Dr J Rufus Fears – Story of Freedom – (5 of 18) – A Galaxy of Statesmen: Making The Constitution
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Dr J Rufus Fears – Story of Freedom – (5 of 18) – A Galaxy of Statesmen: Making The Constitution

September 28, 2019

bjbj Lecture #5 Thus victory was won at Yorktown.
This did not bring the war to an end. Negotiations would go on for two more difficult years.
British troops remained stationed at points within the United States and the boundaries
of the new nation had to be confirmed, numerous points of detail had to be worked out, made
even more difficult by the fact that this just wasn t a negotiation between Great Britain
and these United States but also between the allies of the United States who had contributed
to the war effort, especially France, Spain, Holland. These were carried out in Paris.
The United States was represented by among others Benjamin Franklin and John Adams. It
was assumed by the British diplomats that they were so much more suave, so much more
skilled in the art of diplomacy that it would be easy to take advantage of these bumbling
Americans. Well, once again the Americans proved to be much more shrewd than the British
gave them credit for. There was a question of the boundaries above all. Now when the
war began you will recall one of the spark points had been the British proclamation that
American settlers not move beyond the Allegheny Mountains and that was the technical boundary
of states like Pennsylvania. The state of Georgia went only to the Oconee River not
even in the middle of the state of Georgia, as it exists today. And once again, these
frontier areas were promised by the crown to his Native American allies who again the
Indians had fought in large numbers on his side. The debates went on and on and on and
finally, the Americans, sitting down at length with the British not formally over the table
but at dinner at night. Much that would get done during these early years of the founding
of our country got done at dinners. Many of these men prided themselves on being two-bottle
men. That is to say they could drink two bottles of wine with their meal. And I don t mean
these little three-quarters of a liter or whatever they are. These were real, big quart
bottles of wine and mix it up with some punch too and maybe a mug or two or three of beer.
So when these more convivial atmosphere discussions went on and the Americans made the clear point
Look, we speak a common language. Most of our trade is going to be with you. Much of
your trade will be with us. Why should we be enemies? We ve declared and won our independence
but we bear no lasting hostility to you. All you need to do is just recognize that our
boundaries extend to the Mississippi River. To the Mississippi River? Where is that on
a map? There it is, old boy. Well that s about double your size. Yes. Yes, it is. But what
s out there? Nothing. Well, do you know of anything worthwhile out that way? No, of course
not. Well then, as for the Indians Well, you know, how much trade are they going to do
with you? Let s just look at it practically. We re not talking about justice here just
practical facts. How much trade are they going to do with you? Well, don t you think you
should consult your allies? Actually no. They re going to block it so why don t we just
sign a treaty? Is that all on the up and up? If we do it, it s on the up and up. They did.
The Spaniards were outraged. Their empire was in decline and the last thing they wanted
on the borders of their empire, on the other side of the Mississippi, was this vigorous
new republic filled with these greedy, land-hungry Americans but there wasn t much they could
do about it and the Dutch, as long as they got paid, they were happy and the French just
said, Eh, so what? and thus it was done. And we gained an empire larger than most nations
of Europe through the shrewd diplomacy of our diplomats and through practicality and
as we go through the founding what most strikes me is the practicality of these men. They
knew they had a task to get done. They came from different regions. They had very different
points of view on critical issues like slavery. But they set their priorities and worked together.
Some were for a bigger, stronger, national government. Some were for a limited government.
