Founding Fathers Blog

George Washington’s Church

February 4th, 2013

I recently came across a copy of a newspaper called “Globe Leader,” dated January 13, 2013.  It’s a newspaper from New Wilmington, PA. In it there is an article about a Christ Church in Alexandria, VA, where George Washington had a family pew. It’s still there, and it’s the only pew left with a swinging door and a little metal plate with the name “George Washington family.”  Visitors are welcome to sit in it.  There is a list of George’s honorary pall bearers for his funeral, which must have been at this church.

The Church is still an active church, which had a full crowd for its services on Christmas Eve. The author of this article said it was a very nice service. It was an hour and a half long, conducted by a woman, and included communion.

The brochure about this church said it was also attended by Robert E. Lee (who also has a marked pew, but no swinging gate), who, of course, used to live where Arlington National Cemetery is now. During the Civil War, many of the local churches were taken over and turn into hospitals. However, the reputation of Christ Church as George Washington’s place of worship preserved it as a church. It’s reputed to be the oldest church in one of the original 13 colonies.

And the brochure said that it is a tradition for the sitting U.S. President to attend at least one service at Christ Church during their administration, often on a Sunday near Washington’s birthday celebration. No mention of whether or not our current President has attended, or intends to visit. But Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill sat together there on Sunday, January 1, 1942, to observe the World Day of Prayer for Peace.

The construction of this church began in 1767 and was completed in 1773. It still has a vibrant congregation. It can hold up to 550 people, including those who may be seated on the balcony.

There’s a beautiful color picture of the church building on the front page of this newspaper. Might be nice to visit sometime.

And To Think It All Started With 10 Commandments

January 17th, 2013

On the wall in my law office, next to my grand bookcase full of law books, I had a framed cartoon.  It wasn’t a very large cartoon, but it made a point. The cartoon drawing showed a man, presumably a lawyer, standing in front of an enormous bookcase, full of law books. The man’s image of a thought balloon held these words:  “And to think it all started with just 10 Commandments!”

On July 4, 1776, 56 representatives from the original 13 colonies in America chose to begin a new nation. They declared our independence from Great Britain with an inspired document. That was the beginning of the United States of America.

Eventually the leaders of the new nation realized that they needed a new “rule book” with written rules to govern the new nation. Fifty-five representatives from these States created a new rule book. They provided the States with the new Constitution of the United States, adopted September 17, 1787. This new Constitution was 4,543 words long.

These Founding Fathers created a government that was so structured that all the power was to lie in the hands of the People. The People were to remain supreme and the government was to have ONLY those powers granted to it by the People and written into this Constitution. This was a brand new concept. It had never before been attempted.

As one of our Founding Fathers, John Adams, said:  “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

And James Madison, who is known as the Father of the Constitution warned future generations:  “We have staked the future of all our political institutions upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves according to the Commandments of God.”

Thomas Jefferson, another Founding Father, and the author of the Declaration of Independence, told us that “The natural progress of things is for Liberty to yield, and government to gain ground.”

The oldest, and perhaps wisest of this group of stalwart men, added this sage advice:  “I agree to this Constitution . . . because I think a general Government necessary for us . . . and may be a blessing to the people, if well administered; and I believe, farther, that this is likely to be well administered for a course of years, and can only end in despotism (tyranny or dictatorship), as others have done before it, WHEN THE PEOPLE SHALL BECOME SO CORRUPTED as to need despotic government, being incapable of any other.” (Emphasis added).

James Madison added to his above utterance:  “But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature?  If men were angels, no government would be necessary, and if angels were to govern men, then neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this:  You must first enable the government to control the governed, and in the next place obligate it to control itself. Without a doubt, the primary control on the government will be its dependence on the People, but experience has taught mankind that other precautions will be necessary as well.”

The authors of the Constitution believed as long as citizens were taught correct principles, were moral and religious, they would govern themselves and would do well. But as Franklin espoused, when the people became less religious, less moral, and more corrupt, then they would require more government, more laws, more rules and regulations. Then the government would become more tyrannical.

