Essay 75 – Guest Essayist: Val Crofts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Essay 57 – Guest Essayist: Val Crofts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

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Essay 35 – Guest Essayist: Val Crofts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

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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.

 

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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.


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Essay 14 – Guest Essayist: Val Crofts

“But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.— Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.”

The Declaration of Independence serves as the cornerstone of our nation, and the men who created this statement of natural rights did not do so lightly. Their causes to break from Great Britain were not “light and transient causes” and they wanted to make sure that the world who was going to be reading this declaration would understand the events and circumstances that brought the colonies to the point of separation in the summer of 1776.

The above portion of the Declaration shows us the point in the document where the necessary change that is required by the colonies should be independence, as well as showing how we have arrived at this point and who is to blame. The document had previously stated that we were separating from Great Britain and started to explain the justification for doing so. It also details that the colonies are not taking this usurpation lightly, but have strong reasons for doing so. The Declaration details that most people throughout history have been content to suffer under oppressive forms of government, but these men are not. In this section, the writers of the Declaration are submitting to the world why they will not be suffering under the rule of King George III any longer.

A long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism..”  – The colonies had been enduring what they felt were abuses and usurpations (abuses of power with no right to do so) for years. The French and Indian War had ended in 1763 and the British Empire was heavily in debt as a result. The British felt that the American colonies were going to have to shoulder some of the burden of paying this debt.

The colonies were also told where they could and could not settle by the Proclamation of 1763, which told the colonists that they could not settle West of the Appalachian Mountains. The colonists were outraged by this and the subsequent taxes and acts that followed from 1763 through the beginning of the American Revolution in 1775. The colonists, as British subjects, also felt that their rights under the English Constitution were not being recognized or respected. Some colonists also believed that King George III was abusing his power at the expense of the colonists and that, because of this, he was not fit to be their king.

“..it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

After realizing that their king had betrayed them, the colonists now felt that they needed to do something about it. They believed that not only was it their right to get rid of the king and the British Empire as their rulers: it was their duty! They felt called to do this for themselves and the future generations of their new nation. The king’s actions had led the colonists to this place in history and their sense of betrayal was felt very heavily. The colonies then adopted measures to prevent these actions from continuing. Those who boycotted British goods and protested the king and Parliament’s legislation believed they were being deprived of their rights as free Englishmen and that they deserved representation by the British Parliament as a voice for their concerns as well. They took action when those rights were not given to them and those actions would lead the colonists towards revolution.

“Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government.”

Most colonists had tried to maintain patience throughout the various acts of Parliament and the effects and consequences that had resulted from them. That patience partially came from the fact that most colonists believed a reconciliation would occur with the King. They wanted that to happen. They were British subjects and hoped for an amicable reunion. However, after several acts, taxes and policies that the colonists felt were unfair and oppressive of their rights as English subjects, they had had enough and felt that it was time to do something to remedy it. The colonist arrived at the conclusion that they needed to change their situation. By the summer of 1776, after over a year of open warfare, it was difficult, if not impossible to reconcile with the mother country. The colonists wanted to escape an oppressive government that they believed was not respecting them or looking out for them; they wanted a better life for themselves and their future ancestors. The results of that oppression now made it absolutely necessary for the colonists to change their form of government from a monarchy to, eventually, a republic.

“The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States.”

In the recent years of history (the 1760s and 1770s), the actions of the King and Parliament indicated to the colonists that England was trying to oppress them. An objective of these actions was to harm and mistreat the colonies. Furthermore, King George III also had an objective to rule as a tyrant. As a result of these actions, the colonies were now going to leave the British Empire.

“To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.”

The Declaration will now be transitioning to a list of grievances that will give the evidence to the world that will show how the colonists had been suffering under this monarch and his actions. These facts attempt to prove that the king is an oppressive ruler and an unfit king to these colonies. They will also attempt to show that he has been and will continue to be, an oppressive and tyrannical ruler, which is why we are declaring our 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.


