Guest Essayist: Ron Meier


In Federalist 31, using references to math and science, Hamilton says that, “IN DISQUISITIONS of every kind, there are certain primary truths, or first principles, upon which all subsequent reasonings must depend. But in the sciences of morals and politics, men are found far less tractable; yielding to some untoward bias, they entangle themselves in words and confound themselves in subtleties. Strong interests, passions, and prejudices may degenerate into obstinacy, perverseness, or disingenuity.”

In Federalist 37, Madison says, “In some, it has been too evident from their own publications, that they have scanned the proposed Constitution, not only with a predisposition to censure, but with a predetermination to condemn.” On the other hand, (The Federalist Papers) “solicit the attention of those only, who add to a sincere zeal for the happiness of their country, a temper favorable to a just estimate of the means of promoting it. A faultless plan was not to be expected.  The most that the convention could do in such a situation, was to avoid the errors suggested by the past experience of other countries, as well as of our own; and to provide a convenient mode of rectifying their own errors, as future experiences may unfold them.”

Madison notes that the delegates to the Constitutional Convention sought to find the best combination of features in the construction of government that would provide “stability and energy in government with inviolable attention due to liberty and to the republican form. They sought to avoid those features that they believed would risk the destruction of their proposed government as quickly as was that of the Republican government of Florence in the early 16th century.

In the turmoil of Florentine politics, Machiavelli believed that Republican government was necessary for good government, but that many who sought to be autocratic rulers had different ideas of what good government looked like. Machiavelli observed that those opposed to good government under a Republican form believed (1) that moral and spiritual virtues are not essential for the administration of government and must be avoided by ensuring that government is secular; (2) that Christianity, in particular, is destructive to governing; (3) that fear and the threat of coercive force are more important than legal force; (4) that a forceful, and even violent, response is the only appropriate means to prevent enemies of the state from upsetting the political order of the state; (5) that what’s good for the state should guide government rather than what’s good for its individual citizens; (6) that the head of state must use whatever means is at his disposal to do whatever is necessary to maintain control and power; (7) that, to ensure peace and tranquility in the country, a consequence is that citizens will be disarmed.

It’s not difficult to understand Machiavelli’s observations when one considers the period in which he was an official in Florence’s government. Although a Republic existed after the Medici government was overthrown, it lasted less than 20 years; in addition, a co-conspirator in the overthrow of the Republic was the Papal forces. Thus, he seems to have concluded that Christian leaders may have been no more moral than secular leaders and that Christian leaders were as willing as secular leaders to exercise force to gain control of government and the populace.

America’s Founding Fathers, all of whom had studied the Bible as an essential part of the classical education, believed that moral and spiritual virtues were necessary for good men to establish good government.  They believed that the government should be entrusted with limited powers, with those powers determined by the people through their elected representatives, rather than with unelected governors who used force to obtain security for the people, but at the expense of the people’s liberty. And they believed that government existed to secure the rights of the people rather than to ensure the long-term viability of the state.

As they debated the construction of a new Republican form of government in Philadelphia in the summer of 1787, they sought to use their knowledge of republican and authoritarian governments over thousands of years to construct one that might prevent their proposed republic from ultimately being overcome by authoritarian-minded opponents. The features of acquiring authoritarian power in government noted by Machiavelli were features that the Convention delegates sought to minimize in their new Constitution.

Their Christian education and study of Aristotle’s Ethics informed them that leaders of good character were necessary for good government.  John Adams, in a speech to the Massachusetts militia in 1798, said that “Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people,” and George Washington reflected a similar sentiment when he said, in his Farewell Address, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. . . And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion.”

Yet they also recognized that no particular religion should require support by the citizens of the nation and that no religious affiliation should be required to hold federal public office. At the time, many of the 13 states had state-sponsored religions and, at a minimum, required that those citizens eligible for public office must be Protestants. In Article VI, Clause 3, of the United States Constitution, the Constitution clearly stated that, “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”  So, good character, moral, and ethical principles, generally acquired from education in religious and philosophical principles, were recognized as important for helping citizens acquire responsible civic virtue that the Founders considered necessary for good government of the people.

