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.

 

Click Here for Previous Essay

Click Here To Sign up for the Daily Essay From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 
Click Here To View the Schedule of Topics From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 

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.

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

Click Here for Previous Essay

Click Here To Sign up for the Daily Essay From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 
Click Here To View the Schedule of Topics From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 

 

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 at the same age as James Smith. His background gives him a unique appreciation for the U.S. system of government. Ertis is currently an attorney at Novara Tesija Catenacci McDonald & Baas, where he consistently loves getting lost in the law. Connect with Ertis on LinkedIn at ertistereziu.

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

Sources:

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

Click Here for Previous Essay

Click Here To Sign up for the Daily Essay From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 
Click Here To View the Schedule of Topics From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 

Essay 59 – Guest Essayist: Gordon Lloyd

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

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

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

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

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

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

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

Click Here for Previous Essay

Click Here To Sign up for the Daily Essay From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 
Click Here To View the Schedule of Topics From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

Sources:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click Here for Previous Essay

Click Here To Sign up for the Daily Essay From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 
Click Here To View the Schedule of Topics From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 

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.

 

Click Here for Previous Essay

Click Here To Sign up for the Daily Essay From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 
Click Here To View the Schedule of Topics From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 

 

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.

John Adams 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.

 

Click Here for Previous Essay

Click Here To Sign up for the Daily Essay From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 
Click Here To View the Schedule of Topics From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 

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.

 

Click Here for Previous Essay

Click Here To Sign up for the Daily Essay From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 
Click Here To View the Schedule of Topics From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 

 

Essay 54 – Guest Essayist: Heather B. Bailey

A Founder for the Common Man

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Journey in Lineage and Profession

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

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

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

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

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

The Poor Man’s Lawyer

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

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

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

Sarah

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

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

Always the Quest for Fairness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

Click Here for Previous Essay

Click Here To Sign up for the Daily Essay From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 
Click Here To View the Schedule of Topics From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 

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.

Click Here for Previous Essay

Click Here To Sign up for the Daily Essay From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 
Click Here To View the Schedule of Topics From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 

Essay 52 – Guest Essayist: Ron Meier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

Sources:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Miracle at Philadelphia by Catherine Drinker Bowen

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

Click Here for Previous Essay

Click Here To Sign up for the Daily Essay From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 
Click Here To View the Schedule of Topics From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 

Essay 51 – Guest Essayist: Tony Williams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

Click Here for Previous Essay

Click Here To Sign up for the Daily Essay From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 
Click Here To View the Schedule of Topics From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 

 

Essay 50 – Guest Essayist: Daniel A. Cotter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

 

Click Here for Next Essay
Click Here for Previous Essay

Click Here To Sign up for the Daily Essay From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 
Click Here To View the Schedule of Topics From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 

 

Essay 49 – Guest Essayist: Tom Hand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

 

Click Here for Previous Essay

Click Here To Sign up for the Daily Essay From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor
Click Here To View the Schedule of Topics From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor

Essay 48 - Guest Essayist: Joerg Knipprath

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

 

Click Here For Next Essay
Click Here for Previous Essay

Click Here To Sign up for the Daily Essay From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 
Click Here To View the Schedule of Topics From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 

Essay 47 - Guest Essayist: Richard K. Sala

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[9] Id at 88.

[10] Id at 108.

[11] Id.

[12] Id at 110.

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

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

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

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

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

Click Here for Next Essay

Click Here for Previous Essay

Click Here To Sign up for the Daily Essay From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 
Click Here To View the Schedule of Topics From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 

Essay 46 - Guest Essayist: Jay McConville

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

References:

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

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

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

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

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

Click Here for Next Essay 

Click Here for Previous Essay

Click Here To Sign up for the Daily Essay From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 
Click Here To View the Schedule of Topics From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 

Essay 45 - Guest Essayist: Robert Brescia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

 

Click Here for Next Essay

Click Here for Previous Essay

Click Here To Sign up for the Daily Essay From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 
Click Here To View the Schedule of Topics From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eric Wise is an attorney practicing in New York.

 

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

 

Click Here for Next Essay
Click Here for Previous Essay
Click Here To Sign up for the Daily Essay From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 
Click Here To View the Schedule of Topics From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 

Essay 43 - Guest Essayist: Tom Hand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

Click Here for Previous Essay

Click Here To Sign up for the Daily Essay From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 
Click Here To View the Schedule of Topics From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 

Essay 42 – Guest Essayist: Tom Hand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

 

Click Here for Next Essay
Click Here for Previous Essay
Click Here To Sign up for the Daily Essay From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 
Click Here To View the Schedule of Topics From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 

 

Essay 41 - Guest Essayist: Tom Hand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

Click Here for Previous Essay

Click Here To Sign up for the Daily Essay From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 
Click Here To View the Schedule of Topics From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 

 

Essay 40 – Guest Essayist: Tom Hand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Podcast by Maureen Quinn. 

 

 

Click Here for Next Essay
Click Here for Previous Essay

Click Here To Sign up for the Daily Essay From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 
Click Here To View the Schedule of Topics From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 

Essay 39 – Guest Essayist: Tom Hand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

 

Click Here for Next Essay
Click Here for Previous Essay
Click Here To Sign up for the Daily Essay From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 
Click Here To View the Schedule of Topics From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 

Essay 38 – Guest Essayist: Tom Hand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

Click Here for Next Essay
Click Here for Previous Essay

Click Here To Sign up for the Daily Essay From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 
Click Here To View the Schedule of Topics From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 

 

Essay 37 – Guest Essayist: Joerg Knipprath

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In addition to his numerous administrative and diplomatic duties, Adams continued to lead on another political issue, that of drafting constitutions and developing theoretical foundations for them. His principal success was the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780. The people of the state had rejected a constitution proposed by the legislature in 1778. Like other “first wave” state constitutions of the 1770s, that version had mixed different powers, vested primary power in the legislature, and contained no bill of rights.

Adams, like most of the era’s contributors to American constitutional developments, had read the classic ancient political writers, such as Plato, Aristotle, and Polybius, as well as more recent ones, such as Locke and Montesquieu. In their original languages. Adams, cousin Sam Adams, and James Bowdoin were selected by the Massachusetts convention in 1779 to draft a constitution to be submitted to the people. The two other members left the task to Adams.

The completed work, The Report of a Constitution, provided several cornerstones for future American constitutionalism. He proposed a government whose structure was more balanced among three independent branches than the legislature-centric state constitutions rushed out by the state legislatures during the drive to independence in the mid-1770s. Indeed, Article XXX of the Declaration of the Rights in Adams’s constitution offered an almost cartoonish version of an unyielding separation of powers. The Declaration also enumerated a long list of rights the legislature was prohibited from infringing. Finally, influenced by The Essex Result, a petition written by Theophilus Parsons against the proposed constitution of 1778, this new constitution was produced by a convention selected solely for that purpose, rather than by a legislative committee. Moreover, it was approved by town meetings, rather than by the legislature itself. This distinction between the function and status of ordinary legislatures and constitutional conventions became a critical catalyst in the development of American constitutional theory going forward and in the emergence of the judiciary’s power of constitutional review.

Adams’s creation influenced the next wave of state constitutions, as well as the drafters of the United States Constitution in 1787. Though substantially amended since then, the Massachusetts constitution is the oldest still in effect today.

The final work of Adams about constitutions, and perhaps his most comprehensive, was A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America, written in three volumes over the course of a little more than a year beginning in 1786. It was a response to criticism by Baron Anne Robert Jacques Turgot, a French government official, of the emerging systems of separation of powers in the American state constitutions. Turgot and others dismissed those constitutions as just the British structure with a republican gloss. Governors who were independent of the legislatures mimicked the king, and bicameral legislatures the British Parliament, with the senates taking the role of the House of Lords. The criticism stung, as Adams himself had drafted such a “mixed government” for Massachusetts.

Defence takes the form of a series of letters as if written by a traveler around Europe. At the time, Adams was the American minister to the English court. His focus became writing, his diplomatic obligations taking a subsidiary role. Summoning his vast knowledge of history and political theory acquired through diligent research, he examined numerous republican constitutions from antiquity forwards. He aimed to expose the weaknesses of the democratic structures and “pure” systems of government favored by Turgot. History, the record of human experience, not ideology, was the sole reliable guide for Adams. Only balanced governments had survived the test of time, a lesson applied to the young American republics.

Like Aristotle and Polybius, Adams feared that pure forms, especially democracies, were unstable and inevitably led to tyranny, because of man’s lust for power due to his fallen nature. Classic republics fared little better, because they, too, relied on human virtue to sustain them. Adams doubted that Americans possessed sufficient virtue, though strong government direction through support of religion and morality might have a positive influence. In early 1776, he wrote that there was “so much Venality and Corruption, so much Avarice and Ambition, such a Rage for Profit and Commerce among all Ranks and Degrees of Men even in America” that put in question whether Americans had “public Virtue enough to support a Republic.” In contrast, much later he would say “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” In between, his defense of the American state constitutions was founded on the practical recognition that virtue is not enough to ensure liberty.

Adams was not at the Philadelphia convention, but the first volume of Defence was well-known to many of the participants. Though Adams was criticized by some for what they saw as an abandonment of militant republicanism, the framers of the Constitution adopted a similar system. The “mixed government” of the Massachusetts Constitution of 1787 became the system of “checks and balances” of the United States Constitution which would augment reliance on the people’s virtue in sustaining liberty. As Madison wrote in The Federalist No. 51, to preserve liberty while allowing government to function, “A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.”

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

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

 

Click Here for Next Essay

Click Here for Previous Essay

Click Here To Sign up for the Daily Essay From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 
Click Here To View the Schedule of Topics From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 

 

Essay 36 – Guest Essayist: Jeanne McKinney

Samuel Adams believed that his ancestors’ voyage to America was rewarded by creating a society that “enjoyed more freedoms than anywhere in England,” writes Mark Puls in his biography of Samuel Adams. His family and other colonists lived under the Massachusetts Charter of 1691, a contract with the king that afforded them opportunities to pass laws and levy their own taxes. However, there was a tradeoff. The charter of 1691 turned Massachusetts, already relatively independent and autonomous, into a royal colony. William III was then the king of Britain and appointed his own governor and chief justice of the court, and the governor could veto legislation.

Adams was, at first, happy they lived with the same English liberties yet added privileges. Yet, when Britain began to expand their ruling hand, things changed. Adams became dissatisfied, resolutely opposed to British intervention and limits in their lives.

“Much of the credit for the Revolutionary stance of Bostonians belongs to Sam Adams and a group that came to be known as his ‘Sons of Liberty’ (or the ‘Boston Mob’ as some called them).” Boston in the 1760s was a hotbed of radical activism and violent protest against British colonial policy.

Adams was born on September 16, 1722 in Boston to his mother Mary Fifield and his father Samuel Adams Sr. He was the third child of twelve (only three lived past third birthdays). Samuel the younger cherished the stories of his Puritan ancestors who bore the difficult transatlantic journey to come to an untamed land seeking a better life.

Samuel Sr. and Mary raised their family in a house on Purchase Street, the church being the center of their universe. His father, a hard-working and successful malt shop brewery merchant, became a deacon. As a child Samuel was “unusually obedient” influenced by the religious piety and study of his mother and older sister who bore the same names. Deacon Adams, like any parent, wanted his children to have what he did not have.

Samuel first attended Boston Latin School, a feeder school for Harvard. Speaking Latin was a sign of refinement that set one apart in the blue-collar colonist society. He first considered ministry and in 1736, at 14 years age, entered Harvard to study theology. The prominent members of Boston society were merchants and ministers.

Samuel Fallows who wrote a book about Samuel Adams in 1903 said this,

“All the years have voices for them that will hear; and even the simple annals of the common place events have in them the heart of epic possibilities.”

Sam Adams was fascinated listening to his father, whose esteemed voice gained merit in political circles. Deacon Adams was a select member of the colonial legislature and political organizer. Leading men in Boston met at the Purchase Street home to seek advice while he helped form a popular party to offset the Loyalists. Younger Adams’ father was against Britain extending crown privileges, concerned the colonists would lose their rights.

Deacon Adam’s disputes intrigued his son. Intrigue turned to resentment when Jonathan Belcher, Royal governor and member of the Tory party, used his influence to put an end to the Land bank Deacon Adams started. It was hard times and many were poor and needed cash to invest in their farms, shops, businesses. Mechanics were desperate for tools and equipment and traders needed stock. The Land bank issued paper money replacing barter for trade.

Elitist Tory merchants and officials tied to Belcher formed a rival bank backed with silver deposits. They banned any member of the Land bank from using their offerings and removed Adams Sr. from his posts as a justice and soldier. Parliament issued an act to dissolve the Land bank in 1741. They applied a 1719 law “that held directors personally responsible for losses and cited another all-but-forgotten statute extending legislation in England to the colonies,” writes Puls. Despite protesting the act as “unconstitutional,” this threw the family into years-long legal battles and contentious efforts to hang on to the Adams estate that Adams Jr. would inherit.

The writings of John Locke enamored Adams. Locke maintained men and women were entitled to “life, liberty and property.” Also believing ‘government’ was bound to protect these rights. While at Harvard, he staged political debates, developing persuasive skills. He was unsettled on a career and his parents could not convince him to pursue a career in the ministry. Adams Jr. grew dislike for authority of any kind. He was independent in his convictions and motives.

He, with some friends, threw himself into a paper called the “Public Advertiser” publishing editorials and commentary from a Whig perspective. His first article argued that “[Loyalty] is founded in the love and possession of liberty.” Adams believed that allegiance should be given to laws not government leaders. He would become, along with John Hancock, Doctor Joseph Warren, and Doctor Benjamin Church the four leaders of the Boston Whigs. The key principles of the Whig party were to defend the people against tyranny and to advance human progress. In modern times, Americans began calling the Whigs “patriots” because of their immense love for America.

The trajectory of Sam Adams.

Sam Adams was financially dependent on his father, unlike his successful cousin John Adams, an attorney of stature. John would gain much notoriety defending the British soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre and winning a brilliantly-executed case using a jury of his own countrymen. Although cousins, the Adams’ were destined to become epic voices in the Revolution – they were very different in looks and approaches standing up to Britain. John was about the law and Sam was about protecting rights and property. John would join his cousin in the resistance when it was clearly evident one must accept the king’s laws, taxes and deteriorating rights. To oppose in open rebellion was a signal for great alarm. A future declaration from King George III promised any treasonous rebels death by hanging.

When Deacon Adams died in March 1748, son Samuel was lost and unstable having depended on his father for advice and money. This son of a maltster had no direction and now had to run the inherited brewery, plus manage the challenges of family and the fights to preserve their property. He developed a fondness for Elizabeth Checkley, the daughter of an esteemed pastor of the Old Congregational Church, and married her in October, 1749. Elizabeth gave birth to five children, but three did not live past infancy forcing a repeated cycle of grief. It was uncertain times as Adams embraced a lead in sowing the seeds of Boston’s unrest.

Adams continued to write articles about colonial rights diving deep into civic affairs by 1761. His concerns over property rights rapidly fueled his opposition to British imperial policies, thus turning him into “a fiery radical and rabble-rouser. He organized political opposition to the British in the Massachusetts colonial assembly and soon became the colony’s most effective Revolutionary propagandist.”

Although Adams suffered from a congenital palsy that made his lips and hands tremble, he was physically strong as an oak and “Every beat of his heart was for the liberties of his people.”

The core of resistance: British imperial policy and law.

Adams was against Britain sticking their noses deep into their lives. He knew as an elected tax collector from 1756-1764 the financial struggles that beset the people. His humanity got in the way of doing his job and a large sum of arrearages accumulated. The Tories turned this into an accusation against Adam’s honesty. Adams would go from an inefficient tax gatherer to become a leading patriot.

The Seven Years’ War from 1756-1763 (known as the French and Indian War in America) left England with enormous debt and defense burdens after gaining possession of French America and all India. The king tried to recover the losses from the labors of colonists. British Prime Minister Sir George Grenville set out to collect on the trade between America and the French West Indies.

The trade (that became smuggling) was essential for the colonists. Parliament demanded that all commerce be put through English hands. Officers of customs had authority to search houses of persons suspected of ‘smuggling.’ The people were outraged at the brash intrusion.

The Sugar Act was a tax imposed on the colonies in April 1764. It required the colonies to pay a tax to the crown for the importation of a variety of goods, primarily sugar. The tax schemes would go from sugar to royal stamps.

On the 24th of May of the same year, Adams submitted a paper to a town meeting of Boston which was “the first public denial of the right of Parliament to put the ‘Stamp Act scheme’ into effect,” writes Fallows.

Despite opposition, Great Britain imposed the Stamp Act in 1765. This was an outlandish attempt to raise revenue through direct taxation of all colonial commercial and legal papers, newspapers, pamphlets, cards, almanacs, and dice. These documents had to be produced on stamped paper produced in London, carrying an embossed revenue stamp. Among the Stamp Act’s provisions was the charge of two pounds sterling for a college diploma. The tax had to be paid in British currency, not in colonial paper money.

