April 10, 1788

Source: Ashbrook Center – Teaching American History

When great and extraordinary powers are vested in any man, or body of men, which in their exercise, may operate to the oppression of the people, it is of high importance that powerful checks should be formed to prevent the abuse of it.

Perhaps no restraints are more forcible, than such as arise from responsibility to some superior power. — Hence it is that the true policy of a republican government is, to frame it in such manner, that all persons who are concerned in the government, are made accountable to some superior for their conduct in office. — This responsibility should ultimately rest with the People. To have a government well administered in all its parts, it is requisite the different departments of it should be separated and lodged as much as may be in different hands. The legislative power should be in one body, the executive in another, and the judicial in one different from either — But still each of these bodies should be accountable for their conduct. Hence it is impracticable, perhaps, to maintain a perfect distinction between these several departments — For it is difficult, if not impossible, to call to account the several officers in government, without in some degree mixing the legislative and judicial. The legislature in a free republic are chosen by the people at stated periods, and their responsibility consists, in their being amenable to the people. When the term, for which they are chosen, shall expire, who will then have opportunity to displace them if they disapprove of their conduct — but it would be improper that the judicial should be elective, because their business requires that they should possess a degree of law knowledge, which is acquired only by a regular education, and besides it is fit that they should be placed, in a certain degree in an independent situation, that they may maintain firmness and steadiness in their decisions. As the people therefore ought not to elect the judges, they cannot be amenable to them immediately, some other mode of amenability must therefore be devised for these, as well as for all other officers which do not spring from the immediate choice of the people: this is to be effected by making one court subordinate to another, and by giving them cognizance of the behaviour of all officers; but on this plan we at last arrive at some supreme, over whom there is no power to controul but the people themselves. This supreme controling power should be in the choice of the people, or else you establish an authority independent, and not amenable at all, which is repugnant to the principles of a free government. Agreeable to these principles I suppose the supreme judicial ought to be liable to be called to account, for any misconduct, by some body of men, who depend upon the people for their places; and so also should all other great officers in the State, who are not made amenable to some superior officers. This policy seems in some measure to have been in view of the framers of the new system, and to have given rise to the institution of a court of impeachments — How far this Court will be properly qualified to execute the trust which will be reposed in them, will be the business of a future paper to investigate. To prepare the way to do this, it shall be the business of this, to make some remarks upon the constitution and powers of the Senate, with whom the power of trying impeachments is lodged.

The following things may be observed with respect to the constitution of the Senate.

1st. They are to be elected by the legislatures of the States and not by the people, and each State is to be represented by an equal number.

2d. They are to serve for six years, except that one third of those first chosen are to go out of office at the expiration of two years, one third at the expiration of four years, and one third at the expiration of six years, after which this rotation is to be preserved, but still every member will serve for the term of six years.

3d. If vacancies happen by resignation or otherwise, during the recess of the legislature of any State, the executive is authorised to make temporary appointments until the next meeting of the legislature.

4. No person can be a senator who has not arrived to the age of thirty years, been nine years a citizen of the United States, and who is not at the time he is elected an inhabitant of the State for which he is elected.

The apportionment of members of Senate among the States is not according to numbers, or the importance of the States; but is equal. This, on the plan of a consolidated government, is unequal and improper; but is proper on the system of confederation — on this principle I approve of it. It is indeed the only feature of any importance in the constitution of a confederated government. It was obtained after a vigorous struggle of that part of the Convention who were in favor of preserving the state governments. It is to be regretted, that they were not able to have infused other principles into the plan, to have secured the government of the respective states, and to have marked with sufficient precision the line between them and the general government.

The term for which the senate are to be chosen, is in my judgment too long, and no provision being made for a rotation will, I conceive, be of dangerous consequence.

It is difficult to fix the precise period for which the senate should be chosen. It is a matter of opinion, and our sentiments on the matter must be formed, by attending to certain principles. Some of the duties which are to be performed by the senate, seem evidently to point out the propriety of their term of service being extended beyond the period of that of the assembly. Besides as they are designed to represent the aristocracy of the country, it seems fit they should possess more stability, and so continue a longer period than that branch who represent the democracy. The business of making treaties and some other which it will be proper to commit to the senate, requires that they should have experience, and therefore that they should remain some time in office to acquire it. — But still it is of equal importance that they should not be so long in office as to be likely to forget the hand that formed them, or be insensible of their interests. Men long in office are very apt to feel themselves independent [and] to form and pursue interests separate from those who appointed them. And this is more likely to be the case with the senate, as they will for the most part of the time be absent from the state they represent, and associate with such company as will possess very little of the feelings of the middling class of people. For it is to be remembered that there is to be a federal city, and the inhabitants of it will be the great and the mighty of the earth. For these reasons I would shorten the term of their service to four years. Six years is a long period for a man to be absent from his home, it would have a tendency to wean him from his constituents.

A rotation in the senate, would also in my opinion be of great use. It is probable that senators once chosen for a state will, as the system now stands, continue in office for life. The office will be honorable if not lucrative. The persons who occupy it will probably wish to continue in it, and therefore use all their influence and that of their friends to continue in office. — Their friends will be numerous and powerful, for they will have it in their power to confer great favors; besides it will before long be considered as disgraceful not to be re–elected. It will therefore be considered as a matter of delicacy to the character of the senator not to return him again. — Every body acquainted with public affairs knows how difficult it is to remove from office a person who is [has?] long been in it. It is seldom done except in cases of gross misconduct. It is rare that want of competent ability procures it. To prevent this inconvenience I conceive it would be wise to determine, that a senator should not be eligible after he had served for the period assigned by the constitution for a certain number of years; perhaps three would be sufficient. A farther benefit would be derived from such an arrangement; it would give opportunity to bring forward a greater number of men to serve their country, and would return those, who had served, to their state, and afford them the advantage of becoming better acquainted with the condition and politics of their constituents. It farther appears to me proper, that the legislatures should retain the right which they now hold under the confederation, of recalling their members. It seems an evident dictate of reason, that when a person authorises another to do a piece of business for him, he should retain the power to displace him, when he does not conduct according to his pleasure. This power in the state legislatures, under confederation, has not been exercised to the injury of the government, nor do I see any danger of its being so exercised under the new system. It may operate much to the public benefit.

These brief remarks are all I shall make on the organization of the senate. The powers with which they are invested will require a more minute investigation.

This body will possess a strange mixture of legislative, executive and judicial powers, which in my opinion will in some cases clash with each other.

1. They are one branch of the legislature, and in this respect will possess equal powers in all cases with the house of representatives; for I consider the clause which gives the house of representatives the right of originating bills for raising a revenue as merely nominal, seeing the senate be authorised to propose or concur with amendments.

2. They are a branch of the executive in the appointment of ambassadors and public ministers, and in the appointment of all other officers, not otherwise provided for; whether the forming of treaties, in which they are joined with the president, appertains to the legislative or the executive part of the government, or to neither, is not material.

3. They are part of the judicial, for they form the court of impeachments.

It has been a long established maxim, that the legislative, executive and judicial departments in government should be kept distinct. It is said, I know, that this cannot be done. And therefore that this maxim is not just, or at least that it should only extend to certain leading features in a government. I admit that this distinction cannot be perfectly preserved. In a due ballanced government, it is perhaps absolutely necessary to give the executive qualified legislative powers, and the legislative or a branch of them judicial powers in the last resort. It may possibly also, in some special cases, be adviseable to associate the legislature, or a branch of it, with the executive, in the exercise of acts of great national importance. But still the maxim is a good one, and a separation of these powers should be sought as far as is practicable. I can scarcely imagine that any of the advocates of the system will pretend, that it was necessary to accumulate all these powers in the senate.

There is a propriety in the senate’s possessing legislative powers; this is the principal end which should be held in view in their appointment. I need not here repeat what has so often and ably been advanced on the subject of a division of the legislative power into two branches — The arguments in favor of it I think conclusive. But I think it equally evident, that a branch of the legislature should not be invested with the power of appointing officers. This power in the senate is very improperly lodged for a number of reasons — These shall be detailed in a future number.

JANUARY 23, 1944 – NOVEMBER 1, 2021

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Mr. Agee was Constituting America Founder and Co-President Janine Turner’s uncle and board member Janice Gauntt’s brother. “Stan was known for his robust, positive spirit. He was an avid reader, intellectually curious, and a dedicated hard worker. He was a very generous man to many. There was never a doubt of his deep affection for his family, country, state or city. He beamed with pride at the mere mention of his family, who were the center of his life.” Click Here to view Mr. Agee’s Obituary and learn more about his remarkable life and legacy. Click here to make a donation in Mr. Agee’s name.

December 26, 1936 - December 12, 2021

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March 23, 1979, 1941 – July 24, 2021

Constituting America thanks Bill Kohnke and Nancy Quinn for their generous donation in memory of  SFC Alex J. Hytowitz. Alex served his country for over 20 years as member of the U.S. Army Reserve and a member of the Georgia Army National Guard. He was deployed in two major theaters of operation: Kuwait, in support of the 2003 invasion of Iraq and Bagdad, Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. His third deployment was to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

Alex was awarded the Combat Infantry Badge in Iraq and the Bronze Star Medal for actions in combat in Afghanistan. Alex achieved the rank of Sergeant First Class and was admired by his peers and subordinates alike.

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September 16, 1941 – April 27, 2021

Constituting America thanks Geyer Dybesland for her generous donation in her mother’s memory.  Mrs. Wise attended Constituting America’s Hamilton/Jefferson debate with her grandchildren and bought many copies of Our Constitution Rocks to distribute to her friends’ grandchildren! She was an active member of the Lady Washington Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution and The National Society of The Colonial Dames in the State of Texas. She also served as a docent with the Bayou Bend Docent Organization for many years. She was a long-time board member of the Brown County Museum of History. Mrs. Wise was a patriot, through and through!

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December 19, 1938 – February 4, 2021
Constituting America thanks our board member Mrs. Janice Gauntt and friend Jan Wallace for their generous donation in Mrs. Polk’s memory.  Mrs. Polk was an enthusiastic and generous supporter of Constituting America and a respected Texas real estate broker.
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Essay 90 – Guest Essayist: William B. Allen

On this occasion I beat an old horse, just to prove that he is not dead. In this task I am not unlike the rhapsode, Ion, who kept Homer alive by memorizing Homer’s entire poems and reciting them at every opportunity. Unlike Ion, however, I trust that I do not mistake the wisdom of the authors for the wisdom of the rhapsode.

The relation between the Declaration and the Constitution has a different affect today than it did in 1860, when enemies to the more perfect union could find no pillar bearing more weight – and thus to be dislodged – than what they called the “self-evident lie” that “all men are created equal.” Those critics insisted that men indeed are not by nature made equal, nor should be. Today’s enemies of the more perfect union believe that “all men” in 1776 only meant all white males and, moreover, that not even they were by nature made equal though they should be. These critics insist, however, that what nature and history refused to humankind law can create (and they would indeed have all men equalized, the Constitution notwithstanding).

In 1860 nothing and no one so stoutly resisted the enemies of the Declaration than the Defender of the Constitution. Today nothing and no one so stoutly resist the enemies of the Constitution than the Defender of the Declaration. Abraham Lincoln established at Gettysburg that the nation “conceived in liberty” and confirmed “in the proposition that all men are created equal” must conduct its affairs through limited, constitutional union. Today we require to learn that limited, constitutional union can only be justified on the basis of the Declaration of Independence. What we mean, then, when we say that the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are best friends, is that they are necessary and reciprocal supports for each other.

Two proofs are necessary to complete this argument: first, that the Declaration requires limited, constitutional union and, second, that the Constitution requires the principle of equality founded in laws of nature and creation.

The First Proof: Limited Constitutional Union Is Required

We may restate the first inquiry in the following form: is it true that the rebellion against British monarchy would have been unjustified on any grounds other than the grounds of natural rights, and that natural rights must disclose not only people’s claims to justice but their capacities to realize those claims?

When stated thus, the first proof becomes, I believe, easily realizable. Let’s start with the negative argument. The British constitution and laws in no way recognized a right of revolution. Accordingly, the act of revolution could not have been founded on any positive authority. Moreover, the Americans were not disproportionately harmed, relative to other subjects of the monarchy. Therefore, as far as the conceded rights of Englishmen went, the Americans could have had no beef against the Crown. Although non tallagio non concedendo (“no taxation without consent”) was an established principle of positive right in Britain, it was honored more in the breach than in the practice (given the pervasiveness of rotten borough representation). Americans were no less well represented than many a Briton. Nor could America make any secession claim, since the colonies could not affect an autonomous status conditioning their place in the empire. To have a right to secede, they would have had to begin with voluntary assimilation into the empire. Political forms, which are themselves artifices, cannot derive principles of their conduct from nature as opposed to their architecture.

If the Americans were justified at all, in other words, their justification had to be extra-judicial, extra-political, extra-historical. When we read the Declaration of Independence, we notice not only the broad language of the exordium (“When in the Course of Human Events…”) and the universal principle of the enunciation (“We hold these truths to be self-evident…”), but we can especially notice the particular charges (“the long train of abuses and usurpations”) leveled against the King. It has been frequently noted that the very form of the Declaration’s indictment identifies the King rather than the Parliament as the enemy to America’s liberty. Sometimes this is thought to be a ruse to avoid acknowledging Parliament’s authority (the Americans claimed an interpretation of the British constitution that made them directly subject to the monarch without intervention of the Parliament). A careful reading, however, discloses a substantive and not merely rhetorical argument that highlights the Declaration as an initial charter of government.

Government for the Good of the People…

The first twelve charges against the King (all of them, that is, until the thirteenth, which associates him with the Parliament in opposition to the colonies) actually condemn the King foremost for ignoring the welfare of his subjects. The language of the very first charge is meant to characterize the particulars in all of those that follow:

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

Now, the laws invoked by the colonists here are the laws of their colonial legislatures, not any laws of Parliament. Thus, the substance of the charge is that the King, their sovereign, has declined to cooperate in their exertions of lawful and subordinate self- government with an eye to the public welfare. The implicit argument made here, clearly, is that persons are subject to government only for their good, and that argument is a principle that transcends any charter or act of government. It establishes a standard of judgment to which every government of whatever cast is subject, and in the name of which any people, any time, have the right, nay, the “duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

…Or Else Legislative Powers Return to the People

Each of the remaining charges against the King reinforces this same principle; each is a particular proof of the universal truth contained in the Declaration’s enunciation. Perhaps none does so, however, so centrally as that in which they accuse him of neglecting the necessary exercise of legislative powers in such a manner as to cause that “the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise.” But this very observation is followed with the particular notice that the result is to expose the people, inadequately provided, “to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.” This observation, then, makes the necessary argument that although in general the purpose of government is to provide for the public welfare, in particular it is to accomplish such acts as the people, otherwise unprovided, cannot so well provide for themselves. And where the constituted government — limited by this purpose — fails, it falls to the people speedily to provide such a government as can respect these limits and accomplish these results.

Each of the charges against the King can be converted into a positive affirmation of the obligations of government. For example, government must respond to “immediate and pressing” needs, relying upon local necessities and judgments wherever delays in execution would be a necessary part of reserving judgment to the highest authority. The needs of people must be accommodated without the cost of them relinquishing “the right of Representation in the Legislature.” Legislatures must operate in such a manner as to remain readily accessible to the people and with recourse to public records. Dissent must be respected within the assemblies that conduct the public business. Free movement of persons into and out of the country is a fundamental part of the liberty of citizens. Judicial powers must be independent of executive will and be empowered to render justice to persons. Citizens should not be burdened with excessive requirements to support public officers. A military administration is incompatible with public liberty, and the military must be subordinate to and dependent upon the civil power.

Architecture of Government Founded in Universal Principles

The architecture of government sought in these affirmations is founded in universal principles and not the English constitution. If there were any doubt about this, the doubt would be resolved not merely by comparing this to the actual English constitution of the day, but also by considering the weighty charge against the King concerning his activities in Canada. For there, the revolutionaries held, he abolished “the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing there in an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies.” Note that this produces a different picture of English laws operating in Canada. If Canada, previously French, were being anglicized along lines different from what obtained in the thirteen colonies, the thirteen colonies were not anglicized. Moreover, the demand for a clear-cut demarcation among the powers of government — executive, legislative, and judicial — derived not from English practice but from a universal principle.

This design of limited constitutionalism, further, was nothing less than imitating in human artifice the order of nature reflected in the powers of God affirmed in the Declaration. God held the three powers of effective order, legislative, executive and judicial. He legislated “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God;” regarding humans he was the executor, for “they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights;” and he was appealed to as “the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions.” God, in other words, united the three powers of effective order in his own person. He could do so precisely because he exists in an order above man and respecting which no “consent” to his rule could be demanded. No man is God’s equal, while every man is any king’s moral equal.

Therefore, no rule by men could assemble the three powers of effective order in the same man or body of men, without creating the presence of a power superior to man. The necessity of consent derives from the truth that “all men are created equal,” meaning that no one man is by nature the ruler of any other. In that circumstance, just rule among men can eventuate only from consent. To be effective, however, such consent must be limited by prudential separations of power that will prevent god-like domination. Men will fail to obtain such good as God has ordained for them unless they gather together in effective political union, but effective political union requires limited, constitutional government.

The Declaration needs limited, constitutional union in order to realize its promise of goods ordained by God for men. The Constitution responds to that need. The most evident forms of Constitutional response are visible in the architecture itself. The powers of government are divided into legislative, executive, and judicial branches. Among these, the legislative takes pride of place, being elaborated in Article I and bearing the most careful delineation of powers and principles of representation. This satisfies the concerns of the Declaration, in which the particular enumeration of tyrannical oppressions lists fourteen specific legislative power violations, ten executive power violations, and one judicial power violation. The list of legislative powers in Article I, Section 8 serves as a template by which we may assess the charges against the King as mainly of one or the other tendency. The Constitution established bulwarks where the experience recorded in the Declaration identified dangers. This same pattern is evinced in the Bill of Rights, which opens with the powerful stricture, “Congress shall make no law…”

The Second Proof: The Principle of Equality

The most telling evidence of the Constitution’s principles is provided in its architecture. Nevertheless, further, significant dimensions are contained in the language and tenor of the document. The Preamble has oft been noted as keynoting the document in its identification of “We the People” as the authorizing power of the government established under the Constitution. This responds, of course, to the Declaration’s insistence that the public good is the aim of limited, constitutional union. Moreover, it furthers the claim that not artificial, political entities create the United States of America, but the people, exercising a native, God-given right do so. Not less important, however, is the fact that the authorizing people are recognized within the document as fully entitled to serve in the government and to benefit from its ministrations. Those who are eligible to hold office on the Constitution’s own terms are distinguished no further than by reasonable age and citizenship restrictions. No religious test is admitted. No race or gender is excluded. In short, in the vision of the Constitution, “all men are created equal.”

Perhaps the most important affirmation of the Declaration’s constitutionalism is the careful provision for re-balancing, re-forming, and re-directing the government that is contained within the Constitution. The amending provision is evidently the leading, though not the sole, source of this understanding. The constitution is careful to keep the door open to the formation of new political subdivisions within the Union, at the same time as providing guarantees against arbitrary or unwanted re-constitutions of the political subdivisions. In the vision of the Constitution the states are both permanent members of the Union and autonomous members of the Union. The sovereign without their consent may not alter them. Further, political decision making is constrained by a careful regard to establish broad consensus rather than the mere weight of numbers – or, in other words, as nearly as possible all the people must be comprehended in decisions for all and not merely a disproportionate number. Whether the concern is constitutional amendments (which must attract three-fourths of the states), the election of the president (which must attract dispersed majorities throughout the country rather than a merely numerical majority), or the election of representatives (which must work toward broad acceptance rather than merely ideological conformity), the Constitution is a Declaration-minded charter, eager to avoid ever again exposing one part of the empire to the willful neglect or oppression of another part.

The detailed ways in which the Constitution, rhapsode-like, echoes the Declaration are legion and, mercifully, will scarcely reward rehearsal in these premises. (However, an appendix is added to illustrate the relationship.) A notable example is the subordination of the military power to the civil power, and there are many others. Yet, I would insist that nothing so fully explains the Constitution as the Declaration.

What About Slavery?

Now it will be reasonable for anyone to insist that the compromises of the Constitution be brought within the compass of these reflections – most notably, the compromises with slavery. Is not slavery the very denial of the Declaration that the Constitution is otherwise said to have echoed? No, we cannot duck this important challenge, for it is certainly correct to say that, if the Constitution were a slave-holding Constitution, then it could not have been a Declaration Constitution. Benjamin Banneker argued as much when he appealed, in 1792, to the author of the Declaration to take up the work of vindicating that document by using his office (as Secretary of State) and reputation (as author of liberty’s charter) to end the abuse that slavery was. Banneker believed that only by eliminating slavery could the Constitution be a true Declaration charter.

