of his patriotism, his integrity, his Christian walk and conversation, will go down to generations yet unborn.

He did not sign the Declaration of Independence until later because of personal illness, becoming the penultimate signer, just before Matthew Thornton.

Robert Brescia, Ed.D., serves as a Board Director, Past Chairman, at Basin PBS Television. He has served in top leadership roles in education, corporate business, nonprofit, and defense with twenty-seven years of public service as an Airborne Ranger Cavalry Soldier, NCO, and Commissioned Officer in the U.S. Army. Mr. Brescia was appointed by Texas Governor Greg Abbott to the State Board for Educator Certification.

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

 

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Essay 44 - Guest Essayist: Eric Wise
Public Domain Image https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Williams_(Connecticut_politician)#/media/File:William_Williams_(delegate).jpg "William Williams of Connecticut: Signer of the Declaration of Independence, Pinch Hitting for the United States of America – Guest Essayist: J. Eric Wise"

Rick Miller, playing for Boston Red Sox, holds the 1983 American League record for the highest batting average in a season by a pinch hitter at .45714. Miller, however, is not New England’s greatest pinch hitter.

That title goes to a signer of the Declaration of Independence, the redundantly, patronymically named William Williams. Williams, a successful soldier and merchant of Lebanon, Connecticut, was elected to represent Connecticut on July 11, 1776, seven days after the Continental Congress voted to approve the Declaration of Independence.

Oliver Wolcott had cast the vote on behalf of Connecticut, and Williams’ turn at bat came because the Declaration of Independence, although adopted on July 4, 1776, had to be prepared by clerks and circulated by messenger for signature later. The original Declaration of Independence thus bears William Williams’ name in addition to Oliver Wolcott’s.

Williams came from a good state. Connecticut is known as the Constitution State, and it gets that name due to the “plebesbyterian” genius of the early Puritans. Thomas Hooker, a Puritan contemporary of John Winthrop, Roger Williams, and John Cotton, led the adoption in 1639 of the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut in Hartford as a charter for the Connecticut River towns. The Fundamental Orders were the first charter government that did not refer to the authority of the King of England, but rather to the authority of God through the people.

As Hooker put it – fifty years before John Locke penned his Second Treatise on Government in 1689 – “the foundation of authority is laid, firstly in the free consent of the people … the choice of public magistrates belongs unto the people by God’s own allowance.”

Thus, the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, animated by Hooker’s thought, anticipated by more than one hundred years the Declaration of Independence, which of course draws its authority from the laws of Nature and Nature’s God, the principle of equality, and the consent of the governed.

Williams came from a good family too, and married into an even better one. Williams was educated at Harvard, graduating in 1751 at age 20.  In 1755, Williams volunteered for the militia in the French and Indian War, and served in the Lake George area. Following the war, Williams spent his time in trade and government, rose to prominence, and in 1771, at the age of 40, married 25-year-old Mary Trumbull.

Mary was the daughter of Jonathan Trumbull, also a graduate of Harvard and Governor of Connecticut by royal appointment of the King of England. It is hard to imagine a better-connected New Englander than William Williams of 1771.

The signers of the Declaration of Independence all pledged “our lives, our fortunes and our sacred Honor” to the success of the Revolution. Many paid dearly with the first two, though all in time gained honor. Williams, when he signed the Declaration, had achieved a great deal as a pre-Revolutionary American and had much at stake.

Williams had built and continued to build a record of daring for an established man. He was a member of the Sons of Liberty, a society which fought for the rights of Americans and against British taxation, until it was outlawed by the Stamp Act in 1765. Forced underground, the Sons of Liberty popularized the practice of tarring and feathering for the punishment of officials and loyalists, and were sponsors of the Boston Tea Party.

In 1774, Williams published a pseudonymous letter to the King of England from America, on the subject of the Coercive Act. Williams’ need for a pseudonym is a reminder that a telltale symptom of tyranny is the suppression of speech. In any event, Williams had crossed a line in his letter, accusing the King of England of the most wicked intentions to oppress the American people.

There was never a doubt then, when William Williams got his turn at bat, he would swing for the fences.

William Williams, pinch hitter and American hero, died in Lebanon Connecticut on August 2, 1811.

Eric Wise is an attorney practicing in New York.

 

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

 

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Essay 42 – Guest Essayist: Tom Hand

Roger Sherman was one of the most significant of our Founding Fathers but is little known and appreciated today. He was deeply involved in national affairs from 1774-1793 and signed five of our nation’s most important founding documents. No other early American leader signed as many. His rise from humble beginnings to a position of prominence among our nation’s finest is remarkable.

Sherman was born on April 19, 1721 in Newton, Massachusetts. His father, William, was a farmer and cordwainer (shoemaker) and taught Roger, his second oldest son, his profession. As was common with tradesmen’s children, Roger did not receive much formal education, only completing grammar school.

That said, William Sherman had an extensive library and Roger spent much of his free time reading and educating himself. Sherman showed a natural gift for mathematics and was able to teach himself surveying.

When Sherman’s father died in 1743, Roger moved the family to Connecticut where he was hired as the surveyor for New Haven County in 1745 and, later, for Litchfield County. He also met Elizabeth Hartwell and the couple was married on November 17, 1749. They had seven children together and their three oldest sons all served as officers in the Continental army.

The ever-aspiring Sherman next decided to study law on his own. By 1754, he was admitted to the bar and just a year later was appointed Justice of the Peace for Litchfield County and won an election to Connecticut’s General Assembly.

Elizabeth died in 1760, leaving Roger a widower with seven children. He soon met Rebecca Prescott, a twenty-year-old niece of his brother’s wife. They married in 1763 and had eight children together.

Over the next decade, as things started to heat in the colonies, Sherman held several political positions including Justice of the Superior Court of Connecticut, and became an advocate for the patriotic cause. The combination of his excellent record of service and his stance on the issues of the day led to his election as a delegate for Connecticut to the First Continental Congress in 1774, thus beginning his time on the national stage.

This legislative body met in Philadelphia to discuss their collective grievances with Parliament, primarily the recently enacted Coercive Acts which imposed harsh penalties on the colony of Massachusetts for their continued mischief. At this convention, Sherman agreed with and signed the two key documents created by this legislative body which signaled to King George that the colonists were not happy subjects.

One of these was a “Petition to the King” which outlined grievances against Parliament but largely held the King blameless, and the other was the Articles of Association (sometimes called the Continental Association) which implemented a boycott on English trade.

Congress adjourned in late October 1774 and Sherman returned home, but not for long. By May 1775, the relationship with England was getting worse and the fight at Lexington and Concord had already happened. Consequently, the colonies convened the Second Continental Congress and, once again, Sherman was chosen by Connecticut to represent the state.

A year into this convention, with no hope for a reconciliation with England, a Committee of Five was selected by Congress to draft what became our Declaration of Independence. This team comprised most of the heavy hitters of that era: Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Robert Livingston, as well as Roger Sherman. His selection gives clear indication of the respect Sherman’s peers had for him. Congress approved their draft and Sherman became one of its 56 signatories on July 4, 1776.

Another year passed and the war continued. Congress, on November 15, 1777, finally finished the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, essentially our first Constitution, which Sherman signed along with forty-eight others. Unfortunately, this system of government proved to be a failure and, in 1787, it was decided by our country’s leaders to convene a conference with the intention of improving it.

Sherman was selected to represent Connecticut at the Constitutional Convention and it was here he made his most significant mark. The conference was in danger of breaking down due to a conflict regarding how to determine representation in Congress. Large states like Virginia favored apportionment based on population and small states such as New Jersey wanted all states to have the same representation.

To break the impasse, Sherman crafted what came to be known as the Connecticut Compromise. It called for a lower house with representation based on population (the House of Representatives) and an upper house with equal representation (the Senate). Sherman’s plan was brilliant and quickly approved.

Finally, after much work, the delegates created and signed our current Constitution on September 17, 1787. By now, Sherman was 66 years old, the second oldest delegate at the Convention (Benjamin Franklin was the oldest), but there was no rest in sight.