On May 29, 1765, Patrick Henry made one of his famous speeches before the Virginia House of Burgesses to encourage the passage of the Virginia Stamp Act Resolutions. Henry said, “Caesar had his Brutus, Charles I his Cromwell, and George III… Henry was interrupted by cries from the opposition to which he replied, “If this be treason, make the most of it.” He later offered a semi-apology. Fallows writes the utterances of Henry were like the blasts of a trumpet sounding the approaching Revolution.

James Otis, Advocate – general (official advisor) to the government took up with the colonists.

Adams took notes when he delivered a five-hour speech during which Otis voiced the infamous cry of “Taxation without representation is tyranny.”

The colonists effectively nullified the Stamp Act by refusing to use the stamps. Riots, stamp burning, and intimidation of colonial stamp distributors took place. The Sons of Liberty formed in the summer of 1765 under the direct command of Adams. He called the ‘mob’ out whenever he determined that a protest was needed against British action. Adam’s Sons of Liberty destroyed the stamps wherever they encountered them. They tarred and feathered stamp agents, sacked homes and warehouses of the wealthy. Colonists passionately upheld their ‘Englishmen’ rights to be taxed only by their own consent through their own representative assemblies. For a century and a half prior, this was the practice.

The welcome news of the repeal of the Stamp act reached Boston on May 16th, 1766. Guns were continuously fired; blazing bonfires were kindled. Church bells poured out joyful peals. Yet Adams did not share in the celebration of Bostonians. To him there was a sting in the repeal. For in it – the Declaratory Act was contained giving Parliament the authority “to bind the Colonies and people of America in all cases whatsoever.”

Though British statesmen Pitt and Pratt first gained the love of the colonists for denouncing the Stamp Act, they made a distinction between taxation and litigation, saying “while Parliament could not tax it could legislate.” Adams knew that a brood of “obnoxious measures” were coming to rouse the colonies to open revolt.

Adams held firm the colonists owed no allegiance to Parliament.

He would continue to oppose British measures to suppress the colonists. In May 1766, Sam Adams, Thomas Cushing, James Otis and a wealthy influential merchant named John Hancock were elected as Massachusetts’ representatives, destined to play a vital role in the coming severance of the colonies from the Mother country.

In March 1770, patriot blood was shed in the Boston Massacre. Sam Adams issued a threat to Lieutenant Governor Hutchinson that it was at his own peril if he refused to remove the British regiments from the city.

The Tea Act passed by Parliament in 1773 gave the British East India Tea Company a monopoly on tea sales in America. Sam Adams played a vital role in organizing the Boston Tea Party.

“Samuel Adams was the patient, persevering, ever watchful leader. His conspicuous ability in drafting documents became more and more apparent, and not a paper of any note was put forth which was not written by his pen,” writes Fallows in his book, coining history as ‘romantic, mysterious, inviting the imagination.’

“Better tidings will soon arrive. Our cause is just and righteous and we shall never be abandoned by Heaven while we show ourselves worthy of its aid and protection.” – Samuel Adams while encouraging wavering Continental Convention delegates in the gloomy winter of 1776-1777.

Among his accomplishments, he founded Boston’s Committee of Correspondence, which – like similar entities in other towns across the Colonies – proved a powerful tool for communication and coordination during the American Revolutionary War.

At first it was liberty within the laws of England for which Samuel Adams strove and that harmony be cultivated between Great Britain and the Colonies. But his views changed and he devoted himself body and soul as a firebrand for breaking the link that bound America to England, leading him to support and sign the Declaration of Independence.

Jeanne McKinney is an award-winning writer whose focus and passion is our United States active-duty military members and military news. Her Patriot Profiles offer an inside look at the amazing active-duty men and women in all Armed Services, including U.S. Marine Corps, Navy, Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, and National Guard. Reporting includes first-hand accounts of combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, the fight against violent terror groups, global defense, tactical training and readiness, humanitarian and disaster relief assistance, next-generation defense technology, family survival at home, U.S. port and border protection and illegal immigration, women in combat, honoring the Fallen, Wounded Warriors, Military Working Dogs, Crisis Response, and much more. Starting in 2012, McKinney has won multiple San Diego Press Club “Excellence in Journalism Awards,” including eight “First Place” honors, as well as multiple second and third place recognition for her Patriot Profiles published printed articles. Including awards for Patriot Profiles military films. During the year 2020, McKinney has written and published dozens of investigative articles in her ongoing fight to preserve America the Republic, the Constitution, and its laws. One such story was selected for use in a legal brief in the national fight for 2020 election integrity.

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

Sources:

Father of the American Revolution, Puls, Mark, 2006. (Sam Adams early life)

https://www.reference.com/history/were-whigs-tories-revolutionary-war-f0692d22d7afbf8c

https://patriotshistoryusa.com/teaching-materials/bonus-materials/american-heroes-sam-adams-and-the-sons-of-liberty/

Library of Congress: Fallows, Samuel, 1835-1922.

https://archive.org/details/samueladams00fall/page/26/mode/2up

https://archive.org/details/samueladams00fall/page/28/mode/2up

https://www.britannica.com/event/Stamp-Act-Great-Britain-1765

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

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stamp_Act_1765

 

Click Here for Next Essay 

Click Here for Previous Essay

Click Here To Sign up for the Daily Essay From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 
Click Here To View the Schedule of Topics From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 

Essay 35 – Guest Essayist: Val Crofts

For a man remembered for his signature, John Hancock was so very much more. He was an early and influential voice for independence. He was a successful businessman and smuggler in Boston. He was a man who possessed a very likeable and strong personality that brought people together from all the colonies at the Second Continental Congress, helping to achieve unity and friendship between the men there. He was simply, one of the key figures in our nation’s birth and early history.

John Hancock’s famous signature on the Declaration of Independence represents his personality. It is fancy and flashy and it is full of pomp. There is a popular myth that Hancock signed it with a large flourish so King George III could read it without glasses; however, the document that he and the other members of Congress signed was to remain in the new nation and not travel to England, so the king would not have ever seen it. Hancock’s signature was the first signature on the signed document. He was serving as President of the Second Continental Congress at the time of the signing and he served in that capacity until 1780.

Hancock was born in Braintree, Massachusetts in 1737. He was also a childhood friend of John Adams, whose family lived nearby. After his father passed away, he was sent to live with his wealthy uncle who ran a very successful shipping business. He was raised as a very privileged young man and learned his uncle’s trade from him. As part of his apprenticeship, John Hancock traveled to London in 1761 and was in attendance for the coronation of King George III, whom he would help to declare independence from in 1776. Hancock’s uncle died in 1764 and John inherited everything from him. He was now instantly a very successful and extremely wealthy businessman at age 27. Hancock was a very vain and yet charitable man. He would give away as much or more of his fortune than he kept to local charities and he was very flamboyant in his dress and stuck out among the population of Boston for his fancy clothes and style. He was also involved in several committees and was active in every part of Boston’s activities.

Hancock became involved in the events in Boston that would ultimately lead to the Declaration of Independence in the 1760s. He was a huge opponent of the Stamp Act and wrote several letters in support of opposing it. The costs of increased taxation caused Hancock to increase smuggling goods into the colonies. Rather than pay the unjust taxes, he would avoid them by bringing in his products illegally. He was arrested for doing so in 1768, when his ship the HMS Liberty was confiscated by British officials in Boston for not paying taxes for the Madeira wine that was on board. Hancock was later found not guilty of smuggling, but his ship was taken from him. The Liberty was later burned in 1769 as a protest of these actions. This was one of the first violent reactions against King George III and his policies toward the colonies.

The taxation policies toward the colonies kept producing more anger in them. The anger led to protests and boycotts and eventually violence, culminating in the Boston Massacre of 1770 when five colonists were killed at the hands of British soldiers who were being harassed by them. Hancock hated the violence that began to erupt in 1770 with the Boston Massacre, but he understood that British policies were unfair to the rights of the colonists and needed to be changed.

Hancock eventually became public enemy number one to British General Thomas Gage, who was the commander of British forces in the colonies in 1774-75. Gage felt that John Hancock and Sam Adams were the two principal factors in bringing the rebellion to Massachusetts and the colonies. They were to be killed as soon as a rebellion started. In fact, there was a point that General Gage decided that if any colonist denounced their previous rebellious activity, they would be pardoned. The only two who would not be, were Sam Adams and John Hancock! Their lives were in danger constantly and bounties were placed on their heads. The British army also just did not want to merely shoot them, as that was too quick of a death. The British wanted them to hang so they would suffer more.

Hancock and Sam Adams were also part of the reason that the British soldiers marched toward Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775. Hancock and Adams were staying in Lexington that night and were alerted by Paul Revere that the British army was on the way to capture them. Hancock wanted to fight the British at Lexington when they arrived, but Sam Adams convinced him that it was not their place to do so and that their duty was in government. Later on, that morning, the two men escaped. Hancock would later spend his own money to help fund the Continental Army in 1775 and throughout the war. He took his generous nature and applied it to the entire nation.

John Hancock passed away in 1793, while serving as the governor of the Constitutional Convention of Massachusetts. His funeral was a huge event in Boston as one of their Sons of Liberty had passed. Church bells tolled, businesses closed out of respect to him and he was laid to rest in Boston as one of the main voices of independence and an enduring legacy as one of our key Founding Fathers. He once said, “I am a friend to righteous government, to a government founded upon the principles of reason and justice. But I glory in publicly avowing my eternal enmity to tyranny.” His most public display of these words was his signature on the Declaration of Independence.

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

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

Click Here for Next Essay
Click Here for Previous Essay

Click Here To Sign up for the Daily Essay From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 
Click Here To View the Schedule of Topics From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 

 

Essay 34 – Guest Essayist: Tom Hand

Matthew Thornton of New Hampshire was a man who excelled in all that he did, as a physician and surgeon, in the New Hampshire legislature, and as a judge. We are also indebted to Thornton for his efforts to help America gain her independence from England, including his signing of the Declaration of Independence.

This accomplished patriot was born in Lisburn, County Antrim, Ireland on March 3, 1714 to James and Elizabeth Thornton, Scotch-Irish Presbyterian farmers. Interestingly, Matthew was one of three signers of the Declaration of Independence born in Ireland, James Smith and George Taylor, both of Pennsylvania, being the other two.

In 1717, when Matthew was three years old, James emigrated his family to America in the present-day state of Maine. There, in 1722, Matthew’s young life almost ended when Indians attacked their settlement and the family had to flee in a canoe. Having enough of the wilderness, James moved his family to Worcester, Massachusetts.

It was here, at the Worcester Academy, that Matthew received his classical education. He did well in his studies and decided to pursue a life in medicine. While continuing to help his father on their farm, Thornton began his medical studies in nearby Leicester under the direction of Doctor Grout, a relative of the family.

At the young age of 26, Thornton moved to Londonderry, New Hampshire and set up a medical practice as both a physician and surgeon. His hard work and ability soon gained him an excellent reputation and his business flourished.

In 1745, he was appointed as a surgeon in the New Hampshire militia to accompany an expedition to capture Louisbourg, a French fortress in Nova Scotia. Under Thornton’s care only six men died of disease on this mission, a remarkably low number for that time period, and he was praised by his superiors.

For the next decade or so, Thornton applied himself to his medical practice in New Hampshire. By the mid-1750s, he was becoming more prominent in the community and began to think of life outside his work.

In 1758, Thornton’s life in public affairs began when he was elected as a delegate of Londonderry to the colonial assembly. Two years later, at the age of 46, he enhanced his personal life when he married 18-year-old Hannah Jack, a great beauty from Chester, New Hampshire. They had five children together, three boys and two girls.

As relations between England and America grew strained in the 1760s, Thornton was a vocal opponent of several British policies, including the Stamp Act of 1765. In 1775, following the fight at Lexington and Concord, New Hampshire’s Royal Governor, John Wentworth, fled the colony and Thornton was elected President of the Provincial Congress.

He soon was selected to lead a committee to draft a constitution for New Hampshire and their proposal was adopted by the legislature on January 5, 1776. Importantly, New Hampshire’s constitution was the first one adopted by any of the thirteen colonies. Thornton was then elected to be Speaker of the new state legislature.

In September of that year, Thornton was selected as a delegate to the Continental Congress. He was officially seated on November 4, 1776 and signed the engrossed copy of the Declaration of Independence (the formal document on parchment paper), making Thornton one of six men who signed the document after the initial signing date of August 2.

Interestingly, the order of the signatures on the Declaration of Independence was determined by the location of each state. Specifically, the signers were arranged from the northernmost state, New Hampshire, to the southernmost, Georgia. Because Thornton was a late signer, there was no room for him to sign near the other men from New Hampshire and, consequently, he signed beneath the Connecticut delegation.

Due to health issues arising from a reaction to a smallpox vaccine he received, Thornton resigned from the Continental Congress and returned home to New Hampshire in the spring of 1777. He resumed his duties as an associate justice of the state Superior Court, a position he held until 1782, despite having no law degree. Finally, in 1784, at the age of 70, Thornton was elected to the New Hampshire Senate.

Thornton fully retired from the public eye in 1786 and spent the last years of his remarkable life on a farm he purchased on the banks of the Merrimac River, near Exeter, New Hampshire. There, besides managing his farm, he operated a ferry across the Merrimac.

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

By all accounts, Matthew Thornton was highly regarded by his contemporaries. In fact, his original gravestone was inscribed “An Honest Man.”  Besides being a signer of the Declaration of Independence, Thornton was a talented surgeon, served in the Second Continental Congress, was a judge, a Colonel in the militia, and both a state Representative and Senator.

Matthew Thornton spent the greater part of his life serving the public in some capacity. Starting with his time in the New Hampshire militia in 1745 until he retired from the state Senate in 1786, Thornton did what he could to make New Hampshire and his country a better place. A life like that is worth remembering.

SUGGESTED READING: The book Matthew Thornton of New Hampshire is an older book, written in 1903, by Charles Thornton Adams. It can be found on-line and is a nicely written, thorough account of Thornton’s life.

PLACES TO VISIT: The New Hampshire State House in Concord, New Hampshire, is one of the most beautiful state houses in the country. It is built in the Greek Revival style and topped with an incredible golden dome. It is open for tours and well worth a visit.

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

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

 

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

 

Click Here for Next Essay
Click Here for Previous Essay

Click Here To Sign up for the Daily Essay From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 
Click Here To View the Schedule of Topics From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 

 

Essay 33 – Guest Essayist: Ron Meier

In 1776, 13 British colonies existed in America. Ask someone about the American Revolutionary era today and some colonies easily come to mind – Virginia, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New York. The role of some colonies in the Revolution is not as well known.

New Hampshire is one of those less-well-known colonies. Almost everyone will agree that the American Revolution began on the greens of Lexington and Concord in April 1776, when British troops marched from Boston to find and destroy military supplies hidden there. Americans love the story of Paul Revere’s ride to warn the patriots there that “the Regulars are coming.”

Yet, just a few months earlier, in December 1775, Revere took a more perilous ride in deep snow to the New Hampshire coast to alert patriots that British troops and ships were coming to secure British military supplies there that were guarded by only a half-dozen British troops.  Hundreds of patriot militiamen mustered quickly, attacked the supply depot, captured and removed the munitions before a stronger British military contingent could arrive. Thus, New Hampshire citizens, whose state motto is “Live Free or Die,” might argue that the Revolutionary War began there and not in Lexington and Concord.

By the time of Revere’s more famous ride in April 1776, New Hampshire’s militias were as ready for war as those of Massachusetts.  As word spread far and wide of the British march and attack on Lexington and Concord, militiamen of New Hampshire mustered and hurried to support their patriot comrades in Massachusetts. New Hampshire Regiments were formed in May 1775 and in 1776. All or parts of the Regiments fought with distinction in major battles during the war to include the Boston Siege, Saratoga, Quebec, Trenton, among others. They were particularly effective in holding the line at Saratoga which became the major victory of the Northern Campaign.

William Whipple Jr. could not have anticipated his role in the colonies’ revolution and quest for independence. He was born in 1730 to a seagoing family. His father was a sea captain and his mother was the daughter of a distinguished ship-builder. Both families had become wealthy in their sea-related businesses.

Young William attended public schools and, unlike some of the more famous signers of the Declaration of Independence, did not attend college at Harvard, Princeton, or Yale. Rather, he followed his father to the sea, where ships, including the Whipple’s, often engaged in the profitable Triangle Trade, which delivered commodities from the American colonies and the West Indies to Europe, where the ships were loaded with manufactured goods for delivery to Africa and the American colonies. In Africa, slaves were often brought aboard the ships for delivery to the West Indies and the American colonies.

By the age of 21, young William commanded his own ship. The same year, his father died. While both his mother and father were wealthy from their families’ businesses, William, Jr., became wealthy in his own right as a ship’s Captain. In 1759, at the age of 29, William had amassed a fortune that had enabled him to retire from the sea. He then went into the merchant business with two brothers, where William, with his foreign trade experience on the sea, was able to expand his wealth in that business. Two slave boys worked for the Whipple’s business. One of them, Prince, would remain with William through all that followed.