Some were for a Congress with the right to tax. Some were for a Congress that had no
right to tax. But they got the job done. And so it was with this treaty. In the meantime
there were tensions in this new republic and it looked as though this revolution might
go the way of other revolutions and end up again in the dustbin of history. That was
the view of the wise heads of Europe thinkers, philosophers, statesmen. There were no functioning
republics and democracies in that age of 1783. Surely America would either lapse into anarchy
or George Washington would be proclaimed king. Now you all must remember that s not too far-fetched
of an idea. The French Revolution would six years later take exactly that course, first
plunging itself into an excess of democracy then chaos and then the emergence of Napoleon
who would crown himself as emperor of France. Indeed there was a movement to do just that
to make George Washington king. It spread rapidly among the American troops 1782, 1783
they had not been paid. The continental army the soldiers that were part of the regular
army their pay was months and months in arrears. Their farms had been foreclosed upon and still
no real action from the Congress that governed these United States, no payment. Merchants
had not been paid. And so there began to circulate in Washington s camp a little letter saying
the only salvation is for General Washington to be made king. When Washington got word
of this he came out to his men. He was furious stone cold in his fury. He had written an
address to them but he couldn t get his glasses to work. Finally, he just said, I have gone
gray in my country s service and now it would seem that I have grown blind. But nothing
has ever wounded me so much as the very thought by some of you that I would be king or a dictator,
a Julius Caesar. Now I do not know how I will get it done but I promise you this. I will
get you your pay. And the men cheered him as history would cheer him. The treaty was
signed and for the next three years the outlook for the country grew bleak ever bleaker. A
financial crisis struck these new United States as severe as the one that struck the United
States several years ago and in which we still suffer. It was a credit crisis that froze
up the markets all the way to Boston, froze the credit markets all the way to London,
all the way to Amsterdam. It was based on the idea of cheap, easy money instead of hard
money gold and silver. Now you were a Massachusetts soldier and you had been paid in what you
believed to be good faith by the state of Massachusetts you had served in its militia
with script. Your salary was written down there how much you were owed and you thought
it was as good as gold or silver. You took it down to your local general store. Now you
had been away for years fighting this war. Your wife had barely been able to keep up
the farm. You had to start almost over again. You had to get seed corn, a plow, perhaps
oxen all of this needed to be done. And so you went down to the merchant and he said,
m not taking this stuff. What? That s script from the state of Massachusetts. I don t care.
It s not worth anything. It s utterly worthless. s issued by the state legislature. Yes. But
it s worthless. How can that be? Because I cannot sell you anything because I can t take
this piece of worthless paper to the general wholesaler in Wooster and get any money. He
won t take it because the bank in Boston won t take it. What do you mean they won t take
it? I mean it s just that. Well now listen you just defeated the strongest army in the
world. You weren t going to take this lying down, the way we take outrageous gas prices.
No. You just got that same rifle, formed your militia company again and you were going to
march on Boston. Captain Shays was one of the men who was going to lead you and so began
Shay s Rebellion in the Fall of 1786 and it began to spread the idea of it of men taking
up their rifles again up and down, particularly the frontier of these United States. Well,
Shay s Rebellion was put down. The merchants in Boston sent out an expeditionary force
but still there was this grave financial crisis and a deeply discontented American people.
Had they fought this revolution to be bankrupt and to see merchants grow fat? It worried
men men of thought it deeply worried George Washington and he said, I fear we re going
to go the route of every republic in history and plunge ourselves into chaos. Men like
Alexander Hamilton and James Madison representing a slightly younger generation. Alexander Hamilton,
you ll recall, had requested permission from General Washington on whose staff he served
to capture one of the British outposts at the Battle of Yorktown. Madison and Hamilton
came together at a small convention that had been called to discuss the problems of commerce
on the Chesapeake Bay. Now several things you must realize. One these were 13 sovereign,
independent states. The treaty with Britain did not recognize a United States of America.
It recognized the independence of New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York go right
on down to Georgia. They were the sovereign entities recognized and that is how they saw
themselves as sovereign states. There were the articles of confederation. The war had
been fought under these articles. They were essentially a coalition of independent states.
There was a Congress that met under them, no executive, everything run by committees
at one point there was something like 98 committees no real power to collect taxes, maintained
an army. An army was needed. Frontier states like Georgia were threatened from their perspective
by Native Americans like the Creek Indians who did not want their land taken away. They
were requesting strongly a federal army to help them. The far reaches of Virginia and
North Carolina were out of touch with the coastal regions and some people in those distant
regions were negotiating with the Spaniards to enter the Spanish Empire. And the jealousy
between the states was such that there were trade barriers between one state and another.