After the new Constitution was ratified, Sherman was chosen to represent Connecticut in the House of Representatives in the first session of the new United States Congress in 1789. After serving two years, Sherman received his final political honor, being selected to serve as United States Senator for Connecticut, a position he held until his death on July 23, 1793.

WHY IT MATTERS: So why should Roger Sherman and all he did for America matter to us today?

Roger Sherman is representative of the many great Americans who sacrificed and worked so diligently to create America. While our schoolbooks typically teach us about a few monumental figures like Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, and Adams, the yeoman’s work of creating this wonderful country of ours was done by so many forgotten figures.

Moreover, Roger Sherman, a farmer’s son with limited formal education, is a shining example of what people from modest circumstances and with few opportunities can accomplish in this great country of ours by applying themselves. This sort of rags-to riches story can only happen in America and we need to be reminded of that fact.

SUGGESTED READING: “Roger Sherman and the Creation of the American Republic” is an excellent book written by Mark Hall. Published in 2012, it details both Sherman’s life and the role religion played in the founding of our country.

Tom Hand is creator and publisher of Americana Corner. Tom is a West Point graduate, and serves on the board of trustees for the American Battlefield Trust as well as the National Council for the National Park Foundation. Click Here to Like Tom’s Facebook Page Americana Corner. Click Here to follow Tom’s Instagram Account.

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

 

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Essay 43 - Guest Essayist: Tom Hand

Samuel Huntington was a patriot who devoted most of his life to serving his country. Moreover, he was a self-educated man who rose to some of the highest offices in the land by hard work and dedication.

Samuel was born on July 16, 1731 in Scotland Parish in the Town of Windham, Connecticut (today the Town of Scotland). His father, Nathaniel Huntington, had a 180-acre farm bordering Merrick Brook and was a successful, but not overly wealthy, farmer. His mother was Mehetabel Thurston, a very pious and virtuous woman. Together they raised ten children, four boys and six girls.

As the second son, Samuel saw his older brother sent off to Yale, while he stayed home to help on the farm. At age 16, his father apprenticed him to a cooper (a maker of barrels and casks) to learn the trade. Although he completed his training, his true interest lay in the study of law.

The only formal schooling Samuel received was from the common schools (community funded schools in early New England) in the immediate area. Not one to be put off, Samuel devoted his free time to reading as many law books as he could find, many supplied by two local attorneys, Eliphalet Dyer and Jedediah Elderkin.

On December 2, 1754, at the age of 23 and despite no formal schooling, Huntington was admitted to the bar in Windham. Six years later, Samuel moved to nearby Norwich, Connecticut to seek greater opportunities for his law practice. The next year, he married Martha Devotion, the daughter of his minister, and settled into domestic life. The couple did not have any children of their own, but when Martha’s sister Hannah, who had married Samuel’s brother, died in 1771, they raised their two children.

Huntington soon acquired a solid reputation and his legal practice flourished. By 1764, Norwich had selected him to represent their interests in the state General Assembly, an honor he held for the next decade.

The next year, Samuel was appointed the King’s Attorney (today’s District Attorney) for his area. In 1774, Governor Trumbull appointed Huntington to the Connecticut Superior Court, a post he held until 1784 when he was named to the Supreme Court.

After the battles at Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775, colonial leaders convened the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia. Connecticut chose Huntington to be one of its delegates to the conference. He took his seat in January 1776 and was a strong advocate for independence. Along with Oliver Wolcott and Roger Sherman, the other two delegates from Connecticut, he proudly signed the Declaration of Independence.

Huntington went home in 1777 and did not return to Congress until February 1778. In September 1779, when John Jay left for a diplomatic mission to Spain, Congress chose Huntington to replace him as President of Congress, a position of little power but indicative of the great respect his peers had for him.

His steady temperament and diplomatic personality had impressed his fellow delegates. Benjamin Rush considered Huntington “a sensible, candid and worthy man, and wholly free from State prejudices.”

In 1780, despite his wishes to the contrary, Congress selected him to be their President for another year. During this time, Huntington worked tirelessly to convince skeptical states of the need to adopt the Articles of Confederation, our first real constitution. That was accomplished on March 1, 1781 when the Articles officially became the law of the land.

In November 1783, Huntington left Congress for the last time, and returned home to Connecticut, but his public work was not done. He was chosen to be the state’s Lieutenant Governor in 1784 and 1785. Then, in 1786, Huntington was elected as Governor, a position he held until his death on January 5, 1796.

WHY IT MATTERS: So why should Samuel Huntington and what he did for America matter to us today?

Samuel Huntington was a man who devoted much of his life to the service of his country. From the age of 33 until he passed away in his 64th year, Huntington served in some public capacity, including state assemblyman, Justice of the Connecticut Supreme Court, President of the Continental Congress, and Governor of his home state of Connecticut.

During his time, this Signer of the Declaration of Independence was so highly regarded that he was awarded honorary degrees from Princeton, Dartmouth, and Yale. Additionally, his acquaintances included George Washington, John Adams, and Ben Franklin. That is impressive for any man, let alone one who was self-educated and began life as a farmer. A man like that deserves to be remembered by us today.

SUGGESTED READING: Connecticut Congressman: Samuel Huntington by Larry Gerlach is a book published in 1976 as part of Connecticut’s Bicentennial Commission. It covers the entire life of this remarkable man.

PLACES TO VISIT: Samuel Huntington’s birthplace and childhood home in Scotland, Connecticut is open for tours. The beautiful grounds include the 18th century house, museum, and acres of farmland bordering Merrick Brook.

Until next time, may your motto be “Ducit Amor Patriae,” Love of country leads me

Tom Hand is creator and publisher of Americana Corner. Tom is a West Point graduate, and serves on the board of trustees for the American Battlefield Trust as well as the National Council for the National Park Foundation. Click Here to Like Tom’s Facebook Page Americana Corner. Click Here to follow Tom’s Instagram Account.

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

 

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Essay 40 – Guest Essayist: Tom Hand

Stephen Hopkins was a Founding Father who was very influential during much of the 1700s in his home state of Rhode Island. In fact, he has been called “the greatest statesman of Rhode Island.” Moreover, he participated in all major pre-Revolutionary joint colonial conferences.

Hopkins was born in Providence in the Colony of Rhode Island on March 7, 1707 into a family with a long history in that area. His father, William, was descended from Thomas Hopkins who had moved to Providence from Plymouth in 1641 following Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island.

His mother, Ruth Wilkinson, was the granddaughter of Lawrence Wilkinson who arrived in Providence in 1652. Stephen grew up on a farm in what is now the town of Scituate (it broke off from Providence in 1731) receiving virtually no formal schooling. Instead, he read all the classics and was instructed by his mother and other relatives in subjects such as mathematics and surveying. By all accounts, Hopkins was very bright.

In 1726, Stephen married Sarah Scott with whom he had seven children. Hopkins became a surveyor and was soon a leading citizen in Scituate and, in 1735, at the age of 28, was named president of the town council. He also represented Scituate in the Rhode Island General Assembly from 1732 to 1741 and was named its Speaker in 1742.

Stephen moved to Providence in 1742 where his brother Esek lived and together they began a prosperous mercantile-shipping firm, including building and outfitting ships. His business acumen was largely responsible for transforming Providence into a thriving commercial center.

While growing his business, Hopkins was also growing his influence in state affairs. He served in the Provincial Assembly from 1744-1751 and became the Chief Justice of the Rhode Island Superior Court in 1751. In 1755, Hopkins was elected to the Governorship of Rhode Island, a position he held for nine of the next thirteen years.

In 1754, at the start of the French and Indian War, colonial leaders met at the Albany Congress to discuss how to best organize their efforts against the French. Rhode Island selected Hopkins to represent their interests at this conference.

At this meeting, Hopkins met Benjamin Franklin who introduced the so-called “Albany Plan,” the first effort to unify the energies and resources of the various colonies. Hopkins strongly supported this proposal, but it was not approved by the King’s officials because the governors of the separate colonies and the Ministry back in England feared losing their power.