William married in 1767, at the age of 37, Catherine Moffatt, daughter of a ship Captain. They had only one son, who died in 1773, about a year after his birth.

With the outbreak of the Revolution, William Whipple began his long career as a public servant. In June 1774 he was on a Committee to prevent the landing of tea in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. He became a member of the Committee of Safety and was a member of the Provincial Convention held at Exeter.

In 1776, Whipple was sent by New Hampshire as one of its three delegates to the Continental Congress. With his seafaring experience and his family’s ship building experience, he was appointed to the Marine Committee. To run the British Navy’s blockades, the new country would need more ships and experienced ship Captains; Whipple’s background prepared him well for leading that effort. He also served as a superintendent of the commissary and quartermaster departments, attempting to bring efficiency to departments that seemed to have great difficulty supplying General George Washington’s forces with what they needed to fight the war.

Whipple was present in Congress during the drafting and editing of the Declaration of Independence and signed the Declaration, thereby putting his life, his fortune, and his sacred honor at great risk. He remained a member of Congress through 1779.

As the British military strategy evolved and threatened to end the revolution by cutting off New England from the rest of America, Whipple was appointed a General by New Hampshire’s Convention in 1777. He immediately set off for New York where British General John Burgoyne was moving troops south from Canada to isolate New England. He expected that his slave, Prince, would join his Brigade in the fight. But Prince retorted that a slave had no freedom for which to fight. Whipple is said to have immediately informed Prince that he was a free man, whereupon Prince joined his former master and fought the British throughout the war. Legend has it that, in Emanuel Leutze’s famous 1851 painting, Washington Crossing the Delaware, Leutze symbolically identified Prince as the young black soldier sitting in front of Washington on the boat.

At the decisive battle of Saratoga, a significant turning point in the war, General Whipple’s New Hampshire troops fought valiantly and Whipple was appointed by General Horatio Gates to deliver the terms of surrender to General Burgoyne. Whipple was then directed to deliver General Burgoyne to Cambridge where Burgoyne would board a ship bound for England.

General Whipple fought the next year, 1778, with General Sullivan in Rhode Island, where he was almost killed as a British artillery round exploded near him. Having released his own slave, Prince, from bondage, Whipple expressed hope that, as the Revolutionary War moved south, southern slaveholders would also free their slaves, enabling the blessings of liberty in the Declaration that he signed to be accorded to all Americans.

In 1780, General Whipple was elected to the New Hampshire Legislature; in 1782, he was appointed as a Superior Court judge. He had heart problems, which continued to affect his health, leading to his death in 1785 at the age of 55. He is buried with his family, as well as Prince, his former slave, in North Cemetery in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

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.

 

 

Click Here for Next Essay
Click Here for Previous Essay
Click Here To Sign up for the Daily Essay From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 
Click Here To View the Schedule of Topics From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 

 

Essay 32 – Guest Essayist: Tara Ross

Josiah Bartlett was born in Amesbury, Massachusetts, but he studied medicine and began practicing in New Hampshire. He could be a bit unconventional for his time. On several occasions, for instance, he bucked the system of treating certain fevers by bleeding patients. Instead, he used cooling liquids.

Perhaps you won’t be surprised to hear that his methods often worked better than those of his contemporaries? Bartlett’s practice thrived, and he was well-respected in his community.

As tensions with England began to rise, Bartlett was elected to New Hampshire’s legislature. He was serving as a member of that body during the Stamp Act controversy. One early historian notes that the Royal Governor attempted to bribe Bartlett into siding with the Crown, but Bartlett “rejected every overture.”

Indeed, Bartlett would serve the Patriot cause for years. In many ways, Bartlett’s service represents the kind of quiet, behind-the-scenes work that was so critical during our Revolution. These humble jobs don’t make for snazzy stories in history textbooks—yet where would we be without men such as these?

Bartlett was soon a leading member of the local Committee of Safety and a member of the state’s Provincial Congress. He was chosen to represent New Hampshire in the first Continental Congress, but he was prevented from attending when Loyalists burned down his home. Bartlett was chosen as a delegate again in 1775 and in 1776. On the latter occasion, he voted in favor of the Declaration of Independence.

He was the second person to sign that document, immediately after John Hancock.

Bartlett continued to serve the Patriot effort in many ways afterward. He still served in Congress, and he was a member of the committee that drafted the Articles of Confederation. He provided medical assistance to New Hampshire troops under General John Stark. These men won an important victory at the Battle of Bennington. Bartlett later became a judge and a Chief Justice on the New Hampshire Superior Court. He served as a delegate to the New Hampshire state ratifying convention as the Constitution was being considered, and he advocated for its adoption. He was later elected as the chief executive of New Hampshire.

When he retired in 1794, he sent a message to the Legislature expressing his “grateful sense of the repeated marks of trust and confidence that my fellow-citizens have reposed in me.”

He died a little over a year later, having spent most of his adult life in public service.

Tara Ross is nationally recognized for her expertise on the Electoral College. She is the author of Why We Need the Electoral College (2019), The Indispensable Electoral College: How the Founders’ Plan Saves Our Country from Mob Rule (2017), We Elect A President: The Story of our Electoral College (2016), and Enlightened Democracy: The Case for the Electoral College (2d ed. 2012). She is also the author of She Fought Too: Stories of Revolutionary War Heroines (2019), and a co-author of Under God: George Washington and the Question of Church and State (2008) (with Joseph C. Smith, Jr.). Her Prager University video, Do You Understand the Electoral College?, is Prager’s most-viewed video ever, with more than 60 million views. 

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

Excerpt originally published in its entirety at: https://www.taraross.com/post/tdih-josiah-bartlett-signer, used with permission.

Primary Sources:

Click Here for Next Essay
Click Here for Previous Essay

Click Here To Sign up for the Daily Essay From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 
Click Here To View the Schedule of Topics From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 

Essay 31 – Guest Essayist: Winfield H. Rose

“We must all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately” is commonly attributed to Benjamin Franklin after the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. The moment was not captured and preserved by Movietone News but, whether true or not, that sentence captures the gravity of the action those 56 men took when they signed the document that ended with the words “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.”

Keep in mind that the Second Continental Congress, meeting in Philadelphia, was, in the summer of 1776, considering two closely-related but separate issues. The first was a declaration of independence and the second was the Declaration of Independence. The resolution to declare independence was introduced by Virginia delegate Richard Henry Lee on June 7 and was seconded by John Adams of Massachusetts. Its first and most important paragraph reads as follows: “Resolved, 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.”

The resolution was the subject of “intense debate” until June 10th, after which the delegates decided to delay the final vote “for 20 days, until July 1, to allow delegates from the middle colonies time to send for new instructions.” (McCullough, 118-119)

Interestingly, Congress did not wait for the adoption of Lee’s resolution to appoint a committee to draft a formal declaration of independence. It appointed such a committee immediately. Known as the “Committee of Five,” it consisted of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman and Robert R. Livingston. Notice the word is “draft,” not “write,” clearly meaning the product would be subject to review and editing by Congress.

It was clear from the start that Jefferson would be the principal author, but how that decision was made is not clear. David McCullough, in his 2001 biography of Adams, says Jefferson offered the job to Adams but Adams declined for several reasons (pp. 119-120). Jefferson was from Virginia, was younger (33 v. 40) and possessed, as Adams said, a “peculiar felicity of expression.” That said, it can be asked why Virginia delegate Richard Henry Lee, the author of the independence resolution, was not placed on the committee and then asked to chair it. The answer seems to be that Lee was a man of the spoken word whereas Jefferson was a man of the written word. When president, Jefferson discontinued delivering State of the Union addresses in person and it was not done again until Woodrow Wilson resumed the practice. Jefferson’s writing ability was well-known.  To borrow a phrase, it seems to have been a “self-evident truth” that Jefferson was the man for the job, and history affirms his choice.

Jefferson worked quickly, without access to his library, and produced a draft in about three weeks. The Franklin Institute website says that “Benjamin Franklin primarily served as the editor of the Declaration of Independence. His changes were believed to have been minimal, but, when the document went before the entire Continental Congress, the draft was more thoroughly changed by the larger body from Jefferson’s original text. The final document was passed on July 2, 1776 and ratified on July 4, 1776.”

While true, the above statement does not do justice to Franklin’s contribution. As the elder statesman not only of the committee but also of the Congress itself, Franklin knew and had helped make the history of the pre-revolutionary period. He had, for example, spent some 15 years in London, working with Edmund Burke, trying to explain to the British how their policies toward their North American colonies were driving them to independence. Thus, Franklin knew the truth of the grievances Jefferson listed in the document and, when he affixed his signature to it, it carried much weight.

The contributions of the other members of the committee do not seem to be many or significant. When finished, Jefferson gave copies to Franklin and Adams and asked for their input. They made “two or three” minor corrections in their own handwriting, whereupon Jefferson prepared a new draft and sent it to Congress. Two points should be noted here: (1) the Declaration’s climactic words in the first sentence of its final paragraph are lifted verbatim from Lee’s resolution: “ . . .  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 (2) Jefferson did not make copies for committee members Robert Livingston and Roger Sherman.  

At this point it was not clear that the work of the Committee of Five would amount to anything because the Lee resolution declaring independence remained unpassed. Without its adoption, the wording of the Declaration of Independence would not matter. Pursuant to its June 10, 1776 decision, Congress resumed debate on Lee’s resolution July 1. Delegate John Dickinson of Pennsylvania spoke against it, arguing that the risks and costs of independence were not justified. When he finished, there was no applause. (McCullough, p. 126)

Adams knew the burden of history lay on his shoulders and his response truly made him one of our great Founding Fathers. To quote McCullough, “No transcription was made. . . . That it was the most powerful and important speech heard in the Congress since it first convened, and the greatest speech of Adams’s life, there is no question. To Jefferson, Adams was ‘not graceful nor elegant, nor remarkably fluent,’ but spoke ‘with a power of thought and expression that moved us from our seats.’ ” (p. 127)

A vote was taken and the measure passed, but not decisively. They decided to postpone the final vote until the next day to allow time for more “politicking.” On July 2 the measure was adopted with twelve states voting “yes” and one (New York) abstaining. McCullough concludes that, “It was John Adams, more than anyone [else], who had made it happen.” (p. 129)

Speaking of New York, Robert R. Livingston, a member of Congress from that state, did not support the Lee resolution but abstained rather than vote against it. There is no evidence that he participated in or made any contributions to the Committee of Five, and he did not sign the Declaration of Independence after its adoption. He did, however, later support the ratification of the Constitution and served as Minister to France under President Jefferson during which time he played a significant role in the purchase of Louisiana.

Neither is there any evidence that committee member Roger Sherman of Connecticut participated in or made any contribution to the drafting of the Declaration of Independence, but he did vote for it and sign it. His great service came later when he served as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention and proposed what is known as the Great Compromise or Connecticut Compromise on the character and composition of Congress.

When we have our annual July 4 celebrations, we do not think of the events of July 4, 1776 as anticlimactic, foregone conclusions, but they were. The big day was July 2 when Congress adopted both Lee’s declaration of independence and Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence.

Joined by Washington, Hamilton, Pulaski, von Steuben, Lafayette and others in the long effort to achieve rather than simply declare independence, these men became a marked band of brothers trying to create “the first new nation.” (Seymour Lipset) Success was far from certain. Yes, they were fighting for their homeland on their homeland, but the 13 colonies were a large and diverse territory with different histories and interests and were not accustomed to thinking of a single, common good.

Granted, the Atlantic Ocean protected the colonies and was an obstacle the British had to overcome, but Britain was the world’s great superpower at the time and its navy was well equipped for the challenge.

The mother country took its colonial empire in North America very seriously. That empire was making it rich and powerful, and it would not relinquish its colonies without a fight. How serious it was is borne out by what it did in the 19th century when it went on to assemble the largest noncontiguous empire the world has ever seen.

This band of colonial brothers (Joseph J. Ellis, Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation, 2000) knew the task that lay ahead would be hard and bitter. Did they rely on the protection of Divine Providence? If we can believe what they said, they did. The last paragraph of the Declaration begins with the words, “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; . . .”

Also consider Franklin’s plea at the Constitutional Convention in the same room 11 years later when he said,

“In the beginning of the contest with G. Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayer in this room for the Divine Protection. — Our prayers, Sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a Superintending providence in our favor. To that kind providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now forgotten that powerful friend? Or do we imagine that we no longer need His assistance?

I have lived, Sir, a long time and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth — that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings that ‘except the Lord build they labor in vain that build it.’ I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the Builders of Babel: We shall be divided by our little partial local interests; our projects will be confounded, and we ourselves shall be become a reproach and a bye word down to future age. And what is worse, mankind may hereafter from this unfortunate instance, despair of establishing Governments by Human Wisdom, and leave it to chance, war, and conquest.

I therefore beg leave to move — that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessings on our deliberations, be held in this Assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of the Clergy of this City be requested to officiate in that service.”

These beautiful words are beyond improvement. Notice Franklin used the word “truth.” We should take him at his word. If not all born again themselves, that these early patriots were imbued with Judeo-Christian values is supported not only by Ellis, cited above, but also by Donald Lutz in his The Origins of American Constitutionalism (1988) and by Dreisbach et al in The Founders on God and Government (2004).

What would have happened to our patriot forefathers if they had lost the war for independence? It would not have been pretty. Franklin’s prediction most likely would have come true. If not, the difference would have been that they were summarily lined up and shot rather than hanged.   It is very doubtful that Cornwallis would have been as magnanimous with Washington as Washington was with him or that the British would have bothered with the legal niceties required by trials. Thus, they did lay their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor on the line. Thanks be to God!

Winfield H. Rose, Ph.D., is Distinguished Professor of Political Science Emeritus at Murray State University.

 

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

Click Here for Next Essay
Click Here for Previous Essay
Click Here To Sign up for the Daily Essay From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 
Click Here To View the Schedule of Topics From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 

Essay 30 – Guest Essayist: Val Crofts

“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.”

As we reach the end of the Declaration of Independence, we see in this section that the Framers have ended the document with great care to show who they were and what this new nation was going to be. The Second Continental Congress placed many of Richard Henry Lee’s words and ideas from his resolution of independence from June 7, 1776 in this section of the Declaration during the editing portion of the document. The words that Richard Henry Lee of Virginia proposed were the start of our independence process and the nation that emerged from that process. The process of the Declaration began with Lee’s resolution and ended with his words included in this final paragraph.

The United States was created in this document and the members of the Second Continental Congress tell us how serious they were in creating it, as well as telling the World how they would defend it for themselves and future generations of Americans. The United States is now its own nation and can conduct itself accordingly. The signers are also letting the world know they acted with the best intentions and they appeal to God for the final verdict on those intentions. They end this conclusion of text by stating that they fully understand that if they do not succeed, they will be charged with treason and executed. They were willing to give everything so that our new nation had a chance at survival. They are giving a well thought out legal argument and an exclamation point to the end of the Declaration. Eventually, 56 delegates will sign their name to it, creating the document that we see today at the National Archives.

“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…”

Here the 56 members of Congress will declare their independence to the World and they will state than mankind will not be the final judge of their revolutionary actions, but the Supreme Judge of the world will judge their actions, the Revolutionary War, their intentions and the righteousness (rectitude) of them. They believe that they are acting selflessly and for the cause of freedom for themselves and future generations. They are also representing their colonies and the inhabitants of them by being their representatives in Philadelphia. These actions will impact the citizens as well as the Framers of the Declaration and the members of Congress are well aware of that as they conclude this document.

“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..”

The United States is its own sovereign entity. They have every right to break from Great Britain and establish themselves as their own country. The British Parliament and king had mistreated the colonists and taxed them without their consent or a voice in the British parliament. As a result, the colonies left a tyrannical and unjust government to form their own system of government that they believed was more just and conducive to their overall and future happiness. There would be no connection to the king or Parliament in the future.

“..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.”

How we will proceed as a new nation is proclaimed here. The United States will have the power of declaring war and peace, be in control of their own financial dealings and trade with other nations. They will have all the powers that nations had as they begin to forge their own path on the world stage.

“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 pledge to each other at the end of the Declaration shows that the Founders trusted in each other and in God to protect them, their military forces and their new nation. They were ready to fight the most powerful army and navy in the world and they were willing to die if necessary. As Benjamin Franklin said, “We must all hang together or most assuredly we will all hang separately.” The Framers of the Declaration could not afford disunion in their ranks. If that took place, their cause could be lost. The members of Congress were unified. They promised to give their lives, their financial well-being and their honor to do what it took, even it meant losing everything dear to them. Victory was also not assured in the summer of 1776. It was, in fact, highly unlikely. These were intelligent men who had everything to lose and they accepted that possibility. Some did lose everything in their cause including their lives and fortunes.

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.