I would readily embrace Banneker’s impassioned plea on behalf of the slaves, if I were not already persuaded that the reciprocal influences of the Declaration and the Constitution alone provided in this world any hope for the eventual renunciation of slavery as a lawful practice among men. Although Christianity long before the founding of the United States inseminated moral consciousness with repugnance for slavery, it is doubtless correct to observe that it was only when Christianity combined with the political architecture of liberty that any real opportunity arose to sustain that moral consciousness through the abolition of slavery.

The Constitution, then, compromised with slavery. But in what did the compromise consist? Could it be fairly said that the Constitution purchased its ratification at the cost of approving slavery? Or, was it rather that slave-holding purchased an extended lease at the cost of approving a Declaration charter? I believe the answer to this question is that the latter is nearer the truth than the former. We have not only the testimony of James Madison in the first Congress, who interpreted the slavery clauses in the Constitution as revealing an opposition to slavery albeit in consciousness of the inability to eliminate it at once. We also have the very language of the Constitution itself. The studious avoidance of the word, “slave” – thus to avoid staining the Declaration charter – testifies volubly. Moreover, the tendency of each of the slave-provisions is to provide direct testimony against slavery. At least some proportion of the slaves should be regarded as human beings, for purposes of representation and direct taxation (based on population numbers). That language, the three-fifths clause, was borrowed from a 1783 measure that dealt only with taxation (and therefore led slave-holders to resist the formula rather than support it) and also made plain that all free persons included black persons not slaves. This meant that it was not a comment on the human value of black persons; it was rather a practical measure of the degree of influence the respective sides of the controversy exercised in making the decision. The slave-trading language (“the migration or importation of such persons”) again affirmed the personhood of the slaves. And it did more; it identified the trade as a thing eventually to be ended rather than an option for the future. And the last compromise, the fugitive slave clause, conceded that general laws regarding property should be enforced without exception (thus preserving comity among the states) while yet speaking of “persons held to service,” which included a class larger than slaves.

The slave compromises passed the Constitution, to be sure. But the slave power took the greater risk in doing so. For the other provisions of the Constitution constantly fostering and even encouraging a spreading democratic sentiment could fairly have been expected to deepen the modulated criticism of slavery contained with the compromise language itself. The fact that changing economic and demographic facts in subsequent decades rendered this a more problematic expectation cannot be employed to discount the initial prospects. Nor can it be fairly denied that Lincoln’s valiant and successful effort to recapture the original perspective owed everything to the prior existence of the Declaration charter. When Lincoln and Douglas debated whether the Constitution could apply to black people, and Lincoln reverted to the “standard maxim of a free society” (“that all men are created equal”) to explain the nature of the constitutional principles, we beheld in purest form the sustained, reciprocal interplay of the Declaration and the Constitution. Such a view should persuade us that they are friends never to be separated, best friends in the cause of liberty.

Author’s Note: Keynote address delivered before the New Hampshire Center for Constitutional Studies at its 2004 Constitution Day Celebration, Concord, New Hampshire, September 21, 2004. I acknowledge with gratitude the editorial assistance of my wife, Carol M. Allen. Published in Original Intent vol. 5, no. 1 (December 2004): 1-3, 5.

William B. Allen is Emeritus Dean and Professor of Political Science at Michigan State University.


Podcast by Maureen Quinn.




Declaration                                                         Constitution

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good. Article. I., Section. 1.
All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing im- portance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them. Every Bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it become a Law, be presented to the President of the United States: If he approve he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it, with his Objections to that House in which it shall have originated, who shall enter the Objections at large on their Journal, and proceed to reconsider it. If after such Reconsideration two thirds of that House shall agree to pass the Bill, it shall be sent, together with the Objections, to the other House, by which it shall likewise be reconsidered, and if approved by two thirds of that House, it shall become a Law. … If any Bill shall not be returned by the President within ten Days (Sundays excepted) after it shall have been presented to him, the Same shall be a Law, in like Manner as if he had signed it,unless the Congress by their Adjournment prevent its Return, in which Case it shall not be a Law.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only. Section. 2.
The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States, and the Electors in each State shall have the Qualifications requisite for Electors of the most numerous Branch of the State Legislature.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures. The Congress shall assemble at least once in every Year, and such Meeting shall be on the first Monday in December, unless they shall by Law appoint a different Day.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people. Neither House, during the Session of Congress, shall, without the Consent of the other, adjourn for more than three days, nor to any other Place than that in which the two Houses shall be sitting.
[The President] may, on extraordinary Occasions, convene both Houses, or either of them, and in Case of Disagreement between them, with Respect to the Time of Adjournment, he may adjourn them to such Time as he shall think proper;



He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have re- turned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the meantime exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within. The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of chusing Senators.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers. Article III., Section. 1.
The judicial Power of the United States shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries. The Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour, and shall, at stated Times, receive for their Services a Compensation, which shall not be diminished during their Continuance in Office.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance. [The President] shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law: but the Congress may by Law vest the Appointment of such inferior Officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the Courts of Law, or in the Heads of Departments.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures. The Congress shall have Power… To declare War… To provide and maintain a Navy; To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces; To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions; To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the states respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;



He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power. Section. 2.
The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service…
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation: Article. VI.
… This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies: … no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States. [counters the Quebec Act]
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments: Section. 4.
The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government, and shall protect each of them against Invasion; and on Application of the Legislature, or of the Executive (when the Legislature cannot be convened), against domestic Violence.
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us. We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances



of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.


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Essay 89 – Guest Essayist: Michael P. Farris

“We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, 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; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. 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.”

The Declaration of Independence has only one operative paragraph—the last one. All that precedes it is an explanation of the actions taken in that bold final paragraph.

Yet, even in the midst of declaring the United States to be a new, independent nation as a matter of right, in this concluding paragraph there are two important references to God.

The first is an appeal “to the Supreme Judge of the World for the Rectitude of our Intentions.”

This is a remarkable thing for a bunch of “rebels” to proclaim. It is common for a rebel to begin with the rejection of human authority and quickly follow with the rejection of divine authority. This was not the attitude of America’s founders. They believed in the higher law that comes from God, and by this appeal they acknowledge their duty of obedience to God both in word, action, and even in their intentions.

In the midst of declaring their independence from England, they declared their dependence on God.

The reason for this attitude of faith flowed directly from their view of both society and government.

In his Notes on the State of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson made the case that freedom was dependent on the right view of God and man:

And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever.

In a similar vein, George Washington reminded the nation of these truths in his Farewell Address:

Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens.

In light of the common canard that most of the Founders were deists, it is important to note that this phraseology is utterly inconsistent with deism—a philosophy which contends that God created the world and then walked away and is unconcerned with present human actions.

God is described as the “Supreme Judge of the World.” This acknowledges that God has universal standards and that He will hold all men accountable for their actions. This is not a disconnected, indifferent God.

Indeed, Jefferson’s great-grandson acknowledged his forebear’s unorthodox views on most matters but noted “but he was a firm believer in Divine Providence, in the efficacy of prayer, [and] in a future state of rewards and punishment.”

The founding generation widely believed that there were eternal consequences for improper actions during life. Thus, the signers of the Declaration were not merely willingly accepting the temporal consequences of their bold action, but they were effectively saying that they were willing to stand before the throne of God and accept His judgment of these actions.

They believed they were doing right in the eyes of a holy God.

The second reference to God in this paragraph comes in the last sentence:

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.

This again echoes the theme of dependence on God. In the first instance they proclaimed that their hearts were right before God; this proclaims that the success of their efforts depended entirely on God’s intervening protection.

This was not a mere figure of speech or a rhetorical gesture. They actually believed that God would intervene on their behalf in these dangerous efforts.

George Washington’s letter to Landon Carter on March 27, 1776, describing his capture of Boston clearly demonstrates his belief in God’s intervention:

Upon their discovery of the works next morning, great preparations were made for attacking them; but not being ready before afternoon, and the weather getting very tempestuous, much blood was saved, and a very important blow, to one side or the other, was prevented. That this most remarkable interposition of Providence is for some a wise purpose, I have not a doubt.

Less than a month after the Declaration was signed, Samuel Adams said:

There are instances of, I would say, an almost astonishing providence in our favor; our success has staggered our enemies, and almost given faith to infidels; so we may truly say it is not our own arm which has saved us.

These two passages reflect both parts of the promise that we see in John 15:5:

I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.

Their appeal to the rectitude of their intentions reflects those willing to abide in Christ. And their acknowledgement of their dependence on God for their success shows that they knew that without Christ, they could do nothing.

These are humble men who lived by profound truths.

Michael P. Farris is president and CEO of Alliance Defending Freedom. As the second CEO of ADF, he brings to the role a diverse background as an effective litigator, educator, public advocate, and communicator, and is widely recognized for his successful work on both the national and international stage.

Farris was founding president of both the Home School Legal Defense Association (1983) and Patrick Henry College (2000) and continues to serve as chairman of the board of HSLDA and chancellor emeritus of PHC.

He graduated from Western Washington State College magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in political science, followed by a Juris Doctor from Gonzaga University (with honors). He also earned an LL.M. in public international law (with honors) from the University of London.

Farris has specialized in constitutional appellate litigation. In that capacity, he has argued before the appellate courts of 13 states, eight federal circuit courts of appeal, and the U.S. Supreme Court, where in 2018 he successfully argued NIFLA v. Becerra, resulting in a free speech victory for California’s pro-life pregnancy centers.

Farris has testified many times before both the House and Senate. He was an executive committee member of the Coalition for the Free Exercise of Religion that successfully lobbied Congress for the passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. He also has substantial experience in international religious freedom advocacy.

Farris is the author of over 15 books, as well as law review and other scholarly and popular articles. He and his wife, Vickie, have 10 children and many grandchildren.

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

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Essay 88 – Guest Essayist: Tony Williams

Most Americans today see the Declaration of Independence as the handiwork of one man—Thomas Jefferson—that was almost handed down to the Second Continental Congress from on high and adopted for American independence. The truth is much more complex, and ultimately more interesting. The Declaration of Independence was part of a great republican deliberative moment of the people and their representatives in colonial legislatures and the Continental Congress engaging in reflection and debate about their liberties and fate as a people united with a common purpose.

The deliberation about independence took shape over a decade of resistance against British taxes and tyranny. While some colonists spoke of a possible break with Great Britain, most considered themselves English and could not imagine living outside the empire. However, the war forced them to reconsider their ties with the British and provided a moral imperative to protect natural rights against a tyrannical government.

The publication of Thomas Paine’s pamphlet, Common Sense, in January 1776, made independence central to the national conversation. As colonists substituted committees of safety and conventions of representatives of the people for royal rule in several colonies, Congress began to consider independence.

On May 10, Congress adopted a resolution urging each colony to adopt new state governments and write constitutions. Five days later, Congress added a preamble written by John Adams that asserted, “it is necessary that the exercise of every kind of authority under the said crown should be totally suppressed, and all the powers of government exerted, under the authority of the people of the colonies.”

On June 7, 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.” Congress appointed a committee to draft a Declaration of Independence while states such as Virginia wrote constitutions and their own declarations of rights.

Jefferson composed the draft of the Declaration and submitted it to his fellow committee members, particularly Benjamin Franklin and Adams, for their review. After making light edits, the committee sent the document to the Congress for its consideration.

The delegates to the Congress were ready to enter the seminal discussion over national independence. Many important founders were not present for these debates, the creation of the Declaration of Independence, or the final vote on Lee’s resolution. For example, George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and Henry Knox were then preparing the defenses of New York for a massive British invasion.

Others were either opposed to independence or at least hesitant. The middle colonies—New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland—were the center of most of the opposition to independence. Some of the leading statesmen against independence were John Dickinson (PA), James Wilson (PA), Edward Rutledge (SC), and financier Robert Morris (PA). Their viewpoint was predicated on several factors: they thought it imprudent to sever historic ties to Britain, the colonies were insufficiently united, the Continental Army needed decisive victories, and the timing was not just right yet. Moreover, congressional delegations waited for their legislatures to authorize them to vote for independence.

While Thomas Jefferson was drafting the Declaration of Independence, several key colonies authorized their delegates to support independence. In this decisive shift, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware delegations were permitted to vote for independence. Maryland and New York still had not changed their mind in time for the final debates over independence.

With more delegations receiving authorization to vote for independence and the tide clearly turning in favor of independence, Rutledge begged his friend, John Jay of New York, who opposed independence, to make haste to Philadelphia for support. But Jay had important business that kept him from the city as it did other delegates through the spring and summer.

On July 1, John Dickinson and Adams engaged in a titanic debate over whether America should declare its independence while a dramatic thunderstorm raged outside. The next day, Congress voted for independence by passing Lee’s resolution. Caesar Rodney of Delaware famously rode through the night to join his delegation to push it in favor of independence. John Rutledge and his fellow South Carolinians decided to switch their vote for the resolution for the good of America.

Dickinson and Morris abstained from the final vote as did the entire New York delegation. The vote was thus unanimous in favor of independence. It was a hard-fought battle over a decisive break with Great Britain between principled men who voted, and had deliberated according to their consciences. They disagreed with one another—sometime vehemently—and then accepted the result.

The Congress then considered and edited the document much to Jefferson’s chagrin.  It adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 4 and enunciated the natural rights principles of the American republic. Congressional president John Hancock and secretary Charles Thomson affixed their signatures to the document that day. New York belatedly voted for independence more than a week later.

Most of the delegates did not sign the document that day, however. Most of them signed the document on August 2. Morris added his signature despite his earlier opposition, though Dickinson never did. Matthew Thornton of New Hampshire was elected to Congress in the fall and retroactively signed the document in early November. Other statesmen who did not sign the document included Robert Livingston, who was recalled to New York, and George Clinton resigned his seat and returned to New York state politics before they could sign.

The debate over independence, the ratification of the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights demonstrated that history is ruled by continency. The fate of America could have turned out very differently had individuals not made certain decisions, or debates took a different turn. Perhaps most importantly, the vigorous debate over independence was proof of the strength of republican principles of self-government during the American founding. The people and their representatives, not a king, would determine their own destiny.

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 87 – Guest Essayist: James C. Clinger

George Walton was one of the most fascinating, but puzzling signers of the Declaration of Independence. His life and career included great triumphs and defeats, as well as a number of changes in political course that were thought by some to be rank opportunism. Others believed those choices were principled. He rose to great heights of political and governmental office, but also endured censure and disappointment, losing offices and missing opportunities for greater esteem. He died in relatively modest circumstance after serving as a senator, governor, judge, and militia officer in service to Georgia and his country.

George Walton was born in Virginia sometime between 1740 and 1750.  The exact date is not known.[1] Walton’s father had died before his birth, and his mother died a few years later, so Walton was taken in by his father’s brother, who was also named George Walton. The elder Walton was not a poor man, but he had thirteen children of his own to raise, as well as those of his brother. When he was fifteen, the younger Walton was apprenticed as a carpenter, where he learned that trade. He was released from his apprenticeship while still a teenager, when he moved with an older brother to Savannah, Georgia. There, he became a clerk in an attorney’s office, and began to learn the law while on the job. By 1775, Walton had not only become a practicing attorney, but had also become one of the most sought-out and prosperous lawyers in Savannah.  As his professional success grew, Walton became involved with the young Whigs opposing British rule in America.[2]

There were multiple factions jockeying for influence in Georgia’s colonial politics at the time. Some Loyalists wished to remain a British colony. The Whigs wished to separate, but they were internally divided between more radical and more conservative factions, which were concentrated in different parishes. Walton had relatives who had settled in western Georgia, but he was also connected to more conservative politicians along the Atlantic coast. Walton was elected to the provincial congress in July of 1775 and chosen for the Council of Safety in December. He also became a high-ranking officer in the Georgia militia, where he became a close follower of Colonel Lachlan McIntosh.    Walton was chosen as one of five delegates to the second Continental Congress, but he was one of only three to attend the proceedings and vote on independence. Walton was the last of the three to arrive in Philadelphia, so he missed some of the debate over the motion to break free from Britain. He did arrive in time to hear John Adams’ summation of the arguments for independence. Years later, Walton wrote to Adams telling him that “Since the first day of July, 1776, my conduct, in every station in life, has corresponded with the result of that great question which you so ably and faithfully developed on that day.”[3] Walton remained an enthusiastic Adams supporter for the rest of his life.

Walton served four one-year terms in the Continental Congress, although the terms were not consecutive. Walton spent much of his time in Congress convincing other representatives of the importance of Georgia in the war effort asking for assistance. In late 1777, Walton returned to Savannah and his law practice. Walton married Dorothy Camber, who was said to be in her teens at the time. They had two sons together. Walton soon returned to public office by serving in the General Assembly. He also volunteered in November, 1778, to serve in the militia to repel a British invasion from Florida. In December, the British landed on the Georgia coast to attack Savannah. Walton ordered his militia unit to stop British troops advancing through a swamp. His troops were unable to hold their position and quickly retreated. Walton was left in the field, badly wounded by a bullet wound in his thigh and a fall from his horse. He spent the next ten months as a prisoner of war.[4]

After his release, Walton began a political transformation that perplexed many historians and at times infuriated some of his contemporaries.   Over the next few years, Walton was named to a number of public offices: governor, member of the U.S. House of Representatives, state supreme court chief justice, and United States Senator. Before and during the revolutionary war, Walton had been a political ally of Lachlan McIntosh and a virulent critic of Button Gwinnett, who had joined Walton and Lyman Hall in Philadelphia as Georgia’s representatives to the Second Continental Congress. Walton was even censured for his support of a duel in which McIntosh killed Gwinnett. But after his release by the British in a prisoner exchange, Walton began to re-align himself politically with the factions that he had previously opposed. He turned away from McIntosh and fell in with the more radical faction that Gwinnett had led before his death.[5] Walton allegedly forged a letter ostensibly penned by the speaker of the Georgia house of representatives which urged the removal of McIntosh as commander of Georgia’s military forces. After the speaker reported that he had not signed the damaging letter, Congress repudiated its dismissal and restored McIntosh to his position. Later, the son of Lachlan McIntosh, Captain William McIntosh, reportedly horsewhipped Walton, a crime that led to his court-martial.[6]

Whether this was a strategic, politically opportunistic decision or a principled change of heart is not clear, but there is no doubt that many of Walton’s contemporaries believed that he had betrayed his former allies.   Nonetheless, despite accusations of dishonesty and betrayal, Walton continued to be elected or nominated for public offices. Finally, after serving part of a U.S. Senate term to fill a vacancy, Walton failed to be re-elected in 1795.[7]

Earlier, in 1787, Walton was asked to attend the federal constitutional convention as a delegate from Georgia, but he declined so he could attend to matters of state. In 1789, Walton was named as a delegate to the convention to craft Georgia’s second state constitution.[8] That convention produced a document quite similar in form to the new federal constitution, with a separation of powers and a bicameral legislature.[9]   After the constitutional convention, Walton was elected a second time as governor. During his time in office, the state capital was moved to Augusta, where Walton and many of his relatives had settled. Walton spent much of his time in negotiation with Indian tribes, seeking the ceding of lands to the state. Soon Walton was embroiled in two land sale scandals, one involving the “pine barren speculation” of south-central Georgia, the other, larger scandal involving the Yazoo land sales of territory making up present-day Alabama and Mississippi. Walton approved the Yazoo land sales that had begun under Governor George Mathews and which involved bribery within the state legislature. When the scandal came to light, the Georgia General Assembly enacted a law canceling and revoking the land sales that had already been completed.   This led to a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision, Fletcher v. Peck, in which the court ruled, for the first time, that a state law violated the federal constitution. Specifically, the court ruled that the Georgia law violated the prohibition of the impairment of the obligation of contracts in Article 1, Section 9, Clause 1.[10]

Unlike most men of property and influence in Georgia, Walton did not own slaves. There is little record of his public views on slavery, but it is known that shortly after leaving the governor’s mansion, Walton spoke out against what he called “barbarian” treatment of members of an African-American Baptist congregation in Yamacraw, Georgia, in 1790.   When the congregation first began to hold services, local whites imprisoned some of the church-goers and whipped about fifty members of the assembly. After Walton spoke out against this outrage, a state court ordered the release of the prisoners and declared that religious services could continue.[11]

In his last years, Walton lived somewhat quietly in a cottage outside of Augusta that was located on confiscated Tory land. He never completely left public life, serving as a superior court judge and speaking out on matters of public concern that received his attention. He became an enthusiastic booster supporting the economic development of Augusta.   He was a founder of Richmond Academy and tried unsuccessfully to have Franklin College, the predecessor of the University of Georgia, located in Augusta. His last years were difficult. He had never completely recovered from his wounds incurred in the revolution and he suffered many illnesses in his final years.[12] He was not well off financially. Walton died in February of 1804, only two months after the death of his oldest son.[13]

George Walton’s reputation was marred by scandal that might have broken many politicians. But Walton continually returned to power after losing office and influence. His resolve to return again and again to the political fray displayed his commitment to the building of a new nation. One of the youngest signers of the Declaration of Independence, George Walton was certainly a skilled statesman who sacrificed much in service to his country and his state of Georgia.

