Guest Essayist: Tom Hand
Fifth, Second and First Constitutional Amendments with gavel


The first ten amendments to the United States Constitution, better known as the Bill of Rights, are what allow us to enjoy many of the day-to-day blessings of our great country. Freedoms easily taken for granted are enshrined in these revisions to the original document. While the Constitution shaped our government, the Bill of Rights shaped our lives.

These amendments include both individual freedoms such as the right to keep and bear arms, free speech, freedom of the press, and freedom to worship as we please, as well as restrictions on the power of the federal government.

You might wonder why these basic freedoms had to be added to the Constitution after it was created rather than being front and center in the debates at the Constitutional Convention. The reason can be found in considering the mission of the convention.

Specifically, when the Constitutional Convention met in Philadelphia in the summer of 1787, the delegates’ primary goal was to fix the weaknesses in the Articles of Confederation and, thereby, form a system of government that would allow the country to flourish.

Consequently, most of the discussion at the convention focused on the form of government and how it would operate, not on the individual rights of the people. Although the representatives met from May 14 to September 17, no motion to adopt a Bill of Rights for the citizens of the country was introduced until September 12 when George Mason of Virginia did so.

Mason’s suggestion was quickly dismissed and, looking back, it seems surprising that something as crucial as a bill of rights was not subject to lengthy debate. However, we must keep in mind each state already had their own constitution, many of which contained a bill of rights.

As James Madison noted in his essay Federalist 46, the new federal constitution did not eliminate those rights granted by the states. Since personal rights already existed at the state level, Madison argued there was no need for the federal government to guarantee them as well.

From a more practical standpoint, the delegates needed to get home. They were not full-time politicians who made their living on the government payroll. They were mostly doctors, lawyers, businessmen, and farmers. Time away from home cost them money and, quite naturally, after being in hot, steamy Philadelphia for four months, they did not want to extend the convention for several more weeks to discuss such a contentious topic.

Soon after the proposed Constitution was circulated to the state legislatures for approval in late 1787, it came under criticism for several perceived faults, but primarily for its lack of a bill of rights. The group opposing the new Constitution became known as “Anti-federalists” and were led by Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts and George Mason.

Gerry published a widely circulated letter, dubbed “Hon. Mr. Gerry’s Objections,” in which he stated his reasons for not supporting the new Constitution. As he saw it, “the liberties of America were not secured by the system” and it was flawed “without a bill of rights.”

Alexander Hamilton responded in Federalist 84 that “the constitution is itself in every rationale sense, and to every useful purpose, a bill of rights.” He added that by ratifying the Constitution “the people surrender nothing, and as they retain everything, they have no need of particular reservations.”

There was also concern that, by listing only certain rights, it could be implied that those were the only ones guaranteed by the new Constitution and any others not mentioned were not. In other words, explicitly stating any rights might actually reduce our freedom.

Although the proposed document was quickly ratified by five states (Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, and Connecticut), it bogged down in other state legislatures primarily due to the absence of a bill of rights. In Massachusetts, the impasse was broken when Anti-federalists, led by John Hancock and Samuel Adams, agreed to ratify the proposed Constitution on the condition that a bill of rights would soon follow.

The Federalist minorities in the Maryland and Virginia assemblies facing similar opposition, also agreed to establish a bill of rights rather than risk delaying the ratification of the Constitution. This spirit of compromise kept the process moving.

On June 21, 1788, New Hampshire became the ninth state to approve the proposed Constitution. As a result, Congress formally ratified it on September 13, 1788, with an enactment date of March 4, 1789. One hurdle had been cleared.

The challenge now was to craft a bill of rights that would be acceptable to the thirteen states. James Madison of Virginia, an early opponent of a bill of rights and a member of the House of Representatives, eventually changed his position on the matter and led the effort to develop one that would satisfy the Anti-federalists.

Madison’s initial effort recommended nine changes to the body of the new Constitution rather than additional articles. However, the Federalists saw this attempt to modify the original text they had so recently ratified as a mistake. They argued these changes might undermine the credibility of the new document.

Instead, the House of Representatives, swayed by the arguments of Roger Sherman, agreed to place all amendments at the end of the Constitution. On September 25, 1788, after much debate, the House and Senate jointly agreed to twelve proposed Articles as additions to the document and forwarded them to the states for their approval.