 

Click Here for Next Essay
Click Here for Previous Essay

Click Here To Sign up for the Daily Essay From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 
Click Here To View the Schedule of Topics From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 

 

Essay 29 – Guest Essayist: Tony Williams

“In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people. Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.”

The Declaration of Independence has been called “American Scripture” because of the justifiable reverence by Americans for this foundational document of natural rights republicanism. The Declaration was a seminal moment in the history of America and of the world. However, this fact can sometimes cloud understanding of the historical context of the Declaration.

The colonists and British went to war at Lexington and Concord in April 1775. The siege of Boston lasted some nine months before the British departed and prepared a massive invasion force of redcoats and foreign mercenaries for New York. Still, most American colonists were reluctant to separate and preferred reconciliation with the mother country. They identified as English and were loyal subjects of the king who thought the dispute could be ended once a ministerial conspiracy against American rights was ended.

The ravages of war and pamphlets such as Thomas Paine’s Common Sense finally pushed the Americans to declare independence but not before much deliberation and a titanic debate in the Second Continental Congress. On July 2, the Congress adopted the resolution for independence and the Declaration of Independence two days later.

The war followed from a decade of tyranny, taxes, and violations of the colonists’ right to govern themselves by their own consent. The colonists continually sent petitions to king and Parliament to protest these oppressions and humbly ask for a redress of grievances. The right of petition was a traditional right of Englishmen with a long history reaching back to the Magna Carta (1215) and the Bill of Rights (1689). The colonists were angry about the violations of their rights and liberties but were just as irate that their petitions were ignored or treated with disdain.

The coming of the Stamp Act initiated a decade of petitioning king and Parliament for the rights of the colonists as Englishmen especially no taxation without representation. For example, the Virginia House of Burgesses agreed to a petition in December 1764 that was largely drafted by planter, Landon Carter. The petition emphasized that it was humbly submitted with “all due reverence” and “in a respectful manner.” Most importantly, it claimed the “freedom which all men, especially those who derive their constitution from Britain, have a right to enjoy.” The Burgesses asserted that “a fundamental principle of the British Constitution” was that “the people are not subject to any taxes but such are laid on them by their own consent.”

The Stamp Act Congress issued a Declaration of Rights in Oct 1765 in the form of a petition as a “dutiful and loyal address” and “humble application” for colonial rights. The petition began with several important points that appeared in almost all petitions throughout the 1760s and 1770s. It emphasized that the colonial subjects owed allegiance to the king, but the colonists were “entitled to all the inherent rights and privileges of his natural born subjects within the kingdom of Great Britain.” Their rights were guaranteed by colonial charters, the British Constitution, and natural right. Therefore, the body made the usual assertion of no taxation without consent.

Parliament repealed the Stamp Act because of the complaints of British merchants not the various petitions that were carried across the Atlantic. The colonial boycotts significantly impacted the profits of British merchants who themselves petitioned king and Parliament for relief. However, in 1766, the Parliament coupled the repeal with the Declaratory Act reasserting its authority over the colonies. After the Stamp Act, the colonists dispatched hundreds of similar petitions with the above themes to Great Britain to protest the Townshend Acts, the Tea Act, and the Coercive Acts.

In July 1775, in the wake of the Battle of Bunker Hill, the Second Continental Congress coupled the Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms with one last highly significant petition to the British. In the Olive Branch Petition, the Congress focused on the war raging between the colonies and the British. The Olive Branch Petition blamed the “artful and cruel” ministers advising the king for causing open hostilities. The colonists begged the king for a reconciliation for “stopping the further effusion of blood” with their British brethren and “restore the former harmony” with them.

The Olive Branch Petition was ignored just like all the previous petitions. On August 23, George III responded by declaring the colonies in a state of open rebellion. However, it still took almost another year of war before the colonists declared independence. In the Declaration of Independence, one of the listed grievances addressed the ignored colonist petitions:

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

The American political regime was a republic that recognized the importance of representation and the right of petition. The Constitution created a national Congress that was close to the sovereign people and would receive their petitions and listen to their grievances. The First Amendment formally recognized the right of petition: “Congress shall make no law…abridging…the right of the people…to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

The right of petition has been the center of vigorous democratic debate and deliberation throughout American history. Abolitionists sent petitions against slavery and the slave trade as early as the First Congress in 1790 and in the 1830s and 1840s when petitions flooded Congress, and John Quincy Adams heroically battled against the Gag Rule. This one example demonstrates that the grievance about the right of petition was not an ancient complaint in a foundational document from hundreds of years ago with no relevance to today, but part of a vibrant democracy.

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.

 

Click Here for Previous Essay
Click Here To Sign up for the Daily Essay From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 
Click Here To View the Schedule of Topics From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 

 

Essay 28 – Guest Essayist: Gary Porter

“He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us. 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.”

“He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.” 

Abdicated: Renounced; relinquished without a formal resignation; abandoned.[i]

After skewering the Parliament for their obnoxious legislation, Thomas Jefferson returns now with more charges aimed at the King:

On July 5, 1775, a little more than two months after the skirmishes at Lexington and Concord, the Continental Congress adopted the Olive Branch Petition, assuring the King that the colonists remained your Majesty’s faithful subjects.” It was signed on July 8 and finally delivered to Britain’s colonial secretary, Lord Dartmouth, by the colonies’ representatives on August 21. The King would not receive it, just as he had turned away a previous petition. Instead, two days later, King George officially declared the American colonies to be in “open and avowed rebellion.[ii]

The “Proclamation for Suppressing Rebellion and Sedition” branded the American patriots “Traitors” and encouraged British subjects to report to authorities any persons they discovered to be carrying on “traitorous correspondence” with the rebels (this was well before Twitter).

“The Americans have only to return to their allegiance,” said John Lind in his Answer, “and by that very return, they are re-instated under the protection of the King.”[iii]

England was not unaccustomed to rebellions. Going all the way back to the Norman Invasion of 1066, various rebellions and uprisings had to be dealt with in the aftermath. Certainly, the nobles’ rebellion of 1215 that produced Magna Carta is another prime example. Several Scottish uprisings in the centuries afterward gave the English considerable practice at putting down armed rebellion. Jacobite rebellions in 1715 and 1745 attempted to install first James II and then his son “Bonnie Prince Charlie” to their “rightful throne.” The Jacobite rebellions finally ended when King George I was brought over from Hanover, Germany, to sit on the English throne. No, these “upstart American colonists” were certainly not unique in British history.

“waging War against us?”  In 1776, there would be plenty of that yet to come – as Jefferson was drafting these words, notice came to the Continental Congress that the British fleet was soon to arrive off New York City – but up to this point, the “war” had consisted only of the skirmishes at Lexington, Concord, Bunker Hill, and a couple instances of naval shelling. But, even without these, Jefferson would have been technically correct in his assessment: a naval blockade such as the King had imposed on American ports the previous year, was an act of war under international law.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

While most Americans can name a few of the significant land battles of the Revolutionary War: Long Island, Trenton, Saratoga, Yorktown, to name several, few could name one of the naval bombardments of coastal America nor any of the significant naval battles of the war.  The battle for Breeds (Bunker) Hill in June 1775 began with a ferocious naval bombardment of Charlestown. Falmouth, Massachusetts was attacked from the sea in October of that year. On New Year’s Day, 1776, British frigates bombarded Norfolk Virginia, burning a large part of the town to the ground.

As to naval battles, no doubt there would have been more if the Americans had more than a handful of ships. The greatest injury sustained from Britain’s vast navy lay in the cargo captured by British ships.

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.

While professional soldiers from the German State of Hesse-Kassel (Hessians) are commonly seen as the “mercenaries” Jefferson refers to, German soldiers from at least seven German states/regions made up the nearly 30,000 German professional soldiers hired by King George III, who, within the Holy Roman Empire remained known as the Prince-elector of Hanover (Germany). Individual Germans, notably, Frederick William Augustus and Baron von Steuben, volunteered their services to the Americans. After the war, only about 17,300 of the original 30,000 German soldiers opted to return to their homeland in the German states.  Many of the freed POWs chose instead to make a new life in America.

That these Hessians were truly professional soldiers is best exemplified by this excerpt from David Hackett Fisher’s wonderful book “Washington’s Crossing.” Hessian prisoners taken during the Battle of Trenton “were sent from Philadelphia to Lancaster, in Pennsylvania, and then on to western Virginia in 1777. They were escorted by a company of Pennsylvania militia. When they reached the Pennsylvania state line, all of the militia went home except the captain, who told the Hessians, ‘whose affections he had won by his humanity,’ that ‘they must march on without an escort, as he himself should hurry on to Winchester (Virginia),’ When he met them three days later in Winchester, every Hessian POW answered the roll call.”[iv]

In his Answer to the Declaration of Independence, John Lind dismisses the king’s hiring of foreign troops “to bring [the Americans] back to their duty” as a benevolent gesture of the King intended merely to reduce the risk to the lives of his “loyal subjects in Britain.” Later, Lind explains the hiring as a necessity since the British Army was simply not big enough for the task.

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.

“IMPRESS’MENT, noun. The act of impressing men into public service; as the impressment of seamen.”[v]

Great Britain had practiced impressment since the reign of Queen Elizabeth. “Press gangs” would roam taverns and pubs seeking those too inebriated to realize they were “joining” the Royal Navy. “When a seaman was confronted by the gang he was first given the opportunity to volunteer. If he accepted, he was later paid the bounty. Many seamen preferred to be pressed and to refuse the king’s shilling, since they could not be charged with desertion should they flee the service and later be caught.”[vi]  In the spring of 1757, three thousand British soldiers cordoned off New York City (it was a little smaller than) and plucked 800 “tradesmen and Negroes”out of the pubs and other favored gathering spots.   Four hundred of these were “retained in the service”.[vii]

Keeping a vast naval fleet manned and ready was hard enough in peacetime; it was impossible in wartime without the use of impressment.  Even the fledgling American Navy was forced to use impressment of American citizens in 1777.[viii] Yet, impressment of foreigners into service in the British Navy was against British law.[ix] In 1812, Americans would thus be protected, theoretically, from the practice; but the practice continued and became a major factor leading to the war. During the war for American Independence, however, Americans enjoyed no such protection.[x]  American sailors captured in a naval exchange with the Royal Navy could the next day find themselves fighting their own countrymen or, as Jefferson put it: fall[ing] 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.” 

The “domestic insurrections” Jefferson refers to were slave rebellions.  There had been slave rebellions in the American colonies before so the British knew slaves, at least some of them, would fight their masters if given the opportunity.

The Stono Rebellion was the largest slave revolt to ever take place in the colonies. On Sunday, Sept. 9, 1739, supposedly a “day off” for slaves, about 20 slaves under the leadership of a man named Jemmy broke into a store, stole weapons and supplies and headed for the refuge of Spanish-ruled Florida, leaving 23 murder victims in their path.

But what Jefferson was most likely thinking of as he wrote these words was Virginia Governor Dunmore’s proclamation of November 7, 1775. The proclamation declared martial law in the colony and promised freedom for any slaves in Virginia who left their owners and joined the royal forces, becoming Black Loyalists.

In 1768, Britain decided to stop protecting the colonies from Indian attacks on the frontier. Various Indian tribes, eager to recoup land settled by the colonists, mounted attacks, some of them notoriously vicious.[xi]

This ends the complaints section of the Declaration of Independence.

As previously noted, the various complaints Jefferson raises in the Declaration, many the British had seen before, are an oft-overlooked section of this marvelous document. They show us in their reverse what good government is all about. And, it should not surprise us to find many of these “problems of government” solved in the Constitution.  The U.S. Constitution was an answer to problems. By understanding the problems, one better understands the solution.

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] http://webstersdictionary1828.com/Dictionary/Abdicated

[ii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proclamation_of_Rebellion

[iii] John Lind, An Answer to the Declaration of the American Congress, 1776, p. 94

[iv] David Hackett Fischer, Washington’s Crossing, (New York, Oxford University Press, 2004), 379

[v] http://webstersdictionary1828.com/Dictionary/impressment

[vi] Roland G. Usher, Jr., Royal Navy Impressment During the American Revolution, The Mississippi Valley Historical Review , Mar., 1951, Vol. 37, No. 4 (Mar., 1951), pp. 673-688

[vii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impressment#British_North_America

[viii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impressment#British_North_America

[ix] https://www.pbs.org/opb/historydetectives/feature/british-navy-impressment/

[x] https://www.nps.gov/articles/impressment.htm

[xi] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enoch_Brown_school_massacre

Click Here for Previous Essay

Click Here To Sign up for the Daily Essay From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 
Click Here To View the Schedule of Topics From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 

Essay 27 – Guest Essayist: Gary Porter
House of Commons at Westminster, 1808, Parliament

“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:
– 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:
– For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
– For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.”

In an earlier essay in this examination of the Declaration of Independence, we encounter Mr. Thomas Jefferson beginning to lay out the “facts” he wishes a “candid world” to consider as the colonists make their case for independence. These facts begin by pointing to actions of the King alone (“He has refused his Assent to Laws…”). Now Jefferson turns his attention to actions for which the King required the assistance of Parliament: “Acts of pretended Legislation.”

“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:”

This is one of the most overlooked sentences in Jefferson’s Declaration.  Readers quickly skip past this sentence to get to the “pretended legislation” they know Jefferson is about to highlight. And we’ll get to that legislation soon enough; yet, there is much to glean from this simple sentence. But first we will need to lay a foundation, beginning with identifying the main characters Jefferson mentions. “He” is obviously King George III; “others” refers to Parliament. Together, King and Parliament have subjected the colonies to “a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution.” Our constitution? In 1776, eleven years before the U.S. Constitution is drafted? What possibly could Jefferson mean?

One common answer is that Jefferson refers here to the British Constitution. He could be claiming that Parliament and the King have repeatedly ignored or violated the British Constitution, particularly the 1689 Bill of Rights which forms a major part of Britain’s “unwritten constitution.”[1] And this is certainly a fair reading of the sentence. But could Jefferson have intended a different meaning?

In his first draft of the Declaration, the sentence read: “He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitutions….”  Constitutions, in the plural, could only mean one thing: constitutions of the separate colonies, not the Constitution of Britain. But Jefferson is writing in June of 1776. At that time only three colonies had true constitutions; they had responded to a resolution of the Second Continental Congress, passed on May 10, 1775, which read:

Resolved, That it be recommended to the respective assemblies and conventions of the United Colonies, where no government sufficient to the exigencies of their affairs have been hitherto established, to adopt such government as shall, in the opinion of the representatives of the people, best conduce to the happiness and safety of their constituents in particular, and America in general.”[i]

Adopting “such government” meant enacting a new constitution, and the colonies, at least some of them, soon began deliberating, and then writing. On January 5, 1776, New Hampshire became the first of the thirteen to approve its new constitution, thus separating itself from England a full six months before Congress would do so on behalf of all the colonies. Four days later, Thomas Paine’s Common Sense was published in America. On April 12, South Carolina did likewise. On May 4, Rhode Island, concluding that its colonial charter described an adequate governmental structure they did not wish to re-design, nevertheless unilaterally declared independence from the Mother Country. Finally, on June 29, a day after Jefferson presented his final draft of the Declaration to the Congress, the Virginia Assembly approved its colony’s new Constitution.

So, which document or documents was Jefferson complaining had been violated: the English Constitution or the “Constitution” or constitutions of the colonies? Before answering, let’s be sure we understand what comprises a Constitution. For that we turn to Black’s Law Dictionary:

“The organic and fundamental law of a nation or state, which may be written or unwritten, establishing the character and conception of its government, laying the basic principles to which its internal life is to be conformed, organizing the government, and regulating, distributing, and limiting the functions of its different departments, and prescribing the extent and manner of the exercise of sovereign powers.”[ii] (Emphasis added)

If England was operating from an unwritten Constitution (and they were, and still are); could the colonies have been as well?

By 1776, many of the colonies had been self-governing for more than 150 years – Virginia since 1619. As Dr. Larry Arnn of Hillsdale College puts it: “They had built a society of self-government. They would live in no other kind.”[iii] Their charters comprised agreements between themselves and the King – there was no mention of Parliament in the Charters – and the colonial assemblies had seldom sought Parliament’s help in governing. Despite the occasional intrusion of the royal governor’s veto, for the most part, colonial self-government was working; the “character and conception of [their] government” was well established. Is it possible that the colonies had, by 1776, a well-established, but unwritten constitution? While we might expect recognizable differences in such a constitution from colony to colony, there must also have been a certain core of “basic principles to which [their] internal life [had been] conformed.” I believe it was this unwritten Constitution, rather than the English one, to which Jefferson referred. Dr. Arnn agrees.[iv]

Yes, the colonists were British subjects. Yes, they were subject to British law, but the King and his ministers and the Parliament had overlooked an important point: over the last 150 years the colonists had become a new people with a new taste for freedom enjoyed by few other people on earth, and they were not going to readily give it up to an emboldened bully called Parliament.