James C. Clinger is a professor in the Department of Political Science and Sociology at Murray State University. Dr. Clinger teaches courses in state and local government, Kentucky politics, intergovernmental relations, regulatory policy, and public administration. Dr. Clinger is also the chair of the Murray-Calloway County Transit Authority Board and a past president of the Kentucky Political Science Association. He currently resides in Hazel, Kentucky. 

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.


[1] https://www.dsdi1776.com/george-walton/

[2] Bridges, Edwin C.  “George Walton,” in Georgia’s Signers and the Declaration of Independence, by Edwin C. Bridges, Harvey H. Jackson, Kenneth H. Thomas, Jr. and James Harvey Young. Cherokee Publishing Company, 1981.

[3] Bridges, op cit., page 64.

[4] Bridges, op cit.

[5] Bridges, op cit.

[6] Daughters of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence.  https://www.dsdi1776.com/george-walton/

[7] Daughters of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence. ibid .

[8] Bridges, op cit.

[9] Hill, Melvin B., Jr., and Hill, Laverne Williamson Hill.   “Georgia: Tectonic Plates Shifting.” In George E. Connor and Christopher W. Hammons (editors).  The Constitutionalism of American States. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 2008.

[10] 10 U.S. 87 (1810).

[11] Whitescarver, Keith. 1993. “Creating Citizens for the Republic: Education in Georgia, 1776-1810.” Journal of the Early Republic 13 (4): 468.

[12] Daughters of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence.  https://www.dsdi1776.com/george-walton/

[13] Bridges, op cit.

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Essay 86 – Guest Essayist: James C. Clinger

Lyman Hall was a multi-talented clergyman, physician, and statesman who served in the Second Continental Congress, signed the Declaration of Independence, and won state office in his adopted state of Georgia.   Repeatedly, Hall faced personal and financial losses as a result of his service to his country and his state, but he emerged as a respected political figure in a politically fractious environment.

Most sources indicate that Hall was born in Connecticut in 1724, although some authorities list a later year of birth. Hall’s family was filled with pious Congregationalists, and his father and uncle served as clergy. To no one’s surprise, Hall studied divinity at nearby Yale University, and then began a career as a parson. He lost his position because of some sort of scandal involving confessed immoral conduct.   The exact nature of the offense is not now known. Whatever the details of the controversy were, Hall’s reputation was not so severely damaged that he was unable to secure some income preaching occasionally at local churches. For a time, he also taught school. Perhaps those careers did not offer much attraction to Hall, since he resolved to learn to practice medicine through an internship with an established physician.[1]   This kind of medical education was not uncommon at that time, even though it would be unthinkable in the United States today.

Hall married Abigail Burr in 1752, but she died a year later. Hall later married Mary Osborne, who bore him a son. Hall and his family moved from Connecticut to Dorchester, South Carolina, in 1756, where he practiced medicine. He later moved to Liberty County, Georgia, where he again set up a medical practice and later acquired a plantation. In both South Carolina and Georgia, Hall settled amongst transplanted New Englanders, descendants of Puritans. Once in Georgia, Hall became active in the push for independence.[2]

In 1775, Hall was elected as a delegate to the First Continental Congress from St. Johns Parish. The colony of Georgia at that time was divided amongst factions that were urging independence and those that wished to become reconciled with the British government. Because he was not chosen state-wide, Hall attended the First Continental Congress as a non-voting member. Hall brought a shipment of rice to Philadelphia to be distributed in Boston which was suffering from the British embargo on foodstuffs from other colonies. Hall served on a scientific committee along with John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Patrick Henry.[3]

In 1776, Hall was chosen as one of five delegates to the Second Continental Congress, although only three attended at the time of the debate and to vote on independence. Hall and Button Gwinnet, who were personal friends and members of the same faction in Georgia’s colonial politics, arrived first. George Walton, who represented a different faction and geographic areas of Georgia, arrived only shortly before the vote. Hall served on committees concerned with provision of medical supplies to the continental troops. Hall was regarded as a steady and hardworking committee member.[4] The Georgia delegation was stalwart in its support for the proposal for independence, but according to Thomas Jefferson, the delegations from Georgia and South Carolina led the opposition to his provision “reprobating the enslaving [of] the inhabitants of Africa.”[5]

Hall was steadily re-elected to the Congress through 1780, but he may not have actually served in Philadelphia after February of 1777.   Matters of state and family necessity required him to return to Georgia and later to flee to South Carolina, where he still had friends and supporters. The British issued a bill of attainder directing his arrest and the confiscation of his property. Hall’s plantation house at “Hall’s Knoll” and his home in Sunbury, Georgia, were burned to the ground by British troops.[6] Years later, the United States Constitution would forbid the use of bills of attainder by the federal government (Article I, Section 9, Clause 3) and by the states (Article I, Section 10). In addition to the losses of property, many personal papers and public documents were lost in the flames.

Hall was devastated by the death of Button Gwinnett in a duel in 1777.   Hall made an unsuccessful effort to arrest and prosecute the duelist, Lachlan McIntosh, who killed Gwinnett. Hall briefly returned to his medical practice, but was elected to the Georgia House of Assembly in 1783. One of the first acts of the Assembly was to elect Hall governor.   It was not a position that he had sought. While governor, Hall worked futilely on the state’s finances, which were in a complete shambles. Hall also initiated negotiations with Native American tribes from whom the state wished to gain land concessions.[7] Hall pushed hard for a piety-oriented educational system that would “restrain vice and encourage virtue.” Hall supported the creation of what was originally known as Franklin College, which later became the University of Georgia.[8]

Factional politics in Georgia was fierce, both before and after statehood.   After Hall left office as governor he was taken into custody for contempt because he failed to produce some public documents regarding sequestered estates. He later was cleared of the charge, but the allegations placed great strain on the last years of his life. The estate of a one-time business partner was suing Hall over twenty year old disputes as late as 1786. His loss of property during the revolution and the demands of his public obligations upon his time left him in financial difficulties.[9]

Hall moved to Savannah in 1785, where he once more practiced medicine. He did not leave public service entirely, though, for he supplemented his income as Judge of the Chatham Court. Hall moved to a Burke County plantation shortly before he died in 1790, leaving behind a widow and a son who would both die within three years.[10]

Lyman Hall’s name may be the most well-known of Georgia’s signers of the Declaration of Independence, although much of his fame may be attributed to the stage and movie musical, 1776, in which Hall plays a significant supporting role. Unfortunately, very little about the musical’s portrayal of Hall can be established as factual. Hall’s actual life was certainly dramatic enough to deserve the attention of all Americans, and certainly all Georgians.

James C. Clinger is a professor in the Department of Political Science and Sociology at Murray State University. Dr. Clinger teaches courses in state and local government, Kentucky politics, intergovernmental relations, regulatory policy, and public administration. Dr. Clinger is also the chair of the Murray-Calloway County Transit Authority Board and a past president of the Kentucky Political Science Association. He currently resides in Hazel, Kentucky. 

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.


[1] Young, James Harvey.  “Lyman Hall,” in Georgia’s Signers and the Declaration of Independence, by Edwin C. Bridges, Harvey H. Jackson, Kenneth H. Thomas, Jr. and James Harvey Young. Cherokee Publishing Company, 1981.

[2] Krafka, J.. “Lyman Hall-Yale 1747: A Connecticut Doctor Who Mixed Medicine and Politics in Georgia.” Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine 10 (1938): 531-537.

2 Young, James Harvey.  “Lyman Hall,” in Georgia’s Signers and the Declaration of Independence, by Edwin C. Bridges, Harvey H. Jackson, Kenneth H. Thomas, Jr. and James Harvey Young. Cherokee Publishing Company, 1981.

[4] Young, op cit.

[5] Jefferson, Thomas. “The Declaration of Independence: Thomas Jefferson’s Account.” https://www.ushistory.org/declaration/account/index.html

[6] Young, op cit.

[7] Krafka, op cit.

[8] Whitescarver, Keith. 1993. “Creating Citizens for the Republic: Education in Georgia, 1776-1810.” Journal of the Early Republic 13 (4): 455-479.

[9] Krafka, op cit.

[10] Krafka, op cit.

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Essay 85 – Guest Essayist: James C. Clinger
Nathaniel Hone the Elder (Irish, 1718–1784)Title: Portrait of Button Gwinnett, signer of the Declaration of Independence from GeorgiaMedium: Oil on Canvas Size: 84.5 x 73.7 cm. (33.3 x 29 in.)

Button Gwinnett was one of the three Georgia delegates to the Second Continental Congress who signed the Declaration of Independence. Gwinnett was also was a prominent leader in Georgia’s state government. But despite those prominent achievements, Gwinnett’s life was also full of controversies, scandals, and tragedies. He was the second of the fifty-six signers to die, and his death was caused by internal political and personal feuding within Georgia, not by the new nation’s battles with the British.

Gwinnett was born in Gloucester, England, in 1735, the son of an Anglican vicar. He was named in honor of his godmother, Barbara Button. He married Anne Bourne, and they had three children together. For much of his adult life, he worked as a merchant, but was never consistently successful. In fact, he may have fled England to come to the colonies in order to escape his creditors. After living briefly in Nova Scotia and Jamaica, Gwinnett arrived in Savannah, Georgia, where his business ventures were mostly unsuccessful.[1] Gwinnett did have some success in politics as he quickly became a leader within a faction that favored wresting political control from elites in Christ Church Parish as well as from the British. Georgia was the last of the original thirteen colonies to be organized by the British. The population was concentrated within a few miles of the Atlantic coast, with only sparse settlement in the backcountry. Much of the representation in the colonial assembly was held by landed gentry from Christ Church Parish, while other parishes had little influence.[2] Gwinnett became an outspoken leader of colonists from St. Johns Parish and claimed to represent the common people throughout all of Georgia.

The British presence was led by royal governors, the last of which was a fairly popular and capable administrator, Sir James Wright. Actions by the British government affected all of the American colonies slowly led to opposition in Georgia.[3] The opponents of British rule were known as Whigs, but the group was divided among different factions. The more conservative faction had its base in Christ Church parish, while a more radical faction, which included Button Gwinnett, had more support elsewhere. The radical faction, later known as the Popular Party, gained political strength in Georgia after the Stamp Act was enacted in Britain and after British troops fought with colonists in Lexington and Concord.[4]

Gwinnett rented a store shortly after arriving in Savannah and established himself as a merchant. That venture proved unsuccessful and Gwinnett borrowed money to buy St. Catherine’s Island in St. John’s Parish so that he could become a planter. At that time, he became active in local politics and civic affairs, becoming a justice of the peace and later a representative to the Commons House of Assembly. During his first term in legislative office, he made a name for himself as an advocate for parishes that had taxes imposed upon them without legislative representation. He also became known as an opponent of the royal governor.[5]

Gwinnet left the Assembly after one session to try to return to his plantation and stave off bankruptcy. Soon both his personal property and his land were put up for forced sale to satisfy his creditors in 1773.   Gwinnett returned to politics, claiming that his troubles and those of other Georgians were the doing of the elites from Christ Church Parish and the royal governor. Georgia did not send a delegation to the First Continental Congress, because of divisions between the different Whig coalitions. The St. Johns Parish representatives also boycotted the First Provincial Congress, but later held a Second Provincial Congress in July of 1775 which was attended by all factions, but not by Gwinnett.   Forging an alliance between his supporters in St. John’s Parish and new recruits from the western, rural areas of Georgia, Gwinnett built up a personal following. When the Continental Congress declared that Georgia should raise a continental battalion, the colonial legislature chose Gwinnett as the commander, despite his complete lack of military qualifications. However, Gwinnett never served as commander because the different factions later chose him as a delegate to the Second Continental Congress, joining his friend and political ally, Lyman Hall.   The man then chosen to serve as the battalion commander was Lachlan McIntosh, an officer in George Washington’s continental army, who at the time, at least, was considered to be unaffiliated with any particular faction.[6]

Gwinnett presented his credentials in Philadelphia on May 20, 1776.    He served on some committees, but little is known about his participation in any debates on independence. Gwinnett did vote for the motion in support of independence, and he did sign the Declaration of Independence on August 2. Gwinnet returned to Georgia, probably hoping to re-gain the appointment to the battalion commander, but McIntosh was selected to remain in that position. Gwinnet was soon chosen to participate in a state constitutional convention that would draft the first of Georgia’s constitution. Once he arrived at the convention, Gwinnett was chosen as speaker. Most records of the debates at the convention have not survived to this day, but it appears that the final product was to Gwinnett’s liking. The new state constitution established relatively low property ownership requirements for voting, created a unicameral state legislature, and established a weak chief executive, elected by the legislature, who could not veto legislative actions. The new constitution also abolished the parish system of representation and created counties that would serve as administrative units of the state as well as a basis for representation in the legislature. The new document was approved in February of 1777. By that time, Gwinnett served on the Council of Safety, which assumed governmental power after the Provincial Congress adjourned. The president of the Council of Safety, Archibald Bulloch was the de facto chief executive. Bulloch died suddenly, late in that month. The Council of Safety selected Gwinnett to serve as temporary president. The only dissenting vote was cast by George McIntosh, the brother of Lachlan McIntosh.[7]

Gwinnett urged the Continental Army to form an expedition to attack British troops and sympathizers in what is now St. Augustine, Florida.   But those urgings were ignored or rejected. Gwinnett also urged the Georgia battalion to take action, but was met with resistance from Lachlan McIntosh, who thought the Georgia forces were ill-prepared to mount an operation in that territory far from their sources of supply.   Eventually, an attempt to begin an expedition did occur, but the effort was abandoned before the troops moved more than a few miles from their base of operations.

Gwinnett’s feud with the McIntosh family intensified after he received a packet of documents in March of 1777 that reported that George McIntosh had entered into a business partnership with his brothers-in-law to ship rice first to Dutch Guiana and then to the British West Indies.   The shipment took place before independence was declared, but it was a violation of the Continental Association’s prohibition of trade with British ports. George McIntosh was arrested, but later released on bail, paid for in part by members of the Council of Safety.[8]

By early May, the first assembly under the new constitution met to elect the first governor. Gwinnett expected to be chosen, but the legislature selected another member of the Popular Party, John Adam Treutlen, as governor. The legislature also reported the results of an investigation into the St. Augustine expedition, which upheld Gwinnett’s position and implicitly rejected the stance taken by Lachlan McIntosh. Enraged, McIntosh took to the floor of the Assembly and declared that Gwinnett was “a Scoundrell & Lying Rascal.” Gwinnett was not willing to allow the insult to go unchallenged. On May 15, 1777, he issued a written challenge to McIntosh to a duel on the following day. McIntosh agreed.   The following morning, standing only about a dozen paces apart, Gwinnett and McIntosh fired at one another. Both men hit their target.   McIntosh suffered a flesh wound to his thigh, but his shot shattered bone just above Gwinnet’s knee. McIntosh asked if both parties could re-load and fire again, but the seconds intervened to put an end to the duel. The antagonists shook hands, and their seconds took the wounded men home. McIntosh made a complete recovery, but Gwinnett’s wounds quickly became gangrenous. He died Monday morning, May 19, leaving behind a destitute widow and three orphaned children. He was the second of the signers of the Declaration of Independence to pass away, and the first to die violently.[9]

Gwinnett was an intriguing, controversial figure. He was in many ways politically adroit, but he was an utter failure in business and even in politics his victories were short-lived. He was loved by some of his followers but was hated by his opponents. Lachlan McIntosh was far from the first to accuse him of dishonesty and betrayal. Nonetheless, he is remembered today for his role in crafting, and signing in support of, one of America’s foundational documents, the Declaration of Independence.

James C. Clinger is a professor in the Department of Political Science and Sociology at Murray State University. Dr. Clinger teaches courses in state and local government, Kentucky politics, intergovernmental relations, regulatory policy, and public administration. Dr. Clinger is also the chair of the Murray-Calloway County Transit Authority Board and a past president of the Kentucky Political Science Association. He currently resides in Hazel, Kentucky.  

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.


[1] Davis, Robert Scott.   “The Dark and Heroic Histories of Georgia’s Signers,” Journal of the American Revolution.  February 11, 2019.  https://allthingsliberty.com/2019/02/the-dark-and-heroic-histories-of-georgias-signers/

[2] Jackson, Harvey H.  “Factional Politics in Revolutionary Georgia,” in Georgia’s Signers and the Declaration of Independence, by Edwin C. Bridges, Harvey H. Jackson, Kenneth H. Thomas, Jr. and James Harvey Young. Cherokee Publishing Company, 1981.

[3] Bridges, Edwin C.  “Prelude to Independence,” in Georgia’s Signers and the Declaration of Independence, by Edwin C. Bridges, Harvey H. Jackson, Kenneth H. Thomas, Jr. and James Harvey Young. Cherokee Publishing Company, 1981.

[4] Jackson, Harvey H.  “Factional Politics in Revolutionary Georgia,” in Georgia’s Signers and the Declaration of Independence, by Edwin C. Bridges, Harvey H. Jackson, Kenneth H. Thomas, Jr. and James Harvey Young. Cherokee Publishing Company, 1981.

[5] Jackson, Harvey H.  “Button Gwinnett,” in Georgia’s Signers and the Declaration of Independence, by Edwin C. Bridges, Harvey H. Jackson, Kenneth H. Thomas, Jr. and James Harvey Young. Cherokee Publishing Company, 1981.

[6] Jackson, ibid.

[7] Jackson, ibid. 

[8] Jackson, ibid.

[9] Fleming, Thomas H. (2011). “When Politics Was Not Only Nasty… But Dangerous”. American Heritage. 61 (1). Retrieved 24 May 2021.

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Essay 84 – Guest Essayist: Edward Lee

Born in Charleston, South Carolina, Arthur Middleton (June 26, 1742-January 1, 1787) was the son of Henry Middleton and Mary Williams Middleton. Arthur’s father, Henry, served as president of the First Continental Congress in 1774 after Peyton Randolph. Arthur Middleton was educated in England at Harrow School, Westminster School, and Cambridge, Class of 1773. He studied law, also, at the Middle Temple and traveled extensively in Europe for two years prior to Independence, developing a strong appreciation of the fine arts such as music, architecture, literature, and learning Latin and Greek.

When Arthur was in his early twenties, he returned from attending school to live in his home state of South Carolina. Soon after returning home, Middleton married, and he and his bride, Mary Izard, settled at Middleton Place. They had nine children together.

Once settled back in South Carolina, Arthur became engaged in politics, interested in the activity of independence. His father, Henry Middleton, viewed negatively the colonies’ Loyalists and wanted his son to succeed him as a member of the Continental Congress to oppose the encroaching policies of the British. Due to Arthur being a vocal critic of England and Parliament’s actions, like his father, this led to the thirteen-member Council of Safety. He served on the council as a delegate of the First and Second Provincial Congresses, then succeeded his father as a delegate to the Continental Congress in 1776. Though a man of great wealth and much to lose, with sober knowledge of the risk to his own life and that of his family, Arthur supported the cause of freedom, voting in favor of independence from Great Britain, leading him to add his signature to the Declaration of Independence.

By the end of 1777, Arthur declined both a further role in Congress, and an election as governor of South Carolina in 1778. As part of his service, Arthur and William Henry Drayton worked together on the Great Seal of South Carolina with a design inspired by the Battle of Sullivan’s Island in June of 1776. The design holds the dates March 26 when the state constitution of South Carolina was ratified, and July 4 to mark the Declaration of Independence, and the year 1776 for the momentous events of that same year. Arthur was also instrumental in constructing the state constitution for South Carolina.

Later, as the British laid siege to Charleston in 1780, Middleton was active in the city’s defense as a member of the militia. His home of Middleton Place was attacked as well. His family escaped, but he, like Rutledge and Heyward, was captured and confined aboard ship in St. Augustine, Florida, and exchanged for British prisoners the following year, 1781, in Philadelphia.

Middleton remained in Philadelphia to continue serving in the Second Continental Congress until 1782. This was a time of discussing and crafting a governing document upon which to get their freedom and independence started even though the American Revolutionary War for independence from Britain was raging, and a better document would be needed, later resulting in the United States Constitution by 1787. In March 1781, the assembly of delegates, though now referred to as under the same Continental Congress, was then known as the Confederation Congress, or Congress of the Confederation (convened from 1781-1789), after the Articles of Confederation were approved by the states in March 1781 to decentralize government and protect their new governing system from repeating what the Americans were fighting against in the current American Revolutionary War. Moreover, the Articles of Confederation were written to unite the thirteen colonies, vest most of the power in the states so that governing remained in the hands of the American people, and limit power of the courts. Upon completing his service in Congress there, Arthur returned home to his family at Middleton Place.

