Lecture Notes From Summer Institutes

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*Dividing line between planters and farmers who owned slaves.

b. There was a very skewed distribution of wealth in the South.

  • Only 1½ % of all Southerners owner 50 or more slaves in the year 1860.

  • That 1½ % controlled 25% of all the land.

  • That 1½ % controlled 28.7% of all the wealth of the South.

  • In the year 1860, the wealthiest 1,000 Southern families had an average income of $50,000 a year.

  • The other 660,000 Southern families’ average income was $90 a year in 1860.

  • Remember, the average male field slave cost about $1,000.

4. What was the non-slaveholder’s stake in protecting slavery in the South? Why did they care about the Wilmot Proviso? Why would they oppose an end to the extension of slavery?

a. The aspirations of non-slave holders to become such, and gain wealth, power and social prestige.

b. Non-slave holders out numbered slaveholders in every state and could have voted out the “slave aristocracy,” why didn’t they?

  • The planters held hegemony or control of the non-slave holders by tradition, awe, and money.

  • To demonstrate the planters’ power, Holt noted that in the year 1850 the entire cotton crop of the entire South was grown on just 6% of the South’s agricultural lands—most of it in the states of Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi.

c. All whites in the South had an interest in keeping potential for the expansion of slavery in order to continue to control the black population or sell them to new areas—racism.

d. The stark contradiction of Hinton R. Helper of North Carolina demonstrates the depth and breadth of Southern racial fears.

  • In the year 1857 Helper wrote and published the book, The Impending Crisis, in which he argued about the evils of the “peculiar institution” on the South.

  • Once the Civil War began and the end to slavery became apparent, Helper wrote the book in 1862 with the title, No Joke, and he argued for the complete extermination of all blacks in order to insure racial purity.

  • Some historians argue many people of the North argued for an end to the expansion of slavery in the territories in order to keep blacks out of areas that white Northerners desired to settle—racial motivations.

5. During the Kansas-Nebraska Act controversy, Southerners never really believed they would take slaves to Kansas, Nebraska, the Oregon Territory, or lands taken with the Mexican Cession. But they objected to Congress taking away their rights to take personal property into the territories. It made Southerners less equal, and it became symbolic of Northern oppression of their section. In order to protect their rights—all Americans’ rights—Southerners had to resist and defeat the Wilmot Proviso and by 1856 the Republican Party. The North’s actions—from the South’s perspective—were insulting and created inequality and inferiority.
II. The political realignment of the 1850s (second morning session).

A. Introduction to the topic.

1. During the winter of 1860-1, Congress passed a 13th amendment that would have prohibited any right to abolish slavery in the South without exception. By February 1861 the states of Illinois, Ohio, and Maryland ratified it, but after the Battle of Bull Run the drive for ratification died out.

a. If slavery was the major cause of the Civil War, why did the South not end the war with the amendment that would protect their slaves?

2. The examination of the American or Know-nothing Party allows the study of many issues and themes of that period.

B. The anti-Kansas-Nebraska backlash and death of the Whigs in the 1850s.

1. [The congressional election of 1854 was the first one where every state held its election on the same day throughout the U.S.]

2. What caused the shift in voting loyalties and patterns by 1854?

a. Anti-Democratic Party sentiments.

b. Opposition to the Kansas-Nebraska Act.

c. Anti-South, anti slavery sentiments.

3. Why did many people in the North desire to end the expansion of slavery?

a. Moral opposition to slavery.

b. Attempt to end the political powers of the “slavocracy.”

c. Keep blacks out of the territories, indicative of Northern racism.

C. The strength of the Know-Nothing Party during the first years of the 1850s demonstrates, according to Dr. Holt, slavery was not as significant an issue as many suppose.

1. In the year 1854 the American Party controlled the state government of Massachusetts.

2. In the states of Texas and Maryland, Know-Nothings held prominent state offices.

3. By the year 1854 it appeared to many that the Know-Nothing Party would replace the Whig Party.

D. Historical background of the Know-Nothing or American Party.

1. In the year 1849 two secret fraternities merged and helped establish the party.

a. The “Order of the Star Spangled Banner,” that was a super-patriotic group with secret goals and ceremonies.

b. The “Order of United Americans,” which was much like that above.

2. When the two fraternities merged, their membership reached between 800,000 and 1,500,000 members. [Since they were secret, membership rolls are non-existent, and their history is unclear.]

a. When people asked them what their fraternity stood for or desired, members would answer, “I know nothing,” thus their name.

3. The Know-Nothings desired the following:

a. Protection of American “values.”

b. Anti-immigrant.

c. Anti-Catholic.

d. Lengthen the period to become a naturalized citizen from five to 21 years.

e. Prohibit any Roman Catholic from holding public office.