Others in this year’s 90-Day Study have no doubt highlighted the connection between the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, a connection recognized even by the Supreme Court.[v] As we now review the “Acts of pretended Legislation,” we will encounter several examples of improper or otherwise “bad” government that were fixed, preempted if you will, in the drafting of the 1787 Constitution. Finally, I call your attention to a little-known document entitled: “An Answer to the Declaration of Congress” by British barrister John Lind. Neither the King nor Parliament answered Jefferson’s Declaration directly; they could not. To do so would, in their eyes, have given unwarranted credence to it;[2] instead they commissioned Mr. Lind to answer.[vi] As you might expect, Mr. Lind dismisses Jefferson’s allegation with a figurative wave of the hand.

Acts of pretended Legislation” points, as you might expect, to actual legislation recommended by the King and passed by the Parliament. I will refer to these acts where they can be identified.

  • “For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us.” Not only “among us” but IN OUR VERY HOMES! After the French and Indian War concluded in 1763, the British left troops behind in America as a prudent measure in case the Indians (or the French) decided ignore the 1763 Treaty of Paris, quartering them in barracks built for that purpose or in public buildings. The 1765 Quartering Act required colonial legislatures to raise the necessary tax revenue to support the soldiers lodging. But, after the violent Stamp Act protests of 1765, the next year the Quartering Act was amended to allow lodging troops in public buildings such as pubs and ale houses, with compensation to the homeowners of course. As protests continued and expanded, Parliament began to see that even more troops were needed to keep the peace. The 1774 Quartering Act[vii] enabled troops to take over private homes without the owner’s permission. In early 1775, Parliament sent another 10,000 soldiers to the colonies, to be placed in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Charleston, and other seaports. Lind’s reply to the Quartering complaint was the equivalent of “What did you expect during a revolt?” The Founders abhorrence of the quartering system led to the Third Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: “No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.”
  • For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States. Soldiers with time off seemed to get into trouble without much effort, even to the point of murder. In 1768, British soldiers in Annapolis, Maryland, killed several citizens. The soldiers were tried but acquitted, a result which did not sit well with locals. Three years later, North Carolina Governor Tryon ordered troops to fire upon an angry assembly of citizens who had brought complaints to the court house, killing several of them. These soldiers were also arraigned for murder, and also acquitted. Need we mention the Boston Massacre of March 5, 1770? The Administration of Justice Act of 1774,[viii] which Lind thinks Jefferson was referring to here, was commonly called the “Murder Act” by the colonists.
  • For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world. Various Navigation Acts since the late 17th Century had attempted to funnel trade to and from the colonies through British ports to enable taxes to be levied and revenue to be raised. In 1733, the Molasses Act applied heavy duties to the trade of sugar from the (cheaper) French West Indies while leaving sugar purchased from the British West Indies duty free, producing a new enterprise in America: smuggling. Finally, in December 1775, the King issued a proclamation (the Prohibitory Act) closing the American colonies to all commerce and trade, to begin the following March. Under international law, this was an act of war.
  • For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent: The French and Indian War raised British national debt 70% over 7 short years. Even though the “Seven Years War” (as it was called in Europe) saw skirmishes also on the European continent and the oceans, Parliament saw the effort as basically bailing out the colonies; thus, the colonies would need to pay for their “salvation.” The Stamp Act of 1765 was one such effort. But, the issue of taxation without representation had been brewing for a long, long time.
  • For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury. In 1674, during the reign of Charles II, the British formed a Court of Admiralty in America, bypassing the long-established colonial legal system. In 1764, a Revenue Act created a so-called ‘super’ vice-admiralty court in Halifax, Nova Scotia, presided over by a Crown-appointed judge. Instead of being tried by a jury of their peers, colonists were sent for trial by a single judge paid directly by the Crown. Lind claims the Admiralty Courts were merely a response to ubiquitous piracy in American waters.
  • For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences. On April, 1774, Parliament passed “A bill for the impartial administration of justice in the cases of persons questioned for any acts done by them in the execution of the laws, or for the suppression of riots and tumults in the province of Massachusetts Bay, in New England.” (Don’t you just love these simple law titles?) The Governor or the Lieutenant Governor could now order colonists to be transported to another colony or even to Great Britain for trial. If you wanted witnesses to testify in your favor, guess who paid their transport and lodging? Sound fair? It should come as no surprise, then, to find our own U.S. Constitution read: The Trial of all Crimes, except in Cases of Impeachment, shall be by Jury; and such Trial shall be held in the State where the said Crimes shall have been committed. (Article 3, Section 2)
  • 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. This “neighbouring Province,” you might guess, was Canada. In 1774, Parliament passed a bill giving support to French Catholics in Quebec and expanding Canada’s border to encompass land desired by other colonies. Parliament’s plan was to create a safe place to mass British troops in case of open rebellion.[ix]
  • For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments. Attempts to confiscate colonial charters go back to at least 1686[x]. The Boston Port Bill of March, 1774 altered the Charter of Massachusetts and gave the King the right to choose the members of the Massachusetts Council. The King would now have complete control over the selection of judges and have the ability to appoint sheriffs. Popular town meetings were eliminated, and the election of jurors denied. Even some members of Parliament described the Act as “exorbitant usurpation.”
  • For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.”[xi] Colonial legislatures had been repeatedly suspended. When New York’s Assembly failed to comply with the 1766 Quartering Act, Parliament suspended the colony’s Governor and legislature in 1767 and 1769. The order was never carried out since the Assembly backed down and agreed to contribute the necessary funds to cover the quartering in that colony. “[I]n all cases whatsoever” could only refer to one thing: the Declaratory Act of 1766, passed as the Stamp Act was being repealed. Here, Jefferson uses the Act’s own words in ridicule.

One by one, Jefferson ticked off the acts of “pretended legislation,” exposing Parliament’s obnoxious meddling in colonial affairs. But, in so doing, he continued his exposition of the principles of good government begun earlier in the document. For example: if “transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences” is an example of bad government, Jefferson simultaneously points us to an example of good government: hold trials, if at all possible, in the locale where the crime was committed. And, what do we find in Article 3, Section 2 of our Constitution? “The Trial of all Crimes, except in Cases of Impeachment, shall be by Jury; and such Trial shall be held in the State where the said Crimes shall have been committed…” (Emphasis added)

Studying the Declaration of Independence is a worthy goal, if nothing more, simply as an example of good writing. But, it can be so much more. Thoughtful study of Mr. Jefferson’s Declaration introduces us, if inadvertently, to a treatise on good government. Thank you, Mr. Jefferson.

After skewering the Parliament for their obnoxious legislation, Jefferson returns (in our next essay) to the King, with more charges.

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

 

[1] The British Constitution, to this day, is described as an “unwritten” Constitution. Unlike that of the United States, which encapsulates its constitution in a single document, thus making it a “written” constitution, Britain’s constitution is comprised of the Bill of Rights of 1689, Acts of Parliament, and Common law, law developed by the courts and judges through cases.

[2] Lind writes: “Ill would it become the dignity of an insulted Sovereign to descend to altercation with revolted subjects. This would be to recognise that equality and independence, to which subjects, persisting in revolt, cannot fail to pretend.”

[i] http://founding.com/founders-library/government-documents/federal-government-documents/resolutions-and-recommendations-of-the-continental-congress-1776/

[ii] Blacks Law Dictionary, 4th edition

[iii] Larry Arnn, The Founders’ Key (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Inc., 2012), 31.

[iv] Ibid, 25.

[v] Gulf, C. & S. F. R. Co. v. Ellis ,  165 U.S. 150 (1897)

[vi] https://archive.org/details/cihm_20519/page/n5/mode/2up

[vii] 14 Geo III c.54 according to Lind

[viii] 14 Geo III c.39 aka The Administration of Justice Act, the colonists called this “The Murder Act”

[ix] 14 George III, c. 83 aka The Quebec Act, 1774

[x] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charter_Oak

[xi] 6 Geo III c 12), aka the Declaratory Act

Click Here for Next Essay
Click Here for Previous Essay

Click Here To Sign up for the Daily Essay From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 
Click Here To View the Schedule of Topics From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 

Essay 26 – Guest Essayist: Joerg Knipprath

“He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.”

It was an article of faith among English and American advocates of classic republicanism of the 18th century that the military must be subject to civilian control. In the United States Constitution, that faith is manifested expressly in the President’s role as commander-in-chief of the armed forces, including of the states’ militias when called into service of the United States. Moreover, the President, with the consent of the Senate, appoints military officers. In addition, at least five clauses of Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution assign to Congress various roles in controlling the armed forces of the United States and the states’ militias. One of those, prohibiting appropriations of funds for a term longer than two years, was seen by the framers as a cornerstone of control over the military. James Madison went so far as to claim in The Federalist No. 41: “Next to the effectual establishment of the union, the best possible precaution against danger from standing armies, is a limitation of the term for which revenue may be appropriated to their support.”

A similar spirit was manifested in the Articles of Confederation. Article IX of that document gave to Congress the power to appoint the high-level officers of the land forces in the service of the “united states” and all officers of the naval forces. Congress also would make the rules and regulations for those armed forces and direct their operations.

It was the asserted refusal of the British to subordinate their military forces in the colonies to civilian control that created one of the points of conflict leading to the American revolution. Both the Virginia Constitution of 1776 and the Declaration of Independence of the thirteen “united states” denounced the king’s “affect[ing] to render the Military independent of and superior to, the Civil power.” This was not in fact the case in Great Britain itself. The king and Parliament retained control of the military. Moreover, as opponents of the Constitution of 1787 pointed out later, military appropriations by Parliament were limited to a single year, even tighter than the proposed American restriction.

Therefore, the complaint was not against English constitutional custom regarding the relationship between the civil and military authorities, which was, in fact, quite republican in nature. The last time that the military in England was not under civilian control had been during the dictatorship of Lieutenant-General Oliver Cromwell in the 1650s. Instead, the charge against George III arose out of the Americans’ experience with the British treatment of the colonial governments, particularly the events in Massachusetts Bay.

As early as 1765, the Quartering Act required any colony in which British troops were stationed to supply them with provisions and lodging. If lodging in barracks was unavailable, the soldiers might be housed in certain private buildings, typically in inns and establishments that sold alcohol. As a last resort, the troops were to be housed in unoccupied other private buildings. The colonists saw this as a form of taxation to which they had not consented through their assemblies. Moreover, this act appeared to presage the stationing of a standing peacetime army on American soil, another abomination in the eyes of conscientious republicans.

The Act was put to the test in New York. In 1766, the colony’s assembly, which had acted under its own quartering law until the beginning of 1764, refused to comply with the Act. With the 1,500 troops in New York City obliged to remain on their cramped ships, Parliament voted to suspend the assembly in 1767, though no concrete action was taken to enforce the suspension. In 1768, the assembly agreed to provide the funds demanded by the British for supplies for the troops, except the expenses for beer and rum. The Secretary of State for the Colonies, Lord Hillsborough, acting on another vote by Parliament in 1769, thereupon suspended the assembly from further meetings. Once more, no further concrete action was taken, perhaps because a newly-elected assembly soon voted the full requisition.

The events of the mid-1770s brought about increasingly stern reactions from Parliament. The Boston Tea Party, in particular, was a catalyst for British resolve to bring the colonists to heel. The Boston Port Act of 1774 required the city to pay for the tea and for losses to British officials in the Boston riots. Until those obligations were satisfied, the port was sealed off to trade. The Act was enforced by British warships and several regiments of troops. More pointedly, the commanding-in-chief of British forces in North America, General Thomas Gage, was also appointed governor.

Gage replaced Thomas Hutchinson, a prominent local businessman and published historian. Hutchinson had deep family roots in New England, and his appointment was in line with emerging British policy to appoint reliable locals to these executive positions. Like many Loyalists, Hutchinson was torn between those family roots and his loyalty to the Crown. Attacked by both sides as too closely aligned with the other, his attempt to steer a middle course failed. Much of the blame was undeserved, but at a time when the utmost political sensibility and skill were required, Hutchinson too often was tone-deaf. Sam Adams and the other radicals blamed him for, well, pretty much everything. In turn, Lord North, the prime minister, blamed him for the deteriorating political situation in Massachusetts, which led to the appointment of General Gage. In another ironic twist, Gage eventually was removed from his offices, because the British thought him to be too lenient and sympathetic to the colonials.

The Massachusetts Government Act of May 20, 1774, altered the governing charter of Massachusetts Bay. Henceforth, the governor would appoint the council, which was previously elected by the colonial assembly. He also would appoint all lower court judges and nominate judges of the superior courts. Further, no town could call a meeting of its council more than once per year without the governor’s consent. In effect, this put both the judicial and legislative functions under more direct control of Gage, who, as noted, was the military commander.

Finally, Parliament passed the Quartering Act of June 2, 1774. This allowed the governor to order troops to be housed in private buildings without legislative authorization. From the British perspective, this was a reasonable imposition. It was to be used if no funds were appropriated by the colonial assemblies to find other quarters for the British soldiers, who had been forced to camp out on Boston Common for a long period. Recent historical research has determined that the Act, like its predecessors, only permitted quartering of troops in unoccupied buildings.

The locals, however, were convinced that the Act allowed troops to be housed in occupied homes. To them, this was yet another outrage against their liberties and a violation of what they saw as their ancient rights of Englishmen. After all, both the English Petition of Right of 1628 and the Declaration of Rights of 1689 had listed quartering of soldiers in homes without the consent of the owners or authorization by law among the grievances against the Stuart kings, Charles I and James II, respectively. It is no surprise then that, on independence, Article XXVII of the Massachusetts constitution of 1780 declared: “In time of peace no soldier ought to be quartered in any house without the consent of the owner; and in time of war such quarters ought not to be made but by the civil magistrate, in a manner ordained by the legislature.” At the time, “ought” meant a duty owed and was analogous to “must.” The Third Amendment to the Constitution contains an almost verbatim restriction.

The formal subordination of the military to the civil power remains today. In addition to the constitutional sections that deal with such subordination, an additional provision seeks to maintain at least a separation of the two. Article I, Section 6, of the Constitution prohibits anyone “holding any office under the United States [from being] a member of either house during his continuance in office.” Although the matter is not resolved, it appears from a decision of the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, United States v. Lane, that a member of Congress could not serve as an appellate military judge. Senator Lindsey Graham was a member of the U.S. Air Force Standby Reserve, as well as a Senator, when he was appointed to serve as a military judge. The court held that a military judge was an officer of the United States, and that the “Incompatibility Clause” disqualified Graham.

However, the Lane court refused to address whether or not all service or status in the military reserve disqualified one from being a member of Congress. Presumably being an active member of the military would do so for various reasons, constitutional and practical. However, members of Congress have been officers in the reserves while simultaneously serving in their legislative capacity. Finally, the subordination principle does not apply to former military officers or to service in a non-legislative capacity, at least so long as the person is subject to removal by the president and civilian control over the military is retained.

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

Click Here for Next Essay 
Click Here for Previous Essay

Click Here To Sign up for the Daily Essay From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 
Click Here To View the Schedule of Topics From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 

 

Essay 25 – Guest Essayist: Val Crofts
BattleofLexington1775WWollen

“He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.”

Here we observe yet another Grievance on the “evidence list” that the colonists are submitting to the world to prove their case for independence. This particular grievance may be the most impactful to them, their families and their daily lives. The British military were seen as an army of occupation in the colonies in the 1770s. They were also seen as an army that was depriving the colonists of their property without their consent, which led to the legal reasons behind the Declaration of Independence. British troops were also looked upon as a risk to the physical safety of the citizens of the colonies. Frequent confrontations occurred and the relationship between the mother country and her subjects was becoming more fragile every day. The colonists believed that the dangers and future threats that came from this occupation of a standing army was one of the most tyrannical behaviors of the king.

The above portion of the Declaration shows us the point in the document where this grievance, listed as a fact to a “candid world” described how King George III had held a military presence in a peaceful land and had the goal of terrorizing and harassing the people there. As a result of this military action and the other grievances stated in the Declaration, the colonies were moved to declare their independence in July of 1776. How did they arrive at this particular grievance? The colonists believed that the King acted as a tyrant by using his military forces to control, intimidate and dominate them, as well as their families, their livelihoods and their way of life. They also felt that he had unleashed his army on them, a defenseless people, with no army of their own to defend themselves.

The British had established a military presence in the 13 colonies since their inception in the 1600s. Military conflicts were a way of life in the colonies and they included wars with Native-Americans, the Dutch, Spain and France. The largest number of British troops were sent to the colonies during the French and Indian War in the 1750s and 60s. As a result of that conflict, Britain was plunged into tremendous debt and arrived at the conclusion that the colonies, who lived under the protection of the greatest military force on the planet, should pay for that protection from outside invasions and threats from Native Americans. That payment would come in the form of several Acts of Parliament resulting in taxation, bringing increased revenue to the British empire. When the colonists rebelled against these Acts and displayed behavior that King George III felt was dangerous and treasonous, he took action and sent more troops to the colonies to quiet the dissention. It did not work.