As the years moved forward and the relationship between the Mother Country and her colonies worsened, Hopkins became an outspoken proponent of the rights of American colonists. In 1764, Hopkins published a pamphlet called The Rights of the Colonies Examined which detailed those rights. He stated, “British subjects are to be governed only agreeable to laws by which they themselves have in some way consented.” The paper was widely disseminated and praised throughout the colonies.

Ten years later, in 1774, Hopkins was named as a representative to the First Continental Congress where he strongly advocated separation from England. At this meeting, Hopkins stated, “…powder and ball will decide this question. The gun and bayonet alone will finish the contest in which we are engaged, and any of you who cannot bring your minds to this mode of adjusting this question had better retire in time.”

Hopkins was also selected to attend the Second Continental Congress in 1775. Other than his long-time friend Ben Franklin, Hopkins was the oldest delegate there. He suffered from “shaking palsy” and when he proudly signed the Declaration of Independence, his signature appeared unsteady. However, Hopkins declared, “My hand trembles, but my heart does not.”

Soon thereafter, Hopkins, whose health was failing, returned home. He lived long enough to see his country finally attain its independence from England. When Hopkins passed away on July 13, 1785, America had lost one of her truest Patriots.

WHY IT MATTERS: So why should Stephen Hopkins and what he did for America matter to us today?

Stephen Hopkins was a man who devoted much of his life to helping his local community, colony/state, and country become a better place to live. Although he was self-educated, he attained the highest offices in Rhode Island, serving as that state’s Speaker of the General Assembly, Chief Justice of the Superior Court, Governor, and representative to both the First and Second Continental Congress.

Stephen Hopkins did all in his power to help create this great country of ours. We owe him our respect and gratitude for his efforts.

SUGGESTED READING: The Rights of Colonies Examined written by Stephen Hopkins in 1764 was one of the finest political pamphlets published in pre-Revolutionary America. It is an excellent read and recent reprints can be found online.

PLACES TO VISIT: The Governor Stephen Hopkins House is a museum and National Historic Landmark in Providence, Rhode Island. Originally built in 1707, Stephen Hopkins bought the house in 1742 and lived there for over forty years.

Until next time, may your motto be “Ducit Amor Patriae,” Love of country leads me.

Tom Hand is creator and publisher of Americana Corner. Tom is a West Point graduate, and serves on the board of trustees for the American Battlefield Trust as well as the National Council for the National Park Foundation. Click Here to Like Tom’s Facebook Page Americana Corner. Click Here to follow Tom’s Instagram Account.

Podcast by Maureen Quinn. 

 

 

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Essay 39 – Guest Essayist: Tom Hand

Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts was an early voice calling for the American colonies to separate from England and declare independence. However, Gerry and his accomplishments are largely forgotten today.

Gerry was born on July 17, 1744 in Marblehead, Massachusetts. At that time, Marblehead was one of the leading seaports in North America. Gerry’s father was a prosperous merchant operating ships out of that port, primarily exporting dried cod to the Caribbean and Spain.

Elbridge received an excellent education as a child from private tutors and then attended Harvard where he graduated with two degrees, the second of which came in 1764. Gerry soon thereafter joined his father and two brothers in the family business.

In 1765, Parliament enacted the Stamp Act, the first of several legislative measures to raise revenue by taxing the colonies. The recently completed French and Indian War had depleted the British Treasury and England hoped to remedy this situation partly on the backs of their American subjects.

Gerry became an early opponent of these acts by Parliament, and he soon allied himself with Samuel Adams and other leading political figures in Massachusetts. In 1772, Gerry was elected to the Massachusetts Bay legislature which proved to be the start of a successful political career.

In 1775, as relations between England and its American colonies deteriorated, Gerry was assigned to lead a Committee of Safety charged with supplying the Continental Army which was surrounding Boston and the British army located there. His experience in the shipping business proved to be a great asset.

When the Second Continental Congress was convened in 1776, Gerry was selected by Massachusetts to be one of their representatives. At the convention, Gerry was a strong advocate for separating from England. John Adams stated, “If every man here was a Gerry, the liberties of America would be safe.” When the Declaration of Independence was adopted by Congress on July 4, 1776, Gerry proudly affixed his signature to this historic document.

Gerry continued to serve in Congress and was a signer of the Articles of Confederation, but he left that assembly in 1780 over a concern that too much power was being concentrated in the central government. In 1783, Gerry was persuaded to return to the Confederation Congress which was meeting in New York. While there, Elbridge met Ann Thompson and the two were married in 1786. Over the course of the next fifteen years, the couple had ten children.

When issues arose due to weaknesses in the Articles of Confederation, the states called the Constitutional Convention in 1787 to fix them. Gerry represented Massachusetts but was against the proposed Constitution because he felt the new document vested too much power in the federal government.

Gerry worried the country would drift towards monarchy or aristocratic rule with the new system of government. He also felt the Constitution should include a bill of rights guaranteeing personal freedoms to the people. As it turned out, Gerry was one of only three delegates to the Constitutional Convention that refused to sign the Constitution (George Mason and Edmond Randolph were the other two).

Following the establishment of the new Federal government, Gerry served two terms in the House of Representatives (1789-1793). He chose not to seek a third term and returned home to care for Ann, who was ill, and help care for the children. During this interval, Gerry maintained good relations with then Vice President John Adams.

When Adams became President in 1800, Adams selected Gerry, along with John Marshall and Charles Pinckney, to act as commissioners to France to settle some maritime disputes. This delegation ended badly when French representatives demanded bribes before starting negotiations and the Americans left France in disgust. This episode was called the XYZ Affair with the initials representing the three Frenchmen who demanded the bribes.

Gerry returned home to criticism that he had handled the situation poorly. Following this controversy, Gerry spent the next decade unsuccessfully trying to get elected as Governor of Massachusetts. Finally, in 1811, Gerry achieved his goal and served in this capacity until 1812.

Interestingly, one of his final acts as Governor was to sign a bill which created Congressional districts that benefitted his party, the Democratic-Republicans. One was shaped like a salamander and a cynical correspondent dubbed this district a “Gerrymander,” a name which is still widely used today.

Finally, in 1812, Gerry was selected to be President James Madison’s Vice President for Madison’s second term. It was felt that Gerry could help Madison, a Virginian, secure Northern votes. While serving in this office, Gerry died on November 23, 1814 and was buried in Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C. Interestingly, Gerry is the only signer of the Declaration of Independence interred in our nation’s capital.

WHY IT MATTERS: So why should Elbridge Gerry and what he did for America matter to us today?

Elbridge Gerry devoted the better part of his life to the service of his country. Starting in 1770, when he sat on a commission trying to enforce a ban on British goods to when he died in 1814 while Vice President of the United States, Gerry faithfully served America.

This gifted man served in the Second Continental Congress, the Constitutional Convention, the United States House of Representatives, and as Vice President. That is an impressive resume. Largely forgotten today, Elbridge Gerry deserves to be remembered for all he did to help create this great country of ours.

SUGGESTED READING: If you want to read more about our founding era, an excellent book is “The Founding Fathers; An Essential Guide to the Men Who Made America.” Published in 2007 and authored by Encyclopedia Britannica, it has concise narratives of our nation’s critical documents and Founding Fathers, including Elbridge Gerry.

Tom Hand is creator and publisher of Americana Corner. Tom is a West Point graduate, and serves on the board of trustees for the American Battlefield Trust as well as the National Council for the National Park Foundation. Click Here to Like Tom’s Facebook Page Americana Corner. Click Here to follow Tom’s Instagram Account.

 

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

 

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Essay 41 - Guest Essayist: Tom Hand

William Ellery of Rhode Island was a strong supporter of the American effort to gain its independence from England. He did this in many ways, but perhaps most significantly by signing the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

Ellery was born on December 22, 1727 in Newport, Rhode Island. He was the second son of William Ellery and Elizabeth Almy. His father was a graduate of Harvard and a successful merchant. Young William did not attend any formal schools, but instead his learned father provided most of his instruction.