On December 15, 1791, Articles Three through Twelve were ratified by Congress and became the first ten Amendments to the Constitution, our Bill of Rights. Interestingly, Article Two dealing with Congressional pay raises was not approved until 1992 as the 27th Amendment and Article One dealing with the number of seats in the House has never been approved.

So why should the Bill of Rights matter to us today?

Quite simply, life as we know it in the United States of America would not be the same without the rights stated in our first ten amendments. Try to imagine a country without religious freedom or the right to say what we want. Or a place where the government could search your home without cause or deny you due process of law.

The Bill of Rights matter to all of us every day we live in this great country of ours. We must know and understand our rights as Americans, or we can never hope to preserve them. It is truly our shared responsibility.

If you want to learn more about your Bill of Rights, I suggest reading Akhil Reed Amar’s book The Bill of Rights. Published in 1998, this book is an excellent account of our Bill of Rights, including the history behind their creation, how the interpretation of them has evolved, and how they are linked to one another.

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

 

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Guest Essayist: Tom Hand


The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union was our nation’s first constitution and essentially served as the basis for our government from 1777 to 1789. It was created by the thirteen original states to help them unify their war efforts against England and was the precursor to our present Constitution.

In June 1776, soon after the Second Continental Congress appointed the Committee of Five to draft the Declaration of Independence, Congress also established a committee to craft a document by which this new country would be governed. Comprised of one delegate from each colony and chaired by John Dickinson of Pennsylvania, these thirteen men presented their initial draft to Congress on July 12, 1776.

They named it the Articles of Confederation, suggesting a fairly loose coalition rather than one united entity. Although the states agreed to form a national government, they were not willing to cede any of their individual rights or powers to it.

After much debate and five different versions, the Articles were finally approved by Congress on November 15, 1777, and immediately sent to the various states for their ratification. Although official approval of the document required all thirteen states to ratify it and the thirteenth state (Maryland) did not do so until February 2, 1781, the Articles effectively guided Congress’ action from 1777 onward.

The Articles stressed the rights of the individual states more than the power of the central government. As Article II states, “Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not by this Confederation expressly delegated.”

Additionally, the states viewed this association as a group of co-equals and there was no consideration given for the size, wealth, or population of the various colonies. As articulated in Article V, “In determining questions in the United States in Congress Assembled, each state shall have one vote.”

Article IX entrusted several responsibilities to the Confederation Congress such as dealing with Indian nations and foreign affairs to include making treaties, declaring war, and making peace. However, the Article also required “nine states assent” to virtually anything Congress wanted to do. Given the sessions were lightly attended by the delegates, quorums were often difficult to attain which made passing any new legislation even more challenging.

Interestingly, Article XI expressly allowed for the addition of Canada to our confederation if that colony so chose. That fact indicates how precarious was England’s hold on our northern neighbor in the minds of Americans in the 1770s. Finally, as Article XIII states “the Union shall be perpetual” which meant that joining the compact was permanent and there was no recourse for leaving the Union.

The Articles of Confederation as approved created an amazingly weak central government. One might ask why the states would take the time to form a national government at all if the one they designed was powerless and ineffective. It is important to remember state sovereignty was paramount to virtually all political leaders in early America.

As the move towards independence gained traction in 1776, states codified freedoms in their own state constitutions that had been denied to them under King George and Parliament. With each state already guaranteeing liberties to all citizens, there was no need or desire to create a powerful entity at the federal level to ensure them.

This extreme focus on state’s rights is understandable when one considers how the original colonies had been established. Rather than the eastern seaboard being populated by the English all at once, the various colonies had been settled separately and independent of the others. Naturally, each colony jealously guarded its autonomy.

The inherent weakness of the federal government, and the danger that posed, became clear as the American Revolution got underway. Although its provisions authorized the central government to regulate and establish an Army, it lacked the power to enforce its decrees. While Congress could request funding and troops from the states, all money and men would only be forthcoming if the states agreed to the requests. Not surprisingly, most requests were ignored.

This lack of funding and men almost proved the undoing of the Continental Army which, of course, would have meant the end of our effort to win independence. As General George Washington wrote to George Clinton from Valley Forge in February 1778, “For some days past, there has been little less than a famine in camp.” He went on to write, “When the fore mentioned supplies are exhausted, what a terrible crisis must ensue.”