There were approximately 45,000 men in the British army in 1763. That number was roughly 48,000 at the start of the American Revolution in 1775. The army needed to be paid, fed and housed within the colonies and the British government took steps to do so through legislation such as the two Quartering Acts.

The first Quartering Act was created in 1765 as a way to make the American colonists pay for the housing and care of British soldiers. Britain felt that if their soldiers were going to be in the colonies protecting the citizens there, then the colonies should pay for it. The relationship between the soldiers and colonists was terrible in places like Boston, where soldiers had been brought in to enforce the laws. In some colonies that bordered the frontier, the protection of the British was received much more appreciatively, although the taxes and policies were still not. The tension-filled areas created great anger towards each other as a result. The Boston Massacre in 1770 was a direct result of this and led to the death of five colonists, which led to further anger and distrust on both sides. Tragically, British troops that were sent to keep the colonies in line and to protect them would eventually end up fighting a war here against them.

The second Quartering Act was part of the Coercive (Intolerable) Acts, passed in 1774 by King George III in response to the Boston Tea Party in 1773. The king was furious with the Tea Party participants and with the amount of money England lost because of it (over 1 million dollars in today’s currency). He wanted to make Boston pay for their actions and he wanted more soldiers in Boston to monitor the situation there. Eventually, the overflow of British soldiers led to a housing shortage for them. This Quartering Act stated that British soldiers could be housed in unoccupied buildings, barns, or “other buildings” that may be needed to house them. This Act was personal to the colonists in Boston, as well as all 13 colonies. It dealt with where to place British soldiers in the colonies among the people living there. Colonists did not want the British in their towns and definitely did not want British soldiers living with them. The anger at British troops being housed among the people of the colonies was so strong that Thomas Jefferson decided to include it in the list of grievances against King George III in the Declaration of Independence.

The increased aggression continued to mount on both sides throughout the 1770s and culminated in the “shot heard ‘round the World” on Lexington Green in April of 1775. From then until July of 1776, additional major battles were fought, including Bunker Hill and the Battle of Quebec. Hundreds of patriots had already died on battlefields in the 15 months leading up to the Declaration of Independence, as the “times of peace” had transitioned into times of war.

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

 

Click Here for Next Essay
Click Here for Previous Essay

Click Here To Sign up for the Daily Essay From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 
Click Here To View the Schedule of Topics From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 

 

 

Essay 24 - Guest Essayist: Scot Faulkner

“He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.”

This Grievance in the Declaration of Independence focuses on the most visible aspect of “taxation without representation,” which was foundational to the American Revolution.

England was deep in debt after prevailing in the first worldwide war of the modern era. The Seven Years War (1756-1763) engaged all European countries, big and small, in a struggle for territorial and political dominance of the European Continent. It rapidly spread to battling over control of Colonies and trade routes throughout Africa, Asia, the Americas, and the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans.

What was known as the “French and Indian War” in North America was just a small part of this larger world war.

After the British victory, British Prime Minister, Lord Grenville (1763-1765), desperately sought ways to pay off the crippling war debt. Grenville chose to ignore the fact that American Colonists paid, fought, and died to defeat France in North America. Instead, he promoted the concept that the beneficiaries of the war (American Colonists) should pay for it. He also asserted that American Colonists should pay for retaining twenty battalions of British soldiers that remained to pacify the people conquered in the former French territories.

Grenville’s first step was to enforce existing customs duties. Many British Customs officials managed collections through intermediaries while remaining in England. Grenville forced them to relocate to America as part of his general crack down on smuggling, lax enforcement, and spotty revenue collection. Expanded numbers of Customs Officers became more aggressive in using search warrants, called “writs of assistance,” to track down smuggled goods. Warehouses were seized and ships were captured to bolster Royal revenue collection. Royal Customs officials became a permanent and pervasive presence in Colonial seaports along the Atlantic coast.

Benjamin Franklin cautioned that “what England gained from taxes would be lost in trade.” A post-War economic recession proved him prophetic.

The shortfall in Customs revenue led to the Stamp Act of 1765, the first internal tax levied directly on American Colonists by the British Parliament. Prior to the Stamp Act, taxes were only levied by local government through their elected officials. Now a government, 3,500 miles away, was asserting control, without the knowledge, approval, or oversight of the Colonists.

The Stamp Act imposed a tax on all paper documents in the Colonies. This included legal documents, playing cards, newspapers, and land titles. Stamps had to be purchased with British sterling, rather than local paper currency, causing additional economic hardship. Proof of payment required affixing a Royal Stamp on documents, thus the name.

The February 1765 Parliament debate on the Stamp Tax reveals the growing chasm between King George III and his proponents versus the American Colonists:

Prime Minister Grenville:

“and now will these Americans, children planted by our care, nourished up by our indulgence until they are grown to a degree of strength and opulence, and protected by our arms, will they grudge to contribute their mite to relieve us from heavy weight of the burden which we lie under?”

Colonel Isaac Barré [Member of Parliament and friend of Benjamin Franklin] responded:

“They planted by your care? No! Your oppression planted ‘em in America. They fled from your tyranny to a then uncultivated and unhospitable country where they exposed themselves to almost all the hardships to which human nature is liable…

“They nourished by your indulgence? They grew by your neglect of ‘em. As soon as you began to care about ‘em, that care was exercised in sending persons to rule over ’em, in one department and another, who were perhaps the deputies of deputies to some member of this house, sent to spy out their liberty, to misrepresent their actions and to prey upon ’em; men whose behavior on many occasions has caused the blood of those sons of liberty to recoil within them….

“They protected by your arms? They have nobly taken up arms in your defense, have exerted a valor amidst their constant and laborious industry for the defense of a country whose frontier while drenched in blood, its interior parts have yielded all its little savings to your emolument …. The people I believe are as truly loyal as any subjects the King has, but a people jealous of their liberties, and who will vindicate them if ever they should be violated.”

 

Barré’s reference to the “sons of liberty” became the moniker for the Boston Patriots for years to come.

Parliament passed the Stamp Act on March 22, 1765. Hundreds of Royal commissioned “Stamp Agents” arrived in major towns across the American Colonies. They were met with riots and attacks. In October 1765, representatives from nine of the Colonies met at the City Hall in New York City to coordinate opposition, a forerunner to the Continental Congresses. In the face of mounting opposition, and concerns for the safety of Royal Tax officials, the Parliament repealed the Stamp Act on February 22, 1766.

While seeming to address Colonial concerns, Parliament linked repealing the Stamp Act to passage of the Declaratory Act. This Act affirmed Parliament’s authority to pass any Colonial legislation it saw fit, without input, notice, or representation. The Declaratory Act galvanized Colonial concerns about “taxation without representation,” first raised with the Stamp Act.

Charles Townshend (August 1766-September 1767) became Prime Minister and developed additional imperatives for taxing the Colonies. It was no longer just about paying war debt; it was about consolidating Imperial power.

Raising taxes, and trade-based duties and fees, would provide enough money for the British Crown to “reimagine” Colonial administration by directly paying Colonial governors, judges, and other senior officials. American-based officials would now owe their livelihood directly to King George III instead of the Colonists and Colonial assemblies. By “liberating” royal officials from their financial dependence on American legislatures, Townshend hoped to eliminate the most tangible obstacle preventing regular enforcement of parliamentary laws and royal directives.

Higher revenue from the American Colonies was also to provide enough funds for Townsend to reduce the British Land Tax, consolidating his Party’s support in future elections.

The “Townshend Acts” created new taxes on numerous consumer goods. The Acts authorized and funded the hiring of the much referenced, “multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.” Legions of Royal tax collectors and Customs Officers arrived from England to establish new or expanded operations in every major Colonial trading center.

Townshend died before his initiatives swept through the Colonies. Widespread opposition and protests led to the repeal of most taxes in April 1770. The controversial tax on tea remained.

The Tea Tax, and the “swarms of Officers,” remained daily reminders of oppression by unaccountable Royal officials. Arthur Lee, serving as an observer for Massachusetts before the British Parliament, mused whether any Member of Parliament actually:

“know us, or we him? No! Is he bound in duty and interest to preserve our liberty and property? No! Is he acquainted with our circumstances, situation, wants, etc.? No! What then are we to expect from him? Nothing but taxes without end!”

The ever-expanding and intrusive presence of tax collectors and customs officers merited several mentions in the “Petition to the King” as part of the documents issued by the First Continental Congress in 1774, and became one of the grievances within the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

Scot Faulkner is Vice President of the George Washington Institute of Living Ethics at Shepherd University. He was the Chief Administrative Officer of the U.S. House of Representatives. Earlier, he served on the White House staff. Faulkner provides political commentary for ABC News Australia, Newsmax, and CitizenOversight. He earned a Master’s in Public Administration from American University, and a BA in Government & History from Lawrence University, with studies in comparative government at the London School of Economics and Georgetown University.


Podcast by Maureen Quinn

 

Click Here for Next Essay
Click Here for Previous Essay
Click Here To Sign up for the Daily Essay From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 
Click Here To View the Schedule of Topics From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 

 

Essay 23 - Guest Essayist: Steven H. Aden

“He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.”

The late U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist declared that judicial independence is the “crown jewel” of America’s constitutional system. Given the paramount value the Founders placed on the right to a jury trial, this seems counterintuitive. Surely judges can’t make decisions “independently” from those made by juries, in most cases. (In criminal cases, juries have virtually unlimited authority to acquit; in civil cases, however, their decisions are subject to the judge’s review and may be set aside if they are patently unreasonable.) From whom should judges be independent, and to whose authority should they be accountable?

For the Colonists of the Revolutionary period, the answer was plain and simple: judges should be accountable to the people they serve, acting through their own legislatures, and not to the King alone. The Indictment, presented by the Declaration of Independence, charged that King George “[H]as made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.”

The experience of Massachusetts was still fresh in the minds of the Founders. An act of Parliament in 1773 had decreed that the salaries of judges would be paid by the King at his discretion, and forbidden them to receive salaries from the colony’s legislature. John Adams, a Bostonian and later contributor to the Declaration and America’s second president, observed, “This as the Judges Commissions were during pleasure made them entirely dependent on the Crown for Bread [as] well as office.” Adams explained:

It was by all Agreed, As the [Royal] Governor was entirely dependent on the Crown, and the [colonial] Council in danger of becoming so if the Judges were made so too, the Liberties of the Country would be totally lost, and every Man at the Mercy of a few Slaves of the Governor.

After the founding of the Republic, the focus shifted to the question of the new federal judiciary under Article III of the Constitution. The perceived danger of a centralized federal court system was a rallying point for anti-Federalists who opposed the Constitution of 1787, so much so that Alexander Hamilton famously assured the new states that the judiciary would be “the least dangerous” branch, as it had no army or police force to impose its will, nor the power over the treasury. The question of accountability would be solved in two ways: First, Sec. 1 of Article III provided that “[t]he judicial Power of the United States[] shall be vested in one [S]upreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish,” thereby making all federal courts below the Supreme Court accountable to the people through their Congress. Further, Sec. 1 said, all federal judges “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.” For Hamilton, protecting the salaries of federal judges was as critical as protecting their jobs: “In the general course of human nature, a power over a man’s subsistence amounts to a power over his will,” he cautioned. So, for the Framers of the Constitution, the balance between independence and accountability in the federal judicial system would be struck by appointing judges with lifetime tenure and salary security, who could only be removed by impeachment, like the president.

In the states, this balance has been sought in different ways. Although some states have a similar system of appointment and job security, a majority of states select at least higher-level judges by popular ballot, although some mandate that elections be held on a non-partisan basis. This form of popular selection has given rise to its own set of problems stemming from judges’ need to represent majoritarian views in order to be elected by a popular vote. In some states, a compromise approach has been adopted, by which judges are initially appointed by the governor from a list of candidates drawn up by an independent “judicial selection commission” and then subjected to a popular “retention election” some years into their tenure.

In 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court was asked to decide if the federal constitution has anything to say about the fundamental fairness of state judicial elections. One of the largest coal companies in America, Massey Coal Co. of West Virginia, was facing a jury award against it for fraud in the amount of 50 million dollars. One of the justices of the West Virginia Supreme Court had refused to recuse himself from hearing Massey Coal’s appeal, even though he had received election campaign contributions amounting to $3 million from the Chairman of the Board of Massey Coal. The supreme court of West Virginia twice heard the appeal, and twice reversed the judgment against Massey Coal by a vote of 3-2. The second time, the justice who received Massey Coal’s largesse rejected the results of a public opinion poll that showed that over two-thirds of West Virginians doubted his ability to be fair and impartial in the case.

The U.S. Supreme Court concluded (albeit by a split 5-4 vote) that the federal constitution’s guarantee of due process of law required recusal under the circumstances. Echoing the Founders in the Declaration, and the Framers of the Constitution, the Supreme Court’s majority observed, “It is axiomatic that ‘[a] fair trial in a fair tribunal is a basic requirement of due process….’ Under our precedents there are objective standards that require recusal when ‘the probability of actual bias on the part of the judge or decisionmaker is too high to be constitutionally tolerable.’”

So the federal guarantee of due process sets constitutional limits on the judicial selection systems of the sovereign states, the Court concluded. Massey Coal was a Rubicon so wide that many constitutional scholars and judges believe it should never have been crossed. But the lesson Massey Coal teaches is central to the federal system of dual sovereignty: that while states are not bound to emulate the federal judiciary’s means of calibrating judicial independence and accountability, whatever the means they choose to employ have to ensure the constitutional right to due process in all cases.

Steven H. Aden serves as Chief Legal Officer & General Counsel at Americans United for Life. Aden joined Americans United for Life in August 2017, overseeing all legal operations of America’s most effective pro-life organization. Aden is a highly experienced litigator, having appeared in court against Planned Parenthood and the abortion industry dozens of times and appointed by the attorneys general of six states to defend pro-life laws. A prolific author and analyst on sanctity of life issues and constitutional jurisprudence, Aden is admitted to the bars of the District of Columbia, Virginia, and Hawaii (inactive), and is a member of the bars of the U.S. Supreme Court and numerous federal circuit and district courts. He has practiced law since 1990 and earned his J.D. (cum laude) from Georgetown University Law Center and his B.A. from the University of Hawaii.


Podcast by Maureen Quinn

Click Here for Next Essay
Click Here for Previous Essay

Click Here To Sign up for the Daily Essay From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 
Click Here To View the Schedule of Topics From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 

Essay 22 - Guest Essayist: Steven H. Aden

“He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.”

Judges are powerful people. Those who preside over criminal courts have the power to fine or imprison convicted defendants, up to limits set out by statute. Depending on their roles, other judges have the power to impose fines for civil wrongs, or to decide weighty matters involving marriage and the custody of children. Lesser judicial offices include administrative judges who preside over disputes relating to compensation for injured workers, social security payments for the injured and elderly, or labor disputes between workers and employers. In light of the power they wield over our everyday lives, who can hold judges accountable? Today and tomorrow, Constituting America considers how the Framers of the Declaration of Independence answered this question, and how their answer led to a system of judicial independence that has become the envy of the world.

To King George and the English at the time of the American Revolution, the sources of authority for all Englishmen, wherever they were in a widening world, were the Crown first, and through him, the Parliament. The Declaration’s “Indictment” of King George III levied two charges that turned on the English government’s refusal to accommodate the Colonists’ demand for courts and judges that were based in the Colonies and answerable for their decisions to the people of the Colonies. First, the Signers of the Declaration charged, “He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.” In other words, the King had stymied attempts to establish Colonial courts with any real authority. Criminal trials by jury were available, but often only in England, a daunting journey. After all, it was over 3,000 miles by slow sailing vessel to London, a trip that took four to eight weeks, depending on the wind, and was always hazardous. At the end of that, would a jury comprised of Londoners truly be a “jury of one’s peers?” And what about the right to call witnesses in one’s defense – the foundation of due process? If they couldn’t make the dangerous and lengthy trip with the accused, he was out of luck.

The right to trial by jury, which had been guaranteed in the English Bill of Rights since 1689 (and, in fact, included in the Magna Carta in 1215), was the spark that lit the flame of the Revolution. The right to a jury trial had been recognized in every Colonial charter. The trial of newspaperman John Peter Zenger in 1735 for “seditious libel,” based upon publishing a column critical of the Royal Governor of New York’s decision to remove a judge from the bench, resulted in a verdict of “not guilty” from a jury of Zenger’s peers. The resulting freedom to publish even controversial opinions led to a growing clamor in the Colonies for other liberties. In response, the British Crown began to restrict both the autonomy of Colonial courts and the right to a jury trial.

Two of the “Intolerable Acts” of 1774, enacted by Parliament and approved by King George to punish the Colony of Massachusetts for the Boston Tea Party, included stringent limits on the right to a jury trial. The Massachusetts Government Act granted the royal governor the power to choose judges, and county sheriffs – also appointed by the governor – could appoint jurors, resulting in Royal control over the colony’s judicial system. The Act for the Impartial Administration of Justice granted the governor the power to move a trial to another colony or to Great Britain if he determined that a “fair” trial could not be had at that location, thereby eliminating the right to a trial by one’s peers.