It’s a little bit like I used to tell my children as they were young:  “There are no rules until you break them!”

That’s why the original States agreed in their unalterable compact, or contract, what would be required as new states would be added to the Union. The Northwest Ordinance, which was agreed upon at the same time as the Constitution in 1787, held that “Religion, morality and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.”

Did you get that? In order to have good government, we must teach morals, religion, and knowledge in our schools.  So why have we allowed the teaching of God, morals, religion, and character to be removed from the curriculum of our schools? Good government cannot be had without these subjects being inculcated in our children.

Because citizens are no longer taught morals, religion or character, they have less reliance on “that little spark of celestial fire called conscience” as George Washington put it. Inevitably this leads to the need for more external controls by government. More laws, more rules, more regulations are passed each year by our Congress.

Publius (the anonymous author of the Federalist Papers, now known to be Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay) were worried about this contingency. As they expressed in the Federalist Papers:  “Our governments seem the most susceptible to the disease of too easily writing and passing an excessive number of new laws.”  Isn’t that exactly what’s happening now? Bills before Congress are so large and so complex and passed so quickly that some representatives and Senators have confessed that they are not able to even read them, much less understand them, before voting on them to pass into law.

Publius also warned:  “it will be of little avail to the people, that the laws are so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood.”

Benjamin Franklin established the University of Pennsylvania, and its motto, which is “Laws without morals are vain.”

John Adams proposed that :  “Statesmen, my dear sir, may plan and speculate for liberty, but it is religion and morality alone, which can establish the principles upon which freedom can securely stand. The only foundation of a free Constitution is pure virtue, and if this cannot be inspired into our People . . .they may change their rulers and the forms of government, but they will not obtain a lasting liberty.”

Rather than passing more complex and incoherent laws on guns, or health care, or marriage, or the environment, or even financial institutions, wouldn’t it be wiser and make more sense to listen to and spend more money on following the counsel of our first President, George Washington?  This might require us to return to teaching about morals, character, religion, and yes, even God. Here’s what George Washington advised in his Farewell Address as he retired from the Presidency:

“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens…Let it simply be asked, where is the security for property, for reputations, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education…reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”

And to think, it all started with just 10 Commandments!

The Constitution – Intended to Endure for Ages

September 6th, 2012

It was Labor Day. I was having lunch with several of my friends and neighbors. At some point I decided to ask:  “We are enjoying Labor Day. So now I ask you, what is the next federal holiday to celebrate?”

Those around the table looked sheepishly at each other. One finally volunteered, “is it Columbus Day?’

“No,” I said, “the next holiday is between Labor Day and Columbus Day.”  They seemed embarrassed and even chagrined–but no one came up with another federal holiday.

So I gave some hints. Big ones. Like it’s on September 17. It’s sort of related to July 4th. It has to do with the founding of our country. Still no one even hazarded a guess.

Finally I had to announce:  “It’s Constitution Day, the observance of the day the United States Constitution was signed by the 55 State representatives. The Day our Constitution went into effect.”

The result was an unenthusiastic, indifferent, uninterested and even a detached: “Oh.”

And that, it seems, is the way we, as a people regard this amazing and inspired document. Oh.

“Isn’t it out of date?  Who pays any attention to it any more? Why don’t we just scrap it?”  Even our President thinks it’s out of date–and he taught Constitutional law in Chicago.

At times it seems we have forgotten the inspired, magnificent and noble history that gave us this grand document.

As a business attorney, I have often compared our founding documents to those documents which are necessary to create a company, a corporation, or a limited liability company. To begin a new company you must first have “Articles of Incorporation” or “Articles of Organization.” These words establish a new company.

Just like those, our Declaration of Independence sets out the words to create a new company–or in this case, a new country. A war was even fought over those words. They were so important. And a new country was created. The United States of America.

Then to determine the rules of operating the new company, an additional document must be agreed upon. The next needed document is a set of “corporate by-laws” or an “operating agreement.”

Your new country  will also require such rules or by-laws. That is what our Constitution of the United States was drafted to do. Present the rules for operating the country.