Arthur Middleton accomplished much for the cause and defense of American independence, known for his unwavering patriotism and moral character. When he died, the State Gazette of South Carolina praised him as a “tender husband and parent, humane master, steady unshaken patriot, the gentleman, and the scholar.” Middleton Place passed into the care of his eldest son, Henry, who later was elected Governor of South Carolina, United States Representative, and Minister to Russia. Arthur’s other children were also known to hold positions of honor and service to America, and he was survived by eight children at the time of his passing. Arthur Middleton died at the age of 44 from a fever that would not subside, in 1787, the same year that the United States Constitution was adopted.

J. 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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(November 1, 1787)

Source: Consource. Click Here to view the original document.


I flatter myself that my last address established this position, that to reduce the Thirteen States into one goverment, would prove the destruction of your liberties.

But lest this truth should be doubted by some, I will now proceed to consider its merits.

Though it should be admitted, that the arguement against reducing all the states into one consolidated government, are not sufficient fully to establish this point; yet they will, at least, justify this conclusion, that in forming a constitution for such a country, great care should be taken to limit and define its powers, adjust its parts, and guard against an abuse of authority. How far attention has been paid to these objects, shall be the subject of future enquiry. When a building is to be errected which is intended to stand for ages, the foundation should be firmlylaid. The constitution proposed to your acceptance, is designed not for yourselves alone, but for generations yet unborn. The principles, therefore, upon which the social compact is founded, ought to have been clearly and precisely stated, and the most express and full declaration of rights to have been made-But on this subject there is almost an entire silence.

If we may collect the sentiments of the people of America, from their own most solemn declarations, they hold this truth as self evident, that all men are by nature free. No one man, therefore, or any class of men, have a right, by the law of nature, or of God, to assume or exercise authority over their fellows. The origin of society then is to be sought, not in any natural right which one man has to exercise authority over another, but in the united consent of those who associate. The mutual wants of men, at first dictated the propriety of forming societies; and when they were established, protection and defence pointed out the necessity of instituting government In a state of nature every individual pursues his own interest; in this pursuit it frequently happened, that the possessions or enjoyments of one were sacrificed to the views and designs of another; thus the weak were a prey to the strong, the simple and unwary were subject to impositions from those who were more crafty and designing. In this state of things, every individual was insecure; common interest therefore directed, that government should be established, in which the force of the whole community should be collected, and under such directions, as to protect and defend everyone who composed it The common good, therefore, is the end of civil government, and common consent, the foundation on which it is established.1 To effect this end, it was necessary that a certain portion of natural liberty should be surrendered, in order, that what remained should be preserved: how great a proportion of natural freedom is necessary to be yielded by individuals, when they submit to government, I shall not now enquire. So much, however, must be given up, as will be sufficient to enable those, to whom the administration of the government is committed, to establish laws for the promoting the happiness of the community, and to carry those laws into effect But it is not necessary, for this purpose, that individuals should relinquish all their natural rights. Some are of such a nature that they cannot be surrendered. Of this kind are the rights of conscience, the right of enjoying and defending life, &c. Others are not necessary to be resigned, in order to attain the end for which government is instituted, these therefore ought not to be given up. To surrender them, would counteract the very end of government, to wit, the common good. From these observations it appears, that in forming government on its true principles, the foundation should be laid in the manner I before stated, by expressly reserving to the people such of their essential natural rights, as are not necessary to be parted with. The same reasons which at first induced mankind to associate and institute government, will operate to influence them to observe this precaution. If they had been disposed to conform themselves to the rule of immutable righteousness, government would not have been requisite. It was because one part exercised fraud, oppression, and violence on the other, that men came together, and agreed that certain rules should be formed, to regulate the conduct of all, and the power of the whole community lodged in the hands of rulers to enforce an obedience to them. But rulers have the same propensities as other men; they are as likely to use the power with which they are vested for private purposes, and to the injury and oppression of those over whom they are placed, as individuals in a state of nature are to injure and oppress one another. It is therefore as proper that bounds should be set to their authority, as that government should have at first been instituted to restrain private injuries.

This principle, which seems so evidently founded in the reason and nature of things, is confirmed by universal experience. Those who have governed, have been found in all ages ever active to enlarge their powers and abridge the public liberty. This has induced the people in all countries, where any sense of freedom remained, to fix barriers against the encroachments of their rulers. The country from which we have derived our origin, is an eminent example of this. Their magna charta and bill of rights have long been the boast, as well as the security, of that nation. I need say no more, I presume, to an American, than, that this principle is a fundamental one, in all the constitutions of our own states; there is not one of them but what is either founded on a declaration or bill of rights, or has certain express reservation of rights interwoven in the body of them. From this it appears, that at a time when the pults of liberty beat high and when an appeal was made to the people to form constitutions for the government of themselves, it was their universal sense, that such declarations should make a part of their frames of government. It is therefore the more astonishing, that this grand security, to the rights of the people, is not to be found in this constitution.

It has been said, in answer to this objection, that such declaration of rights, however requisite they might be in the constitutions of the states, are not necessary in the general constitution, because, “in the former case, every thing which is not reserved is given, but in the latter the reverse of the proposition prevails, and every thing which is not given is reserved.” It requires but little attention to discover, that this mode of reasoning is rather specious than solid. The powers, rights, and authority, granted to the general government by this constitution, are as complete, with respect to every object to which they extend, as that of any state government-It reaches to every thing which concerns human happiness-Life, liberty, and property, are under its controul. There is the same reason, therefore, that the exercise of power, in this case, should be restrained within proper limits, as in that of the state governments. To set this matter in a clear light, permit me to instance some of the articles of the bills of rights of the individual states, and apply them to the case in question.

For the security of life, in criminal prosecutions, the bills of rights of most of the states have declared, that no man shall be held to answer for a crime until he is made fully acquainted with the charge brought against him; he shall not be compelled to accuse, or furnish evidence against himself-The witnesses against him shall be brought face to face, and he shall be fully heard by himself or counsel That it is essential to the security of life and liberty, that trial of facts be in the vicinity where they happen. Are not provisions of this kind as necessary in the general government, as in that ofa particular state? The powers vested in the new Congress extend in many cases to life; they are authorised to provide for the punishment ofa variety of capital crimes, and no restraint is laid upon them in its exercise, save only, that “the trial of all crimes, except in cases of impeachment, shall be by jury; and such trial shall being the state where the said crimes shall have been committed.” No man is secure of a trial in the county where he is charged to have committed a crime; he may be brought from Niagara to New-York, or carried from Kentucky to Richmond for trial for an offence, supposed to be committed. What security is there, that a man shall be furnished with a full and plain description of the charges against him? That he shall be allowed to produce all proof he can in his favor? That he shall see the witnesses against him face to face, or that he shall be fully heard in his own defence by himself or counsel?

For the security of liberty it has been declared, “that excessive bail should not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel or unusual punishments inflicted-That all warrants, without oath or affirmation, to search suspected places, or seize any person, his papers or property, are grievous and oppressive.”

These provisions are as necessary under the general government asunder that of the individual states; for the power of the former is as complete to the purpose of requiring bail, imposing fines, inflicting punishments, granting search warrants, and seizing persons, papers, or property, in certain cases, as the other.

For the purpose of securing the property of the citizens, it is declared by all the states, “that in controversies at law, respecting property, the ancient mode of trial by jury is one of the best securities of the rights of the people, and ought to remain sacred and inviolable.”

Does not the same necessity exist of reserving this right, under this national compact, as in that of this state? Yet nothing is said respecting it. In the bills of rights of the states it is declared, that a well regulated militia is the proper and natural defence of a free government-That as standing armies in time of peace are dangerous, they are not to be kept up, and that the military should be kept under strict subordination to, and controuled by the civil power.

The same security is as necessary in this constitution, and much more so; for the general government will have the sole power to raise and to pay armies, and are under no controul in the exercise of it; yet nothing of this is to be found in this new system.

I might proceed to instance a number of other rights, which were as necessary to be reserved, such as, that elections should be free, that the liberty of the press should be held sacred; but the instances adduced, are sufficient to prove, that this argument is without foundation.2 -Besides, it is evident, that the reason here assigned was not the true one, why the framers of this constitution omitted bill of rights; if it had been, they would not have made certain reservations, while they totally omitted others of more importance. We find they have, in the 9th section of the 1st article, declared, that the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless in cases rebellion-3 that no bill of attainder, or expost facto law, shall be passed-4 that no title of nobility shall be granted by the United States, &c.5 If every thing which is not given is reserved, what propriety is there in these exceptions? Does this constitution anywhere grant the power suspending the habeas corpus, to make expost facto laws, pass bills of attainder, or grant titles of nobility? It certainly does not in express terms. The only answer that can be given is, that these are implied in the general powers granted. With equal truth it may be said, that all the powers, which the bills of right, guard against the abuse of are contained or implied in the general ones granted by this constitution.6

So far it is from being true, that a bill of rights is less necessary in the general constitution than in those of the states, the contrary is evidently the fact- This system, if it is possible for the people of America to accede – to it, will be an original compact; and being the last, will, in the nature of things, vacate every former agreement inconsistent with it For it being a plan of government received and ratified by the whole people – , all other forms, which are in existence at the time of its adoption, must yield to it This is expressed in positive and unequivocal terms, in the 6th article, “That this constitution and the laws of the United States, which shall be made in pursuance thereof and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, any thing in the constitution, or laws of any state, to the contrary notwithstanding.7

“The senators and representatives before-mentioned, and the members of the several state legislatures, and all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States, and of the several states, shall be bound, by oath or affirmation, to support this constitution.” It is therefore not only necessarily implied thereby, but positively expressed, that the different state constitutions are repealed and entirely done away, so far as they are inconsistent with this, with the laws which shall be made in pursuance thereof, or with treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States; of what avail will the constitutions of the respective states be to preserve the rights of its citizens?8 should they be plead, the answer would be, the constitution of the United States, and the laws made in pursuance thereof, is the supreme law, and all legislatures and judicial officers, whether of the general or state governments, are bound by oath to support it. No priviledge, reserved by the bills of rights, or secured by the state government, can limit the power granted by this, or restrain any laws made in pursuance of it It stands therefore on its own bottom, and must receive a construction by itself without any reference to any other-And hence it was of the highest importance, that the most precise and express declarations and reservations of rights should have been made.9

This will appear the more necessary, when it is considered, that not only the constitution and laws made in pursuance thereof, but all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, are the supreme law of the land, and supersede the constitutions of all the states.10 The power to make treaties, is vested in the president, by and with the advice and consent of two thirds of the senate. I do not find any limitation, or restriction, to the exercise of this power. The most important article in any constitution may therefore be repealed, even without a legislative act.11 Ought not a government, vested with such extensive and indefinite authority, to have been restricted by a declaration of rights? It certainly ought So clear a point is this, that I cannot help suspecting, that persons who attempt to persuade people, that such reservations were less necessary under this constitution than under those of the states, are wilfully endeavouring deceive, and to lead you into an absolute state of vassalage.

November 1, 1787

Source: Teaching American History 

MR. PRINTER, In order that people may be sufficiently impressed, with the necessity of establishing a BILL OF RIGHTS in the forming of a new constitution, it is very proper to take a short view of some of those liberties, which it is of the greatest importance for Freemen to retain to themselves, when they surrender up a part of their natural rights for the good of society.

The first of these, which it is of the utmost importance for the people to retain to themselves, which indeed they have not even the right to surrender, and which at the same time it is of no kind of advantages to government to strip them of, is the LIBERTY OF CONSCIENCE. I know that a ready answer is at hand, to any objections upon this head. We shall be told that in this enlightened age, the rights of conscience are perfectly secure: There is no necessity of guarding them; for no man has the remotest thoughts of invading them. If this be the case, I beg leave to reply that now is the very time to secure them.—Wise and prudent men always take care to guard against danger beforehand, and to make themselves safe whilst it is yet in their power to do it without inconvenience or risk.—who shall answer for the ebbings and flowings of opinion, or be able to say what will be the fashionable frenzy of the next generation? It would have been treated as a very ridiculous supposition, a year ago, that the charge of witchcraft would cost a person her life in the city of Philadelphia; yet the fate of the unhappy old woman called Corbmaker, who was beaten—repeatedly wounded with knives—mangled and at last killed in our streets, in obedience to the commandment which requires “that we shall not suffer a witch to live,” without a possibility of punishing or even of detecting the authors of this inhuman folly, should be an example to warn us how little we ought to trust to the unrestrained discretion of human nature.

Uniformity of opinion in science, morality, politics or religion, is undoubtedly a very great happiness to mankind; and there have not been wanting zealous champions in every age, to promote the means of securing so invaluable a blessing. If in America we have not lighted up fires to consume Heretics in religion, if we have not persecuted unbelievers to promote the unity of the faith, in matters which pertain to our final salvation in a future world, I think we have all of us been witness to something very like the same spirit, in matters which are supposed to regard our political salvation in this world. In Boston it seems at this very moment, that no man is permitted to publish a doubt of the infallibility of the late convention, without giving up his name to the people, that he may be delivered over to speedy destruction; and it is but a short time since the case was little better in this city. Now this is a portion of the very same spirit, which has so often kindled the fires of the inquisition: and the same Zealot who would hunt a man down for a difference of opinion upon a political question which is the subject of public enquiry, if he should happen to be fired with zeal for a particular species of religion, would be equally intolerant. The fact is, that human nature is still the same that ever it was: the fashion indeed changes; but the seeds of superstition, bigotry and enthusiasm, are too deeply implanted in our minds, ever to be eradicated; and fifty years hence, the French may renew the persecution of the Huguenots, whilst the Spaniards in their turn may become indifferent to their forms of religion. They are idiots who trust their future security to the whim of the present hour. One extreme is always apt to produce the contrary, and those countries, which are now the most lax in their religious notions, may in a few years become the most rigid, just as the people of this country from not being able to bear any continental government at all, are now flying into the opposite extreme of surrendering up all the powers of the different states, to one continental government.

The more I reflect upon the history of mankind, the more I am disposed to think that it is our duty to secure the essential rights of the people, by every precaution; for not an avenue has been left unguarded, through which oppression could possibly enter in any government; without some enemy of the public peace and happiness improving the opportunity to break in upon the liberties of the people; and none have been more frequently successful in the attempt, than those who have covered their ambitious designs under the garb of a fiery zeal for religious orthodoxy. What has happened in other countries and in other ages, may very possibly happen again in our own country, and for aught we know, before the present generation quits the stage of life. We ought therefore in a bill of rights to secure, in the first place, by the most express stipulations, the sacred rights of conscience. Has this been done in the constitution, which is now proposed for the consideration of the people of this country?—Not a word on this subject has been mentioned in any part of it; but we are left in this important article, as well as many others, entirely to the mercy of our future rulers.

But supposing our future rulers to be wicked enough to attempt to invade the rights of conscience; I may be asked how will they be able to effect so horrible a design? I will tell you my friends—The unlimited power of taxation will give them the command of all the treasures of the continent; a standing army will be wholly at their devotion, and the authority which is given them over the militia, by virtue of which they may, if they please, change all the officers of the militia on the continent in one day, and put in new officers whom they can better trust; by which they can subject all the militia to strict military laws, and punish the disobedient with death, or otherwise, as they shall think right: by which they can march the militia back and forward from one end of the continent to the other, at their discretion; these powers, if they should ever fall into bad hands, may be abused to the worst of purposes. Let us instance one thing arising from this right of organizing and governing the militia. Suppose a man alledges that he is conscientiously scrupulous of bearing Arms.—By the bill of rights of Pennsylvania he is bound only to pay an equivalent for his personal service.—What is there in the new proposed constitution to prevent his being dragged like a Prussian soldier to the camp and there compelled to bear arms?—This will depend wholly upon the wisdom and discretion of the future legislature of the continent in the framing their militia laws; and I have lived long enough to hear the practice of commuting personal service for a paltry fine in time of war and foreign invasion most severely reprobated by some persons who ought to have judged more rightly on the subject—Such flagrant oppressions as these I dare say will not happen at the beginning of the new government; probably not till the powers of government shall be firmly fixed; but it is a duty we owe to ourselves and our posterity if possible to prevent their ever happening. I hope and trust that there are few persons at present hardy enough to entertain thoughts of creating any religious establishment for this country; although I have lately read a piece in the newspaper, which speaks of religious as well as civil and military offices, as being hereafter to be disposed of by the new government; but if a majority of the continental legislature should at any time think fit to establish a form of religion, for the good people of this continent, with all the pains and penalties which in other countries are annexed to the establishment of a national church, what is there in the proposed constitution to hinder their doing so? Nothing; for we have no bill of rights, and every thing therefore is in their power and at their discretion. And at whose discretion? We know not any more than we know the fates of those generations which are yet unborn.

It is needless to repeat the necessity of securing other personal rights in the forming a new government. The same argument which proves the necessity of securing one of them shews also the necessity of securing others. Without a bill of rights we are totally insecure in all of them; and no man can promise himself with any degree of certainty that his posterity will enjoy the inestimable blessings of liberty of conscience, of freedom of speech and of writing and publishing their thoughts on public matters, of trial by jury, of holding themselves, their houses and papers free from seizure and search upon general suspicion or general warrants; or in short that they will be secured in the enjoyment of life, liberty and property without depending on the will and pleasure of their rulers.

If we pass over the consideration of this subject so essential to the preservation of our liberties, and turn our eyes to the form of the government which the Convention have proposed to us, I apprehend that changing the prospect will not wholly alleviate our fears.—A few words on this head, will close the present letter. In the first place the office of President of the United States appears to me to be clothed with such powers as are dangerous. To be the fountain of all honors in the United States, commander in chief of the army, navy and militia, with the power of making treaties and of granting pardons, and to be vested with an authority to put a negative upon all laws, unless two thirds of both houses shall persist in enacting it, and put their names down upon calling the yeas and nays for that purpose, is in reality to be a KING as much a King as the King of Great Britain, and a King too of the worst kind;—an elective King.—If such powers as these are to be trusted in the hands of any man, they ought for the sake of preserving the peace of the community at once to be made hereditary.—Much as I abhor kingly government, yet I venture to pronounce where kings are admitted to rule they should most certainly be vested with hereditary power. The election of a King whether it be in America or Poland, will be a scene of horror and confusion; and I am perfectly serious when I declare that, as a friend to my country, I shall despair of any happiness in the United States until this office is either reduced to a lower pitch of power or made perpetual and hereditary.—When I say that our future President will be as much a king as the king of Great-Britain, I only ask of my readers to look into the constitution of that country, and then tell me what important prerogative the King of Great-Britain is entitled to, which does not also belong to the President during his continuance in office.—The King of Great-Britain it is true can create nobility which our President cannot; but our President will have the power of making all the great men, which comes to the same thing.—All the difference is that we shall be embroiled in contention about the choice of the man, whilst they are at peace under the security of an hereditary succession.—To be tumbled headlong from the pinnacle of greatness and be reduced to a shadow of departed royalty is a shock almost too great for human nature to endure. It will cost a man many struggles to resign such eminent powers, and ere long, we shall find, some one who will be very unwilling to part with them.—Let us suppose this man to be a favorite with his army, and that they are unwilling to part with their beloved commander in chief; or to make the thing familiar, let us suppose, a future President and commander in chief adored by his army and the militia to as great a degree as our late illustrious commander in chief; and we have only to suppose one thing more, that this man is without the virtue, the moderation and love of liberty which possessed the mind of our late general, and this country will be involved at once in war and tyranny. So far is it from its being improbable that the man who shall hereafter be in a situation to make the attempt to perpetuate his own power, should want the virtues of General Washington; that it is perhaps a chance of one hundred millions to one that the next age will not furnish an example of so disinterested a use of great power. We may also suppose, without trespassing upon the bounds of probability, that this man may not have the means of supporting in private life the dignity of his former station; that like Caesar, he may be at once ambitious and poor, and deeply involved in debt.—Such a man would die a thousand deaths rather than sink from the heights of splendor and power into obscurity and wretchedness. We are certainly about giving our president too much or too little; and in the course of less than twenty years we shall find that we have given him enough to enable him to take all. It would be infinitely more prudent to give him at once as much as would content him, so that we might be able to retain the rest in peace; for if once power is seized by violence not the least fragment of liberty will survive the shock. I would therefore advise my country-men seriously to ask themselves this question;—Whether they are prepared TO RECEIVE A KING? If they are to say at once, and make the kingly office hereditary; to frame a constitution that should set bounds to his power, and, as far as possible secure the liberty of the subject. If we are not prepared to receive a king, let us call another convention to revise the proposed constitution, and form it anew on the principles of a confederacy of free republics; but by no means, under pretence of a republic, to lay the foundation for a military government, which is the worst of all tyrannies.

Source: The Complete Anti-Federalist, ed. Herbert J. Storing (Chicago:  The University of Chicago Press, 1981) Volume 3, 34-38.

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OCTOBER 12th, 1787.

DEAR SIR, It will not be possible to establish in the federal courts the jury trial of the vicinage so well as in the state courts.