Unfortunately, funding for the army only got worse after we secured our independence. With the threat from England largely ended, the national army shrank to a skeletal force that attempted without much success to protect the western borders from Indian attack. Additionally, because of this military impotence, the United States could not compel England to abandon its forts in the Northwest Territory as called for in the Treaty of Paris.

The Articles also expressly denied Congress taxation authority. Consequently, the central government was constantly short of cash and unable to pay its bills. Congress printed more money, but this only served to devalue the currency. To make matters worse and national finances more confusing, the individual states had the right to print their own currency as well.

Another flaw was the lack of an executive branch. Although the men who presided over the Continental Congress were called “President,” they had no power, and many served in that position for less than a year. Most delegates had seen too much of King George and monarchy to be willing to entrust significant authority in one central figure.

These issues aside, the Articles of Confederation deserves some credit. For one thing, it was our first constitution, and with it we survived the American Revolution and six years beyond.

The Articles also granted the Confederation Congress the authority to establish an efficient system for expanding the new nation. Its provisions for new territories and how to settle them as seen with the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 proved to be a boon in the decades that followed.

So why should the Articles of Confederation matter to us today? Perhaps the greatest blessing of the Articles was its flaws. Our nation’s leaders were able to see and learn early on what we needed in a central government for our country to succeed.

While we feared a powerful Federal government, we realized one that was powerless would ensure our demise. The recognition that we needed to balance these two concerns led to the changes our Founding Fathers incorporated into our Constitution.

If you want to learn more about the Articles of Confederation, I suggest reading “We Have Not a Government: The Articles of Confederation and the Road to the Constitution” written by George Van Cleve. Published in 2017, it is an excellent account of the troubles resulting from the weakness of the Articles and how those troubles led to the creation of our Constitution.

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

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

 

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Guest Essayist: Tom Hand
Declaration of Independence painting by John Trumbull depicting the five-man drafting committee, left to right: John Adams, Roger Sherman, Robert Livingston, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin of the Declaration of Independence presenting their work to the Congress. The original hangs in the U.S. Capitol rotunda.


The Declaration of Independence was America’s first and, arguably, greatest document. It not only laid out the reasons why we should leave the British Empire but also eloquently explained a different set of rules by which a nation should be governed. The background leading to the creation of this document is critical to understanding its content.

At the end of the French and Indian War (or Seven Year’s War) in 1763, the British Empire’s treasury was depleted due to the terrible expense of the war. Although it had been fought in several parts of the world, King George and Parliament decided to recover much of the cost on the backs of their American subjects.

Parliament enacted the Stamp Act (taxes on most printed materials) in 1765 and then the Townshend Act (taxes to fund royal officials, as well as language reinforcing Parliament’s right to tax the colonies) in 1767. While Parliament felt it reasonable that the colonies share of the cost of the recent war, the colonists felt quite different.

To understand where the Americans were coming from, it is important to understand that for much of our early history the British Empire had neglected their American colonies. As a result, Americans had developed a strong independent streak. Out of necessity, our early leaders created their own assemblies and learned how to govern themselves.

Colonial officials reasoned that since the colonies were not directly represented in Parliament, that legislative body did not have the right to levy taxes on them. Not surprisingly, tensions rose over the course of the next few years as the Americans resisted and found ways to avoid paying these new taxes.

Following the Gaspee Affair in 1772 in which colonists burned a British ship, and the Boston Tea Party in 1773 when the Sons of Liberty threw a shipload of tea into Boston Harbor, Parliament attempted to assert its authority with a series of bills known in America as the Intolerable Acts (in England they were called the Coercion Acts).

They essentially stripped Massachusetts of most of the freedoms it had enjoyed since its founding. The harshness of these acts first surprised and then outraged people in all thirteen colonies. People reasoned if England could do that to one, they could do it to all.

To address this crisis and craft a response, colonial leaders convened the First Continental Congress in September 1774. They met in Carpenters’ Hall in Philadelphia, and delegates attended from 12 of the 13 colonies; Georgia chose not to attend. They decided to impose a boycott on British goods and send King George a list of their grievances, but their petition fell on deaf ears.

As one month led into the next in 1775, matter grew worse. On April 19, American militiamen first fought British regulars at the Battle of Lexington and Concord, and on May 10 colonial leaders convened the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia.