Please notice the document is titled:  “The Constitution of the UNITED STATES.” (emphasis added.) Some citizens, history teachers, and even politicians have forgotten this is a country made up of 13 original sovereign States–now 50 sovereign States.

That fact was so important to our Founding Fathers, that they fought diligently to protect it in the “operating agreement.” The Constitution. It was a major issue in the original debates. The two main leaders of the Convention, George Washington and James Madison, had disagreements over this issue. It was finally agreed upon. A compromise was accepted.

The Founders feared that the larger, more populous States would be able to overwhelm and overpower the smaller, less populous States. That’s exactly why they set up the electoral college to elect a President. And it’s why they required the Senators to be  elected by the States themselves, rather that the population at large. This was referred to as “The Great Compromise” which led to final agreement.

It was smart, it was prudent, it was innovative. It gave stability and protection to the nation.

That’s why I believe it was unwise and shortsighted to change this protection for the smaller states in our operating agreement, our Constitution. When the seventeenth Amendment was ratified on April 8, 1913, it radically changed our nation.

No longer did the States elect the Senators. Now the electorate at large elects the Senators–just like they elect the members of the House of Representatives. No difference. So technically there is no longer anyone elected to represent the interests of the individual separate and sovereign States.

What difference does that make? you may ask. After all, they all represent the people.

Let’s just take one example. The recently passed health care bill.  It’s doubtful that that bill would have been approved in the Senate, when the Senators all became aware of all the undefined, onerous, and unfunded mandates which under that bill became the responsibility of the individual States. The Senators, representing the interests of the States would have demurred.

Likewise, we can see the individual States now beginning to recognize and fight back about this bill, and about the lack of protection for the states in fighting the abuses of illegal immigration.

When making decisions on how to run the country, look to its by-laws, its operating agreement, its Constitution. Don’t make decisions without resorting to the rules. And don’t change the rules without considering all the ramifications.

Did we make a mistake with the 17th Amendment?  Yes, I think we did. Let’s not make the same mistake with the Electoral College. Listen to the founding fathers. They really did know what they were doing.

As former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John Marshall, said:  “The Constitution is intended to endure for the ages to come. . .”

Declaration of Independence — July 2?

August 17th, 2012


The resolution that the American colonies should break from Great Britain and become free and independent states was proposed by Richard Henry Lee, of Virginia, in the Continental Congress, and was unanimously adopted by Congress on July 2, 1776.

The adoption of this resolution on that date caused John Adams to write home to Abigail. He thought that date, July 2, would become the great day of American celebration for independence. He wrote to her:

“Yesterday the greatest Question was decided, which ever was debated the America, and a  greater, perhaps, never was nor will be decided among Men . . . .The Second Day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha [sic], in the history of America.– I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews [sic], Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires, and Illuminations from one End of the Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”  (His capitalization retained.)

Well, he missed it by a couple of days!

The official verbiage of the document as drafted by Thomas Jefferson, was not adopted until after more debate. It was approved by Congress on the 4th of July, 1776, which, as you know, has become our real day of celebration. Only John Hancock, as the President of Congress, and Charles Thompson, the secretary, actually signed on that date.

John Hancock announced that he had signed his name in especially large style so that King George III would not need to put on his spectacles to discern his signature. This symbolic gesture has led to the standard statement for contracts, etc., “put your John Hancock right here.” John Hancock was already at this time one of the American rebels who had a bounty on his head for his capture for the King.

The Declaration was then sent to have its lettering “engrossed” or professionally and expertly written in its now familiar attractive script and style. Most members of Congress then returned to Philadelphia to sign the new and captivating document on August 2, 1776. Some the next day.

Josiah Bartlett, the representative from New Hampshire, is credited with being the first man to attach his signature to this newly engrossed inspired document. John Hancock must have signed moments later, in the top middle portion reserved for signatures–again in his bold, large and audacious configuration.

Josiah Bartlett, a name not often remembered, wanted to be, and became the first and foremost to sign the formal and original Declaration of Independence. He went on to become the first President or Governor of the now new free and  independent State of New Hampshire. Like John Hancock, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson, he was another fearless leader advocating and declaring independence for our New Nation.  These were some Uncommon Heroes.