All the goods that entered New Jersey had to come through New York harbor. New York
put a tax a tariff on these and New Jersey out of spite then took a lighthouse, which
was owned by the state of New York but was on New Jersey real estate and taxed it. Such
were the feelings that one elderly gentleman left his entire estate to his grandson he
lived in New York on the condition that his grandson be educated anywhere except at Yale
University because he did not want his grandson to learn the vile customs of the people of
Connecticut. So Hamilton, Madison, other thoughtful individuals including Benjamin Franklin, Roger
Sherman who had been at the Declaration of Independence signing shrewd man from Connecticut
they began to discuss the need to have this Congress meeting under the articles of confederation
call for a convention to discuss a modification of these articles of confederation. All through
the winter Madison wrote to George Washington General, you must come. You must preside over
this convention. Otherwise it has no prospect of success. Washington wrote back Young Madison,
I am not coming. My farm is in ruin. I am sick to death of politics. No good is going
to come of this. But finally, once again, patriotic feelings, duty called Washington
and so it was in early May he got in his carriage holding his beloved Martha by the hand there
at Mount Vernon and set off. I am so sick my stomach is in turmoil. My head is splitting.
s all the strain, dear, she said. t go. No. I ve given my word. It looked as all the very
elements were against him huge storm blew up he couldn t cross the river. But finally,
Sunday morning as he began to reach Philadelphia he saw a troop of horsemen, their metal helmets
glittering, their breastplates glittering, their silver trousers and black coats. It
was the Philadelphia Light Horse come out to greet him. And as they escorted him into
the city the bells tolled, the crowds cheered and his old friend, Benjamin Franklin, was
there to embrace him. The convention was to start on May 11th. Madison had promised Washington
it would start at that time. They got to the convention hall the Philadelphia Statehouse
they sat, the time came, went nobody showed up except Washington, Madison and a few delegates
from Philadelphia. Well Young Madison, where is this grand convention that you promised?
I don t know. It ll come. Well they had better. Well, they didn t. Three, four, five days
passed. m going home, Madison. I ve been made to look like a fool. No, please. Stay, General
and then word began to come. The winds had been contrary. That s how you went most easily
was by sail. The roads were bad and the delegates began to stream in from 12 of the states.
Only Rhode Island refused to have anything to do with this convention. The other states
called it Rogue Island but it liked cheap money and that s how it wanted to stay. There
was also a radical difference in the delegates to this convention. Only six men would sign
both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Men like Patrick Henry refused
to go although appointed I smell a rat, he said. They re going to strip us of our liberties.
There is nothing wrong with the articles of confederation. We fought the war under them
and that is what we fought it for limited government, low taxes, the rights of the states.
This is going to end up with a Constitution with a big government, big taxes and a federal
government that dominates the states. The discussions began. First step was to elect
George Washington to preside. The second was to bar the press. Not only was the press barred,
the delegates were forbidden to disclose what was spoken about in that meeting. The windows
were nailed shut and soldiers were stationed around the Pennsylvania Statehouse. These
men believed in freedom of the press but they knew they had to have the freedom to discuss
responsibly and change their mind when needed. And the issues began. First of all this was
going to be a most difficult task to modify the Articles of Confederation so from the
beginning, the essentially illegal step was taken to abandon that charge and instead to
create a new Constitution. There was fairly speedy agreement that it would be a representative
form of government with a legislative branch, a judiciary and executive but then what? First
came the question of what kind of representative body are we going to have two or one two like
the British with a House of Commons and a House of Lords? How many votes would each
of the states have? And here here the convention almost split wide open because little states
like Delaware had had one vote in the Articles of Confederation just the same as New York
and they weren t going to give that up. And the little states New Jersey, Delaware almost
walked out. Then Roger Sherman self-made man, sat on the board of Yale College though he
could not afford to go there as a boy went around and just talked to men individually.
You know we ve got a little system in Connecticut. Our lower house, which we elect on a very
limited term limited terms for the members is represented on the basis of proportion.
So the larger the township the more taxes it pays the larger the number of representatives.
But our upper house each township has the same vote. Couldn t we give that a try? And
it was solved. And it still works today if we will let it work. Then came the question
of the executive. Here there was grave disagreement. Many members were in favor of a single executive
but others worried that a single executive even one elected for four years and Commander
in Chief would become a Julius Caesar, a dictator. And then at the dinners in the evenings the
word began to spread. What if General Washington were the first President? That changes everything.