In crafting the Second Amendment, the Founders recognized that citizens who were disarmed would be unable to retain their liberty should authoritarian politicians attempt to seize power in the federal government.

Rather than adopting Machiavelli’s concept that government existed for the “good of the state,” the Founders decided that government existed to secure liberty for the people. The Constitution was designed to provide the government’s structure in support of the principles of the Declaration of Independence, most specifically the Declaration’s statement that, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” To more forcefully communicate that government existed to secure the rights of the people, Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution specifies limited powers of the federal government and the Ninth Amendment states that, “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”

Additional measures in the Constitution provided for two houses in Congress, one to represent the people and the other to represent the individual states. The President was given power to veto laws passed by both houses of Congress to prevent the legislature from accruing excessive power, and the Congress was given the power to override a Presidential veto to prevent a President from accruing excessive power.  The Supreme Court was given the power to ensure that laws passed by Congress and signed by the President were in accord with the Constitution to prevent a situation in which both houses of Congress as well as the office of President were occupied by politicians of one faction and attempted to enact legislation to benefit their faction, in conflict with the Constitution.

If all else fails, then Article I of the Constitution provides for impeachment of the President, Vice President and all civil Officers for treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors, with the additional check and balance providing that the House has the sole power to impeach and the Senate has the sole power to try all impeachments.

As noted above in Federalist 37, “A faultless plan was not to be expected.” The Founders attempted, to the best of their abilities, to construct a Constitution that reflected the strengths and minimized the weaknesses of republican governments over thousands of years of history, a history they knew well because of their classical education.  Yet, they recognized that their conception of a federal government structure was an experiment, as reflected in what Benjamin Franklin said in his final speech at the Convention, “when you assemble a number of men to have the advantage of their joint wisdom, you inevitably assemble with those men, all their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinion, their local interests, and their selfish views.” Later, when he was asked by a group of citizens what sort of government the delegates had created, his answer was, “A republic, if you can keep it.”

We’ve kept it for more than 230 years, overcoming many challenges to its existence. In his Gettysburg Address, President Lincoln reminded us that, “It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.”  And President Reagan said in his 1964 speech, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected and handed on for them to do the same.” It’s up to us, we the people, not the government, to keep it going for another 230 years.

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.

 

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Guest Essayist: Ron Meier


As Professor Joerg Knipprath notes, Webster defines Machiavellian as a term often used to describe someone who employs cunning, duplicity, or bad faith tactics to get what he wants. Synonyms include cutthroat, immoral, unconscionable, unethical, unprincipled, unscrupulous.

Only 250 years before the rise of revolutionary fever in the American colonies, Machiavelli’s observations on political power were published.  Those observations were more a description of how government worked at the time he wrote than a prescription of how government should work.  Government in the British colonies in the 18th century, in many ways, looked too Machiavellian to our Founding Fathers and influenced their decisions about how to form a new government, more specifically how to minimize human nature’s inclinations for control and power by those to be trusted as America’s future political leaders. Machiavelli’s tenure in political office in the Republic of Florence was sandwiched between the long Medici reign before its overthrow and the Medici restoration, with the aid of Papal troops, less than 20 years later.

In the turmoil of those years, Machiavelli saw that raw power determines who rules; natural law, religious faith and morality were irrelevant to rule and therefore, a secular government was more the norm. Preserving the state, not protection of individual rights by the state, was the objective of government; and whatever force was necessary to preserve the state, provide security for its citizens, and stability was acceptable. Machiavelli is considered by many today as the father of political science, generations before the term “political science” came into common usage.

Considerable discussion occurred during and after the 1787 Constitutional Convention between those arguing for and against a strong, energetic President. This was understandable in light of the recently concluded war of independence from a perceived strong British ruler whose “long train of abuses and usurpations” were listed in the Declaration of Independence.

In Anti-federalist 70, the author, arguing against a strong and energetic executive says, “In the first place the office of President of the United States appears to me to be clothed with such powers as are dangerous.”  He then adds, “So far is it from its being improbable that the man who shall hereafter be in a situation to make the attempt to perpetuate his own power, should want the virtues of General Washington, that it is perhaps a chance of one hundred millions to one that the next age will not furnish an example of so disinterested a use of great power.”  Although Washington was not yet in office as President, the author recognized that Washington would probably be elected President if the Constitution were ratified, but that subsequent Presidents, lacking the moral and civic virtues of Washington, may hunger for unlimited power and become the despot that all feared. The author went on to say that, “If we are not prepared to receive a king, let us call another convention to revise the proposed constitution, and form it anew on the principles of a confederacy of free republics.”