“I Cannot Live Without Books!”

July 20th, 2012

It is interesting and even fascinating to me how much respect and reverence our Founding Fathers had for books. Of course books were then very expensive and dear. And there was no modern technology to compete: no computers, iPads, internet, telephones, cars, refrigerators, radio or television. Still, they knew how important books were to their education, knowledge, getting ahead, and even sometime their very existence.

With apologies to Nancy Sinatra, the Founders of this nation knew “these books were made for reading, and that’s just what you’ll do. One of these days these books will make a scholar out of you!”

George Washington accumulated and read many books about agriculture, farming, fishing and even building. You may still see some of his book collection at his home, Mount Vernon.

Benjamin Franklin’s favorite books were the Bible and “Pilgrim’s Progress.” Franklin’s own book about electricity was the most popluar book in Europe and all the world for years. Ben was apprenticed to his brother, a printer, at an early age, which gave him an unusual access to a world of books. And he took advantage of it.

Patrick Henry didn’t take to books at an early age. He preferred fishing and hunting to learning. At least until he decided to study and become a lawyer.  We know he borrowed Thomas Jefferson’s lawbook, “Coke Upon Littleton,” wherein he made notes for his most impressive “Brutus” speech, which he gave after only 5 days as a member of Virginia’s House of Burgesses. Thereafter books became much more important to him.

John Adams, our second President, love and acquired many books. When John and Abigail were moving from Braintree to Boston, they leased a house on Battle Street, ironically enough called the “White House.” John set aside one of the rooms there to be his study. He agreed that he wouldn’t attempt to move his whole library, only those books he should need. Abigail responded:  “The books you don’t need have yet to be printed!”

When James Madison was preparing for the upcoming Constitutional Convention, he immersed himself in books about history, government, and nation building. At Madison’s request, his friend, Thomas Jefferson, then a minister to France, sent James two trunks of literary cargo from France. The trunks contained more than 100 carefully selected books. According to Jefferson these books were “the most useful reference books available.”

At that same time, John Adams, then a minister to Great Britain, wanted to have his impact on the Constitutional Convention. He wrote and sent to America his two volume work “A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America.” One scholar noted that “even a casual glance of the records of the Federal Convention will show that Adam’s book was used as a sort of reperatory by many speakers” at the Convention. Adams remarked to Abigail that every victory he had ever won had been through his word: spoken or printed.

The most prolific reader of books of all the Founding Fathers was undoubtedly Thomas Jefferson. Many thousands of books were stored in Jefferson’s library and throughout his home at Monticello. During the war of 1812, British troops had burned the city of Washington. Among other things, the Congressional Library was destroyed.

Because of this, Jefferson offered to sell his collection of books to the Federal government to become the nucleus for a new library of Congress. Jefferson’s was the finest collection of books in America, containing thousands of volumes which had been gathered over a period of 50 years. His collection was more than twice the size of the library which had been burned in the war.

Jefferson sold more than 6,700 books to Congress, but was paid only about half their value. It took 10 wagons to transfer the books to Washington.

Jefferson then began to collect books all over again. His new library grew to over 1,000 books before he died. He confessed to his friend and fellow Patriot, John Adams, “I cannot live without books!”

Jefferson had also written or compiled several books himself, including “Notes on Virginia,”  “The Jefferson Bible,” and “The Life and Morals of Jesus.” He revered the Bible, as did all of our Founding Fathers.

Books are not only a great source of information and inspiration, they can also provide relief from toils and troubles. Through books one can escape to any place on the planet and beyond, take part in adventures and discoveries, provide entertainment, and even turn your self into a scholar.

I love books. Like Jefferson, “I cannot live without books.” Even with the new tools and mediums such as “Kindle”, books give me diversion, delight and happiness. I should tell you that some of my favorite books are “Founding Fathers–Uncommon Heroes,”  “Give Me Liberty,”  “The Illegal Trial of Christ,” and “You Can’t Take It With You–So How Will You Leave It Behind?”  all by Steven W. Allen.