If it is General Washington I have no concerns whatsoever. He would never abuse his power.
Now don t you wish we had a leader with that kind of moral authority that we would entrust
our freedoms on the sheer relief that he was a man of integrity? And so they began to move
rapidly. Now they did this in one summer. They didn t get started until May 25th and
already, by the end of August, they were moving rapidly towards a conclusion. Suddenly came
the issue they had all tried to avoid slavery. There were strong opponents of slavery. Men
like Elbridge Gerry from Massachusetts, who hated the very idea of slavery How can we
have a Constitution to guarantee freedom if we have slaves? Slavery is evil and this Constitution
will be nothing but a contract with the devil if we include slavery. But seven of the states
out of the 12 were slave holding, including Delaware. They announced very clearly We will
not sign any Constitution that does not write slavery in and is guaranteed by that Constitution
such as a clause that says if a slave from Georgia escapes to Massachusetts federal marshals
must bring him back to Georgia. That Congress can in no way interfere with the importation
of slaves for at least 20 years. Well, that s it. Once again, Roger Sherman, Benjamin
Franklin went around I have never owned a slave in my life, said Roger Sherman. But
we have to set our priorities. Do we stand on high moral principles and let this country
fall or do we set the priority that we must first have a Constitution that works? We will
never get that Constitution unless the slave holding states come with us. I will not sign
such an evil document. And one of these who stood up and said, There must be no slavery
was George Mason of Virginia who owned more slaves than anybody in the country. Well,
the delegates were aghast. He said, No. I understand how evil slavery is. We must make
a way now to end it. But finally this sense of setting priorities, which is so lacking
in our Congress today, prevailed. In charge of writing the Constitution putting together
all the articles was a small committee chaired by Gouverneur Morris a lively man. He had
only one leg, actually. He had lost the other leg jumping out of a lady s bedroom when her
husband came home a little too soon. He would then be ambassador to Spain where he carried
on a notorious affair with the queen of Spain and got thrown out. Finally married a wealthy
widow and died operating on himself with a whalebone a sharpened whalebone for a urinary
blockage. But that was in the future. Here he was though still with one leg. And the
clear concise prose of our Constitution as it s been called by Franklin Roosevelt the
most practical and flexible instrument of government ever devised owes its clarity to
Gouverneur Morris. And so it was written more debates, more discussion, some changes. George
Washington holding his silence all through it, only to moderate. And finally came September
the 17th. Some delegates were so furious they had gone home. The whole delegation from New
York had gone home. They did not want to see New York put on the same standing with New
Jersey. One delegate came back Alexander Hamilton alone, representing the New York delegation.
There were still strong disputes. Luther Martin the best lawyer in the United States but mostly
drunk gave a long and drunken, rambling oration against this Constitution. Elbridge Gerry
spoke out against it once more. George Mason refused to sign it and refused to go home.
Finally on that morning of the 17th frail, old Benjamin Franklin rose briefly and said,
May I say just a few words? I am too feeble m sorry to say to speak myself so I have given
it to my friend to read to you. I have lived many years. I have learned that nothing human
is perfect. Some of you say, Go home. Come back with another group next year. We can
come up with a better Constitution. We might. But this is a Constitution we have come up
with. We have put our wisdom into it. We are not perfect. Let us send it out to our fellow
citizens. Let them be the judge. I implore you please sign it. It was agreed that even
if every member there did not sign it, if each of the states there signed it with a
majority of their delegates, it could be said that it was unanimous. And one by one they
came up and signed. All through the signing Benjamin Franklin kept looking at George Washington
s chair and finally George Washington could not stand it anymore. He got up and he said,
Doctor Franklin, what are you doing? I am looking at your chair, General. My chair?
Yes. There is a yellow sun painted on the back of it. Yes? All through these proceedings
I have wondered if that were a rising or a setting sun and now I am sure that it is a
rising sun. Thank you, my friend. Thank you. So they walked out. All sorts of wild rumors
had been flying around they were proclaiming a monarchy and so on. And finally, one little
old lady came up to Benjamin Franklin and said, Well Doctor, do we have a king or a
republic? and he said, Madame, you have a republic if you can keep it. And so is still
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