In Anti-federalist 71, the author says that “the best security for liberty was a limited duration, and a rotation of office, in the chief executive department.”  And, in Anti-federalist 72, arguing against unlimited reelections of a President, “Upon his being invested with those powers a second or third time, he may acquire such enormous influence and, haughtily and contemptuously, turn our poor lower house (the only shadow of liberty we shall have left) out of doors, and give us law at the bayonet’s point. We seem to be fast gliding away; and the moment we arrive at it — farewell liberty.” The Anti-federalists’ knowledge of the history of ancient governments reflected their concerns that political offices in the proposed Republic didn’t have more stringent restrictions on the ability of those elected to federal office to be reelected. Where restrictions were in place, the risk of despots holding office was reduced and where such restrictions were not in place, authoritarian government often grew.

The Federalists, on the other hand, took pains to illustrate that the checks and balances and separation of powers in the proposed Constitution would slow down the enactment of laws with extensive debate and thereby check the authoritarian impulses of the various branches. In modern terms, days, weeks, and months of debate were preferred to the ability of a President to use his phone and pen to enact new law rapidly.  They also believed that the two, four, and six-year terms of office in the Legislative and Executive branches were long enough to enable the occupants of those offices to have a positive impact on the exercise of their enumerated powers, yet short enough to allow citizens to turn them out of office when their Machiavellian methods and authoritarian impulses, to override the will of the people, became too strong.

In Federalist 51, Madison states that, “In republican government, the legislative authority necessarily predominates.” Therefore, to avoid a legislative branch aggrandizing its power at the expense of the executive branch, the Founders believed that care must be taken in constructing the government to grant powers to the President to check legislative overreach. Also, they recognized that a legislature which knew that the President who, after his four-year term ended could not be reelected, could wait out a President whom the legislature deemed too willing to check their power and hope that the next occupant of the executive branch would be less willing to check the legislative powers with a veto.  Over a period of time, patience by the legislature would enable them to accrue significant power. Therefore, the Founders decided that a President would not be forced to vacate his office, but could be reelected if the citizens so decided.

In Federalist 71, Hamilton discusses the advantages and disadvantages of a term of four years for the President. He says, “a duration of four years will contribute to the firmness of the executive but not long enough to justify any alarm for the public liberty.” In Federalist 72, Hamilton argues that a President shouldn’t be limited to only one four-year term, stating that there is a connection between “the duration of the executive magistrate in office and the stability of the system of administration.” This is easily observed in recent years as the Executive Orders of a prior President are frequently reversed immediately open the ascension to office of a new President, especially when a sitting President is defeated after his first term of office. Businesses that don’t know if a President’s Executive Orders will stand in the next administration are not willing to make long-term investments to grow their businesses.

In Federalist 23, Hamilton discusses the problems encountered during the fighting of the War under a Confederation form of government. He states the difficulty of requisitioning troops, supplies, and money to fight the war and of keeping morale high in the military ranks under such conditions. Hamilton says, of the country, “the Union ought to be invested with full power to levy troops; to build and equip fleets; and to raise the revenues which will be required for the formation and support of an army and navy, in the customary and ordinary modes practiced in other governments.” The President, as Commander in Chief, also must know that he has the authority to effectively lead the nation in time of war.

The Founders’ knowledge of the successes and failures of all types of government was deep; Machiavelli’s observations of what government transitions normally looked like provided an important, more recent, reminder of how quickly a Republic can fail internally if its government is not well constructed at birth and externally when confronted by powerful, amoral governments, led by autocrats’ intent on seizing and holding power.

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.

 

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Guest Essayist: Ron Meier


Not all the political leaders in the 13 states were sold on the Constitution presented to the states for ratification in the fall of 1787. It was common under the Articles of Confederation to require unanimous agreement, of the states to changes, made to the Articles. Aware that unanimous agreement on the Constitution was unlikely, the Constitutional Convention delegates decided that the Constitution would require only nine states’ ratification to become effective. Had Las Vegas existed then, the betting would have reflected the more-likely result that the Constitution would not be ratified.

Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, John Jay, and others realized that a marketing and communication campaign had to be waged. They were especially concerned about New York, and proceeded to write a series of 85 essays in New York newspapers to sell the new Constitution to the public. Those essays are known as the Federalist Papers. Those opposed to the new Constitution, known as Anti-federalists, countered with their own essays to disprove the points in each of the Federalist Papers.

The Anti-federalists were as well educated on the history of governmental structures of the past and, in particular, knew that Democratic Republics were unlikely to survive because of their greater trust in the political wisdom and virtue of the common man. The Anti-federalists also were concerned that a “national” government, rather than a stronger Confederation, would quickly erode the Sovereign powers of the individual states. They feared a national government, not unlike the British government they had just relinquished, that would dictate to the states and leave the state governments with few powers, even over more local matters. Although the Tenth Amendment was designed to ensure that the states retained significant powers, to some extent, the Anti-federalist fears have been increasingly realized, especially since the passage of the Seventeenth Amendment when the Senate was effectively made into a second House of Representatives by popular election of the Senators rather than the Senators being “representatives” of the states who sent them to Washington. Since then, Federal mandates have diminished the power of the states to act independently with respect to many otherwise local issues.

The Federalists had a difficult job to sell the Constitution, but their wisdom eventually won the day. Some of the major issues addressed are reflected below.

In Anti-federalist 47, the author writes, “Mr. Adams has traced the constitution of every form of government that ever existed. A republican, or free government, can only exist where the body of the people are virtuous.” All our founders were very familiar with the writings of Cicero and Aristotle regarding individual and community virtue and many Anti-federalists doubted that sufficient civic virtue existed in man to make this new experiment at republican government successful.

“But Hamilton’s notes for his famed five-hour (only) speech to the Convention cite Cicero, as well as Aristotle and Montesquieu, in favor of the Constitution’s proposed mixed government theory, and Madison’s notes, while drafting the Federalist Papers, cite Cicero in addition to Aristotle and Polybius. Hamilton based his foundation of republican government on Cicero’s as that strong, representative government which is most conducive to liberty and resistant to tyranny.”[1]

In Anti-federalist 57, the author notes that “the men most commonly presented to the people as candidates for the offices of representatives include (1) the natural aristocracy, (2) popular demagogues, and (3) the substantial and respectable part of the democracy, a numerous and valuable set of men, who discern and judge well, but from being generally silent in public assemblies are often overlooked. He fears that those elected to the national House of Representatives will be less likely to come from the third category than from the first two categories.”

In Federalist 57, Madison counters this argument saying, “Who are to be the electors of the federal representatives? Not the rich, more than the poor; not the learned, more than the ignorant; not the haughty heirs of distinguished names, more than the humble sons of obscurity and unpropitious fortune. The electors are to be the great body of the people of the United States. They are to be the same who exercise the right in every State of electing the corresponding branch of the legislature of the State. No qualification of wealth, of birth, of religious faith, or of civil profession is permitted to fetter the judgement or disappoint the inclination of the people.” Furthermore, Madison notes that a key restraint to the election of representatives, who are found unworthy after their election, is the requirement in the Constitution that Representatives be elected every two years, allowing constituents to “throw the bums out” quickly.

Separation of powers was an important element of the new Constitution.  Anti-federalists weren’t convinced of the validity of the claim that such separation would be effective. But in Federalist 47, Madison observes that “the oracle who is always consulted and cited on this subject (separation of powers) is the celebrated Montesquieu.” Madison then quotes Montesquieu as saying, “There can be no liberty where the legislative and executive powers are united in the same person or body of magistrates, or if the power of judging be not separated from the legislative and executive powers.”

The authors of the Federalist papers used extant facts from foreign governments as well as from the Constitutions and practices of the 13 states to demonstrate that what the Constitution proposed is not so distinct but, in fact, identifies deficiencies in those documents and proposes solutions to correct those deficiencies. Madison, in Federalist 47 examined the Constitutions of each of the states to prove his case that provisions such as separation of powers already existed at the state level; if they existed there, then why would the anti-federalists believe that such a provision wouldn’t work at the national level?