These books were made for reading . . . and will make a scholar out of you!

Independence Day – How It Happened – Part 4

July 2nd, 2012

Thomas Jefferson explained that the object of the Declaration of Independence was:

“Not to find out new principles of new arguments never before thought of, not merely to say things which had never been said before; but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent, and to justify ourselves in the independent stand we [are] compelled to take.”

The Declaration was intended to be an expression of the American mind. Jefferson wrote of his completed project:  “Whether I had gathered my ideas from reading or reflection I do not know. I know only that I turned to neither book nor pamphlet while writing it.”

The Declaration of Independence is one of the greatest and truly inspired documents of all time. Have you read it lately?  Ezra Taft Benson, Secretary of Agriculture under President Dwight D. Eisenhower, uttered these profound thoughts:

“If we accept the premise that human rights are granted by government, then we must be willing to accept the corollary that they can be denied by government. If Americans should ever come to believe that their rights and freedoms are instituted among men by politicians and bureaucrats, then they will no longer carry the proud inheritance of their forefathers, but will grovel before their masters seeking favors and dispensations. . . . We must ever keep in mind the inspired words of Thomas Jefferson as found in the Declaration of Independence:

“‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.'”

“Since God created man with certain inalienable rights, and man, in turn, created government to help secure and safeguard  these rights, it follows that man is superior to government and should remain master over it, not the other way around.”

One wonders if we, the people, have perhaps forgotten some of these basic principles.

Now, you remember Patrick Henry who stayed home in Virginia instead of attending this Continental Congress?

He and Thomas Jefferson were friends and fellow Virginians. Tom was invited, when he was still studying for the law, to listen at the door of the Virginia House of Burgess, as Patrick gave what became know as his ‘Brutus speech.’ Many years prior to his ‘Give me Liberty speech.’  It has been said that Tom referred to that day as perhaps the most important day in his life–for on that day, as a result of that speech, a flame for freedom and liberty was lighted in his heart.

Patrick Henry did follow through on his resolve to see that the legislature should adopt a new constitution. And they did. It was on July 5, 1776, that Patrick Henry was sworn into office as the first governor of the new State of Virginia under its new State Constitution.

As Thomas Jefferson once said: “In matters of the Revolution, Patrick Henry was our leader. He left us all far behind.”  It may be that without Patrick Henry’s unconquerable spirit, we may not have had that resolution for independence from Richard Henry Lee. We may not have had that spark for freedom and liberty that led to the Declaration of Independence. We may not have realized our libery or freedom as a nation at all!

And yet all most citizens know about Patrick Henry is that he once said:  “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?  Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”

Indepence Day – How It Happened – Part 3

June 28th, 2012

The draft of Jefferson’s declaration was submitted to the committee. Benjamin Franklin made a few suggestions and improvements agreed to by Jefferson. They were incorporated into the draft which was submitted to Congress on Friday, June 28, 1776.

It too, was tabled until a vote could be taken on Richard Henry Lee’s resolution to break with Great Britain. That resolution was adopted by Congress on July 2. John Adams thought that day would become the day of celebration. The next day he wrote to his wife, Abigail:

“Yesterday the greatest Question was decided, which ever was debated in America, and a greater, perhaps, never was nor will be decided among men . . . . The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epocha [sic] in the History of the America. –I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty, It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews [sic], Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires, and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”

As the new document was being debated, dissected, and even diminished, Thomas Jefferson squirmed in his seat. He sat silently, anxiously, as Congress edited his draft. Dr. Franklin, sitting beside Jefferson, noticed he was writhing a little under the criticism and shortening of his document. Franklin offered some words of consolation. “I have made it a rule” he said, “whenever in my power to avoid becoming the draftsman of papers to be reviewed by a public body.” Franklin then shared a story from his printer days.

“One of [my] friends, an apprentice hatter, had decided to open a shop for himself. His first concern was to have a handsome signboard with a proper inscription.  He composed it in these words:  ‘John Thompson, hatter, makes and sells hats for ready money’, with a figure of a hat subjoined. But he thought he would submit it to his friends for their amendments.