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Guest Essayist: Val Crofts

The Massacre at Wounded Knee, part of the Ghost Dance War, marked the last of the Indian Wars and the end of one of the bloodiest eras in American History, the systematic and deliberate slaughter of Native American peoples and their way of life. It was an American Holocaust. During a 500 year period, approximately 100,000,000 Native Americans were killed as citizens of the United States pushed West in the name of manifest destiny and destroyed the Native American territories that had been their home for thousands of years. These events will never take a place on the front of our history books, but they must never lose their place in our national memory.

Armed conflict was still prevalent in the American West in the 1880s between the U.S. Army and the Native American population, even after most of the tribes there had been displaced or had their populations reduced in great numbers. The Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876 had been the most fierce of the wars with the Sioux, which had started in the mid-1850s, when Chiefs Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse had gone to war to defend the Black Hills after the U.S. violated the treaty that they had signed stating the land was the property of the Sioux. After the Battle of Little Bighorn, a gradual depletion of Sioux forces occurred and Crazy Horse surrendered in 1877.

The remaining Sioux were spread out in their reservations and eventually were placed onto a central reservation in the Dakota territory and were practicing a ritual known as the Ghost Dance. The dance was supposed to drive the white men from Native American territory and restore peace and tranquility to the region. Settlers were frightened by the dance and they said it had a “ghostly aura” to it, thus giving it its name.

In response to the settlers’ fears, U.S. commanders arrested several leaders of the Sioux, including Chief Kicking Bear and Chief Sitting Bull, who was later killed.

Two weeks after Sitting Bull’s death, U.S. troops demanded that all the Sioux immediately turn over their weapons. As they were peacefully doing so, one deaf Sioux warrior did not understand the command to turn over his rifle. As his rifle was being taken from him, a shot went off in the crowd. The soldiers panicked and open fired on everyone in the area.

As the smoke cleared, 300 dead Lakota and 25 dead U.S. soldiers were laying on the ground. Many more Lakota were later killed by U.S. troops as they fled the reservation. The massacre ended the Ghost Dance movement and was the last of the Indian Wars. Twenty U.S. soldiers were later awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for their actions during this campaign. The National Congress of American Indians has called on the U.S. government to rescind some or all of these medals, but they have not yet taken action to do so.

The American public’s reaction to the massacre was positive at first but over time as the scale and gravity of the massacre was revealed, the American people began to understand the brutal injustice that occurred during this encounter. Today, we need to remember the Massacre at Wounded Knee for the human cost and to make sure that events like this never happen again in our nation. We also need to make sure to honor and remember all Americans and their histories, even when it is not easy to read or take responsibility. For how can we truly be a nation where all are created equal if the treatment of our histories are not?

Val Crofts is a Social Studies teacher from Janesville, Wisconsin. He teaches as Milton High School in Milton, Wisconsin, and has been there 16 years. He teaches AP U.S. Government and Politics, U.S. History and U.S. Military History. Val has also taught for the Wisconsin Virtual School for seven years, teaching several Social Studies courses for them. Val is also a member of the U.S. Semiquincentennial Commission celebrating the 250th Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.

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Guest Essayist: Val Crofts

Abraham Lincoln is usually considered one of our nation’s greatest presidents. But, what many people may not know is that Lincoln was not a very popular president during his first term and he nearly was not reelected in 1864. For many months leading into the presidential election of that year, Lincoln resigned himself to a simple fact that he was not going to be reelected. He told a visitor to the White House in the fall of 1864, “I am going to be beaten…and unless some great change takes place, badly beaten.”

Lincoln’s administration had presided over hundreds of thousands of young men killed and wounded in the then three-year-old struggle to give our nation, as Lincoln declared at Gettysburg, its “new birth of freedom” during the Civil War. The year 1864 had been the bloodiest of the war so far and Union armies were being decimated as Union General Ulysses S. Grant was making his final push to destroy the army of Confederate General Robert E. Lee and bring the war to an end. At the same time, General William T. Sherman was moving toward Georgia in the summer of 1864, hoping to destroy the Confederate armies in that region as well.