Third. There appears to me to be not only a premature deposit of some important powers in the general government-but many of those deposited there are undefined, and may be used to good or bad purposes as honest or designing men shall prevail. By Art. 1, Sect. 2, representatives and direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several states, &c-same art. sect. 8, the Congress shall have powers to lay and collect taxes, duties, &c. for the common defence and general welfare, but all duties, imposts and excises, shall be uniform throughout the United States: By the first recited clause, direct taxes shall be apportioned on the states. This seems to favour the idea suggested by some sensible men and writers, that Congress, as to direct taxes, will only have power to make requisitions; but the latter clause, power to tax immediately individuals, without the intervention of the state legislatures[;] in fact the first clause appears to me only to provide that each state shall pay a certain portion of the tax, and the latter to provide that Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes, that is to assess upon, and to collect of the individuals in the state, the states quota; but these still consider as undefined powers, because judicious men understand them differently.

It is doubtful whether the vice president is to have any qualifications; none are mentioned; but he may serve as president, and it may be inferred, he ought to be qualified therefore as the president; but the qualifications of the president are required only of the person to be elected president. By art. the 2, sect. 2. “But the Congress may by law vest the appointment of such inferior officers as they think proper in the president alone, in the courts of law, or in the heads of the departments:” Who are inferior officers? May not a Congress disposed to vestthe appointment of all officers in the president, under this clause, vest the appointment of almost every officer in the president alone, and destroy the check mentioned in the first part of the clause, and lodged in the senate. It is true, this check is badly lodged, but then some check upon the first magistrate in appointing officers, ought, it appears by the opinion of the convention, and by the general opinion, to be established in the constitution. By art. 3, sect. 2, the supreme court shall have appellate jurisdiction as to law and facts with such exceptions, &c. to what extent it is intended the exceptions shall be carried-Congress may carry them so far as to annihilate substantially the appellate jurisdiction, and the clause be rendered of very little importance.

4th. There are certain rights which we have always held sacred in the United States, and recognized in all our constitutions, and which, by the adoption of the new constitution, its present form will be left unsecured. By article 6, the proposed constitution, and the laws of the United States, which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby; any thing in the constitution or laws of any state to the contrary notwithstanding.

It is to be observed that when the people shall adopt the proposed constitution it will be their last and supreme act; it will be adopted not by the people of New-Hampshire, Massachusetts, &c. but by the people of the United States; and whenever this constitution, or any part of it, shall be incompatible with the antient customs, rights, the laws or the constitutions heretofore established in the United States, it will entirely abolish them and do them away: And not only this, but the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance of the federal constitution will be also supreme laws, and whenever they shall be incompatible with those customs, rights, laws or constitutions heretofore established, they will also entirely abolish them and do them away.

By the article before recited, treaties also made under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law: It is not said that these treaties shall be made in pursuance of the constitution-nor are there any constitutional bounds set to those who shall make them: The president and two thirds of the senate will be empowered to make treaties indefinitely, and when these treaties shall be made, they will also abolish all laws and state constitutions incompatible with them. This power in the president and senate is absolute, and the judges will be bound to allow full force to whatever rule, article or thing the president and senate shall establish by treaty, whether it be practicable to set any bounds to thosewho make treaties, I am not able to say: If not, it proves that this power ought to be more safely lodged.

The federal constitution, the laws of congress made in pursuance of the constitution, and all treaties must have full force and effect in all parts of the United States; and all other laws, rights and constitutions which stand in their way must yield: It is proper the national laws should be supreme, and superior to state or district laws; but then the national laws ought to yield to alienable or fundamental rights and national laws, made by a few men, should extend only to a few national objects. This will not be the case with the laws of congress: To have any proper idea of their extent, we must carefully examine the legislative, executive and judicial powers proposed to be lodged in the general government, and consider them in connection with a general clause in art. 1 sect. 8.in these words (after enumerating a number of powers) “To make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested by this constitution in the government of the United States, or in any department or officer thereof-The powers of this government as has been observed, extend to internal as well as external objects, and to those objects to which all others are subordinate; it is almost impossible to have a just conception of these powers, or of the extent and number of the laws which may be deemed necessary and proper to carry them into effect, till we shall come to exercise those powers and make the laws. In making laws to carry those powers into effect, it will be expected, that a wise and prudent congress will pay respect to the opinions of a free people, and bottom their laws on those principles which have been considered as essential and fundamental in the British, and in our government: But a congress of a different character will not be bound by the constitution to pay respect to those principles. It is said, that when the people make a constitution, and delegate powers, that all powers not delegated by them to those who govern, is reserved in the people; and that the people, in the present case, have reserved in themselves, and in there state governments, every right and power not expressly given by the federal constitution to those who shall administer the national government. It is said, on the other hand, that the people, when they make a constitution, yield all power not expressly reserved to themselves. The truth is, in either case, it is mere matter of opinion, and men usually take either side of the argument, as will best answer their purposes: But the general presumption being, that men who govern, will, in doubtful cases, construe laws and constitutions most favourably for encreasing their own powers; all wise and prudent people, in forming constitutions, have drawn the line, and carefullynever infringe. It is here wisely stipulated, that the federal legislature shall never pass a bill of attainder, or EXPOST FACTO law; that no tax shall be laid on articles exported, &c. The establishing of one right implies the necessity establishing another and similar one.

On the whole, the position appears to me to be undeniable, that this bill of rights ought to be carried farther, and some other principles established, as a part of this fundamental compact between the people of the United States and their federal rulers.

It is true, we are not disposed to differ much, at present, about religion; but when we are making a constitution, it is to be hoped, for ages and millions yet unborn, why not establish the free exercise of religion, as a part of the national compact There are other essential rights, which we have justly understood to be the rights of freemen; as freedom from hasty and unreasonable search warrants, warrants not founded on oath, and not issued with due caution, for searching and seizing men’s papers, property, and persons. The trials by jury in civil causes, it is said, varies so much in the several states, that no words could be found for the uniform establishment of it. If so the federal legislation will not be able to establish it by any general laws. confess I am of opinion it may be established, but not in that beneficial manner in which we may enjoy it, for the reasons before mentioned. When I speak of the jury trial of the vicinage, or the trial of the fact in the neighbourhood-I do not lay so much stress upon the circumstance of our being tried by our neighbours: in this enlightened countrymen may be probably impartially tried by those who do not live very near them: but the trial of facts in the neighbourhood is of great importance in other respects. Nothing can be more essential than the cross examining witnesses, and generally before the triers of the facts in question. The common people can establish facts with much more ease with oral than written evidence; when trials of facts are removed to a distance from the homes of the parties and witnesses, oral evidence becomes intolerably expensive, and the parties must depend on written evidence, which to the common people is expensive and almost useless; it must be frequently taken ex-parte, and but very seldom leads to the proper discovery of truth.

The trial by jury is very important in another point of view. It is essential in every free country, that common people should have a part and share of influence, in the judicial as well as in the legislative department – To hold open to them the offices of senators, judges, and officers to fill which an expensive education is required, cannot answer any valuable purposes for them; they are not in a situation to be brought forward and to fill those offices; these, and most other offices of any considerable importance, will be occupied by the few. The few, the wellborn, &c. as Mr. Adams calls them, in judicial decisions as well as in legislation, are generally disposed, and very naturally too, to favour those of their own description.

The trial by jury in the judicial department, and the collection of the people by their representatives in the legislature, are those fortunate inventions which have procured for them in this country, their true proportion of influence, and the wisest and most fit means of protecting themselves in the community. Their situation, as jurors and representatives, enables them to acquire information and knowledge in the affairs and government of the society; and to come forward, in turn, as the centinels and guardians of each other. I am very sorry that even a few of our countrymen should consider jurors and representatives in a different point of view, as ignorant, troublesome bodies, which ought not to have any share in the concerns of government.

I confess I do not see in what cases the Congress can, with any pretence of right, make a law to suppress the freedom of the press; though I am not clear, that Congress is restrained from laying any duties whatever on printing and from laying duties particularly heavy on certain pieces printed, and perhaps Congress may require large bonds for the payment of these duties. Should the printer say, the freedom of the press was secured by the constitution of the state in which he lived, Congress might, and perhaps, with great propriety, answer, that the federal constitution – is the only compact existing between them and the people in this compact the people have named no others, and therefore Congress, in exercising the powers assigned them, and in making laws to carry them into execution, are restrained by nothing beside the federal constitution, anymore than a state legislature is restrained by a compact between the magistrates and people of a county, city, or town of which the people- in forming the state constitution, have taken no notice.

It is not my object to enumerate rights of inconsiderable importance; but there are others, no doubt, which ought to be established as a fundamental part of the national system.

It is worthy of observation, that all treaties are made by foreign nations with a confederacy of thirteen states-that the western country is attached to thirteen states-thirteen states have jointly and severally engaged to pay the public debts-Should a new government be formed of nine, ten, eleven, or twelve states, those treaties could not be considered as binding on the foreign nations who made them. However, I believe the probability to be, that if nine states adopt the constitution, the others will.

It may also be worthy our examination, how far the provision for amending this plan, when it shall be adopted, is of any importance. No measures can be taken towards amendments, unless two-thirds of the Congress, or two-thirds of the legislatures of the several states shall agree-While power is in the hands of the people, or democratic part of the community, more especially as at present, it is easy, according to the general course of human affairs, for the few influential men in the community, to obtain conventions, alterations in government, and to persuade the common people they may change for the better, and to get from them a part of the power: But when power is once transferred from the many to the few, all changes become extremely difficult; the government, in this case, being beneficial to the few, they will be exceedingly artful and adroit in preventing any measures which may lead to a change; and nothing will produce it, but great exertions and severe struggles on the part of the common people. Every man of reflection must see, that the change now proposed, is a transfer of power from the many to the few, and the probability is, the artful and ever active aristocracy, will prevent all peaceable measures for changes, unless when they shall discover some favorable moment to increase their own influence. I am sensible, thousands of men in the United States, are disposed – to adopt the proposed constitution, though they perceive it to be essentially defective, under an idea that amendment of it, may be obtained when necessary. This is a pernicious idea, it argues a servility of character totally unfit for the support of free government; it is very repugnant to that perpetual jealousy respecting liberty, so absolutely necessary in all free states, spoken of by Mr. Dickinson.-However, if our countrymen are so soon changed, and the language of 1774, is become odious to them, it will be in vain to use the language of freedom, or to attempt to rouse them to free enquiries: But I shall never believe this is the case with them, whatever present appearances may be, till I shall have very strong evidence indeed of it.

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(Continued. )

I said in my last number, that the supreme court under this constitution would be exalted above all other power in the government, and subject to no controul. The business of this paper will be to illustrate this, and to shew the danger that will result from it. I question whether the world ever saw, in any period of it, a court of justice invested with such immense powers, and yet placed in a situation so little responsible. Certain it is, that in England, and in the several states, where we have been taught to believe, the courts of law are put upon the most prudent establishment, they are on a very different footing. The judges in England, it is true, hold their offices during their good behaviour, but then their determinations are subject to correction by the house of lords; and their power is by no means so extensive as that of the proposed supreme court of the union.-I believe they in no instance assume the authority to set aside an act of parliament under the idea that it is inconsistent with their constitution. They consider themselves bound to decide according to the existing laws of the land, and never undertake to controul them by adjudging that they are inconsistent with the constitution- much less are they vested with the power of giving an equitable construction to the constitution.

The judges in England are under the controul of the legislature, for they are bound to determine according to the laws passed by them. But the judges under this constitution will controul the legislature, for the supreme court are authorised in the last resort, to determine what is the extent of the powers of the Congress; they are to give the constitution an explanation, and there is no power above them to sit aside their judgment. The framers of this constitution appear to have followed that of the British, in rendering the judges independent, by granting them their offices during good behaviour, without following the constitution of England, in instituting a tribunal in which their errors may be corrected; and without adverting to this, that the judicial under this system have a power which is above the legislative, and which indeed transcends any power before given to a judicial by any free government under heaven.

I do not object to the judges holding their commissions during good behaviour. I suppose it a proper provision provided they were made properly responsible. But I say, this system has followed the English government in this, while it has departed from almost every other principle of their jurisprudence, under the idea, of rendering the judges independent; which, in the British constitution, means no more than that they hold their places during good behaviour, and have fixed salaries, they have made the judges independent, in the fullest sense of the word. There is no power above them, to controul any of their decisions. There is no authority that can remove them, and they cannot be controuled by the laws of the legislature. In short, they are independent of the people, of the legislature, and of every power under heaven. Men placed in this situation will generally soon feel themselves independent of heaven itself. Before I proceed to illustrate the truth of these assertions, I beg liberty to make one remark. Though in my opinion the judges ought to hold their offices during good behaviour, yet I think it is clear, that the reasons in favour of this establishment of the judges in England, do by no means apply to this country.

The great reason assigned, why the judges in Britain ought to be commissioned during good behaviour, is this, that they may be placed in a situation, not to be influenced by the crown, to give such decisions, as would tend to increase its powers and prerogatives. While the judges held their places at the will and pleasure of the king, on whom they depended not only for their offices, but also for their salaries, they were subject to every undue influence. If the crown wished to carry a favorite point, to accomplish which the aid of the courts of law was necessary, the pleasure of the king would be signified to the judges. And it required the spirit of a martyr, for the judges to determine contrary to the king’s will. – They were absolutely dependent upon him both for their offices and livings. The king, holding his office during life, and transmitting it to his posterity as an inheritance, has much stronger inducements to increase the prerogatives of his office than those who hold their offices for stated periods, or even for life. Hence the English nation gained a great point, in favour of liberty. When they obtained the appointment of the judges, during good behaviour, they got from the crown a concession, which deprived it of one of the most powerful engines with which it might enlarge the boundaries of the royal prerogative and encroach on the liberties of the people. But these reasons do not apply to this country, we have no hereditary monarch; those who appoint the judges do not hold their offices for life, nor do they descend to their children. The same arguments, therefore, which will conclude in favor of the tenor of the judge’s offices for good behaviour, lose a considerable part of their weight when applied to the state and condition of America. But much less can it be shewn, that the nature of our government requires that the courts should be placed beyond all account more independent, so much so as to be above controul.

I have said that the judges under this system will be independent in the strict sense of the word: To prove this I will shew-That there is no power above them that can controul their decisions, or correct their errors. There is no authority that can remove them from office for any errors or want of capacity, or lower their salaries, and in many cases their power is superior to that of the legislature.

1st. There is no power above them that can correct their errors or controul their decisions- The adjudications of this court are final and irreversible, for there is no court above them to which appeals can lie, either in error or on the merits.-In this respect it differs from the courts in England, for there the house of lords is the highest court, to whom appeals, in error, are carried from the highest of the courts of law.

2d. They cannot be removed from office or suffer a dimunition of their salaries, for any error in judgement or want of capacity.

It is expressly declared by the constitution,-“That they shall at stated times receive a compensation for their services which shall not be diminished during their continuance in office.”

The only clause in the constitution which provides for the removal of the judges from offices, is that which declares, that “the president, vice president, and all civil officers of the United States, shall be removed from office, on impeachment for, and conviction of treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” By this paragraph, civil officers, in which the judges are included, are removable only for crimes. Treason and bribery are named, and the rest are included under the general terms of high crimes and misdemeanors. – Errors in judgement, or want of capacity to discharge the duties of the office, can never be supposed to be included in these words, high crimes and misdemeanors. A man may mistake a case in giving judgment, or manifest that he is incompetent to the discharge of the duties of a judge, and yet give no evidence of corruption or want of integrity. To support the charge, it will be necessary to give in evidence some facts that will shew, that the judges commited the error from wicked and corrupt motives.

3d. The power of this court is in many cases superior to that of the legislature. I have shewed, in a former paper, that this court will be authorised to decide upon the meaning of the constitution, and that, not only according to the natural and obvious meaning of the words, but also according to the spirit and intention of it. In the exercise of this power they will not be subordinate to, but above the legislature. For all the departments of this government will receive their powers, so far as they are expressed in the constitution, from the people immediately, who are the source of power. The legislature can only exercise such powers as are given them by the constitution, they cannot assume any of the rights annexed to the judicial, for this plain reason, that the same authority which vested the legislature with their powers, vested the judicial with theirs-both are derived from the same source, both therefore are equally valid, and the judicial hold their powers independently of the legislature, as the legislature do of the judicial.-The supreme court then have a right, independent of the legislature, to give a construction to the constitution and every part of it, and there is no power provided in this system to correct their construction or do it away. If, therefore, the legislature pass any laws, inconsistent with the sense the judges put upon the constitution, they will declare it void; and therefore in this respect their power is superior to that of the legislature. In England the judges are not only subject to have their decisions set aside by the house of lords, for error, but in cases where they give an explanation to the laws or constitution of the country, contrary to the sense of the parliament, though the parliament will not set aside the judgement of the court, yet, they have authority, by a new law, to explain a former one, and by this means to prevent a reception of such decisions. But no such power is in the legislature. The judges are supreme-and no law, explanatory of the constitution, will be binding on them.

From the preceding remarks, which have been made on the judicial powers proposed in this system, the policy of it may be fully developed.

I have, in the course of my observation on this constitution, affirmed and endeavored to shew, that it was calculated to abolish entirely the state governments, and to melt down the states into one entire government, for every purpose as well internal and local, as external and national. In this opinion the opposers of the system have generally agreed-and this has been uniformly denied by its advocates in public. Some individuals, indeed, among them, will confess, that it has this tendency, and scruple not to say, it is what they wish; and I will venture to predict, without the spirit of prophecy, that if it is adopted without amendments, or some such precautions as will ensure amendments immediately after its adoption, that the same gentlemen who have employed their talents and abilities with such success to influence the public mind to adopt this plan, will employ the same to persuade the people, that it will be for their good to abolish the state governments as useless and burdensome.

Perhaps nothing could have been better conceived to facilitate the abolition of the state governments than the constitution of the judicial. They will be able to extend the limits of the general government gradually, and by insensible degrees, and to accomodate themselves to the temper of the people. Their decisions on the meaning of the constitution will commonly take place in cases which arise between individuals, with which the public will not be generally acquainted; one adjudication will form a precedent to the next, and this to a following one. These cases will immediately affect individuals only; so that a series of determinations will probably take place before even the people will be informed of them. In the mean time all the art and address of those who wish for the change will be employed to make converts to their opinion. The people will be told, that their state officers, and state legislatures are a burden and expence without affording any solid advantage, for that all the laws passed by them, might be equally well made by the general legislature. If to those who will be interested in the change, be added, those who will be under their influence, and such who will submit to almost any change of government, which they can be persuaded to believe will ease them of taxes, it is easy to see, the party who will favor the abolition of the state governments would be far from being inconsiderable.-In this situation, the general legislature, might pass one law after another, extending the general and abridging the state jurisdictions, and to sanction their proceedings would have a course of decisions of the judicial to whom the constitution has committed the power of explaining the constitution.-If the states remonstrated, the constitutional mode of deciding upon the validity of the law, is with the supreme court, and neither people, nor state legislatures, nor the general legislature can remove them or reverse their decrees.

Had the construction of the constitution been left with the legislature, they would have explained it at their peril; if they exceed their powers, or sought to find, in the spirit of the constitution, more than was expressed in the letter, the people from whom they derived their power could remove them, and do themselves right; and indeed I can see no other remedy that the people can have against their rulers for encroachments of this nature. A constitution is a compact of a people with their rulers; if the rulers break the compact, the people have a right and ought to remove them and do themselves justice; but in order to enable them to do this with the greater facility, those whom the people chuse at stated periods, should have the power in the last resort to determine the sense of the compact; if they determine contrary to the understanding of the people, an appeal will lie to the people at the period when the rulers are to be elected, and they will have it in their power to remedy the evil; but when this power is lodged in the hands of men independent of the people, and of their representatives, and who are not, constitutionally, accountable for their opinions, no way is left to controul them but with a high hand and an outstretched arm.

Source: The Complete Anti-Federalist, ed. Herbert J. Storing (Chicago:  The University of Chicago Press, 1981) Volume Four, 81-83.

To the People.