“The first man he showed it to thought the word ‘hatter’ was superfluous becasue it was followed by the words ‘makes hats’. Thompson agreed and struck it out.

“The next friend observed that the word ‘makes’ might as well be omitted, because the customers would not care who made the hats, as long as they were good ones. Thompson agreed and struck it out.

“A third friend suggested eliminating ‘for ready money’ because none of the local merchants sold on credit. Again Thompson bowed to the will of the majority, and now he had a sign which said: ‘John Thompson sell hats.’

“‘Sells hats,’ said his next friend, ‘why nobody will expect you to give them away. What then is the use of that word?’ Again poor Thompson conceded.

“Moments later, the word ‘hats’ went into oblivion when another friend pointed out that there was one painted on the board. And so he was left with a sign that said: ‘John Thompson’ beneath the painted hat.”

John Adams, speaking on behalf of the Committee, took up the defense of the paper. He supported the Declaration with zeal and ability, fighting fearlessly for every word of it. Jefferson gratefully nicknamed Adams the “Colossus” of the important debate. Jefferson himself, never uttered one word in defense of his creation.

The formal Declaration, Tom’s writing, was approved in the late afternoon of July 4th, 1776. Only John Hancock as President of the Congress, and Charles Thompson, who attested as secretary actually signed it on that date. The other delegates affixed their signatures to the official engrossed copy on August 2, 1776.

To be continued….

Independence Day – How It Happened – Part 2

June 26th, 2012

The committee for the preparation of a draft of a declaration of independence was made up of Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Roger Sherman and Robert Livingston. They met together to decide which of them would write the intial document for consideration. It was proposed that Benjamin Franklin, the oldest, wisest, most experienced of the team should be the scrivener. He declined, arguing that it wouldn’t be proper or smart for him to write the original document, as his son, William, had remained a loyalist, and was then the Governor of New Jersey.

Both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson had received recognition as writers, so it seemed likely that one of them should be selected. Jefferson noted only, the committee “desired me to do it.”

John Adams left a more interesting account.

“The sub-committee met. Jefferson proposed me to make the draft. I said: ‘I will not. You ought to do it.’

[Jefferson] Oh, no! Why will you not? You ought to do it.’

‘I will not.’

[Jefferson] ‘Why?’

‘Reason’s enough.’

[Jefferson] ‘What can be your reasons?’

‘Reasons are: first-you are a Virginian, and a Virginian ought to appear at the head of this business. Reason second-I am obnoxious, suspected, and unpopular. You are very much otherwise. Reason third-You can write ten time better than I can.’

‘Well’, said Jefferson, ‘if you are decided, I will do as well as I can.'”

Jefferson wrote his masterpiece in 17 days, after his attendance at the congressional meetings during the day.

Tom was a young attorney, 33 years of age. He turned to “neither book nor pamphlet to pen his timeless words.

To be continued…

Independence Day – How It Happened – Part 1

June 24th, 2012

One of our great National Holidays is coming up soon–Independence Day! This year it falls on the 4th of July. Oh yeah, every year it falls on the 4th of July–that’s the day we celebrate.

Most of us remember that we celebrate this Holiday to commemorate the signing of the Declaration of Independence. That magnificent inspired document by which our Founding Fathers declared that the 13 colonies of Great Britain are now free and independent states.

A new country was created!

However, it seems to me, that many of us Americans have forgotten some interesting and significant details that transpired in connection with this historic event. Some that we learned in 8th grade, and some that our teachers never got around to explaining to us. So I’m going to remind you of just a few.

The Continental Congress, made up of representatives from each of the 13 colonies, met in Philadelphia in 1776 to consider the hositilies taking place in Massachussets and now New York. You’ll recall that at the last Continental Congress, George Washington was unanimously appointed as the Commanding General of the brand new United Colonial Army.

Some of the same delegates that were present at the First Continental Congress, were appointed by their respective colonies to continue their representation. These include Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Roger Sherman, Robert Livingston, and Richard Henry Lee. Notably absent were George Washington, now conducting a war, and Patrick Henry, two respected, inspiring and influential Virginians.