Lincoln was a tremendously unpopular president in 1864 inside and outside of his own political party. Democrats hated Lincoln and blamed him for the longevity of the war. Radical Republicans did not feel that he went far enough to extend equal rights to African-Americans. The war was unpopular and seemed unwinnable for the Union. Lincoln’s recent Emancipation Proclamation had also turned many Northern voters against Lincoln as they believed that equality for former slaves was something that would occur and they were not ready for it.

Between the Emancipation Proclamation and the casualty numbers of the Union army, Lincoln felt as though his administration would be leaving the White House in 1865. He urged his cabinet members to cooperate with the new president to make the transition of power easier, which would hopefully bring the nation back together quicker. A series of events were taking place in the Western theater of the war where one of Lincoln’s generals was about to present him with two gifts in 1864: the city of Atlanta and the reelection of his administration.

General Sherman met president Lincoln in 1861 at the beginning of the war and he was not overly impressed with him. He felt President Lincoln’s attitude toward the South was naive and could damage the Union’s early response to the war. Lincoln was not particularly impressed with Sherman at their first meeting either. But, those attitudes would change as the war progressed.

Sherman had achieved great success in fighting in the Western theater of the war from Shiloh to Chattanooga and was poised to strike a lethal blow into the heart of the Confederacy by marching his armies through the state of Georgia and capturing its capital city of  Atlanta. The capture of Atlanta would destroy a vital rail center and supply depot, as well as demoralize the Confederacy.

Sherman and his 100,000 troops left Chattanooga in May of 1864 and by July, Sherman and his army had reached the outskirts of Atlanta. On September 1, Confederate forces evacuated the city. The Northern reaction to the taking of Atlanta and victories in Virginia at the same time was jubilation. Instead of feeling the war was lost, the exact opposite opinion was now prevalent. It now seemed that the Lincoln administration would be the first reelected since Andrew Jackson in 1832.

President Lincoln won the 1864 election by receiving over 55 percent of the popular vote and winning the electoral vote 212 to 21 over his Democratic opponent, former general George B. McClellan. He was then able to manage the end of the Civil War and the passage of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, banning slavery in the United States forever. His presidency would be remembered as the reason why our nation is still one nation, under God, and dedicated to “the proposition that all men are created equal.” Washington created our nation, Jefferson and Madison gave it life and meaning with their ideas and  words, and Lincoln saved it. He may have not had the chance to do so without the military success of General Sherman and his armies in 1864.

Val Crofts is as Social Studies teacher from Janesville, Wisconsin. He teaches as Milton High School in Milton, Wisconsin and has been there 16 years. He teaches AP U.S. Government and Politics, U.S. History and U.S. Military History. Val has also taught for the Wisconsin Virtual School for seven years, teaching several Social Studies courses for them. Val is also a member of the U.S. Semiquincentennial Commission celebrating the 250th Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.

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Guest Essayist: Val Crofts

Abraham Lincoln traveled East in February of 1860. He was asked to deliver an address at the Cooper Institute in New York City on the momentous topic of the era, slavery. Lincoln had been a popular orator and politician in Illinois, but had yet to solidify himself as a national politician. His sense of humor, frontier charm and folksy wit appealed to his political and debate audiences in the West, but if he was going to attract a national following and possibly earn the nomination from the fledgling Republican Party as their presidential candidate, he needed to appeal to voters in different areas of the country.

Before he gave his Cooper Institute speech, Lincoln made his way to the New York studio of photographer, Matthew Brady. He was going to sit for a portrait that was going to introduce him to the American people. Brady’s portrait of Lincoln shows a confident, 51 year old Lincoln staring into the camera with his left hand resting on two books. He pulled his collar up in the portrait to partially obscure his long neck. He looks distinguished, but his hair is a bit disheveled as he stands ready to make arguably the most important speech of his life in a few hours.