He was a fast learner and went to Harvard at the age of 16. Ellery graduated four years later in 1747 and, by all accounts, was a good student. William soon returned to Newport and entered the family business. Two years later, in 1750, he married Ann Remington with whom he had seven children.

Ellery then moved on from his father’s employment and became a customs collector and then later the Clerk of the Rhode Island General Assembly. While in this capacity, William was able to become familiar with writs, deeds, and other practices of the legal profession. He found he enjoyed this field and began studying law. William passed the Bar and set up his own practice in 1770 at the age of 43.

When relations between England and her American colonies soured in the 1760s, Ellery became a vocal opponent of British oppression and joined the Sons of Liberty, a group of like-minded Patriots. He stated, “To be ruled by Tories (supporters of England) when you may be ruled by the Sons of Liberty is debasing.”

Interestingly, two of the first acts of resistance in the colonies occurred in Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay and were initiated by Ellery’s fellow Rhode Islanders. The first incident was the burning of the British ship Liberty, a craft used to collect maritime revenues, on July 19, 1769.  Then, on June 8, 1772, these same Rhode Islanders burned the British ship Gaspee, another customs vessel. In both cases, these ships had apprehended a boat owned by an American colonist for supposed customs violations.

When the Second Continental Congress was called in 1775 to address the deteriorating situation with England, Ellery let it be known he would gladly participate if needed. When Samuel Ward, one of Rhode Island’s delegates to this conference, died on March 26, 1776, state leaders selected Ellery to replace him.

Ellery joined this assemblage on May 16, 1776, and proudly affixed his signature to the Declaration of Independence when it was officially signed on August 2, 1776. He wrote to his brother Benjamin, “We have lived to see a period which a few years ago no human forecast could have imagined – to see these Colonies shake off and declare themselves independent of a state which they once gloried to call Parent.”

He continued to be an active participant in Congress until 1785, especially in maritime matters. Because of his experience as a shipping merchant, Ellery was named to the Marine Committee and the Admiralty Court. He also signed the Articles of Confederation in November 1777.

Unfortunately for Ellery, his involvement in the colonial cause cost him quite a bit of money. Besides not being available to do work for his paying legal clients, when the British captured Newport in 1778, they sought out Ellery’s home and burned it to the ground. This incident is a reminder of what our Founders sacrificed and risked promoting our quest for independence.

When the new Federal government was instituted in 1789, President George Washington named William as the Collector of Customs for the Newport District. Ellery held this post through many administrations until his death in 1820.

When Ellery died on February 15, 1820, he was 92 years old, one of only three signers (Charles Carroll of Carrollton and John Adams) who lived into their 90s. In his lifetime he outlived two wives, fathered 19 children, served five different Presidents as a customs’ official, and signed the Declaration of Independence. He had quite a life.

WHY IT MATTERS: So why should William Ellery and what he did for America matter to us today?

William Ellery was an early and strong advocate for American independence. Despite having a lucrative law practice, Ellery gladly gave his time and energies to the Second Continental Congress.

He was highly respected by his contemporaries and his advice was sought on many matters. Although he spent most of his life in private pursuits, Ellery did all he could to help his country when it needed him most. That sort of life deserves to be remembered.

SUGGESTED READING: An excellent book on our founding principles like those stated in the Declaration of Independence is We Still Hold These Truths by Matthew Spalding. Published in 2009, it is well worth reading.

PLACES TO VISIT: The Naval War College Museum in Newport, Rhode Island is a great place to visit. Housed in Founders Hall, which was originally built in 1819, the museum has displays on the history of naval warfare and the naval activities that took place in Narragansett Bay.

Until next time, may your motto be “Ducit Amor Patriae”, Love of country leads me.

Tom Hand is creator and publisher of Americana Corner. Tom is a West Point graduate, and serves on the board of trustees for the American Battlefield Trust as well as the National Council for the National Park Foundation. Click Here to Like Tom’s Facebook Page Americana Corner. Click Here to follow Tom’s Instagram Account.

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

 

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Essay 38 – Guest Essayist: Tom Hand

Robert Treat Paine was an American patriot who helped our country gain its independence from England. He did this in many ways, but perhaps most significantly by signing the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

Paine was born on March 11, 1731, in Boston near Old City Hall. His father was Reverend Thomas Paine, a Harvard educated minister, and his mother was Eunice Treat, the daughter of a preacher, and granddaughter of Governor Robert Treat of Connecticut. Soon after Robert’s birth, his father left full-time preaching and became a successful merchant.

Robert received an excellent education at the Boston Latin School, the oldest public school in America. He was a bright child and finished at the top of his class. He entered Harvard at the tender age of 14 and graduated four years later.

Due to Robert’s father losing his fortune in 1749, Robert knew he had to make his own way in the world. After teaching for a year, Robert went to sea as a merchant ship captain from 1751-1754. His business pursuits were not very lucrative and, in 1755, he began to study law under Judge Samuel Willard, a relative in Lancaster, Massachusetts. To help make ends meet, Paine continued to preach part-time in nearby Shirley.

In 1755, the French and Indian War had started. As any adventurous young man might do, Paine took a three-month break from his studies and volunteered as a chaplain on an expedition to assault Fort Saint-Frederic (today Crown Point). While the attack did not amount to much, it was a good experience for Paine and gave him an appreciation for the military and the needs of an army.

Upon returning, Robert resumed his legal studies and, in 1757, was admitted to the Massachusetts bar. He initially set up shop in Boston and four years later he moved his practice to Taunton, Massachusetts. His ability soon made Paine a leading citizen in Taunton and his business flourished.

In 1766, at the age of 35, Paine’s mind turned to romance, and he began courting twenty-two-year-old Sally Cobb. Four years later, the couple was married at the Cobb family house called “the Chapel” in Attleborough, Massachusetts. Robert and Sally had eight children and, surprisingly for the times, all survived to adulthood.

By 1768, Paine had gotten actively involved in the patriotic cause. He served as Taunton’s delegate at a colonial conference to discuss the landing of British troops in Boston earlier that year. While Paine took a moderate stance regarding separating from the Mother Country, he recognized that the abuses of the English could not be tolerated.

Two years later, on March 5, 1770, these same troops quarreled with a group of Boston citizens (more of a violent mob if truth be told). The result of this encounter was the so-called Boston Massacre, in which five civilians were killed by the soldiers. Because the District Attorney was sick, Paine was selected to prosecute the soldiers who were charged with murder. The opposing counsel defending the men was John Adams, our future President. Adams won the case, but Paine won wide praise for his efforts.

As relations between the colonies and England grew worse, the First Continental Congress was called in 1774 to try and rectify the situation. Paine was selected to represent Massachusetts at this meeting, and he signed the Olive Branch Petition to King George which asked the King to be more reasonable to his American subjects. This request fell on deaf ears.

In 1775, after Lexington and Concord, colonial leaders assembled once more in Philadelphia for the Second Continental Congress. Paine was chosen again by Massachusetts to represent their interests. He took an active role in the debates and chaired a committee tasked with the logistics of supplying the Continental Army.

Paine proudly signed his name to the Declaration of Independence in 1776. He wrote to his friend Joseph Palmer, “the issue is joined; and it is our comfortable reflection, that if by struggling we can avoid the servile subjection which Britain demanded, we remain a free and happy people.”

Returning home, Paine participated in many civic affairs. In 1777, he was named as Massachusetts’ first Attorney General, a position he held until 1790. Paine also served as an Associate Justice on the Massachusetts Supreme Court from 1790 to his retirement in 1804. He died on May 11, 1814 at the age of 83.

WHY IT MATTERS: So why should Robert Treat Paine and what he did for America matter to us today?

By all accounts, Robert Treat Paine was a fine upstanding citizen who contributed to the greater good in his community. He was a good family man, and he had a deep-seated Christian faith. Although he spent most of his life in private pursuits, when his country needed him, Paine answered the call.

Despite having a lucrative law practice, he sacrificed his own work to help in the American cause at both the First and Second Continental Congress. Like so many forgotten Patriots, Paine quietly participated in the shaping of our new nation. We will always owe a debt of gratitude to these unsung heroes.