Things were coming to a head. Future president John Adams thundered, “Representative government and trial by jury are the heart and lungs of liberty. Without them, we have no other fortification against being ridden like horses, fleeced like sheep, worked like cattle, and fed and clothed like swine and hounds.” And Thomas Jefferson, the principal author of the Declaration, would later write to essayist Thomas Paine (Common Sense), “I consider [trial by jury] as the only anchor ever yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution.”

In the next grievance, we’ll consider the second charge against King George and his judges: that he had made judges “dependent on his will alone” for their jobs and salaries.

Steven H. Aden serves as Chief Legal Officer & General Counsel at Americans United for Life. Aden joined Americans United for Life in August 2017, overseeing all legal operations of America’s most effective pro-life organization. Aden is a highly experienced litigator, having appeared in court against Planned Parenthood and the abortion industry dozens of times and appointed by the attorneys general of six states to defend pro-life laws. A prolific author and analyst on sanctity of life issues and constitutional jurisprudence, Aden is admitted to the bars of the District of Columbia, Virginia, and Hawaii (inactive), and is a member of the bars of the U.S. Supreme Court and numerous federal circuit and district courts. He has practiced law since 1990 and earned his J.D. (cum laude) from Georgetown University Law Center and his B.A. from the University of Hawaii.


Podcast by Maureen Quinn

Click Here for Next Essay
Click Here for Previous Essay

Click Here To Sign up for the Daily Essay From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 
Click Here To View the Schedule of Topics From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 

 

 

Essay 21 - Guest Essayist: Scot Faulkner

“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.”

In December 1773, King George III (reigned 1760-1820) suspended the “Plantation” or “Immigration” Act of 1740. His intent was to strike at the heart of the economic engine fueling economic independence among the American colonies. His other goal was to extinguish momentum for independent thought and religious expression. These actions formed the basis for this grievance in the Declaration of Independence.

George II (reigned 1727-1760) was the last foreign-born King of England. He supported expansive and permissive immigration to the American Colonies. In his world view, expanding population among the colonies generated demand for British goods. Skilled immigrants would increase the productivity and profitability of colonial agriculture, bringing healthy returns among Royal Charter holders and their investors.

Just as important, the attraction of America as a land of opportunity and tolerance served as a “safety valve” for removing “free thinking” or “nonconformist” Protestants, and restive Scots and Irish, from the “home country” through legally approved immigration. Church of England supporters and Royalists were more than happy to be rid of them after nearly 200 years of strife.

England also benefited from helping oppressed minorities, such as the Huguenots (French Protestants), leave Europe. It allowed England to gain the “moral high ground” in the geopolitical power struggles of the time. Bringing Scandinavian and German peoples to America forged important alliances while enriching the economic and cultural mix of the Colonies.

On June 1, 1740, the “Plantation” or “Immigration” Act of 1740 went into effect to streamline immigration and naturalization. It allowed any Protestant alien residing in any of their American colonies for seven years, without being absent from that colony for more than two months, to be deemed “his Majesty’s natural-born subjects of this Kingdom.” Over the course of several years, individual Colonies began to directly administer immigration and citizenship. Many colonies, led by Pennsylvania, expanded coverage to include Catholics and Jews.

Benjamin Franklin was an eloquent supporter of immigration:

Strangers are welcome because there is room enough for them all, and therefore the old Inhabitants are not jealous of them; the Laws protect them sufficiently so that they have no need of the Patronage of great Men; and everyone will enjoy securely the Profits of his Industry…

These new settlers to America create a growing demand for our merchandise, to the greater employment of our manufacturers…

Multitudes of poor People from England, Ireland, Scotland and Germany, have by this means in a few Years become wealthy Farmers. They create a continual demand for more Artisans of all the necessary and useful kinds, to supply those cultivators of the earth with houses, and with furniture & utensils of the grosser sorts which cannot so well be brought from Europe. Tolerably good Workmen in any of those mechanic arts, are sure to find employ, and to be well paid for their work, there being no restraints preventing strangers from exercising any art they understand, nor any permission necessary.”

These free-wheeling immigration and citizenship policies came to an abrupt end when George III became King.

The King’s Advisors raised concerns that non-English immigrants had little connection or loyalty to the “Mother Country” or its ruler. In this world view, the expanding and diversifying colonial population was creating an independent challenge to the economic and political power of England.

King George sent secret agents to America to assess the condition and “state-of-mind” of the colonists. “A large influx of liberty-loving German emigrants was observed, and the King was advised to discourage these immigrations.”

Based upon these reports and recommendations, George III began to delay and obstruct new migration from England and other parts of Europe. In his Royal Proclamation of 1763, he prevented settlement west of the Appalachians, hoping to limit further agricultural growth. This angered those wanting to settle in the west, and ignited opposition from those with significant investments in western real estate.

King George, and his Prime Minister, Lord North, took additional actions to end immigration, naturalization, and expansion of the Colonial economy. In December 1773, they forbid Colonial naturalization of aliens, under any conditions. A ban on royal land grants was finalized in February 1774.

England’s far reaching assault on colonial naturalization laws and suspending the “Plantation Act” was considered intolerable, and therefore, was included in the grievances listed in the Declaration of Independence.

Fourteen years later, the “Plantation Act of 1740″ would be the model for the “Naturalization Act of 1790,” the first immigration policy of the new nation.

Scot Faulkner is Vice President of the George Washington Institute of Living Ethics at Shepherd University. He was the Chief Administrative Officer of the U.S. House of Representatives. Earlier, he served on the White House staff. Faulkner provides political commentary for ABC News Australia, Newsmax, and CitizenOversight. He earned a Master’s in Public Administration from American University, and a BA in Government & History from Lawrence University, with studies in comparative government at the London School of Economics and Georgetown University.

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

Click Here For Next Essay
Click Here for Previous Essay

Click Here To Sign up for the Daily Essay From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 
Click Here To View the Schedule of Topics From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 

 

Essay 20 - Guest Essayist: Joerg Knipprath

“He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.”

When Thomas Jefferson accused George III, in the Declaration of Independence, of having refused for a long time to permit elections for previously-dissolved colonial legislatures, he had several examples for reference. As early as 1768, Governor Sir Francis Bernard dissolved the Massachusetts assembly on the order of Lord Hillsborough, the Secretary of State for the Colonies, after the assembly had circulated a letter to the other colonial assemblies about the constitutional defects of the Townshend Revenue Acts. This effectively left Boston without a government for a year.

A year before, in 1767, the British government had ordered the New York assembly suspended when it refused to comply with the Quartering Act of 1765. As a result, New York was without a government for most of 1767 to 1769, until an election in the fall of 1769 produced a more pliant assembly.

In October, 1774, after Parliament had adopted the Massachusetts Government Act earlier that year, General Thomas Gage, the governor, dissolved the colony’s assembly. The Act had several parts that struck against the colony’s self-government. It repealed the Massachusetts Bay Charter of 1691, made the hitherto elected council appointive by the governor, and prohibited town meetings more than once per year unless the governor consented. The Act also made other provincial offices, including many judgeships, appointive rather than elective, and those officers could be removed at any time by the governor. To add insult to injury, the first governor selected, General Gage, was also the military commander. This move placed the military authorities in charge of civil government.

From the British perspective, the Act was necessary to curb the radical tendencies of this most radical province. Unfortunately for the British, their political tactics failed in Massachusetts and likely hurt their overall strategy of both pacifying the colonies and advancing their new model of imperial administration. Instead, the Americans simply circumvented the restrictions by electing an ultra vires provincial congress, which met at Concord, elected John Hancock president, organized an administration, voted taxes, collected arms, drilled a militia, and operated the courts. This assemblage governed Massachusetts until the state’s constitution of 1780 was approved. The colony effectively was independent, and the royal governor’s authority was restricted to the city of Boston.

Similar events transpired in other colonies. In Virginia, the royal governor dissolved the House of Burgesses in May, 1774. Led by Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson, a rump portion of that assembly called for elections to a provincial congress to meet in Williamsburg on August 1. By the end of 1774, all colonies except Georgia, Pennsylvania and New York had followed suit. Those three fell in line the following year. So, while Jefferson’s charge in the Declaration of Independence was historically correct, the dissolutions of colonial assemblies about which he complained also quickly became irrelevant as a matter of practical government. If anything, those actions by the king and Parliament did not impede self-government, they made it more profound.

The English king long had the power to prorogue (that is, “suspend”) or dissolve Parliament and rule by decree. Charles I had used it to prevent Parliament from meeting for years. As the constitutional position of Parliament strengthened against the king in the 17th and 18th centuries, that power had to be used judiciously, if at all. One of the political missteps by James II that led to the Glorious Revolution of 1688 was his dissolution of Parliament after that body had refused to repeal the pro-Protestant Test Acts.

For the Americans, this authority to prorogue or dissolve legislative bodies and to delay elections was a threat to the independence of their assemblies, the principal protectors of liberty, and distorted the emerging conception of a functional separation of powers. Thus, Article X of the Virginia constitution of 1776, prohibited the governor from proroguing or dissolving the legislature. The Massachusetts constitution of 1780 carefully limited these powers to specified circumstances. The New York constitution was similar. The U.S. Constitution of 1787 goes further and restricts the president to only a limited power to adjourn Congress, but no power to prorogue or dissolve that body.

Jefferson’s observation that “the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the people at large for their exercise …” makes two points. First, it postulates that lawmaking, that is, the power to make rules that govern human actions, always exists. That power might be in Parliament, in the assemblies, the king, or the people as a whole. When the king declared the colonies in rebellion on August 23, 1775; when Parliament enacted the Prohibitory Act on December 22, 1775, which declared the colonies outside British protection, blockaded colonial ports, and made all colonial vessels lawful prizes subject to capture; and when the local assemblies were dissolved by the British authorities, the existing constitutional system had been abandoned. The actions of the Continental Congress and of the several former colonies separately in declaring independence and taking control of their fate by setting up new constitutional arrangements, was the inevitable result. After all, this was no different, in the eyes of Americans, than Parliament’s own actions in 1688-89 during the Glorious Revolution. Then, James II had abandoned the throne, which allowed Parliament to assume basic constitutional powers and create a new political order.

Second, the observation reflects Jefferson’s reading of John Locke and other social contract theorists. The British government’s abandonment of its constitutional relationship with the colonies had breached the contract on which the political commonwealth was based. Thus, the people were placed in a new “pre-political” condition. In this stage, each individual was sovereign over his or her own affairs. The legislative power had not been annihilated, but rested within each individual for himself or herself. As anticipated by the social contract theorists and reflected in the Declaration of Independence itself, these individuals would establish new forms of government in order better to secure their God-given inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. By the consent of the governed, the legislative power would then be exercised by the people collectively as in a democracy, or, more likely, by an assembly elected by the people as in a republic.

That the British actions, especially those of King George, amounted to a breach of contract was bolstered by the function of royal charters in the constitutional status and political operation of the colonies. Those charters gave certain powers of self-government to the Americans through their elected assemblies and established the constitutional rights and obligations of all parties, including the king. Moreover, the general neglect of colonial affairs by the government in London over more than a century had accreted various political powers to the local assemblies through repeated practice that reflected a gradual evolution of constitutional custom. By ignoring those arrangements or, more blatantly, revoking them, as had happened in 1774 to Massachusetts Bay’s Charter of 1691, the king and Parliament had breached those contracts. In turn, the Americans were relieved of further obligations to abide by those arrangements, although, curiously, Connecticut and Rhode Island continued to use their royal charters, with appropriate modifications, as their state constitutions into the 19th century.

Jefferson’s complaint that “the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within,” seems disingenuous, coming from the American side. After all, the “convulsions within” typically were the products of provocateurs such as the Sons of Liberty or of colonial mobs incited by the rhetoric and actions of those provocateurs. The Boston Tea Party, the Boston Massacre, the Gaspee affair, and assorted other riots and acts of sabotage and unadulterated insurrection were deliberate actions by the Americans. The British responses, often ham-handed, might inflame tensions further, but they were reactive.

Nevertheless, Jefferson had a point. The principal purpose of government is to provide security against external and internal threats to the peace of the community. Whatever merit there is in today’s common perception that government is an indulgent parent that provides food, shelter and health care for all, if a government fails to fulfill the classic obligation of providing security, it will fall. In the Lockean social contract formulation, government is formed to secure one’s rights in one’s person and estate better than would exist otherwise. In Thomas Hobbes’s more pessimistic view of the human condition, security by any means is the be-all and end-all of government. Under either conception, failure to carry out that obligation is a breach of the social contract.

That same understanding of the core purpose of government is found in the Constitution. As John Jay wrote in The Federalist No. 3,

“Among the many objects to which a wise and free people find it necessary to draw their attention, that of providing for their safety seems to be the first….At present I mean only to consider it as it respects security for the preservation of peace and tranquillity, as well against dangers, from foreign arms and influence, as against dangers arising from domestic causes.” [Emphasis in the original.]

Indeed, the adoption of the Constitution itself, in a manner contrary to the Articles of Confederation, was defended by James Madison in The Federalist No. 43 in language reminiscent of the Declaration of Independence,

“by recurring to the absolute necessity of the case; to the great principle of self-preservation; to the transcendent law of nature and of nature’s God, which declares that the safety and happiness of society, are the objects to which all political institutions aim, and to which all such institutions must be sacrificed.”

The Constitution itself grants broad war powers to the president and Congress, along with the power of Congress of “calling forth the militia to execute the laws of the union, suppress insurrections and repel invasions.” The president, as commander in chief of the armed forces, as well as of the militia when called into service of the United States, is also authorized to protect the security of the people from foreign invasion and domestic causes. As needed, courts have interpreted those powers expansively. True, Americans pay at least lip service to the idea that even those governmental powers are limited in some way by the Constitution. Courts have held that there also does not exist a formally distinct “Emergency” or “War” Constitution. Reality, however, is harsher. Jefferson himself, as well as Abraham Lincoln, and any number of politicians and judges have consistently recognized the paramount principle of self-preservation and security of the society, to which, in the end, all other considerations will be subordinated. This calculation is pithily expressed in the aphorism, “The Constitution is not a suicide pact.”

The British government failed to carry out that fundamental obligation of assuring peace and domestic tranquillity, either by resolute military action or, preferably, by deft political maneuvering to adjust the constitutional order to accommodate the major American grievances and halt the drift towards full separation. It does not matter which side gets the credit or blame for specific events or particular political steps. The constituted government has legitimacy to govern only if it satisfies the reason for which it is formed. Failure to do so forfeits that government’s legitimacy, and the people will seek to establish another by any means available to them, even a replacement of the entire constitutional order by revolution.

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.

Click Here for Next Essay
Click Here for Previous Essay

Click Here To Sign up for the Daily Essay From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 
Click Here To View the Schedule of Topics From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 

 

Essay 19 - Guest Essayist: Tony Williams
Independence Hall, Philadelphia

“He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.”

In the Declaration of Independence, the Second Continental Congress included a list of grievances against the king. The colonists complained that they had suffered “repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States.” One of the complaints was that the king had fundamentally violated the right of the colonists to government by the consent of the governed. They asserted specifically that George III had “dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.”

The Declaration of Independence established free government in a natural rights republic based upon equality. From that equality flowed the idea that all members of the political regime equally gave their consent to a representative government. The Declaration stated 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 American republican government was rooted upon a continuing consent of the sovereign people through their representatives in legislatures.

The American colonists consistently appealed to the principle of consensual government in the decade of resistance before the Declaration of Independence. The main argument of the American Revolution was “no taxation without representation.” The colonists were willing to pay taxes as British subjects. During the colonial period, colonial legislatures would tax the people by their consent and then offer some of the revenue to pay royal officials in the colonies or to the crown as a “free gift.”

However, the continued attempts at taxing the colonists in the Stamp Act (1765), Townshend Acts (1767), and Tea Act (1773), among other taxes, demonstrated to the colonists that the British ministry was bent on tyranny in the colonies. The British government was burdened by a massive debt incurred in fighting the Seven Years’ War and wanted the colonists to pay for thousands of redcoats stationed in forts out west. The Americans responded by demanding in countless pamphlets, newspapers, petitions, declarations of rights, and speeches that they could only be taxed by their consent.

The American colonists also forcefully resisted the taxes and other acts of tyranny, and asserted their rights in their colonial legislatures. In late 1765, General Thomas Gage stationed troops in New York and requested that New Yorkers comply with the Quartering Act by provisioning the troops. When the assembly refused several times over the next year, Parliament responded by passing the Suspension Act that suspended the New York legislature. Because the legislature would not submit to violations of property rights by a standing army in time of peace, the people were stripped of their right of self-government.