A crowd of around 1,500 people crowded into the Cooper Institute on the night of February 27, 1860 to hear this Republican orator from the West deliver a carefully researched and crafted speech to explain to the nation why they should not fear a Republican president and why the views of the Republicans on slavery mirrored those of the Founding Fathers. Lincoln was about to reinvent himself as an orator and to establish himself as a national politician and serious contender for the presidency.

Some eyewitnesses claimed disappointment when Lincoln first stood to address the crowd. His tall (so tall as someone said) appearance with his arms and legs created an awkward appearance and some in the crowd expressed pity for how Lincoln looked that night. But then, he began to speak.

Lincoln began by informing his audience that 21 of 39 Founding Fathers felt that the federal government should be able to control slavery in territories of the United States and that the Constitution verifies this. The Republican Party had pledged to stop slavery from spreading into the Western territories and Lincoln felt that the basis for this decision came from the basis for our legal cornerstone, the Constitution of the United States.

He then denied that the Republicans were a Northern political party intent on inciting slave rebellions. He talked about how John Brown, the abolitionist who attempted to start a slave rebellion in Virginia, was no Republican and he urged the South to understand the Republican Party was an American party and not a sectional one. He was attempting to explain to the South that Republicans were allies and not enemies. He further explained that for the South to threaten to secede if a Republican president was elected, was similar to an “armed robbery” of the Union.

He then addressed fellow Republicans to leave the South alone and to convince the South that they would continue to do so. Southern fears of Republican interference was fueling the flames of rebellion and Lincoln urged it to cease. Lincoln felt that if Republicans were not able to stop slavery where it existed, because the Constitution did not give them power to do so, then they must stop it from spreading into the Western territories. Then, he ended one of his longest public speeches by saying, “Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it.”

Lincoln laid out what he perceived to be the fears of the South and had done his best to calm them. He had also given his opinions on what Republicans could do to stop the further escalation of the division between the two regions. The speech was a huge success.

To capitalize on the speech and its success, Matthew Brady began to circulate the photo in several sizes for people to purchase. Harper’s Weekly converted the photo into a full page drawing of Lincoln which accompanied their story of the Cooper Institute speech and Lincoln’s success there. The image became the public’s first encounter with this rising star in the Republican Party.

Lincoln’s Cooper Institute speech was considered one of his greatest successes. If he had failed to engage and impress his New York audience, he may not have received the nomination as president in 1860. Had that not happened, he may have returned to Illinois to live out his days as a lawyer in Springfield and the history of our nation would have been very different. Lincoln credited Brady and the Cooper Institute speech with helping him to secure his nomination as the Republican candidate for president and ultimately putting him in the White House. Those two very important events in New York City in February of 1860 may have ultimately helped to preserve the Union.

Val Crofts is as Social Studies teacher from Janesville, Wisconsin. He teaches as Milton High School in Milton, Wisconsin and has been there 16 years. He teaches AP U.S. Government and Politics, U.S. History and U.S. Military History. Val has also taught for the Wisconsin Virtual School for seven years, teaching several Social Studies courses for them. Val is also a member of the U.S. Semiquincentennial Commission celebrating the 250th Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.

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Guest Essayist: Val Crofts

George Washington deserves to be remembered as possibly the greatest figure in American history. He led the Continental Army to victory over the British in the American Revolution against unbelievable odds. He was the only president in U.S. history to be unanimously elected. Washington served as the first president of the United States for two terms, establishing the office and its precedents and customs for all future presidents to follow. We may not even have had a United States of America without Washington’s contributions. Twice during his life, Washington achieved great accomplishments by doing something very uncharacteristic. He gave up. More specifically, he gave up power.

Washington was honored and humbled to have been commissioned as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army by the 2nd Continental Congress in June of 1775. He did not think that he was adequate for the task given to him and even tried to avoid it, but Washington’s unending commitment to duty, honor, and his country prevailed. The humble statesman reluctantly accepted the position as commander-in-chief. General Washington proved himself an inspiring leader and innovative soldier as he commanded his men throughout the remainder of the war.