Most of the representatives still hoped for a reconciliation with England. After all, most still thought of themselves as English. Their ancestors had come over from England, their laws were based on English laws, and we spoke the same language.

Not surprisingly, the first point of business for Congress was to try to forge a reconciliation with England, and John Dickinson led this effort. Because most colonists viewed Parliament and not the King as the real problem, they sent a second petition, the so-called Olive Branch petition, directly to King George in July 1775. They soon found out they did not have a sympathetic ear with the King.

On August 23, in reaction to the Battle of Bunker Hill on June 17, Parliament passed the Proclamation of Rebellion which formally declared the colonies to be in a state of rebellion. By the time Congress’ petition arrived at court in late August, King George refused to even receive it, and the chance for reconciliation was essentially at an end.

Notified in late 1775 of these developments, John Adams and others who saw independence as the only choice for the colonies began to agitate for it. Then, in January 1776, Thomas Paine, an Englishman newly arrived in America, published a pamphlet called “Common Sense” which advocated for complete independence from England. His timing was perfect.

Much like Harriett Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” crystallized the abolitionist movement in the 1850s, Paine’s pamphlet presented to the American people a sound and well-reasoned argument for why separation from England made sense. Ideas that only months before were almost too extreme to discuss were now seen as the best alternative. The table was now set for the great debate to reach its inevitable conclusion.

The discussions were intense, but by late June enough progress had been made toward securing the votes that Congress formed a “Committee of Five” to draft a resolution declaring independence. This committee which included John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Livingston, Roger Sherman, and Thomas Jefferson wanted Adams to draft the document. However, Adams insisted that Jefferson do the writing with Adams editing it as needed.

On July 2, the Congress approved the Lee Resolution, introduced by Richard Henry Lee of Virginia, calling for independence from Great Britain. The Committee of Five promptly submitted its declaration document to Congress which they approved, after several modifications, on July 4. Thus, in the minds of the delegates, and soon in the eyes of the world, our nation was born.

The words contained in the Declaration of Independence were some of the most revolutionary ideas ever printed. When Congress approved the words, “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,” they were going where no government had gone before.

The preamble further declared that “Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Given that, in 1776, hereditary monarchies ruled all the nations of the earth, this too was a radical doctrine.

The Declaration of Independence also listed 27 grievances the King had committed against his subjects in America, essentially justifying our decision to separate from England.

These complaints ranged from “He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly” to “He has made Judges dependent on his will” to “He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the consent of our legislatures.” Taken together, they made a compelling case for leaving the British Empire.

Ultimately, the American colonists in 1776 were left with two choices. They could either completely submit to the authority of Parliament and the Crown, becoming vassals of England, or declare complete independence and thereby control their own destiny. Time has shown that they chose wisely.

So why should the background to the Declaration of Independence matter to us today? It is important to know that our Forefathers tried to reconcile with the mother country and that rebellion was not our preferred choice.

We also must recognize the intensity of the debate and the widely varying opinions regarding the proper course of action to take and understand that our Forefathers agonized over their decision.

Finally, we must appreciate that these words revolutionized the way that not only Americans but also the rest of the world viewed the role of government and the very concept of where the right to govern originates.

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

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Guest Essayist: Tom Hand


The Colony of Virginia was established at Jamestown by the Virginia Company in 1607 as a for-profit venture by its investors. To bring order to the province, Governor George Yeardley created a one-house or unicameral General Assembly on July 30, 1619.

This body of men was comprised of an appointed Governor and six Councilors, as well as 22 men called burgesses (a burgess was a freeman of a borough in England). Most importantly, the burgesses were elected by the eligible voters (free white males) in the colony, thus making this General Assembly the first elected representative legislature in British America.

In 1642, Governor William Berkeley split the legislature into two houses initiating a bicameral assembly, with the elected representatives in the newly created House of Burgesses and the appointed Councilors of State meeting separately.

It was here, the leading men of Virginia met and debated the great issues of the day. Until the 1760s, this legislative body largely determined how the colony would be governed, including how its citizens would be taxed.

This began to change in 1765 when Parliament passed the Stamp Act which imposed a tax on paper products such as newspapers, pamphlets, and legal documents. Importantly, it represented the first time Parliament placed a direct tax on the colonies in North America.

This revenue grab did not go over well with the colonists who were used to controlling their own internal affairs. The debates and the documents that flowed from the House of Burgesses after that act spearheaded our nation’s drive for independence from England.