There cannot be a doubt, that, while the trade of this continent remains free, the activity of our countrymen will secure their full share. All the estimates for the present year, let them be made by what party they may, suppose the balance of trade to be largely in our favour. The credit of our merchants is, therefore, fully established in foreign countries. This is a sufficient proof, that when business is unshackled, it will find out that channel which is most friendly to its course. We ought, therefore, to be exceedingly cautious about diverting or restraining it. Every day produces fresh proofs, that people, under the immediate pressure of difficulties, do not, at first glance, discover the proper relief. The last year, a desire to get rid of embarrassments induced many honest people to agree to a tender-act, and many others, of a different description, to obstruct the courts of justice. Both these methods only increased the evil they were intended to cure. Experience has since shewn, that, instead of trying to lessen an evil by altering the present course of things, every endeavour should have been applied to facilitate the course of law, and thus to encourage a mutual confidence among the citizens, which increases the resources of them all, and renders easy the payment of debts. By this means one does not grow rich at the expense of another, but all are benefited. The case is the same with the states. Pennsylvania, with one port and a large territory, is less favourably situated for trade than the Massachusetts, which has an extensive coast in proportion to its limits of jurisdiction. Accordingly a much larger proportion of our people are engaged in maritime affairs. We ought therefore to be particularly attentive to securing so great an interest. It is vain to tell us that we ought to overlook local interests. It is only by protecting local concerns, that the interest of the whole is preserved. No man when he enters into society, does it from a view to promote the good of others, but he does it for his own good. All men having the same view are bound equally to promote the welfare of the whole. To recur then to such a principle as that local interests must be disregarded, is requiring of one man to do more than another, and is subverting the foundation of a free government. The Philadelphians would be shocked with a proposition to place the seat of general government and the unlimited right to regulate trade in the Massachusetts. There can be no greater reason for our surrendering the preference to them. Such sacrifices, however we may delude ourselves with the form of words, always originate in folly, and not in generosity.

Let me now request your attention a little while to the actual state of publick credit, that we may see whether it has not been as much misrepresented as the state of our trade.

At the beginning of the present year, the whole continental debt was about twelve millions of pounds in our money. About one quarter part of this sum was due to our foreign creditors. Of these France was the principal, and called for the arrears of interest. A new loan of one hundred and twenty thousand pounds was negotiated in Holland, at five per cent. to pay the arrears due to France. At first sight this has the appearance of bad economy, and has been used for the villainous purpose of disaffecting the people. But in the course of this same year. Congress have negotiated the sale of as much of their western lands on the Ohio and Mississippi, an amount nearly to the whole sum of the foreign debt; and instead of a dead loss by borrowing money at five per cent. to the amount of an hundred and twenty thousand pounds, in one sum, they make a saving of the interest at six per cent. on three millions of their domestick debt, which is an annual saving of an hundred and eighty thousand pounds. It is easy to see how such an immense fund as the western territory may be applied to the payment of the foreign debt. Purchasers of the land would as willingly procure any kind of the produce of the United States as they would buy loan office certificates to pay for the land. The produce thus procured would easily be negotiated for the benefit of our foreign creditors. I do not mean to insinuate that no other provision should be made for our creditors, but only to shew that our credit is not so bad in other countries as has been represented, and that our resources are fully equal to the pressure.

The perfection of government depends on the equality of its operation, as far as human affairs will admit, upon all parts of the empire, and upon all the citizens. Some inequalities indeed will necessarily take place. One man will be obliged to travel a few miles further than another man to procure justice. But when he has travelled, the poor man ought to have the same measure of justice as the rich one. Small inequalities may be easily compensated. There ought, however, to be no inequality in the law itself, and the government ought to have the same authority in one place as in another. Evident as this truth is, the most plausible argument in favour of the new plan is drawn from the inequality of its operation in different states. In Connecticut, they have been told that the bulk of the revenue will be raised by impost and excise, and therefore they need not be afraid to trust Congress with the power of levying a dry tax at pleasure. New-York, and Massachusetts, are both more commercial states than Connecticut. The latter, therefore, hopes that the other two will pay the bulk of the continental expense. The argument is in itself delusive. If the trade is not over-taxed, the consumer pays it. If the trade is over-taxed, it languishes, and by the ruin of trade the farmer loses his market. The farmer has in truth no other advantage from imposts than that they save him the trouble of collecting money for the government. He neither gets or loses money by changing the mode of taxation. The government indeed finds it the easiest way to raise the revenue; and the reason is that the tax is by this means collected where the money circulates most freely. But if the argument was not delusive, it ought to conclude against the plan, because it would prove the unequal operation of it, and if any saving is to be made by the mode of taxing, the saving should be applied towards our own debt, and not to the payment of the part of a continental burden which Connecticut ought to discharge. It would be impossible to refute in writing all the delusions made use of to force this system through. Those respecting the publick debt, and the benefit of imposts, are the most important, and these I have taken pains to explain. In one instance indeed, the impost does raise money at the direct expense of the seaports. This is when goods are imported subject to a duty, and re-exported without a drawback. Whatever benefit is derived from this source, surely should not be transferred to another state, at least till our own debts are cleared.

Another instance of unequal operation is, that it establishes different degrees of authority in different states, and thus creates different interests. The lands in New-Hampshire having been formerly granted by this state, and afterwards by that state, to private persons, the whole authority of trying titles becomes vested in a continental court, and that state loses a branch of authority, which the others retain, over their own citizens.

I have now gone through two parts of my argument, and have proved the efficiency of the state governments for internal regulation, and the disadvantages of the new system, at least some of the principal. The argument has been much longer than I at first apprehended, or, possibly, I should have been deterred from it. The importance of the question has, however, prevented me from relinquishing it.

Source: Consource. Click Here To View Original Document.

To the PEOPLE of the State of NEW-YORK.

It was intended in this Number to have prosecuted the enquiry into the organization of this new system; particularly to have considered the dangerous and premature union of the President and Senate, and the mixture of legislative, executive, and judicial powers in the Senate.

But there is such an intimate connection between the several branches in whom the different species of authority is lodged, and the powers with which they are invested, that on reflection it seems necessary first to proceed to examine the nature and extent of the powers granted to the legislature.

This enquiry will assist us the better to determine, whether the legislature is so constituted, as to provide proper checks and restrictions for the security of our rights, and to guard against the abuse of power-For the means should be suited to the end; a government should be framed with a view to the objects to which it extends: if these be few in number, and of such a nature as to give but small occasion or opportunity to work oppression in the exercise of authority, there will be less need of a numerous representation, and special guards against abuse, than if the powers of the government are very extensive, and include a great variety of cases. It will also be found necessary to examine the extent of these powers, in order to form a just opinion how far this system can be considered as a confederation, or a consolidation of the states. Many of the advocates for, and most of the opponents to this system, agree that the form of government most suitable for the United States, is that of a confederation. The idea of a confederated government is that of a number of independent states entering into a compact, for the conducting certain general concerns, in which they have a common interest, leaving the management of their internal and local affairs to their separate governments. But whether the system proposed is of this nature cannot be determined without a strict enquiry into the powers proposed to be granted.

This constitution considers the people of the several states as one body corporate, and is intended as an original compact, it will therefore dissolve all contracts which may be inconsistent with it. This not only results from its nature, but is expressly declared in the 6th article of it. The design of the constitution is expressed in the preamble, to be, “in order to form a more perfect union, to establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and posterity.” These are the ends this government is to accomplish, and for which it is invested with certain powers, among these is the power “to make all laws which are necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested by this constitution in the government of the United States, or in any department or officer thereof.”1 It is a rule in construing a law to consider the objects the legislature had in view in passing it, and to give it such an explanation as to promote their intention. The same rule will apply in explaining a constitution. The great objects then are declared in this preamble in general and indefinite terms to be to provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and an express power being vested in the legislature to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution all the powers vested in the general government. The inference is natural that the legislature will have an authority to make all laws which they shall judge necessary for the common safety, and to promote the general welfare. This amounts to a power to make laws at discretion: No terms can be found more indefinite than these, and it is obvious, that the legislature alone must judge what laws are proper and necessary for the purpose. It may be said, that this way explaining the constitution, is torturing and making it speak what it never intended. This is far from my intention, and I shall not even insist upon this implied power, but join issue with those who say we are to collect the idea of the powers given from the express words of the clauses granting them; and it will not be difficult to shew that the same authority is expressly given which is supposed to be implied in the forgoing paragraphs.

In the 1st article, 8th section, it is declared, “that Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts, and provide for the common defence, and general welfare of the United States.” In the preamble, the intent of the constitution, among other things, is declared to be to provide for the common defence, and promote the general welfare, and in this clause the power is in express words given to Congress “to provide for the common defence, and general welfare”-And in the last paragraph of the same section there is an express authority to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution this power. It is therefore evident, that the legislature under this constitution may pass any law which they may think proper.2 It is true the 9th section restrains their power with respect to certain objects. But these restrictions are very limited, some of them improper, some unimportant, and others not easily understood, as I shall hereafter shew. It has been urged that the meaning I give to this part of the constitution is not the true one, that the intent of it is to confer on the legislature the power to lay and collect taxes, &c. in order to provide for the common defence and general welfare. To this I would reply, that the meaning and intent of the constitution is to be collected from the words of it, and submit to the public, whether the construction I have given it is not the most natural and easy. But admitting the contrary opinion to prevail, I shall nevertheless, be able to shew, that the same powers are substantially vested in the general government, by several other articles in the constitution. It invests the legislature with authority to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, in order to provide for the common defence, and promote the general welfare, and to pass all laws which may be necessary and proper for carrying this power into effect. To comprehend the extent of this authority, it will be requisite to examine 1st. what is included in this power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises.

2d. What is implied in the authority, to pass all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying this power into execution.

3d. What limitation, if any, is set to the exercise of this power by the constitution.

1st. To detail the particulars comprehended in the general terms, taxes, duties, imposts and excises, would require a volume, instead of a single piece in a newspaper. Indeed it would be a task far beyond my ability, and to which no one can be competent, unless possessed of a mind capable of comprehending every possible source of revenue; for they extend to every possible way of raising money, whether by director indirect taxation. Under this clause may be imposed a poll-tax, a land-tax, a tax on houses and buildings, on windows and fire places, on cattle and on all kinds of personal property:-It extends to duties on all kinds of goods to any amount, to tonnage and poundage on vessels, to duties on written instruments, news-papers, almanacks, and books:-It comprehends an excise on all kinds of liquors, spirits, wines, cyder, beer, &c. and indeed takes in duty or excise on every necessary or conveniency of life; whether of foreign or home growth or manufactory. In short, we can have no conception of any way in which a government can raise money from the people, but what is included in one or other of these general terms. We may say then that this clause commits to the hands of the general legislature every conceivable source of revenue within the United States. Not only are these terms very comprehensive, and extend to a vast number of objects, but the power to lay and collect has great latitude; it will lead to the passing a vast number of laws, which may affect the personal rights of the citizens of the states, expose their property to fines and confiscation, and put their lives in jeopardy: it opens a door to the appointment of a swarm of revenue and excise officers to prey upon the honest and industrious part of the community, eat up their substance, and riot on the spoils of the country.

2d. We will next enquire into what is implied in the authority to pass all laws which shall be necessary and proper to carry this power into execution.

It is, perhaps, utterly impossible fully to define this power. The authority granted in the first clause can only be understood in its full extent, by descending to all the particular cases in which a revenue can be raised; the number and variety of these cases are so endless, and as it were infinite, that no man living has, as yet, been able to reckon them up. The greatest geniuses in the world have been for ages employed in the research, and when mankind had supposed that the subject was exhausted they have been astonished with the refined improvements that have been made in modern times, and especially in the English nation on the subject-If then the objects of this power cannot be comprehended, how is it possible to understand the extent of that power which can pass all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying it into execution? It is truly incomprehensible. A case cannot be conceived of, which is not included in this power. It is well known that the subject of revenue is the most difficult and extensive in the science of government. It requires the greatest talents of a statesman, and the most numerous and exact provisions of the legislature. The command of the revenues of a state gives the command of every thing in it.-He that has the purse will have the sword, and they that have both, have every thing; so that the legislature having every source from which money can be drawn under their direction, with a right to make all laws necessary and proper for drawing forth all the resource of the country, would have, in fact, all power.

Were I to enter into the detail, it would be easy to shew how this power in its operation, would totally destroy all the powers of the individual states. But this is not necessary for those who will think for themselves, and it will be useless to such as take things upon trust, nothing will awaken them to reflection, until the iron hand oppression compel them to it.

I shall only remark, that this power, given to the federal legislature, directly annihilates all the powers of the state legislatures. There cannot be a greater solecism in politics than to talk of power in a government, without the command of any revenue. It is as absurd as to talk of an animal without blood, or the subsistence of one without food. Now the general government having in their controul every possible source of revenue, and authority to pass any law they may deem necessary to draw them forth, or to facilitate their collection; no source of revenue is therefore left in the hands of any state. Should any state attempt to raise money by law, the general government may repeal or arrest it in the execution, for all their laws will be the supreme law of the land:4 If then anyone can be weak enough to believe that a government can exist without having the authority to raise money to pay a door-keeper to their assembly, he may believe that the state government can exist, should this new constitution take place.

It is agreed by most of the advocates of this new system, that the government which is proper for the United States should be a confederated one; that the respective states ought to retain a portion of their sovereignty, and that they should preserve not only the forms of their legislatures, but also the power to conduct certain internal concerns. How far the powers to be retained by the states shall extend, is the question; we need not spend much time on this subject, as it respects this constitution, for a government without the power to raise money is one only in name. It is clear that the legislatures of the respective states must be altogether dependent on the will of the general legislature, for the means supporting their government. The legislature of the United States will have a right to exhaust every source of revenue in every state, and to annul all laws of the states which may stand in the way of effecting it; unless therefore we can suppose the state governments can exist without money to support the officers who execute them, we must conclude they will exist no longer than the general legislatures choose they should.5 Indeed the idea of any government existing, in any respect, as an independent one, without any means of support in their own hands, is an absurdity. If therefore, this constitution has in view, what many of its framers and advocates say it has, to secure and guarantee to the separate states the exercise of certain powers of government it certainly ought to have left in their hands some sources of revenue. It should have marked the line in which the general government should have raised money, and set bounds over which they should not pass, leaving to the separate states other means to raise supplies for the support of their governments, and to discharge their respective debts. To this it is objected, that the general government ought to have power competent to the purposes of the union; they are to provide for the common defence, to pay the debts of the United States, support foreign ministers, and the civil establishment of the union, and to do these they ought to have authority to raise money adequate to the purpose.6 On this I observe, that the state governments have also contracted debts, they require money to support their civil officers, and how this is to be done, if they give to the general government a power to raise money in every way in which it can possibly be raised, with such a controul over the state legislatures as to prohibit them, whenever the general legislature may think proper, from raising any money. It is again objected that it is very difficult, if not impossible, to draw the line of distinction between the powers of the general and state governments on this subject. The first, it is said, must have the power of raising the money necessary for the purposes of the union, if they are limited to certain objects the revenue may fall short of a sufficiency for the public exigencies, they must therefore have discretionary power. The line may be easily and accurately drawn between the powers of the two governments on this head. The distinction between external and internal taxes, is not a novel one in this country, it is a plain one, and easily understood. The first includes impost duties on all imported goods; this species of taxes it is proper should be laid by the general government; many reasons might be urged to shew that no danger is to be apprehended from their exercise of it. They may be collected in few places, and from few hands with certainty and expedition. But few officers are necessary to be imployed in collecting them, and there is no danger of oppression in laying them, because, if they are laid higher than trade will bear, the merchants will cease importing, or smuggle their goods. We have therefore sufficient security, arising from the nature of the thing, against burdensome, and intolerable impositions from this kind of tax. But the case is far otherwise with regard to direct taxes; these include poll taxes, land taxes, excises, duties on written instruments, on every thing we eat, drink, or wear; they take hold of every species of property, and come home to every man’s house and packet. These are often so oppressive, as to grind the face of the poor, and render the lives of the common people a burden to them. The great and only security the people can have against oppression from this kind of taxes, must rest in their representatives. If they are sufficiently numerous to be well informed of the circumstances, and ability of those who send them, and have a proper regard for the people, they will be secure. The general legislature, as I have shewn in a former paper, will not be thus qualified, and therefore, on this account, ought not to exercise the power of direct taxation. If the power of laying imposts will not be sufficient, some other specific mode of raising a revenue should have been assigned the general government; many may be suggested in which their power may be accurately defined and limited, and it would be much better to give them authority to lay and collect a duty on exports, not to exceed a certain rate per cent, than to have surrendered every kind of resource that the country has, to the complete abolition of the state governments, and which will introduce such an infinite number of laws and ordinances, fines and penalties, courts, and judges, collectors, and excisemen, that when a man can number them, he may enumerate the stars of Heaven.

I shall resume this subject in my next, and by an induction of particulars shew, that this power, in its exercise, will subvert all state authority, and will work to the oppression of the people, and that there are no restrictions in the constitution that will soften its rigour, but rather the contrary.

November 15, 1787

Source: Consource. Click Here To View Original Document.

In the investigation of the constitution, under your consideration, great care should be taken, that you do not form your opinions respecting it, from unimportant provisions, or fallacious appearances.

On a careful examination, you will find, that many of its parts, of little moment, are well formed; in these it has a specious resemblance of a free government-but this is not sufficient to justify the adoption of it-the gilded pill, is often found to contain the most deadly poison.

You are not however to expect, a perfect form of government, any more than to meet with perfection in man; your views therefore, ought to be directed to the main pillars upon which a free government is to rest; if these are well placed, on a foundation that will support the superstructure, you should be satisfied, although the building may want a number of ornaments, which, if your particular tastes were gratified, you would have added to it: on the other hand, if the foundation is insecurely laid, and the main supports are wanting, or not properly fixed, however the fabric may be decorated and adorned, you ought to reject it.

Under these impressions, it has been my object to turn your attention to the principal defects in this system.

I have attempted to shew, that a consolidation of this extensive continent, under one government, for internal, as well as external purposes, which is evidently the tendency of this constitution, cannot succeed, without a sacrifice of your liberties; and therefore that the attempt is not only preposterous, but extremely dangerous; and I have shewn, independent of this, that the plan is radically defective in a fundamental principle, which ought to be found in every free government; to wit, a declaration of rights.

I shall now proceed to take a nearer view of this system, to examine its parts more minutely, and shew that the powers are not properly deposited, for the security of public liberty.

The first important object that presents itself in the organization of this government, is the legislature. This is to be composed of two branches; the first to be called the general assembly, and is to be chosen by the people of the respective states, in proportion to the number of their inhabitants, and is to consist of sixty five members, with powers in the legislature to encrease the number, not to exceed one for every thirty thousand inhabitants. The second branch is to be called the senate, and is to consist of twenty-six members, two of which are to be chosen by the legislatures of each of the states.1

In the former of these there is an appearance of justice, in the appointment of its members-but if the clause, which provides for this branch, be stripped of its ambiguity, it will be found that there is really no equality of representation, even in this house.

The words are “representatives and direct taxes, shall be apportioned among the several states, which may be included in this union, according to their respective numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole number of free persons, including those bound to service for a term of years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other persons.”-What a strange and unnecessary accumulation of words are here used to conceal from the public eye, what might have been expressed in the following concise manner. Representatives are to be proportioned among the states respectively, according to the number of freemen and slaves inhabiting them, counting five slaves for three free men.

“In a free state,” says the celebrated Montesquieu, “everyman, who is supposed to be a free agent, ought to be concerned in his own government, therefore the legislature should reside in the whole body of the people, or their representatives.” But it has never been alledged that those who are not free agents, can, upon any rational principle, have any thing to do in government, either by themselves or others. If they have no share in government, why is the number of members in the assembly, to be increased on their account? Is it because in some of the states, a considerable part of the property of the inhabitants consists in a number of their fellow men, who are held in bondage, in defiance of every idea of benevolence, justice, and religion, and contrary to all the principles of liberty, which have been publickly avowed in the late glorious revolution? If this be a just ground for representation, the horses in some of the states, and the oxen in others, ought to be represented-for a great share of property in some of them, consists in these animals; and they have as much controul over their own actions, as these poor unhappy creatures, who are intended to be described in the above recited clause, by the words, “all other persons.”2 By this mode of apportionment, the representatives of the different parts of the union, will be extremely unequal; in some of the southern states, the slaves are nearly equal in number to the free men; and for all these slaves, they will be entitled to a proportionate share in the legislature-this will give them an unreasonable weight in the government, which can derive no additional strength, protection, nor defence from the slaves, but the contrary. Why then should they be represented? What adds to the evil is, that these states are to be permitted to continue the inhuman traffic of importing slaves, until the year 1808-and for every cargo of these unhappy people, which unfeeling, unprincipled, barbarous, and avaricious wretches, may tear from their country, friends and tender connections, and bring into those states, they are to be rewarded by having an increase of members in the general assembly.3 There appears at the first view a manifest inconsistency, in the apportionment ofrepresentatives in the senate, upon the plan of a consolidated government. On every principle of equity, and propriety, representation in a government should be in exact proportion to the numbers, or the aids afforded by the persons represented. How unreasonable, and unjust then is it, that Delaware should have a representation in the senate, equal to Massachusetts, or Virginia? The latter of which contains ten times her numbers, and is to contribute to the aid of the general government in that proportion?4 This article of the constitution will appear the more objectionable, if it is considered, that the powers vested in this branch of the legislature are very extensive, and greatly surpass those lodged in the assembly, not only for general purposes, but, in many instances, for the internal police of the states. The other branch of the legislature, in which, if in either, a feint spark of democracy is to be found, should have been properly organized and established-but upon examination you will find, that this branch does not possess the qualities of a just representation, and that there is no kind of security, imperfect as it is, for its remaining in the hands of the people.