When military victory was secured at Yorktown in 1781, General Washington believed that he needed to stay in charge of the army until peace was secured. He could not step down until the British army left the United States, the American Revolution was totally resolved and the new nation was firmly standing on its own, ready to take its place in the world. Only then would he feel comfortable resigning the powers given to him by Congress in 1775.

General Washington was given great powers by the 2nd Continental Congress. The civil and military control he received were similar to a military dictator. He could have simply grabbed power and served over the United States as an absolute ruler or an “American King.” There were also some who felt that this should be what Washington should do to maintain stability for the new government and nation. But, like the story of the Roman general, Cincinnatus, Washington gave his power back to the people, where he felt it belonged.

Washington would have been familiar with the classical story of the Roman general, Cincinnatus, who was a former Roman general  given military and political power back when Rome was invaded. After repelling the invasion, Cincinnatus resigned his position and returned to his retirement. Washington longed to do the same thing. Because of the similarities between the two men, Washington is sometimes referred to as the “American Cincinnatus.”

Washington actually “retired” for the first time in 1758 and returned to his Virginia plantation, Mount Vernon, to be a farmer and gentleman for the rest of his life or so he thought. But, as tension mounted in the American colonies in the 1770s, Washington came out of retirement and attended meetings of the 1st and 2nd Continental Congresses. Because of his military experience and reputation, he was appointed commander-in-chief of the Continental Army in 1775 and served in that capacity until 1783.

In late 1783, Washington felt it was time to retire again. British soldiers had left New York, the Treaty of Paris was signed, and peace appeared to be a reality in the new nation. He was anxious to go home to Mount Vernon again and live out his days in the company of his wife, family and friends. He decided to give his powers and position back to the Congress and the people that had granted them to him in 1775.

He arrived in December of 1783 in Annapolis, Maryland, the then capital of the United States and delivered his remarks to the assembly present at the Maryland State House. He thanked Congress for their trust in him and stated his intent to resign from the service of his nation. Washington thanked the officers who had served with him throughout the war and whom he considered members of his family. Washington recommended Congress take notice of those officers and their service to the young nation. He then prayed that God would watch over the United States and its people. Washington followed by resigning his commission and departing to spend Christmas at Mount Vernon with his family.

Rarely in history do you find someone giving up power. The more power you possess, the tougher it may be to let it go. But, when you are selfless and think of what is best for others, specifically your nation, the decision may come easily. George Washington was this rare, selfless leader who had a tremendous love for this nation which he helped create. He knew that if the nation were to move along, he needed to give his power back to the people. By doing so, he helped to finish the final act of the war and to make the American Revolution a true revolution of power from kings to the people.

The quote by King George III of Great Britain in 1797 poetically and fittingly describes the impact of Washington’s selfless act of resigning his commission. When discussing the legacy of George Washington, the king said that Washington’s actions in giving up his commission made him the “most distinguished of any man living.” Now, we can add that Washington is one of the most distinguished men in history.

Val Crofts is a Social Studies teacher from Janesville, Wisconsin. He teaches as Milton High School in Milton, Wisconsin and has been there 16 years. He teaches AP U.S. Government and Politics, U.S. History and U.S. Military History. Val has also taught for the Wisconsin Virtual School for seven years, teaching several Social Studies courses for them. Val is also a member of the U.S. Semiquincentennial Commission celebrating the 250th Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.

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Guest Essayist: Val Crofts

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Thirtieth to join the United States, Wisconsin, known as “The Badger State,” ratified the     U.S. Constitution May 29, 1848. The Wisconsin State Constitution currently in use was adopted in 1848.