On May 29, 1765, Patrick Henry introduced a series of resolutions known as the Virginia Resolves. These declarations essentially denied Parliament’s right to tax the colonies since the citizens in America did not have representation in England.

By late June, many newspapers throughout the colonies had printed these resolutions which inflamed the passions of people. The “no taxation without representation” sentiments led to the Stamp Act Congress of 1765, marking the first time the colonies joined forces against the Mother Country.

The years passed and the relationship with England continued to deteriorate as the Mother Country introduced more burdensome legislation. In 1774, after Parliament passed the Boston Port Act which closed the port of Boston, the House of Burgesses again voiced their opposition in a series of resolves. The result was that Governor Lord Dunmore dissolved the assembly.

However, the Burgesses would not be denied their right to assemble and immediately convened in a public house called the Raleigh Tavern. Here, they called for a series of five Virginia Conventions to meet in defiance of the governor.

It was at the Second Virginia Convention on March 23, 1775, that Patrick Henry gave his most famous speech by concluding, “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, God Almighty! I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death.”

In addition to Patrick Henry (Burgess from 1765-1776), the men who passed through the House of Burgesses was a group that had an outsized influence in the founding of our great nation. Its alumni list is a “Who’s Who” of Founding Fathers:

George Mason (Burgess from 1758-1760) who wrote the Fairfax Resolves in 1774 which denied Parliament’s authority over the colonies, and in 1776 formulated Virginia’s Declaration of Rights, a precursor to our Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights.

Thomas Jefferson (Burgess from 1769-1774) whose 1774 paper A Summary View of the Rights of British America clearly expressed our grievances against King George and, of course, he authored our landmark Declaration of Independence in 1776.

George Washington (Burgess from 1758 to 1775) who commanded our Continental Army in the American Revolution, was our first President, and became the Father of our Country.

With the advent of the new Virginia Constitution in 1776, the House of Burgesses was finally dissolved. In its place, the new state government formed an elected Senate and an elected House of Delegates, which continues to govern the Old Dominion today. In 1780, Virginia moved its capital to Richmond, ending Williamsburg’s long run as the center of politics in America.

Sadly, the unity of these deeply patriotic men ended within a few years of achieving our independence in 1783. Defeating the British had been a cause on which all the former Burgesses could agree. With that task accomplished, they began to splinter over how to run the United States.

The Articles of Confederation under which the country operated provided a weak central government and allowed the states a great deal of autonomy. This system did not vest any taxation authority in the central government or allow for a federal standing army or navy. Many worried our new nation could not survive without a stronger federal authority.

Consequently, leaders organized a convention for the fall of 1787 to meet in Philadelphia to address issues with the Articles. Known at the time as the Philadelphia Convention but to posterity as the Constitutional Convention, the delegates did more than fix the Articles; they designed our new Constitution.

Former Burgesses like George Washington who saw the need for a strong central government were called Federalists. They argued that without this change the nation would be virtually defenseless in the face of foreign aggression. Additionally, the numerous currencies and laws of the thirteen states would tend to destabilize the nation, possibly leading to its dissolution.

Those former Burgesses that opposed the new Constitution, Anti-federalists like Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson, worried that creating a powerful central authority would simply replace the tyranny of the king with a different tyrant. These men preferred local control and felt states should be governed as each one saw fit.

By 1796, a mere thirteen years after the signing of the Treaty of Paris, the nation had divided into two deeply antagonistic political parties. These men, once so unified in thought and action when they were fighting for our freedom, were never able to bridge the divide regarding the proper direction for America after that freedom had been secured.

So why should the history of the House of Burgesses matter to us today?

In its day, many of the men who assembled there later assembled on the national stage to lead our country. Throughout the crisis with England, it was an eloquent and vocal proponent for American liberty and many of the ideas found in our Declaration of Independence and Constitution were first debated and refined in their meetings.

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

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Guest Essayist: Tom Hand


When the English began to settle North America in the 1600s, the leaders of the various colonies had different motives. While all colonies exercised their authority in the King’s name, they were not created in the same mold, and some had more autonomy than others. In fact, there were three different types of colonies: royal, self-governing, and proprietary.