In 1767, the Townshend Acts introduced a series of taxes on the colonists for various goods including glass, lead, paint, paper, and tea. In February 1768, the Massachusetts assembly adopted Samuel Adams’ proposal denouncing the taxes. It stated that the taxes were “infringements of their natural and constitutional rights” because the colonists did not give their consent. This Massachusetts Circular Letter appealed to other colonies to “harmonize with each other” in protesting the taxes. In London, the ministry was outraged by what it considered sedition and instructed Governor Francis Bernard to coerce the assembly to revoke the letter. When the assembly refused, Bernard suspended the legislature.

In Virginia, the House of Burgesses passed resolutions on May 16 that stated the “sole right of imposing taxes on the inhabitants of this his Majesty’s colony and dominion of Virginia, is now, and ever hath been, legally and constitutionally vested in the House of Burgesses.” The new royal governor, Lord Botetourt, responded, “I have heard of your resolves, and augur ill of their effect. You have made it my duty to dissolve you; and you are dissolved accordingly.”

The Burgesses marched down the street a short distance to the upper room of Raleigh Tavern where the people’s representatives appointed a committee to draw up a nonimportation agreement. They agreed to the boycott, which was drafted by George Mason with George Washington’s help, on the following day. For Washington, self-government was a moral principle and must be defended. “That no man should scruple, or hesitate a moment to use arms in defense of so valuable a blessing, on which all the good and evil of life depends.”

Perhaps the most infamous dissolution of a colonial legislature was introduced by the Coercive Acts which Parliament passed in 1774 to punish Massachusetts for the Boston Tea Party. The Massachusetts Government Act wiped out town meetings and altered the Massachusetts charter and government to place it under royal control. This “Intolerable Act” was a gross violation of colonial self-government.

True to form, Virginia royal governor, Lord Dunmore then dissolved the House of Burgesses for resolving to hold a Day of Fasting and Prayer in support of Boston on June 1 to “give us one heart and one mind to firmly oppose, by all just and proper means, every injury to American rights.” The Burgesses again marched to Raleigh Tavern and agreed to boycott British goods. The indefatigable colonists then answered a Massachusetts call for the people’s representatives to assemble in Philadelphia for a Continental Congress to deliberate on “wise and proper measures” to preserve self-government.

In Federalist #39, James Madison described the republican principle of consent: “We may define a republic to be, or at least may bestow that name on, a government which derives all its powers directly or indirectly from the great body of the people, and is administered by persons holding their offices during pleasure for a limited period.” Madison’s quote represents the source of American resistance to British violations of colonial representative self-government and why the Declaration of Independence made its charge against George III.


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

Click Here for Next Essay
Click Here for Previous Essay
Click Here To Sign up for the Daily Essay From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 
Click Here To View the Schedule of Topics From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 

 

Essay 18 - Guest Essayist: Scot Faulkner
Carpenter's Hall In Old City Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

“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.”

Public meetings and public records have been fundamental to representative government since its inception. They are the basis for resolving differences, forging agreements, and holding public officials accountable. They are integral to a free society.

It is not surprising that the British Crown’s assault on these fundamentals is among the top Grievances listed in the Declaration of Independence.

The escalating protests over onerous and draconian British Colonial policies and taxes crested with the “Boston Tea Party” on December 16, 1773. Sons of Liberty activists dumped over a million dollars (in 21st Century value) of tea into Boston Harbor.

Lord North, the British Prime Minister (1770-1790), retaliated with harsh measures to suppress dissent and disrupt the culture of self-government, which he viewed as the root cause of the chaos.

On May 2, 1774, North declared Massachusetts was “in a distempered state of disturbance and opposition to the laws of the mother country.”

On May 20, 1774, Parliament passed the Massachusetts Government Act, which nullified the Massachusetts Charter of 1691. Under the Act, Royal Governor Thomas Gage dissolved the Massachusetts provincial assembly. He then required them to meet in Salem, citing Boston as “unsafe.”

The move to Salem had the intended effect of forcing Massachusetts’ legislators to travel and find food and lodging in a small town of 1,600 instead of among the 16,000 population of Boston. The infrastructure for supporting legislative operations were nonexistent (stenographers, printers, legal offices, media, and messengers). Worse, there was no provision for moving any of the colony’s official records to Salem. Any research or reference entailed a day’s travel each way from Salem to Boston and back again. It achieved the British goal of “fatiguing them [legislators] into compliance with his measures.”

Similar actions were taken against the elected assemblies in Virginia and North Carolina. North Carolina’s legislature was forced from their colonial capital of Brunswick to meet in New Bern. In Virginia, Royal Governor, Lord Dunmore, dissolved the House of Burgesses and refused to call them back into session. In defiance of the Governor, the colonial representatives reconvened at the Raleigh Tavern in Williamsburg.

Patrick Henry’s famous “Give me liberty, or give me death!” speech was presented during another banned session held at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Richmond (March 23, 1775).

The dislocation and dissolution of these Colonial Legislatures led to the same disruption and “discomfort” experienced by Massachusetts’ elected representatives. The goal of punishing opposition and suppressing dissent was achieved by forcing elected officials into “places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records.” It certainly interfered with the colony’s public business and prevented officials from “access to information necessary to conduct it.” Eventually, all Colonial Governors dissolved their legislatures.

The British Parliament also moved to eradicate local town meetings because, “a great abuse has been made of the power of calling them, and the inhabitants have, contrary to the design of their institution, been used to treat upon matters of the most general concerns, and to pass dangerous and unwarrantable resolves.”  Ongoing local meetings were replaced by annual meetings only called with the Colonial Governor’s permission, or not at all.

A series of five punitive acts were passed by Parliament intended to restrict public discourse and punish opponents. It was England’s hope the “Intolerable Acts” would intimidate rebellious Colonists into submission. The “Acts” ignited a firestorm of outrage throughout Colonial America. More importantly, it generated a unity of purpose and inspired a willingness for collective action among leaders in the previously fragmented American colonies.

The First Continental Congress met in the Carpenters Hall in Philadelphia from September 5 – October 26, 1774. All colonies, except Georgia, were represented. They issued the “Declaration of Rights and Grievances” which established a philosophy of government, and list of contentious issues, that would be echoed in the Declaration of Independence less than two years later.

The delegates created the “Continental Association,” which invoked non-importation, non-consumption of British goods, and non-exportation of American goods to England until the “Intolerable Acts” were rescinded.

King George and Lord North responded with a major show of force in Boston. As British troops became increasingly visible on the city’s streets, Governor Gage created a network of informants to identify and arrest dissidents.

Alerted to weapons being stockpiled in Lexington, Gage launched the fateful sortie that led to the “shot heard around the world.”

Scot Faulkner is Vice President of the George Washington Institute of Living Ethics at Shepherd University. He was the Chief Administrative Officer of the U.S. House of Representatives. Earlier, he served on the White House staff. Faulkner provides political commentary for ABC News Australia, Newsmax, and CitizenOversight. He earned a Master’s in Public Administration from American University, and a BA in Government & History from Lawrence University, with studies in comparative government at the London School of Economics and Georgetown University.


Podcast by Maureen Quinn

 

Click Here for Next Essay
Click Here for Previous Essay

Click Here To Sign up for the Daily Essay From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 
Click Here To View the Schedule of Topics From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 

 

Essay 17 - Guest Essayist: Kyle A. Scott

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.

With the population growth in the colonies, the local assemblies and legislative bodies grew in numbers and power. In New Hampshire, New York, South Carolina and Virginia, King George restricted the size of assemblies thereby denying new communities representation in the colonial assemblies. The colonists took it as their right to have their interests represented in a legislative body. Denying this denies their right to govern.

The colonists had been allowed to decide how they would be represented in localities. By voiding this practice, there was a breach of trust that threatened the colonists’ ability to pursue the public good as they understood it. John Locke wrote, “Governments are dissolved…when the legislative, or the prince, either of them, act contrary to their trust.” In this formulation, King George effectively dissolved the government by breaching the trust of the colonists. However, while this is a valid position, it is thin justification as it would give far too much leeway to those looking to dissolve the bonds between themselves and government.

Thomas Jefferson makes clear in the Preamble that a single violation of trust is not enough to justify a move to independence. To create a thicker justification, we must look at a tangentially related issue. Within the act of denying representation is lack of adherence to the rule of law as defined by long accepted practices in accordance with the public good. Instead of adhering to the practices of expanding representation in the assemblies when population growth dictated it prudent, King George replaced common practice with his will to control. Furthermore, rather than following standard practices—such as going through parliament or the colonial governments—to change the law, he acted with singular caprice.

By expanding their assemblies to accommodate population growth, the colonies were following the procedures and processes that had been in place up to that point. King George’s actions did not follow precedent and had no recourse to the common good or legal principle, but represented his will to control. This capricious decision based on nothing more than his will to exert power is a violation of the fundamental principle of what gives government legitimacy. When the King works for his good only it is a dereliction of duty and gives those governed the right to dissolve the bonds of government.

King George has acted not in the best interests of those he governed, which is what grants him authority to rule, but has acted in his own best interests in contradistinction to the good of the colonists. This is a consistent theme which ties all twenty-seven grievances together, and which receive their philosophical justification in the Preamble. Embedded within this grievance is an assumption of coequal branches of government with divided powers which substantiates the claim that the Declaration of Independence can be viewed as a governing document—one that bridges the common law and the codified constitution traditions. An executive—in this case a King—does not have the right to alter the legislature without a law being passed by that legislature which assumes a level of equality and divided power between two branches. It’s a tacit overthrow of monarchical rule and a presumption of equality that will define James Madison’s later project.

Kyle Scott, PhD, MBA serves on the Board of Trustees for the Lone Star College System and teaches political science at the University of Houston and is an affiliated scholar with the Baylor College of Medicine’s Center for Health Policy and Medical Ethics. Kyle has authored over 70 op-eds, dozens of academic articles and five books, the most recent of which is The Limits of Politics: Making the Case for Literature in Political Analysis. He can be reached at kyle.a.scott@hotmail.com or on Twitter: @kanthonyscott.

Click Here for Next Essay
Click Here for Previous Essay
Click Here To Sign up for the Daily Essay From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 
Click Here To View the Schedule of Topics From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 

 

Essay 16 – Guest Essayist: John McCurdy

“He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them”

Everyone knows what paper money is. Even in the days of credit cards and Apple Pay, there is something reliable about a greenback, often with a founder’s face on it: George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, or if you’re really lucky, Benjamin Franklin.

But paper money wasn’t always so reliable. The federal government only started issuing the paper currency about a hundred years ago. Before that, paper money carried with it a great deal of risk. Instead of the government, local banks printed paper money. But if that bank went out of business, your money wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on!

Paper money was a big deal when men like Washington, Jefferson, and Franklin were founding the United States. With very little gold or silver in America, people needed a reliable medium of exchange to purchase goods and services.

Several colonial governments tried to address this issue. In 1690, Massachusetts issued the first paper currency in America, something it called “Tax Anticipation Notes.” These notes could be used as money. A merchant would accept them in exchange for kettles or Bibles because that merchant knew that the Colony of Massachusetts was guaranteeing the value of the notes.

When Great Britain went to war with France in the 1750s, many American colonies followed Massachusetts’s lead. They printed paper money and used this currency to pay for soldiers, weapons, and forts. As had been the case in Massachusetts, colonial merchants were happy to accept these notes because they knew that the government guaranteed their value.

But, British merchants hated colonial currency. Many British traders had extensive networks that stretched from India to Africa and the Caribbean. In such global trade, they did not trust paper money from Massachusetts or elsewhere in America. As a result, they pressured the British government to prohibit the colonies from printing their own money. In 1764, Parliament passed the Currency Act that did just that.

The Americans did not like the Currency Act because it took large amounts of money out of circulation. This was a particular problem when Parliament demanded that the colonists pay taxes to Britain. How could Americans pay their taxes with no money?

In 1765, Parliament passed a law requiring the colonists to pay for British soldiers stationed in North America. People living in New York especially hated this new law, so they came up with a compromise. What if they agreed to pay the soldiers with paper money?

In December 1769, the New York legislature voted to issue £120,000 in paper money. Of this, £2000 would go directly to the British army. The legislature then sent this plan to the New York Governor Cadwallader Colden as he had to sign the bill before it became law. Colden was unsure of what to do. The bill clearly violated the Currency Act, but if he vetoed the bill, then there would be no money for the troops. Ultimately, Governor Colden signed the bill into law, but first he attached a suspending clause.

Suspending clauses were typical in colonial America. Essentially, they stated that the law would not take effect until the king’s advisers had a chance to review the legislation and either approve it or reject it. The British government viewed this as a necessary means of keeping colonies from violating British laws like the Currency Act. The Americans, however, had a much darker view of suspending clauses. They saw them as way for the king to take away their rights by canceling laws passed by the legislatures.

That is what this passage in the Declaration of Independence refers to. Although the document does not mention paper money, the Currency Act, or New York, many people made this connection in 1776. The charge condemns King George III for not allowing the colonial governors from simply passing or vetoing laws. Also not stated is the implication that Americans would be better off choosing their own governors who could make their own judgment about bills passed by the legislature without looking to England for advice.

In the case of the New York’s paper money law, the king’s advisers allowed the colony to print its own currency. However, this money could only be used by the government to pay for things like supplying soldiers. This left a lot of Americans unhappy and moved them toward independence six years later.

Nearly two hundred and fifty years later, we have forgotten this part of the Declaration of Independence, but the issue of money continues to be important. Appropriately, it is the nation that the Declaration of Independence created that guarantees that our “Benjamins” are worth $100.

John G. McCurdy is Professor of History at Eastern Michigan University. He is the author of Quarters: The Accommodation of the British Army and the Coming of the American Revolution. He regularly teaches courses on early American history.


Podcast by Maureen Quinn

 

Click Here for Next Essay

Click Here for Previous Essay

Click Here To Sign up for the Daily Essay From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 
Click Here To View the Schedule of Topics From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 

Essay 15 – Guest Essayist: Kyle A. Scott

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

In the first grievance, we get a comprehensive view of the reason for declaring independence. While there are other grievances, and there are those that fall into a different category of grievance, the refusal to abide by law, and for the Crown to replace will for law, is the foundation of all claims justifying the move to independence.

The Preamble provides a statement about severing ties with Great Britain, a rebellious, and thus, lawless act. The Declaration of Independence was an act of treason from the view of Great Britain. To those unwedded from the historical record, or who have allegiances to the Crown, the signers were nothing more than disgruntled colonists looking to break away from Britain for no reason other than self-interest. The reason why most of us today do not view it as such is because the rebels were successful, and the U.S. has become the greatest republic on historical record. But that sort of post hoc justification is shallow and without merit. The goodness of the Declaration, and the intentions of the signers, is best found in the grievances as therein lies a justification for independence through the pursuit of the public good as achieved intentionally through the rule of law and proper governance.

There is a difference between just and unjust rebellion and the signers are making the case that their actions are just because of their commitment to the law and King George’s refusal to abide by law and accepted practice. John Locke, the obvious muse of Thomas Jefferson, wrote, “The difference betwixt a king and a tyrant to consist only in this, that one makes the laws the bounds of his power, and the good of the public, the end of government; the other makes all give way to his own will and appetite…Where-ever law ends, tyranny begins.” By positioning their actions within the context of law, those signing the Declaration position themselves within a tradition that authorized the dissolution of government when the rule of law was no longer in force.

The Declaration is usually read as a philosophical document rather than a governing document. A political theory can certainly be distilled from the Preamble and the grievances, but the grievances themselves serve as a governance structure. More than a theoretical justification for independence, or an articulation of high-minded ideals that a government ought to embody, the grievances lay out in practical terms how a government should function by providing the contrasting vision of legitimate government. An illegitimate government is ruled by an executive that refuses to assent to the laws; therefore, a legitimate government must have an executive that adheres to and enforces duly passed legislation.

Embodied with the first grievance is the political principle that laws passed by a representative body should be assented to by the executive body. Thus, the assumption is that there needs to be a separation between the legislative and executive functions of government and that those two bodies are equal. It also posits that the laws, and not the caprice or whim of those in government, ought to restrict the actions of the government. The primacy of the rule of law is clear throughout the Declaration, but the first grievance gives us a clear articulation of a separation of powers as being essential to—if not an assumed trait of—legitimate government. While itself a governing document, it does anticipate the modes and orders that would be codified in the U.S. Constitution.

Kyle Scott, PhD, MBA serves on the Board of Trustees for the Lone Star College System and teaches political science at the University of Houston and is an affiliated scholar with the Baylor College of Medicine’s Center for Health Policy and Medical Ethics. Kyle has authored over 70 op-eds, dozens of academic articles and five books, the most recent of which is The Limits of Politics: Making the Case for Literature in Political Analysis. He can be reached at kyle.a.scott@hotmail.com or on Twitter: @kanthonyscott.

 


Podcast by Maureen Quinn

 

Click Here for Next Essay

Click Here for Previous Essay

Click Here To Sign up for the Daily Essay From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor 

Click Here To View the Schedule of Topics From Our 2021 90-Day Study: Our Lives, Our Fortunes & Our Sacred Honor