“On Wisconsin!” were words exclaimed by Arthur MacArthur Jr. at the Battle of Chattanooga in 1863 urging his fellow Badgers on during an important phase of the battle for which he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. The state’s official slogan is “Forward!” which embodies the spirit of LTG MacArthur and the spirit of the people who live here today. Citizens of Wisconsin are always looking to innovate, expand and advance, but they are appreciative of their past as well.

Wisconsin received its name from the river that runs through the center of the state named by the Miami Indians. The word “Wisconsin” means “river running through a red area” and may possibly refer to the beautiful red bluffs located near today’s city of Wisconsin Dells. For 10,000 years, Wisconsin has also been home to various Native American tribes including the Oneida, Chippewa, Menominee, Ho-Chunk, Sauk and Mahican.

In 1634, European explorer Jean Nicolet was the first European to have landed in Wisconsin near the present city of Green Bay. The French attempted to colonize the area and operated a very successful fur trade in Wisconsin. The French established a military and commercial presence in Wisconsin until after the French and Indian War, when the Great Britain assumed control of the area. The U.S. acquired what is today Wisconsin after the Treaty of Paris in 1783, ending the American Revolution.

In 1836, the Wisconsin Territory was organized and the first territorial legislature met in Belmont, Wisconsin. In 1848, Wisconsin was admitted to the Union as the 30th state with Madison being designated as its capital city.

The Wisconsin Constitution was written at the state’s Constitutional Convention in Madison in December of 1847 and was approved by the citizens of Wisconsin Territory in 1848. This original Constitution has been amended over 100 times but is still in use today, making it the oldest state constitution outside of the New England states. At first, the Wisconsin Constitution granted suffrage to white male citizens over 21 and to Native Americans who were citizens of the United States but it did allow suffrage to change over time as the state legislature intended it to. The banking industry was very controversial in Wisconsin at this time and the idea of the state chartering a bank was voted on at the same time as the state Constitution was ratified. With this vote, the citizens of Wisconsin allowed the state to charter banks within its borders.

Today’s Wisconsin Constitution consists of a Preamble, thanking Almighty God for the freedoms that citizens of the state are blessed with, and then 14 Articles. The first article is a general declaration of rights as citizens of Wisconsin. This allows Wisconsin citizens to live under the same freedoms as the United States Bill of Rights, to prohibit prison sentences for debt, place military under the control of civil authorities, and guarantees our citizens the right to fish and hunt.

The Wisconsin State Legislature is described in Article Four of the state Constitution and is a bicameral lawmaking body comprised of the Wisconsin State Assembly and Wisconsin State Senate. The 4th Article allow states how state representatives are elected and sets forth the powers and limitations of our state legislature.

Article Five establishes the Legislative Branch in Wisconsin. The state’s executive branch consists of a governor and a lieutenant governor, who are each elected to serve four year terms. The powers and duties of the state executive are also outlined here as well, including the line-item veto over appropriation bills. The succession chain of governance is also outlined here, should the governor resign, be recalled or pass away.

The Judicial branch is established in Article Seven and grants the state a Supreme Court, composed of seven Justices, each holding 10-year terms. The Constitution also creates the Wisconsin Circuit Court system, as well as the Wisconsin Court of Appeals. The state may also set up courts and jurisdictions over cities, towns and villages within the state. The impeachment process of state officials is outlined here as well.

The original Wisconsin Constitution document is unfortunately missing and the copy on display in our state capitol building is a replica. The original may have been sent to a publisher and lost somewhere along the way. Fortunately for the citizens of Wisconsin, the words and ideas embodied within the document still exist and will endure far into the future. On Wisconsin!

Val Crofts is a Social Studies teacher from Janesville, Wisconsin. He teaches at Milton High School in Milton, Wisconsin and has been there 16 years! He teaches AP U.S. Government and Politics, U.S. History and U.S. Military History. Val has also taught for the Wisconsin Virtual School for seven years, teaching several Social Studies courses for them. Val is also a member of the U.S. Semiquincentennial Commission celebrating the 250th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence and is honored to participate in this Study on the States!

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