SUGGESTED READING: An excellent book on our war for independence is Robert Middlekauff’s “The Glorious Revolution; The American Revolution, 1763-1789.” Written in 2007, it was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and is very readable.

PLACES TO VISIT: Carpenter’s Hall in Philadelphia, where the First Continental Congress met, is a great place to visit. Located in Independence National Historical Park, it is just a stone’s throw away from Independence Hall. It is a smaller, but beautiful building and worth a visit.

Until next time, may your motto be “Ducit Amor Patriae,” Love of country leads me.

Tom Hand is creator and publisher of Americana Corner. Tom is a West Point graduate, and serves on the board of trustees for the American Battlefield Trust as well as the National Council for the National Park Foundation. Click Here to Like Tom’s Facebook Page Americana Corner. Click Here to follow Tom’s Instagram Account.

 

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

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Essay 37 – Guest Essayist: Joerg Knipprath

If Americans know of John Adams at all, it is probably somewhat vaguely as a long-ago President. Adams’s tenures as Vice-President and President are not generally regarded among the memorable in American history. He was not charismatic, physically imposing, or politically adept. In seeming contrast to his Puritan roots, he also was rather vain. As a result, he did not come easily by loyal friends in the political world.

As Vice-President, he is probably best known for his efforts to devise titles for the President and others along the lines he had seen during his residence in the Dutch Republic, where top government officials were addressed as “His Highmightiness.” He proposed that the President be called some version of “His Excellency” or “His Majesty.” A Senate committee went further, reporting a proposal that the President should be addressed as “His Highness the President of the United States of America and the Protector of the Rights of the Same.” James Madison and many others raised objections about the monarchical tone, and, fortunately, the House refused to approve. For his diligent efforts in this matter, Adams was the target of many jocular “titles.” Senator Ralph Izard of South Carolina referred to the short, plump Adams as “His Rotundity,” and that biting remark stuck.

Despite some policy successes, including the build-up of the Navy, Adams’ single term as President was marked by foreign relations turmoil, such as the naval war with France, and domestic missteps, such as the Alien and Sedition Acts. Adams saw the office as a chore, and avoided his duties at a rate higher than any other occupant of the office. Samuel Eliot Morison relates that, in four years, Adams stayed away for 385 days, returning to his farm in Quincy, Massachusetts.

The Adams’ sojourns at their farm reflected a deep connection to their New England roots. In the 1770s and 1780s, there was probably no single American who was as influential in the overall development of revolutionary and constitutional theory as John Adams. His thoughts often reflected an enlightened Puritanism. During the Revolutionary War, Adams was a diligent and successful administrator. He was an ally and confidant of General George Washington, although, typical of the lack of mutual understanding among the elites from different colonies, Adams did not trust Washington unreservedly. Several times during and after the War, he was selected to undertake important diplomatic tasks. In the words of Benjamin Franklin, Adams was “always honest, often great, sometimes mad.”

Adams was an attorney. He had already made a name for himself, but still took a great professional risk, when he and two other attorneys defended a British officer and eight soldiers accused of murder in the “Boston Massacre” of March 5, 1770. After numerous provocations, and in fear of their safety, the soldiers had fired on a violent mob of colonials, five of whom were killed. The officer was tried for murder seven months later, the soldiers a couple of months after that. All were acquitted of the capital murder charges, although two soldiers were convicted of manslaughter. The trial produced one of Adams’ well-known quotations, “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”

Adams’ stature as a member of the radical faction against the British helped him, as well as the soldiers, with the jury. So did his family connections. His cousin Samuel Adams was of similarly militant inclination against the British. Both cousins were trained in classical history and political theory. Both were skilled debaters, though neither was a particularly compelling oralist. But John was the more intellectual “office” type, while cousin Sam was the more hands-on troublemaker. John wrote resolves, treatises, and constitutions, while Sam focused on organizing protests and riots, writing proclamations, and distributing outlandish propaganda.

John Adams had become involved in the political struggle that would culminate in American independence, during the controversy over the writs of assistance that the British used to combat smugglers who sought to avoid the Sugar Act import duties. Writs of assistance were general search warrants whose open-ended nature the colonials saw as violations of their rights as Englishmen. James Otis, Jr., was hired to challenge these writs in Paxton’s Case in 1761.

Otis gave a long and forceful argument that the act authorizing these writs was void, because, “An act against the Constitution is void; an act against natural equity is void.” This was a novel assertion in English law. It challenged the supremacy of Parliament, and, contrary to long-established English constitutional custom, suggested that the courts could refuse to apply such an act to controversies before them. Otis lost his case. Still, his argument provided the germ for the gradual development of basic principles of American constitutional law about the relationship between constitutions and ordinary laws, and about the role of an independent judiciary. As to the writs of assistance, five years later, the British attorney general agreed with Otis about their invalidity. Today, they are prohibited under the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution.

Adams was well-acquainted with Otis and was in the audience at the trial. He was much impressed with the argument, which clearly influenced his later views of balanced government and his drafting of the Massachusetts constitution. Adams also promoted Otis as a leading patriot voice. Both joined in their opposition to the next issue, Parliament passing the Revenue Act of 1764. The colonial assemblies objected that such involuntary taxes were invalid, a sentiment that eventually was captured in the slogan coined by Otis, “No taxation without representation is tyranny.”

In the disputes leading to the Declaration of Independence, Adams emerged as a prominent political theorist for the cause. His work Novanglus, of February 6, 1775, rejected Parliament’s control over the colonies. Adams instead claimed that the colonies and Great Britain were separate states, united only through the person of the king in a dominion status similar to that of England and Scotland. Based on the American theory of representation, and the practical obstacles to American representation in Parliament, such as physical distance, the colonial assemblies governed the colonies, while Parliament governed Great Britain. In an apparent contradiction to this argument, he did allow that Parliament could be in charge of foreign policy and trade, but analogized this to a commercial treaty approved by the Americans explicitly or by custom, rather than an inherent power.

An important part of Adams’s theory in the Novanglus essay was that the colonies, separately and in union, had their own constitutions that were not subject to alteration by Parliament. There appeared the influence of Otis’ earlier arguments that distinguished between Parliament’s legislative powers and constitutional limits thereon. In separate publications, James Wilson and Thomas Jefferson, future signers of the Declaration reached the same conclusions, as well. All rejected the “empire theory,” under which Parliament exercised control over all parts. These three were part of the “radicals” who also opposed the First Continental Congress’ Declaration of Rights and Grievances adopted on October 14, 1774. Congress there had accepted Parliament’s inherent power over the colonies’ external commerce, while rejecting that body’s authority over other matters, such as revenue. Adams adamantly rejected the moderate federal structure that the Congress’ Declaration of Rights embraced. Instead, as he wrote in Novanglus, “I agree, that ‘two supreme and independent authorities cannot exist in the same state,’ any more than two supreme beings in one universe; And, therefore, I contend, that our provincial legislatures are the only supreme authorities in our colonies.”

As the drive to revolution became unstoppable, and the Second Continental Congress declared the colonial charters void, Adams wrote a letter to George Wythe of Virginia, which provided a written plan of government to be considered by that state. The letter eventually was published by Richard Henry Lee of Virginia as Thoughts on Government, and its influence on the Virginia convention’s work was evident to Adams’ contemporaries, and to Adams himself. As he wrote to James Warren, on June 16, 1776, “But I am amazed to find an Inclination So prevalent throughout all the southern and middle Colonies to adopt Plans, so nearly resembling, that in the Thoughts on Government.”

At the same time, the Second Continental Congress appointed Adams to the committee to propose a declaration of independence. The initial drafting task fell to his friend and future political rival, Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson proposed that Adams write the declaration, but Adams demurred. It is said that Adams justified his refusal by telling Jefferson, “Reason first: You are a Virginian and a Virginian ought to appear at the head of this business. Reason second: I am obnoxious, suspected and unpopular. You are very much otherwise. Reason third: You can write ten times better than I can.”

