“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America….”
A Democracy will only be as good as its LEADERSHIP. This was true in the beginning of our country and is true today.
After the War for Independence was over, the very thing that had held the confederation together was now struggling to endure. This new United States….this Union was in terrible danger. They had to prove that this step that had been taken was correct. The world needed to also see that this was true.
AN OVERVIEW OF CHALLENGES TO THE LEADERS OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
- TIME-FRAME There were several committees appointed: One to draft the Declaration of Independence and the other to form a confederation. There was back and forth discussion in congress for over a year. They prepared a plan…and then amended it, sending it to the states for ratification This took three years to get the approval needed.
- A UNIFORM POLICY: Whether it was a matter of commerce; raising funds to run a government or other matters, it was most difficult to get all states involved to see things in the same light. Selfishness abound from every angle. “A uniform policy was necessary, and while a pretense was made of acting in unison to achieve a much desired end, it is evident that selfish motives frequently dictated what was to be done.” (Max Farrand)
Example: If a state happened to be a coastal state with ports of entry such as North and South Carolina and Virginia…taxation or not of other states who used their ports would be a way of cutting off their life-blood. There could not be an interference with the “arteries of commerce. “Virginia and Maryland had come to a working agreement regarding the navigation of Chesapeake Bay….requesting the cooperation of Pennsylvania and Delaware.” Sounds good? Hold your horses! The Article of Confederation specified that Congress must first consent. This had not been done.
Having given this small example of only this many states and only a problem within commerce to build a nation, one can see how this type of problem multiplied by many such matters could cause a great deal of grief; confusion and even a stalemate. Public opinion was to be added into the equation. A French representative put it this way in a letter he wrote home about this young, fledgling country and those who governed: “….there is no expectation and no intention that anything should be done by the convention beyond preparing the way for another meeting and the report has been hurried through before sufficient states could be represented…”
It is amazing to us in the 21st Century, 2013…looking back at the 1780’s…that anything was accomplished at all. Yet, the men who stepped forth to lead….and I emphasize the word LEAD… were up to the task. They had to call a meeting…with a fixed time to meet in Philadelphia. With the approval of congress, it was set for the second Monday of May, 1787.
- WHO WERE SOME OF THE MEN WHO LED THIS YOUNG NATION?
The men shown below are not all the leaders or signers of the Constitution, but are a few, interesting men who were not afraid to be leaders. As we look at their lives, we may be surprised that they would not fit into political correctness today….as some were holders of slaves…fought duels…and met with other problems. For some, their personal lives and problems could have been a detriment to their willingness to help forge a nation. Not so. They were TOUGH…DEDICATED..PATRIOT LEADERS.
Alexander Hamilton born 1757 , on the island of Nevis, British West Indies. In 1777, Hamilton became General George Washington’s assistant. In 1788, he convinced New Yorkers to agree to ratify the U.S Constitution. He then served as the nation’s first Secretary of the Treasury, from 1789 to 1795.
Personal facts: Hamilton died of a gunshot wound that he sustained during a duel with Aaron Burr.
George Washington was a soldier and presided over the convention that drafted the Constitution, which replaced the Articles of Confederation and established the position of President. He became the first President of the United States (1789-1797). Washington had a vision of a great and powerful nation that would be built on republican lines using federal power. He sought to use the national government to preserve liberty, improve infrastructure, open the western lands, promote commerce, found a permanent capital, reduce regional tensions and promote a spirit of American nationalism. Of him was said, “…first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.”
Personal facts: Mount Vernon was Washington’s home and he freed all his slaves in his final will.
Patrick Henry was an attorney, plantation farmer and politician who became known as an orator during the movement for independence in Virginia in the 1770s. He served as the post-colonial Governor of Virginia from 1776 to 1779 and from 1784 to 1786. Henry led the opposition to the Stamp Act of 1765 and is remembered for his “Give me Liberty, or give me Death!” speech.
Personal Facts: In 1771 Henry and his wife Sarah moved into their Scotchtown plantation in Virginia, along with their children. Sarah developed a mental illness and deteriorated rapidly, becoming dangerous to herself and others, she was clothed in a ‘Quaker shirt,’ an early form of strait jacket.”
It was recommended that she be moved to the public hospital in Williamsburg. After inspecting the facilities, Henry “saw that if he agreed, his wife would be locked into a windowless brick cell containing only a filthy mattress on the floor and a chamber pot. There she would be chained to the wall with a leg iron. Appalled by what he saw, he instead prepared a private, two-room apartment for her in the basement of Scotchtown. Each room had a window, providing light, air circulation, and a pleasant view of the grounds. The apartment also had a fireplace, which provided good heat in the winter, and a comfortable bed to sleep in.” She died in the 1775. “Because of her illness (then thought to have been caused by being ‘possessed by the devil’ ) she was denied a religious funeral service or a Christian burial. Henry buried her thirty feet from the home they shared and planted a lilac tree next to her grave to remember her. The tree still stands there, a few steps from the door to her basement.”
When Patrick Henry refused to attend the Philadelphia Convention, Virginia’s legislature selected Dr. McClurg as a delegate. Dr. McClurg thus became one of three physicians involved in crafting the U.S.Constitution. McClurg advocated increased executive powers while at the Convention, but returned to Virginia in early August. He never returned, worried that his “vote would only operate to produce a division, & so destroy the vote of the state.” He never returned, and thus did not sign the final draft of the Constitution. President Washington later considered nominating him as Secretary of State, after [Thomas Jefferson] resigned.
Dr. McClurg was one of the most distinguished physicians in the colonies, educated (and later professor) at the College of William and Mary; studying also at the University of Edinburgh and in London and Paris. His Experiments upon the Human Bile and Reflections on the Biliary Secretions (London: 1772), was translated into several languages. He was appointed professor of anatomy and medicine at his alma mater in 1779, and also served as a surgeon in the state navy. Dr. McClurg achieved renown in Richmond for his efforts to stop various epidemics, including the yellow fever in 1798. He had some set-backs in his career when he received criticism in connection with the botched toxicological work in the celebrated trial concerning the murder of Judge George Wythe, whom he initially thought suffered from cholera, not arsenic poisoning
John Blair’s greatest contribution as a Founding Father came as a judge on the Virginia court of appeals and on the U.S. Supreme Court, where he influenced the interpretation of the Constitution in a number of important decisions. On September 24, 1789, Blair was nominated by President George Washington to the Supreme Court of the United States.(for information on today’s Supreme Court justices.)
Personal Facts: Contemporaries praised Blair for such personal strengths as gentleness and benevolence, and for his ability to penetrate immediately to the heart of a legal question.
James Madison…student of history; scholar in politics and hailed as the “Father of the Constitution” for being instrumental in the drafting of the United States Constitution and a key author of the Bill of Rights. He became the 4th President of the United States; was a slave holder who inherited his plantation known as Montpelier, and owned hundreds of slaves during his lifetime to cultivate tobacco and other crops. Madison supported the three-fifths compromise that allowed three-fifths of the enumerated population of slaves to be counted for representation.
These two writings on the Constitution only give a taste of what was involved in producing this great document. A suggestion would be to do your own study and research on a great work that is often taken for granted; thought of little and those men without whose courage and dedication to carefully think-through, pray-through and give this Constitution to us…we may not be the United States of America today. Other great tests were to follow: The Civil War being one, which Boyer Writes will address at a different time.