It has been observed, that the happiness of society is the end of government-that every free government is founded in compact; and that, because it is impracticable for the whole community to assemble, or when assembled, to deliberate with wisdom, and decide with dispatch, the mode of legislating representation was devised. The very term, representative, implies, that the person or body chosen for this purpose, should resemble those who appoint them-a representation of the people of America, if it be a true one, must be like the people. It ought to be so constituted, that a person, who is a stranger to the country, might be able to form a just idea of their character, by knowing that of their representatives. They are the sign-the people are the thing signified. It is absurd to speak of one thing being the representative of another, upon any other principle. The ground and reason of representation, in a free government, implies the same thing. Society instituted government to promote the happiness of the whole, and this is the great end always in view in the delegation of powers. It must then have been intended, that those who are placed instead of the people, should possess their sentiments and feelings, and be governed by their interests, or, in other words, should bear the strongest resemblance of those in whose room they are substituted. It is obvious, that for an assembly to be a true likeness of the people of any country, they must be considerably numerous.-One man, or a few men, cannot possibly represent the feelings, opinions, and characters of a great multitude. In this respect, the new constitution is radically defective.-The house of assembly, which is intended as a representation of the people of America, will not, nor cannot, in the nature of things, be a proper one-sixty-five men cannot be found in the United States, who hold the sentiments, possess the feelings, or are acquainted with the wants and interests of this vast country.5 This extensive continent is made up of a number of different classes of people; and to have a proper representation of them, each class ought to have an opportunity choosing their best informed men for the purpose; but this cannot possibly be the case in so small a number. The state of New-York, on the present apportionment, will send six members to the assembly: I will venture to affirm, that number cannot be found in the state, who will bear a just resemblance to the several classes of people who compose it. In this assembly, the farmer, merchant, mecanick, and other various orders of people, ought to be represented according to their respective weight and numbers; and the representatives ought to be intimately acquainted with the wants, understand the interests of the several orders in the society, and feel a proper sense and becoming zeal to promote their prosperity. I cannot conceive that any six men in this state can be found properly qualified in these respects to discharge such important duties: but supposing it possible to find them, is there the least degree of probability that the choice of the people will fall upon such men? According to the common course of human affairs, the natural aristocracy of the country will be elected. Wealth always creates influence, and this is generally much increased by large family connections: this class in society will for ever have a great number of dependents; besides, they will always favour each other-it is their interest to combine-hey will therefore constantly unite their efforts to procure men of their own rank to be elected- they will concenter all their force in every part of the state into one point, and by acting together, will most generally carry their election. It is probable, that but few of the merchants, and those the most opulent and ambitious, will have a representation from their body-few of them are characters sufficiently conspicuous to attract the notice of the electors of the state in so limited a representation. The great body of the yeoman of the country cannot expect any of their order in this assembly-the station will be too elevated for them to aspire to-the distance between the people and their representatives, will be so very great, that there is no probability that a farmer, however respectable, will be chosen-the mechanicks of every branch, must expect to be excluded from a seat in this Body-It will and must be esteemed a station too high and exalted to be filled by any but the first men in the state, in point of fortune; so that in reality there will be no part of the people represented, but the rich, even in that branch of the legislature, which is called the democratic.-The well born, and highest orders in life, as they term themselves, will be ignorant of the sentiments of the midling class of citizens, strangers to their ability, wants, and difficulties, and void of sympathy, and fellow feeling. This branch of the legislature will not only be an imperfect representation, but there will be no security in so small a body, against bribery, and corruption- It will consist at first, of sixty-five, and can never exceed one for every thirty thousand inhabitants; a majority of these, that is, thirty-three, are a quorum, and a majority of which, or seventeen, may pass any law-a majority of the senate, or fourteen, are a quorum, and eight of them pass any law-so that twenty-five men, will have the power to give away all the property of the citizens of these states-what security therefore can there be for the people, where their liberties and property are at the disposal of so few men?6 It will literally be a government in the hands of the few to oppress and plunder the many. You may conclude with a great degree of certainty, that it, like all others of a similar nature, will be managed by influence and corruption, and that the period is not far distant, when this will be the case, if it should be adopted; for even now there are some among us, whose characters stand high in the public estimation, and who have had a principal agency in framing this constitution, who do not scruple to say, that this is the only practicable mode of governing a people, who think with that degree of freedom which the Americans do-this government will have in their gift a vast number of offices of great honor and emolument. The members of the legislature are not excluded from appointments; and twenty-five of them, as the case may be, being secured, any measure may be carried.

The rulers of this country must be composed of very different materials from those of any other, of which history gives us any account, if the majority of the legislature are not, before many years, entirely at the devotion of the executive-and these states will soon be under the absolute domination of one, or a few, with the fallacious appearance of being governed by men of their own election.

The more I reflect on this subject, the more firmly am I persuaded, that the representation is merely nominal-a mere burlesque; and that no security is provided against corruption and undue influence. No free people on earth, who have elected persons to legislate for them, ever reposed that confidence in so small a number. The British house of commons consists of five hundred and fifty-eight members; the number of inhabitants in Great-Britain, is computed at eight millions-this gives one member for a little more than fourteen thousand, which exceeds double the proportion this country can ever have: and yet we require a larger representation in proportion to our numbers, than Great-Britain, because this country is much more extensive, and differs more in its productions, interests, manners, and habits. The democratic branch of the legislatures of the several states in the union consists, I believe at present, of near two thousand; and this number was not thought too large for the security of liberty by the framers of our state constitutions: some of the states may have erred in this respect, but the difference between two thousand, and sixty-five, is so very great, that it will bear no comparison.

Other objections offer themselves against this part of the constitution-I shall reserve them for a future paper, when I shall shew, defective as this representation is, no security is provided, that even this shadow of the right, will remain with the people.

To the CITIZENS of the State of NEW-YORK.

In my last number I endeavored to prove that the language of the article relative to the establishment of the executive of this new government was vague and inexplicit, that the great powers of the President, connected with his duration in office would lead to oppression and ruin. That he would be governed by favorites and flatterers, or that a dangerous council would be collected from the great officers of state;—that the ten miles square, if the remarks of one of the wisest men, drawn from the experience of mankind, may be credited, would be the asylum of the base, idle, avaricious and ambitious, and that the court would possess a language and manners different from yours; that a vice-president is as unnecessary, as he is dangerous in his influence-that the president cannot represent you, because he is not of your own immediate choice, that if you adopt this government, you will incline to an arbitrary and odious aristocracy or monarchy—that the president possessed of the power, given him by this frame of government differs but very immaterially from the establishment of monarchy in Great-Britain, and I warned you to beware of the fallacious resemblance that is held out to you by the advocates of this new system between it and your own state governments.

And here I cannot help remarking, that inexplicitness seems to pervade this whole political fabric: certainty in political compacts which Mr. Coke calls the mother and nurse of repose and quietness, the want of which induced men to engage in political society, has ever been held by a wise and free people as essential to their security; as on the one hand it fixes barriers which the ambitious and tyrannically disposed magistrate dare not overleap, and on the other, becomes a wall of safety to the community—otherwise stipulations between the governors and governed are nugatory; and you might as well deposit the important powers of legislation and execution in one or a few and permit them to govern according to their disposition and will; but the world is too full of examples, which prove that to live by one man’s will became the cause of all men’s misery. Before the existence of express political compacts it was reasonably implied that the magistrate should govern with wisdom and justice, but mere implication was too feeble to restrain the unbridled ambition of a bad man, or afford security against negligence, cruelty, or any other defect of mind. It is alledged that the opinions and manners of the people of America, are capable to resist and prevent an extension of prerogative or oppression; but you must recollect that opinion and manners are mutable, and may not always be a permanent obstruction against the encroachments of government; that the progress of a commercial society begets luxury, the parent of inequality, the foe to virtue, and the enemy to restraint; and that ambition and voluptuousness aided by flattery, will teach magistrates, where limits are not explicitly fixed to have separate and distinct interests from the people, besides it will not be denied that government assimilates the manners and opinions of the community to it. Therefore, a general presumption that rulers will govern well is not a sufficient security. —You are then under a sacred obligation to provide for the safety of your posterity, and would you now basely desert their interests, when by a small share of prudence you may transmit to them a beautiful political patrimony, which will prevent the necessity of their travelling through seas of blood to obtain that, which your wisdom might have secured:—It is a duty you owe likewise to your own reputation, for you have a great name to lose; you are characterised as cautious, prudent and jealous in politics; whence is it therefore, that you are about to precipitate yourselves into a sea uncertainty, and adopt a system so vague, and which has discarded so many of your valuable rights:—Is it because you do not believe that an American can be a tyrant? If this be the case you rest on a weak basis, Americans are like other men in similar situations, when the manners and opinions of the community are changed by the causes I mentioned before, and your political compact inexplicit, your posterity will find that great power connected with ambition, luxury, and flattery, will as readily produce a Caesar, Caligula, Nero, and Domitian in America, as the same causes did in the Roman empire.

But the next thing to be considered in conformity to my plan, is the first article of this new government, which comprises the erection of the house representatives and senate, and prescribes their various powers and objects of legislation. The most general objections to the first article, are that biennial elections for representatives are a departure from the safe democratical principles of annual ones—that the number of representatives are too few;1 that the apportionment and principles of increase are unjust;2 that no attention has been paid to either the numbers or property in each state in forming the senate;3 that the mode in which they are appointed and their duration, will lead to the establishment of an aristocracy;4 that the senate and president are improperly connected, both as to appointments, and the making of treaties, which are to become the supreme law of the land;5 that the judicial in some measure, to wit, as to the trial of impeachments is placed in the senate a branch of the legislative, and some times a branch of the executive:6 that Congress have the improper power of making or altering the regulations prescribed by the different legislatures, respecting the time, place, and manner of holding elections for representatives; and the time and manner of choosing senators;7 that standing armies may be established, and appropriation of money made for their support, for two years;8 that the militia of the most remote state may be marched into those states situated at the opposite extreme of this continent;9 that the slave trade, is to all intents and purposes permanently established;10 and a slavish capitation, or poll-tax, may at any time be levied-11these are some of the many evils that will attend the adoption of this government. But with respect to the first objection, it may be remarked that a well digested democracy has this advantage over all others, to wit, that it affords to many the opportunity to be advanced to the supreme command, and the honors they thereby enjoy fills them with a desire of rendering themselves worthy of them; hence this desire becomes part of their education, is matured in manhood, and produces an ardent affection for their country, and it is the opinion of the great Sidney, and Montesquieu that this is in a great measure produced by annual election magistrates.

If annual elections were to exist in this government, and learning and information to become more prevalent, you never will want men to execute whatever you could design Sidney observes that a well governed state is as fruitful to all good purposes as the seven headed serpent is said to have been in evil; when one head is cut off, many rise up in the place of it. He remarks further, that it was also thought, that free cities by frequent elections of magistrates became nurseries of great and able men, everyman endeavoring to excel others, that he might be advanced to the honor he had no other title to, than what might arise from his merit or reputation, but the framers of this perfect government, as it is called, have departed from this democratical principle, and established bi-ennial elections, for the house representatives, who are to be chosen by the people, and sextennial for the senate, who are to be chosen by the legislatures of the different states,12 and have given to the executive the unprecedented power of making temporary senators, in case of vacancies, by resignation or otherwise, and so far forth establishing a precedent for virtual representation (though in fact, their original appointment is virtual) thereby influencing the choice of the legislatures, or if they should not be so complaisant as to conform to his appointment—offence will be given to the executive and the temporary members, will appear ridiculous by rejection; this temporary member, during his time of appointment, will of course act by a power derived from the executive, and for, and under his immediate influence.13

It is a very important objection to this government, that the representation consists of so few; too few to resist the influence corruption, and the temptation to treachery, against which all governments ought to take precautions—how guarded you have been on this head, in your own state constitution, and yet the number of senators and representatives proposed for this vast continent, does not equal those of your own state; how great the disparity, if you compare them with the aggregate numbers in the United States.14 The history of representation in England, from which we have taken our model of legislation, is briefly this, before the institution of legislating by deputies, the whole free part of the community usually met for that purpose, when this became impossible, by the increase of numbers, the community was divided into districts, from each of which was sent such a number of deputies as was a complete representation of the various numbers and orders of citizens within them; but can it be asserted with truth, that six men can be a complete and full representation of the numbers and various orders of the people in this state? Another thing may be suggested against the small number of representatives is, that but few of you will have the chance of sharing even in this branch of the legislature; and that the choice will be confined to a very few; the more complete it is, the better will your interests be preserved, and the greater the opportunity you will have to participate in government, one of the principal securities of a free people; but this subject has been so ably and fully treated by a writer under the signature of Brutus, that I shall content myself with referring you to him thereon, reserving further observations on the other objections I have mentioned, for my future numbers.

Mr. PRINTER, This is certainly very important crisis to the people of America; experience seems to have convinced everyone, that the articles of confederation, under which Congress have hitherto attempted to regulate the affairs of the United States, are insufficient for the purposes intended; that we are a ruined people unless some alteration can be effected. The public mind has therefore been raised to the highest pitch expectation, and the evident need of relief from the many distresses , public and private, in which we are involved has reduced us to such a state, that we can hardly endure a disappointment. Scarcely anything that could be proposed by the convention, in this state of people’s minds, would fail of being eagerly embraced. Like a person in the agonies of a violent disease, who is willing to swallow any medicine, that gives the faintest hope of relief; the people stood ready to receive the new constitution, in almost any form in which it could be presented to them. The zealous supporters of the proposed constitution, seem to be not unwilling to avail themselves of this disposition: and therefore it is strongly inculcated, that if we do not adopt this constitution, we shall not be able to establish another, but be left to our present weakness, confusion and distress. If I was pursuaded that this is really the case, I hardly know whether I should vote for rejecting any government however unfriendly to the liberties of the people, which promised to give vigour to the councils of this country; for any government is better than none. However, I do not see that it is by any means impracticable, for us yet to correct such errors and imperfections, as appear to exist in the proposed constitution; and whilst there is a possibility of procuring better a constitution, it is the duty of every good man to accomplish it.

By the proposed constitution, every law, before it passes, is to undergo repeated revisions; and the constitution of every state in the union provide, for the reversion of the most trifling laws, either by their passing through different houses of assembly and senate, or by requiring them to be published for the consideration of the people. Why then is a constitution which affects all the inhabitants of the United States, which is to be the foundation of all laws and the source of misery or happiness to one quarter of the globe; why is this to be so hastily adopted or rejected, that it cannot admit of a revision?- If a law to regulate highways, requires to be liesurely considered and undergo the examination of different bodies of men, one after another, before it be passed, why is it that the framing of a constitution for the government of a great people; a work which has been justly considered as the greatest effort of human genius, and which, from the beginning of the world has so often balled the skill of the wisest men in every age, shall be considered as a thing to be thrown out, in the first shape which it may happen to assume? Where is the impracticability a revision? Cannot the same power which called the late convention, call another? Are not the people still their own masters? If when the several state conventions come to consider this constitution, they should not approve of it, in its present form, they may easily apply to Congress and state their objections. Congress may as easily direct the calling another convention, as they did the calling the last. The plan may then be reconsidered , deliberately received and corrected; so as to meet the approbation of every friend to his country. A few months only will be necessary for this purpose; and if we consider the magnitude of the object, we shall deem it well worth a little time and attention- It is much better to pause and reflect beforehand, than to repent when it is too late; when no peaceable remedy will be left us, and unanimity will be forever banished. The struggles of the people against a bad government, when it is once fixed, afford but a gloomy picture in the annals of mankind. They are often unfortunate, they are always destructive of public and and private happiness; but the peaceable consent of a people to establish a free and effective government, is one of the most glorious objects that is ever exhibited in the theatre of human affairs. Some I know, have objected, that another convention will not be likely to agree upon any thing-I am far however from being of that opinion. The public voice cries so loudly for a new constitution, that I have no doubt we shall have one of some sort.- My only fear is, that the impatience of the people will lead them to accept the first that is offered them, without examining whether it is right or wrong; and after all, if a new convention cannot agree upon any amendments in the constitution, which is at present proposed, we can still adopt this in its present form; and all further opposition being vain, it is to be hoped we shall be unanimous in endeavouring to make the best of it. The experiment is at least worth trying, and I shall be much astonished, if a new convention called together for the purpose of revising the proposed constitution, do not greatly reform it.

I find that a number of pens are employed, in pointing out the defects in the proposed constitution- Without descending therefore, into minute particulars, I shall confine the remainder of my observations in this letter, to one or two of the most important considerations.

It is beyond a doubt that the new federal constitution, if adopted, will in a great measure destroy, if it do not totally annihilate, the separate governments of the several states. We shall, in effect, become one great Republic.- Every measure of any importance, will be Continental What will be the consequence of this? One thing is evident- that no Republic of so great a magnitude, ever did, or ever can exist.1 But a few years elapsed, from the time in which ancient Rome extended her dominions beyond the bounds of Italy, until the downfal of her Republic; and all political writers agree, that a Republican government can exist only in a narrow territory: but a confederacy of different Republics has, in many instances, existed and flourished for a long time together- The celebrated Helvetian league, which exists at this moment in full vigor, and with unimpaired strength, whilst its origin may be traced to the confines of antiquity, is one, among many examples on this head; and at the same time furnishes an eminent proof of how much less importance it is, that the constituent parts of a confederacy of Republics may be rightly framed than it is, that the confederacy itself should be rightly organized;- for hardly any two of the Swiss cantons have the same form of government, and they are almost equally divided in their religious principles, which have so often rent asunder the firmest establishments. A confederacy Republics must be the establishment in America, or we must cease altogether to retain the Republican form of government. From the moment we become one great Republic, either in form or substance, the period is very shortly removed, when we shall sink first into monarchy, and then into despotism. -If there were no other fault in the proposed constitution, it must sink by its own weight. The continent of North-America can no more be governed by one Republic, than the fabled Atlas could support the heavens. Is it not worthy few months labour, to attempt the rescuing this country from the despotism, which at this moment holds the best and fairest regions of the earth in thraldom and wretchedness?- To attempt the forming plan confederation, which may enable us at once to support our continental union with vigor and efficacy, and to maintain the rights of the separate states and the invaluable liberty of the subject? These ideas of political felicity, to some people, may seem like the visions of an Utopian fancy; and I am persuaded that some amongst us have as little disposition to realize them, as they have to recollect the principles, which inspired us in our revolt from Great-Britain. But there is at least, this consolation in aiming at excellence, that, if we do not obtain our object, we can make considerable progress towards it.- The science of politics has very seldom had fair play. So much of passion, interest and temporary prospects of gain are mixed in the pursuit, that a government has been much oftener established, with a view to the particular advantages or necessities of a few individuals, than to the permanent good of society. If the men, who, at different times, have been entrusted to form plans of government for the world, had been really actuated by no other views than a regard to the public good, the condition of human nature in all ages would have been widely different, from that which has been exhibited to us in history. In this country perhaps we are possessed of more than our share of political virtue. If we will exercise a little patience, and bestow our best endeavours on the business, I do not think it impossible, that we may yet form a federal constitution, much superior to any form of government, which has ever existed in the world;- but, whenever this important work shall be accomplished, I venture to pronounce, that it will not be done without a careful attention to the framing of a bill of rights.

Much has been said and written, on the subject of a bill of rights;- possibly without sufficient attention to the necessity of conveying distinct and precise ideas of the true meaning of a bill of rights. Your readers, I hope, will excuse me, if I conclude this letter with an attempt to throw some light on this subject.

Men when they enter into society, yield up a part of their natural liberty, for the sake of being protected by government. If they yield up all their natural rights hey are absolute slaves to their governors. If they yield up less than is necessary, the government is so feeble, that it cannot protect them. To yield up so much, as is necessary for the purposes of government; and to retain all beyond what is necessary, is the great without exception, we ought carefully to guard ourselves by a BILL OF RIGHTS, against the invasion of those liberties which it is essential for us to retain, which it is of no real use to government to strip us of; but which in the course of human events have been too often insulted with all the wantonness of an idle barbarity.