With the war under way, Adams continued to serve in the Continental Congress. He, along with Benjamin Franklin and Edward Rutledge, composed a delegation sent to discuss a political accommodation with the British after a disastrous American military defeat on Long Island. The conference was requested by Admiral Lord Richard Howe, the supreme commander of British forces in North America, and his brother General William Howe, the commander-in-chief of the British land forces. The Howe brothers were Whigs and not unsympathetic to the American cause. Nevertheless, nothing came of the conference, and, as loyal officers of the king, the Howes turned to their job of settling the matter militarily.

The condition of the American army was deplorable, from a dearth of supplies and a lack of training and discipline. Adams was appointed head of the Board of War, the analog to the Secretary of Defense today. He immediately pressed Congress to accede to General Washington’s requests to maintain the army. Adams proposed that an enlistee who joined for the duration of the war be given $20 plus 100 acres land. To maintain discipline, punishments for various offenses were raised. For example, drunkenness on duty became punishable by 100 lashes instead of 39. The number of crimes subject to the death penalty was increased, as well. However, these Articles of War, written by Adams and based on their British counterpart, also provided proper procedures for the accused. Finally, Adams proposed creation of a military academy for better military training for officers, but nothing came of that until after the war.

Adams initially opposed alliance with France, but the desperate state of the American quest for independence eventually caused him to change his mind. As the war wound to a successful conclusion, Adams arrived in Paris as part of the five-member American delegation. Because several members, including Adams, distrusted the French diplomats, the Americans on November 30, 1782, made a separate preliminary treaty with Great Britain. It took nearly a year for the French and British to agree to their own terms, and peace was finally achieved on September 3, 1783.

Adams, who was an Anglophile by family roots and political philosophy, quickly wished to reestablish close commercial and diplomatic ties with Great Britain after the war. He became the first American minister to London in 1785. When he was received by George III, he hoped that “the old good nature and the old good humor” between the two countries would be rekindled. The king was willing, but the government was not. Efforts to enter a commercial treaty failed, due in part to the weakness of the Congress under the Articles of Confederation. The foreign department dismissively suggested that the states send delegations, instead. Adams left the post in 1788, frustrated and disappointed.

In addition to his numerous administrative and diplomatic duties, Adams continued to lead on another political issue, that of drafting constitutions and developing theoretical foundations for them. His principal success was the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780. The people of the state had rejected a constitution proposed by the legislature in 1778. Like other “first wave” state constitutions of the 1770s, that version had mixed different powers, vested primary power in the legislature, and contained no bill of rights.

Adams, like most of the era’s contributors to American constitutional developments, had read the classic ancient political writers, such as Plato, Aristotle, and Polybius, as well as more recent ones, such as Locke and Montesquieu. In their original languages. Adams, cousin Sam Adams, and James Bowdoin were selected by the Massachusetts convention in 1779 to draft a constitution to be submitted to the people. The two other members left the task to Adams.

The completed work, The Report of a Constitution, provided several cornerstones for future American constitutionalism. He proposed a government whose structure was more balanced among three independent branches than the legislature-centric state constitutions rushed out by the state legislatures during the drive to independence in the mid-1770s. Indeed, Article XXX of the Declaration of the Rights in Adams’s constitution offered an almost cartoonish version of an unyielding separation of powers. The Declaration also enumerated a long list of rights the legislature was prohibited from infringing. Finally, influenced by The Essex Result, a petition written by Theophilus Parsons against the proposed constitution of 1778, this new constitution was produced by a convention selected solely for that purpose, rather than by a legislative committee. Moreover, it was approved by town meetings, rather than by the legislature itself. This distinction between the function and status of ordinary legislatures and constitutional conventions became a critical catalyst in the development of American constitutional theory going forward and in the emergence of the judiciary’s power of constitutional review.

Adams’s creation influenced the next wave of state constitutions, as well as the drafters of the United States Constitution in 1787. Though substantially amended since then, the Massachusetts constitution is the oldest still in effect today.

The final work of Adams about constitutions, and perhaps his most comprehensive, was A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America, written in three volumes over the course of a little more than a year beginning in 1786. It was a response to criticism by Baron Anne Robert Jacques Turgot, a French government official, of the emerging systems of separation of powers in the American state constitutions. Turgot and others dismissed those constitutions as just the British structure with a republican gloss. Governors who were independent of the legislatures mimicked the king, and bicameral legislatures the British Parliament, with the senates taking the role of the House of Lords. The criticism stung, as Adams himself had drafted such a “mixed government” for Massachusetts.

Defence takes the form of a series of letters as if written by a traveler around Europe. At the time, Adams was the American minister to the English court. His focus became writing, his diplomatic obligations taking a subsidiary role. Summoning his vast knowledge of history and political theory acquired through diligent research, he examined numerous republican constitutions from antiquity forwards. He aimed to expose the weaknesses of the democratic structures and “pure” systems of government favored by Turgot. History, the record of human experience, not ideology, was the sole reliable guide for Adams. Only balanced governments had survived the test of time, a lesson applied to the young American republics.

Like Aristotle and Polybius, Adams feared that pure forms, especially democracies, were unstable and inevitably led to tyranny, because of man’s lust for power due to his fallen nature. Classic republics fared little better, because they, too, relied on human virtue to sustain them. Adams doubted that Americans possessed sufficient virtue, though strong government direction through support of religion and morality might have a positive influence. In early 1776, he wrote that there was “so much Venality and Corruption, so much Avarice and Ambition, such a Rage for Profit and Commerce among all Ranks and Degrees of Men even in America” that put in question whether Americans had “public Virtue enough to support a Republic.” In contrast, much later he would say “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” In between, his defense of the American state constitutions was founded on the practical recognition that virtue is not enough to ensure liberty.

Adams was not at the Philadelphia convention, but the first volume of Defence was well-known to many of the participants. Though Adams was criticized by some for what they saw as an abandonment of militant republicanism, the framers of the Constitution adopted a similar system. The “mixed government” of the Massachusetts Constitution of 1787 became the system of “checks and balances” of the United States Constitution which would augment reliance on the people’s virtue in sustaining liberty. As Madison wrote in The Federalist No. 51, to preserve liberty while allowing government to function, “A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.”

Joerg W. Knipprath is an expert on constitutional law, and member of the Southwestern Law School faculty, Professor Knipprath has been interviewed by print and broadcast media on a number of related topics ranging from recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to presidential succession. He has written opinion pieces and articles on business and securities law as well as constitutional issues, and has focused his more recent research on the effect of judicial review on the evolution of constitutional law. He has also spoken on business law and contemporary constitutional issues before professional and community forums, and serves as a Constituting America Fellow. Read more from Professor Knipprath at: http://www.tokenconservative.com/.

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

 

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Essay 36 – Guest Essayist: Jeanne McKinney

Samuel Adams believed that his ancestors’ voyage to America was rewarded by creating a society that “enjoyed more freedoms than anywhere in England,” writes Mark Puls in his biography of Samuel Adams. His family and other colonists lived under the Massachusetts Charter of 1691, a contract with the king that afforded them opportunities to pass laws and levy their own taxes. However, there was a tradeoff. The charter of 1691 turned Massachusetts, already relatively independent and autonomous, into a royal colony. William III was then the king of Britain and appointed his own governor and chief justice of the court, and the governor could veto legislation.

Adams was, at first, happy they lived with the same English liberties yet added privileges. Yet, when Britain began to expand their ruling hand, things changed. Adams became dissatisfied, resolutely opposed to British intervention and limits in their lives.

“Much of the credit for the Revolutionary stance of Bostonians belongs to Sam Adams and a group that came to be known as his ‘Sons of Liberty’ (or the ‘Boston Mob’ as some called them).” Boston in the 1760s was a hotbed of radical activism and violent protest against British colonial policy.

Adams was born on September 16, 1722 in Boston to his mother Mary Fifield and his father Samuel Adams Sr. He was the third child of twelve (only three lived past third birthdays). Samuel the younger cherished the stories of his Puritan ancestors who bore the difficult transatlantic journey to come to an untamed land seeking a better life.