We know why George Washington wasn’t there. Patrick Henry was elected to return, but he declined to attend. He had been convinced by reading a pamphlet written by none other than John Adams, that the time had come to make certain that each of the colonies declared themselves independent and adopted their own new State Constitutions. Patrick Henry was determined to advance such a Constitution through the legislature, or House of Burgesses in Virginia. This he would do instead of returning to the Continental Contress. He thought John Adams was correct in his reasoning.

However, Henry knew that the Continental Congress also needed to conduct some serious business. Therefore, he convinced Richard Henry Lee, who would attend the Congress, to present a proposal, a resolution that the Colonies now declare themselves free and independent States. Lee went to Philadelphia and indeed presented this important resolution.  That proposal may not have even been raised for discussion had not Patrick Henry insisted that it be introduced by a fellow Virginian–Richard Henry Lee.

The proposal was introduced on June 7, 1776. The President of the assembly, John Hancock, could see that most of the delegates were still unsure of separation from the mother country, despite the hostilities. But they were advancing to that conclusion. As a result, the proposition was tabled until additional reasoning could be considered.  But so that as little time as possible should be lost in the event that Lee’s proposition was approved, John Hancock appointed a committee to prepare a draft of a declaration, should one be called for.

To be continued…..

Abigail Adams: Mother’s Day Thoughts

May 8th, 2012

Mothers Day is coming up. For some reason this allowed my thoughts to turn to Abigail Adams, the wife of John Adams. When John and Abigail were courting, they fell deeply in love. Yet, Abigail’s mother was against their marriage, feeling that Abigail would be marrying beneath her status.

“John Adams is nothing but a lawyer!  And lawyers are the most despicable group in New England. Everybody agrees. They ought to be outlawed,” her mother proclaimed.

Nevertheless, John and Abigail were married on October 25, 1764. As for John, his marriage to Abigail was the most important and significant decision of the years to come. Abigail proved to be the ballast John needed in his life. Among other things, John said that Abigail was the closest and most forthright advisor to him during his presidency.

Abigail and John had five children together. They were Abigail (Nabby), John Quincy (who later became the 6th President of the United States), Susanna (Suky–who passed away at the age of 14 months), Charles and Thomas.

Abigail supposed that “a woman who allowed herself to be confined to a narrow circle of domesticity with no higher sites in mind, must be miserable. More to be pitied, however, was the woman of both genius and taste who could not ‘cheerfully’ leave her intellectual pursuits to tend to the daily cares of the prudent housewife.”

Abigail was left to tend to “all the cares of a prudent housewife” as well as those of a man of the house for much of her married life.  In 1778 John was sent by Congress to France to join with Benjamin Franklin to negotiate for much needed financial aid. John remained in France, Holland or England for ten trying years. Abigail was left in charge of all things at home and on the farm.  She finally traveled to Europe to Join John in 1784.

Upon their return home, both John and Abigail were given heroes’ welcomes in Massachussetts. John became Vice President to the First President of the United States, George Washington. When George refused to run for a third term, John Adams was elected President of the United States. After the election and in 1800, President and Mrs. Adams were the first to occupy the President’s Mansion, later to be called the White House. The mansion was not yet completed and Abigail was known to use the East Ballroom to hang the family’s laundry out to dry.

Forty-four years after their beautiful love story began, Abigail died on October 28, 1818 from the effects of typhus fever. It was only 3 days after their 44th wedding anniversary. John and Abigail were not only husband and wife for all those years, but were best friends, confidants, and equal companions.

Four years after her death, John wrote about his sweetheart to his granddaughter, Caroline:

“This lady was far more beautiful than Lady Russell (an admired Englishwoman of the time), had a brighter genius, more information, a more refined taste, and at least her equal in virtues of the heart. She also had equal fortitude and firmness of character, equal resignation to the will of Heaven . . .equal in all the virtues of the Christian life.”

Oh that sons and husbands could say the same about their mothers and wives.


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