To the Freemen of Pennsylvania

Friends, Countrymen and Fellow Citizens, Permit one of yourselves to put you in mind of certain liberties and privileges secured to you by the constitution of this commonwealth, and to beg your serious attention to his uninterested opinion upon the plan of federal government submitted to your consideration, before you surrender these great and valuable privileges up forever. Your present frame of government, secures to you a right to hold yourselves, houses, papers and possessions free from search and seizure, and therefore warrants granted without oaths or affirmations first made, affording sufficient foundation for them, whereby any officer or messenger may be commanded or required to search your houses or seize your persons or property, not particularly described in such warrant, shall not be granted. Your constitution further provides “that in controversies respecting property, and in suits between man and man, the parties have a right to trial by jury, which ought to be held sacred.” It also provides and declares “that the people have a right of FREEDOM OF SPEECH, and of WRITING and PUBLISHING their sentiments, therefore THE FREEDOM OF THE PRESS OUGHT NOT TO BE RESTRAINED.” The constitution of Pennsylvania is yet in existence, as yet you have the right to freedom of speech, and of publishing your sentiments. How long those rights will appertain to you, you yourselves are called upon to say, whether your houses shall continue to be your castles; whether your papers, your persons and your property, are to be held sacred and free from general warrants, you are now to determine. Whether the trial by jury is to continue as your birth-right, the freemen of Pennsylvania, nay, of all America, are now called upon to declare.

Without presuming upon my own judgment, I cannot think it an unwarrantable presumption to offer my private opinion, and call upon others for theirs; and if I use my pen with the boldness of a freeman, it is because I know that the liberty of the press yet remains unviolated, and juries yet are judges.

The late Convention have submitted to your consideration a plan of a new federal government — The subject is highly interesting to your future welfare — Whether it be calculated to promote the great ends of civil society, viz.[1] the happiness and prosperity of the community; it behoves you well to consider, uninfluenced by the authority of names. Instead of that frenzy of enthusiasm, that has actuated the citizens of Philadelphia, in their approbation of the proposed plan, before it was possible that it could be the result of a rational investigation into its principles; it ought to be dispassionately and deliberately examined, and its own intrinsic merit the only criterion of your patronage. If ever free and unbiased discussion was proper or necessary, it is on such an occasion. — All the blessings of liberty and the dearest privileges of freemen, are now at stake and dependent on your present conduct. Those who are competent to the task of developing the principles of government, ought to be encouraged to come forward, and thereby the better enable the people to make a proper judgment; for the science of government is so abstruse, that few are able to judge for themselves; without such assistance the people are too apt to yield an implicit assent to the opinions of those characters, whose abilities are held in the highest esteem, and to those in whose integrity and patriotism they can confide; not considering that the love of domination is generally in proportion to talents, abilities, and superior acquirements; and that the men of the greatest purity of intention may be made instruments of despotism in the hands of the artful and designing. If it were not for the stability and attachment which time and habit gives to forms of government it would be in the power of the enlightened and aspiring few, if they should combine, at any time to destroy the best establishments, and even make the people the instruments of their own subjugation. . . .

I am fearful that the principles of government inculcated in Mr. [John] Adams’s treatise,[2] and enforced in the numerous essays and paragraphs in the newspapers, have misled some well designing members of the late Convention. But it will appear in the sequel, that the construction of the proposed plan of government is infinitely more extravagant.

I have been anxiously expecting that some enlightened patriot would, ere this, have taken up the pen to expose the futility, and counteract the baneful tendency of such principles. Mr. Adams’s sine qua non[3] of a good government is three balancing powers, whose repelling qualities are to produce an equilibrium of interests, and thereby promote the happiness of the whole community. He asserts that the administrators of every government, will ever be actuated by views of private interest and ambition, to the prejudice of the public good; that therefore the only effectual method to secure the rights of the people and promote their welfare, is to create an opposition of interests between the members of two distinct bodies, in the exercise of the powers of government, and balanced by those of a third. This hypothesis supposes human wisdom competent to the task of instituting three co-equal orders in government, and a corresponding weight in the community to enable them respectively to exercise their several parts, and whose views and interests should be so distinct as to prevent a coalition of any two of them for the destruction of the third. Mr. Adams, although he has traced the constitution of every form of government that ever existed, as far as history affords materials, has not been able to adduce a single instance of such a government; he indeed says that the British constitution is such in theory, but this is rather a confirmation that his principles are chimerical[4] and not to be reduced to practice. If such an organization of power were practicable, how long would it continue? not a day — for there is so great a disparity in the talents, wisdom and industry of mankind, that the scale would presently preponderate to one or the other body, and with every accession of power the means of further increase would be greatly extended. The state of society in England is much more favorable to such a scheme of government than that of America. There they have a powerful hereditary nobility, and real distinctions of rank and interests; but even there, for want of that perfect equality of power and distinction of interests, in the three orders of government, they exist but in name; the only operative and efficient check, upon the conduct of administration, is the sense of the people at large.

Suppose a government could be formed and supported on such principles, would it answer the great purposes of civil society; If the administrators of every government are actuated by views of private interest and ambition, how is the welfare and happiness of the community to be the result of such jarring adverse interests?

Therefore, as different orders in government will not produce the good of the whole, we must recur to other principles. I believe it will be found that the form of government, which holds those entrusted with power, in the greatest responsibility to their constituents, the best calculated for freemen. A republican, or free government, can only exist where the body of the people are virtuous, and where property is pretty equally divided; in such a government the people are the sovereign and their sense or opinion is the criterion of every public measure; for when this ceases to be the case, the nature of the government is changed, and an aristocracy, monarchy or despotism will rise on its ruin. The highest responsibility is to be attained, in a simple structure of government, for the great body of the people never steadily attend to the operations of government, and for want of due information are liable to be imposed on — If you complicate the plan by various orders, the people will be perplexed and divided in their sentiments about the source of abuses or misconduct, some will impute it to the senate, others to the house of representatives, and so on, that the interposition of the people may be rendered imperfect or perhaps wholly abortive. But if, imitating the constitution of Pennsylvania, you vest all the legislative power in one body of men (separating the executive and judicial) elected for a short period, and necessarily excluded by rotation from permanency, and guarded from precipitancy and surprise by delays imposed on its proceedings, you will create the most perfect responsibility, for then, whenever the people feel a grievance they cannot mistake the authors, and will apply the remedy with certainty and effect, discarding them at the next election. This tie of responsibility will obviate all the dangers apprehended from a single legislature, and will the best secure the rights of the people.

Having premised this much, I shall now proceed to the examination of the proposed plan of government, and I trust, shall make it appear to the meanest capacity, that it has none of the essential requisites of a free government; that it is neither founded on those balancing restraining powers, recommended by Mr. Adams and attempted in the British constitution, or possessed of that responsibility to its constituents, which, in my opinion, is the only effectual security for the liberties and happiness of the people; but on the contrary, that it is the most daring attempt to establish a despotic aristocracy among freemen, that the world has ever witnessed.

I shall previously consider the extent of the powers intended to be vested in Congress, before I examine the construction of the general government.

It will not be controverted[5] that the legislative is the highest delegated power in government, and that all others are subordinate to it. The celebrated Montesquieu[6] establishes it as a maxim, that legislation necessarily follows the power of taxation. By sect. 8, of the first article of the proposed plan of government, “the Congress are to have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States, but all duties, imposts and excises, shall be uniform throughout the United States.” Now what can be more comprehensive than these words; not content by other sections of this plan, to grant all the great executive powers of a confederation, and a STANDING ARMY IN TIME OF PEACE, that grand engine of oppression, and moreover the absolute control over the commerce of the United States and all external objects of revenue, such as unlimited imposts upon imports, etc. — they are to be vested with every species of internal taxation — whatever taxes, duties and excises that they may deem requisite for the general welfare, may be imposed on the citizens of these states, levied by the officers of Congress, distributed through every district in America; and the collection would be enforced by the standing army, however grievous or improper they may be. The Congress may construe every purpose for which the state legislatures now lay taxes, to be for the general welfare, and thereby seize upon every object of revenue.

The judicial power by 1st sect. of article 3 “shall extend to all cases, in law and equity, arising under this constitution, the laws of the United States, and treaties made or which shall be made under their authority; to all cases affecting ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls; to all cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction, to controversies to which the United States shall be a party, to controversies between two or more states, between a state and citizens of another state, between citizens of different states, between citizens of the same state claiming lands under grants of different states, and between a state, or the citizens thereof, and foreign states, citizens or subjects.”

The judicial power to be vested in one Supreme Court, and in such Inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish.

The objects of jurisdiction recited above, are so numerous, and the shades of distinction between civil causes are oftentimes so slight, that it is more than probable that the state judicatories would be wholly superseded; for in contests about jurisdiction, the federal court, as the most powerful, would ever prevail. Every person acquainted with the history of the courts in England, knows by what ingenious sophisms they have, at different periods, extended the sphere of their jurisdiction over objects out of the line of their institution, and contrary to their very nature; courts of a criminal jurisdiction obtaining cognizance in civil causes.

To put the omnipotency of Congress over the state government and judicatories out of all doubt, the 6th article ordains that “this constitution and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof, and all treaties made, or which shall be made under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land, and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, any thing in the constitution or laws of any state to the contrary notwithstanding.”

By these sections the all-prevailing power of taxation, and such extensive legislative and judicial powers are vested in the general government, as must in their operation, necessarily absorb the state legislatures and judicatories; and that such was in the contemplation of the framers of it, will appear from the provision made for such event, in another part of it; (but that, fearful of alarming the people by so great an innovation, they have suffered the forms of the separate governments to remain, as a blind.) By sect. 4th of the 1st article, “the times, places and manner of holding elections for senators and representatives, shall be prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time, by law, make or alter such regulations, except as to the place of choosing senators.” The plain construction of which is, that when the state legislatures drop out of sight, from the necessary operation [of] this government, then Congress are to provide for the election and appointment of representatives and senators.

If the foregoing be a just comment — if the united states are to be melted down into one empire, it becomes you to consider, whether such a government, however constructed, would be eligible in so extended a territory; and whether it would be practicable, consistent with freedom? It is the opinion of the greatest writers, that a very extensive country cannot be governed on democratical principles, on any other plan, than a confederation of a number of small republics, possessing all the powers of internal government, but united in the management of their foreign and general concerns.

It would not be difficult to prove, that any thing short of despotism, could not bind so great a country under one government; and that whatever plan you might, at the first setting out, establish, it would issue in a despotism.

If one general government could be instituted and maintained on principles of freedom, it would not be so competent to attend to the various local concerns and wants, of every particular district, as well as the peculiar governments, who are nearer the scene, and possessed of superior means of information, besides, if the business of the whole union is to be managed by one government, there would not be time. Do we not already see, that the inhabitants in a number of larger states, who are remote from the seat of government, are loudly complaining of the inconveniencies and disadvantages they are subjected to on this account, and that, to enjoy the comforts of local government, they are separating into smaller divisions.

Having taken a review of the powers, I shall now examine the construction of the proposed general government.

Art. 1. Sect. 1. “All legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a senate and house of representatives.” By another section, the president (the principal executive officer) has a conditional control over their proceedings.

Sect. 2. “The house of representatives shall be composed of members chosen every second year, by the people of the several states. The number of representatives shall not exceed one for every 30,000 inhabitants.”

The senate, the other constituent branch of the legislature, is formed by the legislature of each state appointing two senators, for the term of six years.

The executive power by Art. 2, Sect. 1. is to be vested in a president of the United States of America, elected for four years: Sect. 2. gives him “power, by and with the consent of the senate to make treaties, provided two thirds of the senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the advice and consent of the senate, shall appoint ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, judges of the Supreme Court, and all other officers of the United States, whose appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by law,” etc. And by another section he has the absolute power of granting reprieves and pardons for treason and all other high crimes and misdemeanors, except in case of impeachment.

The foregoing are the outlines of the plan.

Thus we see, the house of representatives, are on the part of the people to balance the senate, who I suppose will be composed of the better sort, the well born, etc. The number of the representatives (being only one for every 30,000 inhabitants) appears to be too few, either to communicate the requisite information, of the wants, local circumstances and sentiments of so extensive an empire, or to prevent corruption and undue influence, in the exercise of such great powers; the term for which they are to be chosen, too long to preserve a due dependence and accountability to their constituents; and the mode and places of their election not sufficiently ascertained, for as Congress have the control over both, they may govern the choice, by ordering the representatives of a whole state, to be elected in one place, and that too may be the most inconvenient.

The senate, the great efficient body in this plan of government, is constituted on the most unequal principles. The smallest state in the union has equal weight with the great states of Virginia, Massachusetts, or Pennsylvania—The Senate, besides its legislative functions, has a very considerable share in the Executive; none of the principal appointments to office can be made without its advice and consent. The term and mode of its appointment, will lead to permanency; the members are chosen for six years, the mode is under the control of Congress, and as there is no exclusion by rotation, they may be continued for life, which, from their extensive means of influence, would follow of course. The President, who would be a mere pageant of state, unless he coincides with the views of the Senate, would either become the head of the aristocratic junto in that body, or its minion, besides, their influence being the most predominant, could the best secure his re-election to office. And from his power of granting pardons, he might screen from punishment the most treasonable attempts on liberties of the people, when instigated by the Senate.

From this investigation into the organization of this government, it appears that it is devoid of all responsibility or accountability to the great body of the people, and that so far from being a regular balanced government, it would be in practice a permanent ARISTOCRACY.

The framers of it, actuated by the true spirit of such a government, which ever abominates and suppresses all free enquiry and discussion, have made no provision for the liberty of the press, that grand palladium of freedom, and scourge of tyrants, but observed a total silence on that head. It is the opinion of some great writers, that if the liberty of the press, by an institution of religion, or otherwise, could be rendered sacred, even in Turkey, that despotism would fly before it.

And it is worthy of remark, that there is no declaration of personal rights, premised in most free constitutions; and that trial by jury in civil cases is taken away; for what other construction can be put on the following, viz. Article 3. Sect. 2d. “In all cases affecting ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, and those in which a State shall be party, the Supreme Court shall have original jurisdiction. In all the other cases above mentioned, the Supreme Court shall have appellate jurisdiction, both as to law and fact”? It would be a novelty in jurisprudence, as well as evidently improper to allow an appeal from the verdict of a jury, on the matter of fact; therefore, it implies and allows of a dismissal of the jury in civil cases, and especially when it is considered, that jury trial in criminal cases is expressly stipulated for, but not in civil cases.

But our situation is represented to be so critically dreadful that, however reprehensible and exceptionable the proposed plan of government may be, there is no alternative, between the adoption of it and absolute ruin.

My fellow citizens, things are not at that crisis, it is the argument of tyrants; the present distracted state of Europe secures us from injury on that quarter, and as to domestic dissensions, we have not so much to fear from them, as to precipitate us into this form of government, without it is[7] a safe and a proper one. For remember, of all possible evils that of despotism is the worst and the most to be dreaded.

Besides, it cannot be supposed, that the first essay on so difficult a subject, is so well digested, as it ought to be, — if the proposed plan, after a mature deliberation, should meet the approbation of the respective States, the matter will end, but if it should be found to be fraught with dangers and inconveniencies, a future general Convention being in possession of the objections, will be the better enabled to plan a suitable government.

Who’s here so base, that would a bondsman be?

If any, speak; for him have I offended.

Who’s here so vile, that will not love his country?

If any, speak; for him have I offended.

—Julius Caesar, Act 3, Scene 2

Essay 83 – Guest Essayist: Edward Lee

Thomas Lynch, Jr. (August 5, 1749 – late 1779), of Irish descent, was born in Prince George’s Parish (present day Georgetown County). Lynch was the son of Thomas Lynch and Elizabeth Allston Lynch. His mother died when he was a young child. He was educated at Georgetown’s Indigo Society School and earned honors at England’s Eton College and Cambridge. He studied law and political philosophy at London’s Middle Temple, like the other South Carolina Declaration of Independence signatories, Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, and Arthur Middleton.

In South Carolina on the eve of the Revolution, Lynch enjoyed the life of a planter, farming and discussing politics, rather than practicing law as his father hoped he would along with becoming engaged in public life, after having received a good education and studying law. He allied himself with figures such as Charles Cotesworth  Pinckney, Christopher Gadsden, Arthur Middleton, and Thomas Heyward, Jr. He was a staunch advocate of South Carolina’s right to form its own independent government, regardless of the wishes of the other British colonies. He found the talk by the British politicians distasteful toward the colonists which served to strengthen his views for supporting independence.

In 1772, Lynch married his longtime sweetheart, Elizabeth Shubrick. Elizabeth’s sister, Mary, married one of the other South Carolina signers, Edward Rutledge, after Edward’s first wife, Henrietta, passed away.

He soon after became involved in public service as his father had encouraged him to do, having served in South Carolina’s First and Second Provincial Congresses, and on the state constitutional committee. During these roles, he was commissioned in the First South Carolina Regiment as a company commander in the summer of 1775.

Eventually Thomas Lynch, Jr. was appointed to the Second Continental Congress where his father, Thomas Lynch, Sr. was also serving. Thomas Lynch, Sr. was known and respected as an effective statesman for working with George Washington and influencing the appointment of Washington to the Continental Army as Commander-in-Chief.

Although he was ill as was his father, Thomas Lynch, Jr. signed the Declaration of Independence the following year in 1776, having stood in for his father, Thomas Lynch, Sr., who was unable to represent South Carolina by the time the vote for independence would be taken, and the signatures placed. Lynch was one of the youngest of the South Carolina signers, said to be in his twenties.

Having resigned his commission in 1776, and plagued with bad health, Lynch and his wife eventually sailed to the West Indies for a change in climate in late 1779 as advised by physicians, in hopes of restoring his health. The vessel was reported as lost, and the young signatory and his wife died childless, unfortunately having disappeared at sea, as the Revolution raged.

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


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Essay 82 – Guest Essayist: Edward Lee

Thomas Heyward, Jr. (July 28, 1746-March 6, 1809) was born in St. Luke’s Parish (present day Jasper County). Heyward was the son of Colonel Daniel Heyward and Mary Miles Heyward who were planters. Educated at home, Thomas Heyward, Jr. traveled to England where he studied law and became a member of the Honourable Society of the Middle Temple. Despite his family’s wealth, he cherished scholarship and traveled to Europe during his studies. He valued setting an example of placing importance on educating oneself as his father encouraged.

Heyward was married twice: the first time in 1773 (some records say 1774) to Elizabeth Mathews. Her brother, John Mathews, was governor of South Carolina. After her death in childbirth, Heyward married another Elizabeth, this time Elizabeth Savage Heyward in 1786. He was the father of a total of nine children. Only one of the six children from his first marriage lived to adulthood. The three children from his second marriage all lived to adulthood.

Heyward voiced early his opposition to British rule and the control being forced upon the colonies through such methods as the Stamp Act. Soon after becoming a member of the Continental Congress, Heyward signed the Declaration of Independence, standing with Richard Henry Lee’s Resolution for Independence. Disagreements about whether to support independence included a warning from his father that voting for it could result in being hung. Still, Thomas Heyward believed independence for the colonies was acting in good judgment. With a strong sense of duty, he took notice of the abuses upon his fellow countrymen by the British Crown, further solidifying his resolve to discuss and accomplish independence.

Heyward, like Edward Rutledge, was in the South Carolina Militia. Heyward served as a Captain of Artillery. Both were taken prisoner by the British when Charleston fell in 1780, and considered a “ringleader of the rebellion.” He was eventually released through a prisoner exchange. While heading back, Heyward fell off the ship and nearly drowned. He held onto the ship’s rudder to stay alive until he could be rescued. After his release in a prisoner exchange, and much property damage, Heyward eventually served as a criminal court judge until his retirement in 1798, and also assisted forming a new state constitution as part of his final duties. He also served in the state legislature and presided over the Agricultural Society of South Carolina. While serving as a judge in the new government, Heyward was charged with the difficult task, which he took seriously, of trying, followed by execution for being found guilty, people who were in contact with the British for treasonous reasons.

Heyward was regarded as a strong statesman, of whom Dr. Benjamin Rush, a signer from Pennsylvania described as “a firm Republican of good education and most amicable manners. He possessed an elegant political genius, which he sometimes exercised with success upon the various events of the war.” Heyward died in Jasper County in 1809.

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


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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.


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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.


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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.



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.



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.



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.

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

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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.

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

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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


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/.

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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.




Protestant Revolution (Maryland) – Wikipedia












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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.

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.



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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.

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.



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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.



  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.

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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.


















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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.


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.



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/



Miracle at Philadelphia by Catherine Drinker Bowen

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

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Dr. Barbara Bowie-Whitman is an economist and a retired Foreign Service Officer. She was educated at the College of William and Mary and Southern Methodist University and earned her doctorate in economics from the George Washington University.

Dr Bowie-Whitman was a Fulbright Scholar to Guatemala following the completion of her first master’s degree. She served in US Embassies in Mexico, Bogota and London, and was Economic Counselor to the US Mission to the Organization of American States. Her last position in government was as Trade Policy Coordinator for the Western Hemisphere in the US Department of State, where she served as the senior State Department negotiator on free trade agreements with 9 countries.

Barbara has been active in politics and community service and leadership for over six decades, beginning as an eleven year old who wrote a campaign song for Dwight Eisenhower. She was Miss National Young Republican in 1971. She is the widow of Lt.Col.John Whitman, an Army Airborne Ranger and military historian.

Barbara resides in Alexandria Virginia, and represented Virginia as a delegate to the 2020 Republican National Convention in Charlotte,North Carolina.

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