Friday, July 3, 2015

Celebrating Independence Day in 1787 While Drafting the Constitution

Following is an excerpt from Tempest at Dawn describing the Independence Day celebration held during the Constitutional Convention. The events and Reverend Campbell’s words are accurate to the historic record.


The cannon fire hurt James Madison’s ears and teared his eyes as concussions pounded his body. Sulfuric mephitis scratched his throat, and the rotten egg odor made him queasy. The thirteen reports ended, but before Madison could draw a grateful and tranquil breath, the artillery brigade started another round.

After three consecutive resounding salutes of thirteen cannon shots, Madison felt exhausted. He had been jostling for a position from which to see the Independence Day celebration when the cannon fire assaulted his senses. The State House Commons throbbed with people keyed up with rum and excitement. The crowd churned on the periphery of the Commons, while the Society of the Cincinnati, the City Calvary, the Light Infantry, and a battalion of militia vied for attention in the center of the swirling people. Each military formation, spruced up in their finest regalia, stood eager to demonstrate their parade skills. The units waited, as did Madison, for the artillery to finish their noisy salute.

Philadelphia, as the site of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, took pride in holding the rowdiest Fourth of July gala in the nation. Festivities would go from dawn until deep into the night. The city echoed with public celebrations, ringing bells, and martial music. Every church would conduct special devotionals, and all 117 taverns would compete for revelers with loud entertainment. The formal celebrations had started early in the morning, with city officials, aspiring orators, and preachers making the customary thirteen toasts.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Would Divided Government Have Surprised the Founders?

Recent events in Washington make you wonder if anyone can get along inside the Beltway. It’s not just Democrats versus Republicans—now Democrats war with Democrats and Republicans war with Republicans. And all of them seem at odds with those of us in the hinterlands. Washington is getting like the Middle East without the beheadings.

Are the Founders’ at fault for government dysfunction? Garrett Epps thinks so. In an illogical piece in The Atlantic, Epps claims the Founders never anticipated a divided government. He wrote:

I’m trying to illustrate a dangerous weakness of our system, one that the Framers clearly did not foresee. Many of them believed there would not be political parties in the new system. Others no doubt thought that the government they had designed would consist of a Congress that met for a month or so every December and a president who would supervise a slumbering bureaucracy the rest of the year. Some of them assumed the president would be a passive figure, administering directions from Congress; others imagined a chief executive with some of the majesty of the king of England. I don’t think any of them anticipated that the two branches would ever clash over which represented "the will of the voters."

Epps teaches constitutional law at the University of Baltimore, but it seems he never got beyond grade school American history. (Actually, he probably knows better but hopes the rest of us have a cherry tree understanding of American history.)

First of all, none of the Founders owned a pair of rose colored glasses. These were hard core realists. Their entire design is based on placing guardrails around partisan combatants and tempering human frailty. Claiming the Founders never anticipated divided government is ignorant or disingenuous.

Historians estimate that about one third of the colonists supported a break with England, one third opposed it, and the remaining third kept their head down to avoid musket balls.  That’s pretty partisan. Jolly old Ben Franklin even became estranged from his son because they found themselves on opposite sides of the cause. Estranged is probably too light of a word since Franklin stopped G. Washington from setting his son free in a prisoner swap. Franklin and his son never forgave or forgot. Delegates to the Constitutional Convention knew ratification would be a ferocious battle, and before the convention was even over, took several actions to tilt the debate in their favor. And these men never anticipated partisanship and a divided government?