Whether to have one or two bodies in the legislature was a topic of contention in the Convention. The final Constitution proposal was for two bodies, a House and a Senate. In Anti-federalist 63, the authors state, “But they are so formed, that the members of both must generally be the same kind of men, men having similar interests and views, feelings and connections, men of the same grade in society, and who associate on all, occasions. The Senate, from the mode of its appointment, will probably be influenced to support the state governments; and, from its periods of service will produce stability in legislation, while frequent elections may take place in the other branch.”

In Federalist 63, Madison notes that, “history informs us of no long-lived republic which had not a senate.” And, as to an equivalent to the Constitution’s House of Representatives, Madison states that, “in Sparta we meet with the Ephori, and in Rome with the Tribunes; two bodies, small indeed in numbers, but annually ELECTED BY THE WHOLE BODY OF THE PEOPLE, and considered as the REPRESENTATIVES of the people, almost in their PLENIPOTENTIARY capacity,” and “The Tribunes of Rome, who were the representatives of the people, prevailed, it is well known, in almost every contest with the senate for life, and in the end gained the most complete triumph over it.”

Because of the breadth and depth of the Founding Fathers’ understanding of both good and bad governments from ancient to then-current history, their debates in the Constitutional Convention, and in the political pamphlets produced in those days, were robust. The citizens read the Anti-federalist and Federalist arguments and heard both sides’ arguments in the churches and meeting halls in their communities. Because civic virtue was an important part of their formal and informal education in the 18th century, they were able to decide that the strengths of human nature could prevail over its weaknesses and that the experiment the Convention created, had a better than even chance of success.

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. 

(1) What the founders learned from Cicero // The Observer (ndsmcobserver.com)

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Guest Essayist: Ron Meier
The School of Athens, Raphael, 1509-1511, Apostolic Palace, Vatican City

In our schools over the past century or so, we’ve learned, and quickly forgotten after the test, a little about some of the great philosophers who lived thousands of years ago, the ancient Greek and Roman empires, the Kings of medieval Europe, the pilgrims who landed at Plymouth Rock and Jamestown in the 17th century, and the Renaissance and Enlightenment. Since the early 19th century, academic attention has increasingly shifted to a focus on more utilitarian subjects, particularly STEM over the past half century since the first rockets left the earth’s atmosphere to circle the earth in outer space.

All our Founding Fathers were educated in the early-to-middle 18th century. Some were able to attend the colleges of the day, but most were not so able and were self-taught or homeschooled. Primary and secondary education for all included study of the Bible. Libraries were few until Benjamin Franklin and his Junto Club[1] members started the first public library in the early 18th century. Soon thereafter they started the American Philosophical Society to “promote useful knowledge.”

With so few books and libraries, no internet to provide instantaneous acquisition of virtually any information or knowledge one would like to acquire, no email to communicate with anyone anywhere in the world, no Zoom to interact with experts on any topic, it’s natural to wonder how America’s Founding Fathers could have acquired the knowledge required to write the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence, and later, the United States Constitution. How were they able to create a Constitution, admired around the world, in only three months meeting in the humid city of Philadelphia in a building with no air conditioning?

Whether in a formal school or not, colonial children had to acquire a broad body of knowledge to survive in the largely agrarian, merchant, and shopkeeper society of that time; knowledge of religion, science, literature, art, rhetoric, human nature, and politics were necessary to solve the problems each would encounter in daily life, both individually and in their spiritual and political communities. Few could afford specialization in one body of knowledge as is more common today. We call those few among us today with such a wide-ranging body of knowledge Renaissance Men (and Women).

The Colonies’ most influential authors of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution included Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and James Madison.