Samuel Sr. and Mary raised their family in a house on Purchase Street, the church being the center of their universe. His father, a hard-working and successful malt shop brewery merchant, became a deacon. As a child Samuel was “unusually obedient” influenced by the religious piety and study of his mother and older sister who bore the same names. Deacon Adams, like any parent, wanted his children to have what he did not have.

Samuel first attended Boston Latin School, a feeder school for Harvard. Speaking Latin was a sign of refinement that set one apart in the blue-collar colonist society. He first considered ministry and in 1736, at 14 years age, entered Harvard to study theology. The prominent members of Boston society were merchants and ministers.

Samuel Fallows who wrote a book about Samuel Adams in 1903 said this,

“All the years have voices for them that will hear; and even the simple annals of the common place events have in them the heart of epic possibilities.”

Sam Adams was fascinated listening to his father, whose esteemed voice gained merit in political circles. Deacon Adams was a select member of the colonial legislature and political organizer. Leading men in Boston met at the Purchase Street home to seek advice while he helped form a popular party to offset the Loyalists. Younger Adams’ father was against Britain extending crown privileges, concerned the colonists would lose their rights.

Deacon Adam’s disputes intrigued his son. Intrigue turned to resentment when Jonathan Belcher, Royal governor and member of the Tory party, used his influence to put an end to the Land bank Deacon Adams started. It was hard times and many were poor and needed cash to invest in their farms, shops, businesses. Mechanics were desperate for tools and equipment and traders needed stock. The Land bank issued paper money replacing barter for trade.

Elitist Tory merchants and officials tied to Belcher formed a rival bank backed with silver deposits. They banned any member of the Land bank from using their offerings and removed Adams Sr. from his posts as a justice and soldier. Parliament issued an act to dissolve the Land bank in 1741. They applied a 1719 law “that held directors personally responsible for losses and cited another all-but-forgotten statute extending legislation in England to the colonies,” writes Puls. Despite protesting the act as “unconstitutional,” this threw the family into years-long legal battles and contentious efforts to hang on to the Adams estate that Adams Jr. would inherit.

The writings of John Locke enamored Adams. Locke maintained men and women were entitled to “life, liberty and property.” Also believing ‘government’ was bound to protect these rights. While at Harvard, he staged political debates, developing persuasive skills. He was unsettled on a career and his parents could not convince him to pursue a career in the ministry. Adams Jr. grew dislike for authority of any kind. He was independent in his convictions and motives.

He, with some friends, threw himself into a paper called the “Public Advertiser” publishing editorials and commentary from a Whig perspective. His first article argued that “[Loyalty] is founded in the love and possession of liberty.” Adams believed that allegiance should be given to laws not government leaders. He would become, along with John Hancock, Doctor Joseph Warren, and Doctor Benjamin Church the four leaders of the Boston Whigs. The key principles of the Whig party were to defend the people against tyranny and to advance human progress. In modern times, Americans began calling the Whigs “patriots” because of their immense love for America.

The trajectory of Sam Adams.

Sam Adams was financially dependent on his father, unlike his successful cousin John Adams, an attorney of stature. John would gain much notoriety defending the British soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre and winning a brilliantly-executed case using a jury of his own countrymen. Although cousins, the Adams’ were destined to become epic voices in the Revolution – they were very different in looks and approaches standing up to Britain. John was about the law and Sam was about protecting rights and property. John would join his cousin in the resistance when it was clearly evident one must accept the king’s laws, taxes and deteriorating rights. To oppose in open rebellion was a signal for great alarm. A future declaration from King George III promised any treasonous rebels death by hanging.

When Deacon Adams died in March 1748, son Samuel was lost and unstable having depended on his father for advice and money. This son of a maltster had no direction and now had to run the inherited brewery, plus manage the challenges of family and the fights to preserve their property. He developed a fondness for Elizabeth Checkley, the daughter of an esteemed pastor of the Old Congregational Church, and married her in October, 1749. Elizabeth gave birth to five children, but three did not live past infancy forcing a repeated cycle of grief. It was uncertain times as Adams embraced a lead in sowing the seeds of Boston’s unrest.

Adams continued to write articles about colonial rights diving deep into civic affairs by 1761. His concerns over property rights rapidly fueled his opposition to British imperial policies, thus turning him into “a fiery radical and rabble-rouser. He organized political opposition to the British in the Massachusetts colonial assembly and soon became the colony’s most effective Revolutionary propagandist.”

Although Adams suffered from a congenital palsy that made his lips and hands tremble, he was physically strong as an oak and “Every beat of his heart was for the liberties of his people.”

The core of resistance: British imperial policy and law.

Adams was against Britain sticking their noses deep into their lives. He knew as an elected tax collector from 1756-1764 the financial struggles that beset the people. His humanity got in the way of doing his job and a large sum of arrearages accumulated. The Tories turned this into an accusation against Adam’s honesty. Adams would go from an inefficient tax gatherer to become a leading patriot.

The Seven Years’ War from 1756-1763 (known as the French and Indian War in America) left England with enormous debt and defense burdens after gaining possession of French America and all India. The king tried to recover the losses from the labors of colonists. British Prime Minister Sir George Grenville set out to collect on the trade between America and the French West Indies.

The trade (that became smuggling) was essential for the colonists. Parliament demanded that all commerce be put through English hands. Officers of customs had authority to search houses of persons suspected of ‘smuggling.’ The people were outraged at the brash intrusion.

The Sugar Act was a tax imposed on the colonies in April 1764. It required the colonies to pay a tax to the crown for the importation of a variety of goods, primarily sugar. The tax schemes would go from sugar to royal stamps.

On the 24th of May of the same year, Adams submitted a paper to a town meeting of Boston which was “the first public denial of the right of Parliament to put the ‘Stamp Act scheme’ into effect,” writes Fallows.

Despite opposition, Great Britain imposed the Stamp Act in 1765. This was an outlandish attempt to raise revenue through direct taxation of all colonial commercial and legal papers, newspapers, pamphlets, cards, almanacs, and dice. These documents had to be produced on stamped paper produced in London, carrying an embossed revenue stamp. Among the Stamp Act’s provisions was the charge of two pounds sterling for a college diploma. The tax had to be paid in British currency, not in colonial paper money.

On May 29, 1765, Patrick Henry made one of his famous speeches before the Virginia House of Burgesses to encourage the passage of the Virginia Stamp Act Resolutions. Henry said, “Caesar had his Brutus, Charles I his Cromwell, and George III… Henry was interrupted by cries from the opposition to which he replied, “If this be treason, make the most of it.” He later offered a semi-apology. Fallows writes the utterances of Henry were like the blasts of a trumpet sounding the approaching Revolution.

James Otis, Advocate – general (official advisor) to the government took up with the colonists.

Adams took notes when he delivered a five-hour speech during which Otis voiced the infamous cry of “Taxation without representation is tyranny.”

The colonists effectively nullified the Stamp Act by refusing to use the stamps. Riots, stamp burning, and intimidation of colonial stamp distributors took place. The Sons of Liberty formed in the summer of 1765 under the direct command of Adams. He called the ‘mob’ out whenever he determined that a protest was needed against British action. Adam’s Sons of Liberty destroyed the stamps wherever they encountered them. They tarred and feathered stamp agents, sacked homes and warehouses of the wealthy. Colonists passionately upheld their ‘Englishmen’ rights to be taxed only by their own consent through their own representative assemblies. For a century and a half prior, this was the practice.

The welcome news of the repeal of the Stamp act reached Boston on May 16th, 1766. Guns were continuously fired; blazing bonfires were kindled. Church bells poured out joyful peals. Yet Adams did not share in the celebration of Bostonians. To him there was a sting in the repeal. For in it – the Declaratory Act was contained giving Parliament the authority “to bind the Colonies and people of America in all cases whatsoever.”

Though British statesmen Pitt and Pratt first gained the love of the colonists for denouncing the Stamp Act, they made a distinction between taxation and litigation, saying “while Parliament could not tax it could legislate.” Adams knew that a brood of “obnoxious measures” were coming to rouse the colonies to open revolt.

Adams held firm the colonists owed no allegiance to Parliament.