Royal colonies were owned and completely administered by the Crown. The Governor and his Council were appointed by the King and these lands existed simply to generate wealth for England. Although few land grants began as a royal colony, by the American Revolution, eight of the thirteen colonies were this type: Virginia (converted in 1624), New Hampshire (1679), New York (1685), Massachusetts (1691), New Jersey (1702), South Carolina (1719), North Carolina (1729), and Georgia (1753).

Self-governing colonies were formed when the King granted a charter to a joint-stock company which set up its own independent governing system. These organizations were essentially corporations formed to make money for the investors.

Like the entrepreneurs of today, a few men came up with an idea, presented it to their friends and associates, and asked them to invest in their plan. Their organizations had wide latitude to appoint leaders and run their business as they wished. Virginia, Massachusetts Bay, Connecticut, and Rhode Island were all initially established as self-governing colonies.

However, these colonies soon found out that their independence was on a short leash. If the colony was poorly administered like in Virginia or if the people proved troublesome like in Massachusetts, these dominions were converted into a royal colony with all the restrictions that came with it. By the time of the American Revolution, only Rhode Island and Connecticut, retained their original self-governing charter. The King always had the final say.

Proprietary colonies were land grants given by the King to one or a few favored men called proprietors. They in turn were to administer these areas for the Crown but in a manner to be determined by them. The proprietors appointed the Governor and his Council, determined the laws (but they had to be approved by the Crown), and ran the territory as they saw fit. While the King had the ultimate authority, the rule of the proprietors resembled that of a monarch.

Maryland was an example of a proprietary colony. It was established by Cecil Calvert in 1632 upon receiving a land grant from King Charles I. Lord Calvert, also known as the 2nd Baron Baltimore, wanted to develop a land where Catholics could openly profess their faith without fear of retribution.

After several starts and stops, settlers for this new colony finally arrived in 1634. The colony prospered and in 1649 Maryland passed the Maryland Toleration Act, the first law establishing religious tolerance in British North America. Although Lord Calvert never visited Maryland, the Calvert family managed the province well and never had their charter revoked.

Not surprisingly, these proprietary colonies which operated without a great deal of input from England, were not as anxious to sever ties with the Mother Country as those with more stringent controls. For example, the Pennsylvania Assembly had to replace five of its initial nine delegates to the Second Continental Congress to get a majority of delegates to be in favor of independence.

Delaware, which was another proprietary colony, had to send an extra delegate, Caesar Rodney, on a midnight 80-mile ride to Philadelphia to break the tie in their delegation so the state could vote for independence. By the time of the American Revolution, only Delaware, Maryland and Pennsylvania remained as proprietary colonies, none of which were hot beds of rebellion.

WHY IT MATTERS: So why should the way in which colonies were organized and governed matter to us today?

The three types of colonies with their different systems of government generated varying attitudes towards English rule and our independence. Understanding these conflicting feelings helps us to better appreciate why not all Americans wanted to break from the Mother Country.

What we see is that those colonies left to govern themselves were fairly content living under English rule and not as anxious to break from England. In retrospect, England may have been wiser to allow all the colonies to operate with more autonomy and to manage them in a less oppressive manner.

SUGGESTED READING: If you are interested in a deeper dive into this subject, Colonial America: A History to 1763 is an excellent book on background, founding, and development of the thirteen British North American colonies. It was written by Richard Middleton and Anne Lombard and originally published in 1992, but it was updated in 2011.

PLACES TO VISIT: The statehouse in Annapolis, Maryland, is an incredibly beautiful building and a great example of architecture from our colonial era. It is the oldest state capitol in continuous legislative use and is the only statehouse ever used as the nation’s capitol. Seeing it and the rest of this historically significant seaside city would be well worth your time.

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

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

 

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Essay 61 – Guest Essayist: Tom Hand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

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Essay 49 – Guest Essayist: Tom Hand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

 

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Essay 42 – Guest Essayist: Tom Hand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

 

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Essay 43 - Guest Essayist: Tom Hand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

 

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Essay 40 – Guest Essayist: Tom Hand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Podcast by Maureen Quinn. 

 

 

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Essay 39 – Guest Essayist: Tom Hand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

 

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Essay 41 - Guest Essayist: Tom Hand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

 

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Essay 38 – Guest Essayist: Tom Hand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

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Essay 34 – Guest Essayist: Tom Hand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Podcast by Maureen Quinn.

 

 

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