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February 19, 1788 – Fishkill, NY



vanwyckhomestead-270x180In 1788, Fishkill, New York, was a well known and important city, having once served as the Capitol of New York State. It was also the home of the largest supply depot of the Continental Army. And Fishkill had its own newspaper, The New York Packet, later known as Louden’s New York Packet.

It was this newspaper, on Tuesday, February 19, 1788, that published another in a series of essays which were rapidly taking the country by storm. The essays were anonymous and while there was much speculation as to the authorship, only four or five people (not counting the writers themselves) in the entire nation could say with any certainty that they knew who the author – or authors – was. Even George Washington pretended to not know as he praised the essays and proclaimed, “Who is the author?” He had been directly told by the authors that they were, in fact, the authors. Read the rest of this entry

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Musings After Listening to the News of the Day

Editors Note: Dave was eating lunch after Physical Therapy and getting ready to head to the studio to record Constitution Thursday – New Hampshire, when he heard a popular Chat Show Host, Rush Limbaugh, describe the divide in the nation today by using the phrase, “the country folks and the Party Elites.” Perhaps it was just a coincidence, but this is the very heart of the divide that Constitution Thursday has been looking at for the past few episodes. In New Hampshire the divide will find its apex in both the degree of division AND in the rigging of the vote.  Dave wrote these thoughts after while he finished his lunch, a Chicken Tostada Salad.

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Each and every day now, some pundit or observer somewhere tells me that “We Americans have never been more divided.”

There’s nothing like a little hyperbole to get the argumentative juices flowing. Every time I hear this statement made as an unarguable fact, I am forced to shake my head for two reasons.

First, it isn’t true.

Any reasonable student of history knows that on at least two (and probably more) occasions, this nation was far more deeply divided. In the summer of 1788, the nation was almost not created when the debates on ratification split the Nation into two distinct partisan groups. And no, I am not talking about Federalists and Anti-Federalists. The deepest divide was between the “country” and the “mercantile elites.” As I have talked about in the episode of South Carolina, Massachusetts and (when they post) New Hampshire and Rhode Island, this was no “frank, bordering on direct” discussion. At one point, a 1000 Man Militia unit was dispatched to break up a group of the other side meeting to talk about their goals.

We talk today about “rigging elections.” Really? I realize that I am in the minority here, but Hillary Clinton did not “rig” the Primaries. In fact, the Super Delegate system worked EXACTLY as it was intended to work post the 1968 nomination when Hubert Humphrey was nominated even though he did not win a single Primary. The Democrat Party put into place a system to protect its interests, which include, making sure that a fellow who is NOT a Democrat doesn’t waltz in and “steal” the nomination from a loyal Party person. Did Hillary use the rules to her advantage? Yep. Did she “rig” it?” No. She wasn’t around the Party in 1968 (nor was Bernie Sanders) after which the Democrats came up with this system to protect their interests.

Donald Trump claims that the General Election will be rigged against him to anyone who will listen. Has he offered any proof of this alleged “rigging?” Will there be anomalies (like more votes for a candidate than there are people in a district)? Of course there will be. That’s been going on so long that it was the plot for a major motion picture staring a dead guy who used drugs. Is that “rigging” the election in the sense that Trump and others are talking about? Of course not.

In any case, when it comes to rigging votes, there’s no modern political party or movement that can hold a candle to the Federalists of 1788. When we complain today about “voter suppression,” we don’t even have a clue as to what went on in the summer of 1788.

I heard today (August 4, 2016) the worlds largest Chat Show Host, Rush Limbaugh, opine that this election (2016) is between “the country folks and the party elites.” From where did he get such an idea? Rhode Islands Anti-Federalists were known as “The Country Party.” In South Carolina, the Legislature specifically debated the Constitution “to provide information to the country,” meaning, of course, the non-mercantile inland farmer class.

There is nothing new under the sun. We have had such splits before and here’s the thing – we will again. The difference is in how we are handling the debate and the resolution.

In 1788, when the anti-Federalists lost, they didn’t whine and complain about how the vote had been “stolen.” They saw the writing on the wall, and the held up what they would accept as a compromise, which not even the most ardent Federalist could argue was a bad thing – the Bill of Rights. When the Civil War ended, most Confederates accepted the result and reassimilated into the culture. Many CSA Army officers went on to distinguished careers in the US Army. And fifty years after the Battle of Gettysburg, the two former armies met and shook hands across the wall that divided them.

So in the second place, while we claim that we are divided as never before, what do we offer to unite? We have Justices who claim that the study of our own history, especially the Constitution, is “worthless.” Yet it was in this document that our most glorious coming together in union was found. Two sides willing to shoot at each other over how the government should operate, peaceably united and settled their differences and moved on as a united nation.

What lessons have we earned today from the past that will help us move forward together? Or has our acidic rhetoric dissolved the bands that unite us?

If we learned nothing from our own history it must be this: the “my way or the highway” position is doomed to divide and defeat. We need not compromise all of our values, but when those values divide the nation, does not our own history require us – on both sides – to look for the greater good for the nation?

And if we have leaders who are not willing or able to do so, do not We The People have a responsibility to replace them with those who will?

Constitution Thursday – South Carolina

As the ratification process turns to South Carolina, it is clear that the Federalists who run the State favor ratification. It was South Carolina, after all, that teamed up with James Wilson to cement the 3/5th’s compromise and stuck to the deal as the tides of anti-slavery climbed against it.

But it won’t be as simple as that. First, the State Legislature will do something that no other legislature has done – it will openly debate the Constitution “for the sake of informing the country’s members” of the reasons why the Constitution should be ratified.

Then there is a second issue. South Carolina. like Massachusetts, is concerned about the lack of religious tests for holding offices. As it turns out, South Carolina has an official religion, one that is traditional but quickly becoming an anachronism.

Rawlins_LowndesLastly, Mr. Rawlins Lowndes rises in opposition to ratification. A Charleston lawyer, he takes upon himself the mantel of speaking for those “less accustomed to public speaking,” and he outlines the problems that many in South Carolina have with the overall tone of the Constitution. Which is, of course, the one thing that all of the Southern States, South Carolina most of all, fears the Constitution will do – end slavery.

There is strong majority anti-Federalist sentiment in the State, and indeed, there are many in South Carolina who believe that the State should “go it alone” rather than remain joined to the Union. It is Charles Cotesworth Pickney who puts a final rest to that political heresy.

When South Carolina votes to ratify, it is over the objections and the will of the people of the State. but it is the eighth pillar to be raised in the new government…

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