He would continue to oppose British measures to suppress the colonists. In May 1766, Sam Adams, Thomas Cushing, James Otis and a wealthy influential merchant named John Hancock were elected as Massachusetts’ representatives, destined to play a vital role in the coming severance of the colonies from the Mother country.

In March 1770, patriot blood was shed in the Boston Massacre. Sam Adams issued a threat to Lieutenant Governor Hutchinson that it was at his own peril if he refused to remove the British regiments from the city.

The Tea Act passed by Parliament in 1773 gave the British East India Tea Company a monopoly on tea sales in America. Sam Adams played a vital role in organizing the Boston Tea Party.

“Samuel Adams was the patient, persevering, ever watchful leader. His conspicuous ability in drafting documents became more and more apparent, and not a paper of any note was put forth which was not written by his pen,” writes Fallows in his book, coining history as ‘romantic, mysterious, inviting the imagination.’

“Better tidings will soon arrive. Our cause is just and righteous and we shall never be abandoned by Heaven while we show ourselves worthy of its aid and protection.” – Samuel Adams while encouraging wavering Continental Convention delegates in the gloomy winter of 1776-1777.

Among his accomplishments, he founded Boston’s Committee of Correspondence, which – like similar entities in other towns across the Colonies – proved a powerful tool for communication and coordination during the American Revolutionary War.

At first it was liberty within the laws of England for which Samuel Adams strove and that harmony be cultivated between Great Britain and the Colonies. But his views changed and he devoted himself body and soul as a firebrand for breaking the link that bound America to England, leading him to support and sign the Declaration of Independence.

Jeanne McKinney is an award-winning writer whose focus and passion is our United States active-duty military members and military news. Her Patriot Profiles offer an inside look at the amazing active-duty men and women in all Armed Services, including U.S. Marine Corps, Navy, Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, and National Guard. Reporting includes first-hand accounts of combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, the fight against violent terror groups, global defense, tactical training and readiness, humanitarian and disaster relief assistance, next-generation defense technology, family survival at home, U.S. port and border protection and illegal immigration, women in combat, honoring the Fallen, Wounded Warriors, Military Working Dogs, Crisis Response, and much more. Starting in 2012, McKinney has won multiple San Diego Press Club “Excellence in Journalism Awards,” including eight “First Place” honors, as well as multiple second and third place recognition for her Patriot Profiles published printed articles. Including awards for Patriot Profiles military films. During the year 2020, McKinney has written and published dozens of investigative articles in her ongoing fight to preserve America the Republic, the Constitution, and its laws. One such story was selected for use in a legal brief in the national fight for 2020 election integrity.

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

Sources:

Father of the American Revolution, Puls, Mark, 2006. (Sam Adams early life)

https://www.reference.com/history/were-whigs-tories-revolutionary-war-f0692d22d7afbf8c

https://patriotshistoryusa.com/teaching-materials/bonus-materials/american-heroes-sam-adams-and-the-sons-of-liberty/

Library of Congress: Fallows, Samuel, 1835-1922.

https://archive.org/details/samueladams00fall/page/26/mode/2up

https://archive.org/details/samueladams00fall/page/28/mode/2up

https://www.britannica.com/event/Stamp-Act-Great-Britain-1765

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virginia_Resolves

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stamp_Act_1765

 

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Essay 35 – Guest Essayist: Val Crofts

For a man remembered for his signature, John Hancock was so very much more. He was an early and influential voice for independence. He was a successful businessman and smuggler in Boston. He was a man who possessed a very likeable and strong personality that brought people together from all the colonies at the Second Continental Congress, helping to achieve unity and friendship between the men there. He was simply, one of the key figures in our nation’s birth and early history.

John Hancock’s famous signature on the Declaration of Independence represents his personality. It is fancy and flashy and it is full of pomp. There is a popular myth that Hancock signed it with a large flourish so King George III could read it without glasses; however, the document that he and the other members of Congress signed was to remain in the new nation and not travel to England, so the king would not have ever seen it. Hancock’s signature was the first signature on the signed document. He was serving as President of the Second Continental Congress at the time of the signing and he served in that capacity until 1780.

Hancock was born in Braintree, Massachusetts in 1737. He was also a childhood friend of John Adams, whose family lived nearby. After his father passed away, he was sent to live with his wealthy uncle who ran a very successful shipping business. He was raised as a very privileged young man and learned his uncle’s trade from him. As part of his apprenticeship, John Hancock traveled to London in 1761 and was in attendance for the coronation of King George III, whom he would help to declare independence from in 1776. Hancock’s uncle died in 1764 and John inherited everything from him. He was now instantly a very successful and extremely wealthy businessman at age 27. Hancock was a very vain and yet charitable man. He would give away as much or more of his fortune than he kept to local charities and he was very flamboyant in his dress and stuck out among the population of Boston for his fancy clothes and style. He was also involved in several committees and was active in every part of Boston’s activities.

Hancock became involved in the events in Boston that would ultimately lead to the Declaration of Independence in the 1760s. He was a huge opponent of the Stamp Act and wrote several letters in support of opposing it. The costs of increased taxation caused Hancock to increase smuggling goods into the colonies. Rather than pay the unjust taxes, he would avoid them by bringing in his products illegally. He was arrested for doing so in 1768, when his ship the HMS Liberty was confiscated by British officials in Boston for not paying taxes for the Madeira wine that was on board. Hancock was later found not guilty of smuggling, but his ship was taken from him. The Liberty was later burned in 1769 as a protest of these actions. This was one of the first violent reactions against King George III and his policies toward the colonies.

The taxation policies toward the colonies kept producing more anger in them. The anger led to protests and boycotts and eventually violence, culminating in the Boston Massacre of 1770 when five colonists were killed at the hands of British soldiers who were being harassed by them. Hancock hated the violence that began to erupt in 1770 with the Boston Massacre, but he understood that British policies were unfair to the rights of the colonists and needed to be changed.

Hancock eventually became public enemy number one to British General Thomas Gage, who was the commander of British forces in the colonies in 1774-75. Gage felt that John Hancock and Sam Adams were the two principal factors in bringing the rebellion to Massachusetts and the colonies. They were to be killed as soon as a rebellion started. In fact, there was a point that General Gage decided that if any colonist denounced their previous rebellious activity, they would be pardoned. The only two who would not be, were Sam Adams and John Hancock! Their lives were in danger constantly and bounties were placed on their heads. The British army also just did not want to merely shoot them, as that was too quick of a death. The British wanted them to hang so they would suffer more.

Hancock and Sam Adams were also part of the reason that the British soldiers marched toward Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775. Hancock and Adams were staying in Lexington that night and were alerted by Paul Revere that the British army was on the way to capture them. Hancock wanted to fight the British at Lexington when they arrived, but Sam Adams convinced him that it was not their place to do so and that their duty was in government. Later on, that morning, the two men escaped. Hancock would later spend his own money to help fund the Continental Army in 1775 and throughout the war. He took his generous nature and applied it to the entire nation.

John Hancock passed away in 1793, while serving as the governor of the Constitutional Convention of Massachusetts. His funeral was a huge event in Boston as one of their Sons of Liberty had passed. Church bells tolled, businesses closed out of respect to him and he was laid to rest in Boston as one of the main voices of independence and an enduring legacy as one of our key Founding Fathers. He once said, “I am a friend to righteous government, to a government founded upon the principles of reason and justice. But I glory in publicly avowing my eternal enmity to tyranny.” His most public display of these words was his signature on the Declaration of Independence.

Val Crofts serves as Chief Education and Programs Officer at the American Village in Montevallo, Alabama. Val previously taught high school U.S. History, U.S. Military History and AP U.S. Government for 19 years in Wisconsin, and was recipient of the DAR Outstanding U.S. History Teacher of the Year for the state of Wisconsin in 2019-20. Val also taught for the Wisconsin Virtual School as a social studies teacher for 9 years. He is also a proud member of the United States Semiquincentennial Commission (America 250), which is currently planning events to celebrate the 250th birthday of the Declaration of Independence.

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

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