Thomas Jefferson attended the College of William and Mary where he studied science, philosophy and law. He learned the law from the leading Virginia legal scholar, George Wythe. Acknowledging the importance of education, he later founded the University of Virginia.[2] Jefferson, well-educated in the classics, “argued that the Declaration of Independence rested on the authority of Cicero and Aristotle as well as that of Locke. This is most evidently seen by Jefferson’s altering of Locke’s natural rights formulation of ‘life, liberty and property’ into the famous American creed: ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ in the Declaration’s preamble.”[3]

John Adams attended Harvard College, which expressed as its primary purpose “to educate future members of a learned ministry and an effective civil government.”  At Harvard, all students took the exact same curriculum with no electives, which included courses in theology, mathematics, and natural science.[4] Adams then studied law with a Massachusetts lawyer, which was how preparation for a career in law was conducted in Colonial America.

“It was upon John Adams that Cicero had the greatest influence among early Americans. The Harvard curriculum had at its core in the colonial grammar schools and colleges the study of the Latin and Greek languages, literatures and antiquities, what some called the “Sacred Classics.” The aims of this learning were to expose students to classical authors from whom they could derive “useful knowledge.” And among these selected Classics in early America Cicero took pride of place in the admiration of many liberally educated men as model authority for diction and style, as orator, lawyer, political theorist, letter writer, and guide to “private and public virtue.”[5]

James Madison, considered the “Father of the Constitution,” attended the College of New Jersey (Princeton). His primary and secondary education included mathematics, geography, modern and classical languages, particularly Latin, and ancient philosophy. At college, he studied classical languages, mathematics, rhetoric, geography, philosophy, Hebrew, and political philosophy under university president John Witherspoon, later a signer of the Declaration of Independence.[6]

Because of their education, focused on the “sacred classics,” as described more fully by Professor Joerg Knipprath in Essay #7, our political authors were well-educated in alternate political philosophies and structures. Even those not-highly-educated citizens of Colonial America, in what might be called the Middle Class today, were reasonably familiar with the political thoughts of the day from their pastors, town-hall meetings, and widely distributed pamphlet writings of the more highly educated Colonists.

All our Founding Fathers accepted the Stoic’s fundamental concept of a universal moral order based on reason and nature, but they rejected the Stoic’s concept of an individual moral order being unrelated to the laws of the political community. They understood the importance of religious faith, which at that time was almost exclusively Protestant Christianity, in the development of moral and civic virtue, the necessary ingredients of good government. They recognized the impossible Stoic vision that man could control his passions, prejudices, and pride by perfecting his reason, ethics, and morality. Civic virtue, not perfection, was expected by the founders. As Madison states in Federalist 51, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary,” and in Federalist 55, Madison says that, “In all very numerous assemblies, of whatever character composed, passion never fails to wrest the scepter from reason.”

In Federalist 6, Alexander Hamilton notes that a basic assumption about people is that “men are ambitious, vindictive, and rapacious.” If that is a valid assumption, then expecting that a divided nation would continually live in harmony is pure folly.  It would “disregard the uniform course of human events, and set at defiance the accumulated experience of ages.”

Our Founding Fathers, including those whose debates on the issues, some of which became known through their writings and discussions as Federalists and Antifederalists, were amazingly well-educated in the political philosophies of ancient governments. They were therefore able to identify those components of governmental structure that worked and those components that didn’t work as they met in Philadelphia to construct a new government and provide that government a structure that might survive longer than the Republics of the past. Yet they still recognized that it was to be an experiment, not a proven solution.

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. 

(1) formed to “discuss queries on any point of Morals, Politics, or Natural Philosophy [physics])” Franklin’s Philadelphia: The American Philosophical Society (ushistory.org)

(2) Thomas Jefferson Biography, History, and Facts

(3) What the founders learned from Cicero // The Observer (ndsmcobserver.com)

(4) John Adams as a Harvard student, by Richard Alan Ryerson | Harvard Magazine

(5) View of The influence of Cicero on John Adams (unito.it)

(6) The Life of James Madison | Montpelier

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Essay 69 – Guest Essayist: Ron Meier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

Sources:

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

Protestant Revolution (Maryland) – Wikipedia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

Sources:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Essay 53 – Guest Essayist: James C. Clinger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

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

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

[3] Ibid.

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

[5] Staller, op cit.

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

[7] Staller, op cit

[8] Staller, op cit.

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

[10] Staller, op cit.

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Essay 52 – Guest Essayist: Ron Meier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

Sources:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Miracle at Philadelphia by Catherine Drinker Bowen

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

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Essay 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.

 

 

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