4. Why did the Know-Nothing Party temporally succeed, and who joined it? Holt reasoned there was much more going on during the 1850s than conflict that led to civil war.

a. The secrecy and fraternal aspects of the Know-Nothings was appealing.

b. The disruption between the Democratic and Whig Parties left a vacuum that the American Party filled.

c. It became a refuge for “WASP,” conservative men—few blue collar or lower-middle class men joined.

5. Dr. Holt’s views on the Know-Nothings:

a. By the early 1850s Americans came to view the Democratic and Whig Parties as possessing the same views, and working merely for election of their candidates—they stood for nothing.

b. Many people desired change and neither party would undertake it.

c. Americans perceived or sensed the republic was in danger or threatened.

  • You can change the government with your vote.

d. Social and economic dislocation occurred during the decade and contributed to the growth on Know-nothingism.

  • The California Gold Rush.

  • Boom in the cotton industry.

  • Investors in Great Britain invested large sums of money in America (primarily railroads) rather than Europe because of the Revolutions of 1846.

  • Resentment of foreigner—especially Irish, who were Catholic—became symbolic of the dislocation.

  • The 1840s and 50s were times of the “Old Immigration” of the Irish, Germans, and Scandinavians. The Irish/Catholics were particularly disliked.

  • By the election of 1852 many of those immigrants were able to vote and seemed to threaten traditional American voters.

  • Fear of the Catholic Church increased. For example, Gaetano Bedini represented Rome when he called for moving control of church property from “lay control” to control of property from Rome.

e. The Know-Nothing Party turned voters against the Democrats and Whigs because both parties actively sought the votes of immigrants and Catholics.

f. The 19th Century was the century of democracy and participatory government in the United States.

Percentage of Voter “Turn-out” of the 19th Century











Voter %










III. Why did the Republican Party succeed and the Know-Nothing Party fail? (Afternoon session)

A. Know-Nothing and Republican percentages of anti-Democratic voters.

Percentage of Anti-Democratic Voters

Time frame

Know-Nothing Party

Republican Party

End of 1855



Nov. 1856



Nov. 1860



1. As the above table demonstrates, the American or Know-Nothing Party lost its bid to replace the Whig Party by 1860.

B. Three turning points that led to the success of the Republican Party.

1. Bleeding Kansas (1856) was an issue the Republicans used to demonstrate Northern rights were being denied by Southern slaveholders.

a. People from the North had their property destroyed, were beaten and driven, and denied the principle of “popular sovereignty in Kansas by the Missouri Border Ruffians.

b. The Republican Party avoided the slavery issue in Kansas; it was the issue of Northern men’s rights.

2. “Bleeding Sumner” occurred as Bleeding Kansas began, just after the sacking of Lawrence, Kansas. May 22, 1856 Representative Preston S. Brooks walked into the Senate chambers and “caned” Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts.

a. Brooks “caned” Sumner because he wanted to humiliate him, he was beneath challenging to a duel. You whip a dog.

b. It was a premeditated attack that lasted about 45 seconds.

c. Reactions to the caning of Sumner:

  • Sumner did not return to the Senate for 3 years, due to some type of psychosomatic illness concerning his beating.

  • Republicans defended Sumner and the North.

  • South Carolinians reelected Brooks to the House of Representatives.

  • Neither Bleeding Kansas nor Sumner’s caning concerned slavery or Blacks; it was the Southern aggression, violence, and violation of Northern rights that was a focal point.

  • Some people in the North began to discern a conspiracy of the “slavocracy” and Southern planters to oppress the North politically and pervert democracy.

3. The Republican crusade to save the North.

a. The post-Lecompton challenge, 1858-9.

  • Buchanan bribed congressmen, threatened them with the loss of patronage to get them to vote in favor of the Lecompton (slave) constitution of Kansas on August 2, 1858.

  • The North believed the federal government was in the slavocracy or Southern planters control by 1859, as a result of President Buchanan’s actions, the actions of Congress (Kansas-Nebraska, Bleeding Kansas, and the Lecompton constitution), and the Supreme Court (Dred Scott v. Sanford).

C. With the secession of the “Deep South,” Holt proposed that civil war was then inevitable.

D. What was the South’s motive for secession?


John A. Braithwaite, Director

Dr. Brooks Simpson—U of Arizona

Ph. D Wisconsin

The Civil War”

Friday, August 10, 2001

First Session: “The Coming of the Civil War.”

A. Difficulty of weaving together the complexity of the Civil War.

1. Was the Civil War inevitable or could it have been avoided?

a. Secession did not necessarily mean war.

b. What made the war inevitable?

  • There is no “South,” each states’ people identified with their individual state. Regional and state variations within the South and North.

2. What were the underlying or unchangeable causes of the Civil War?

a. Constitutional questions, the Constitution was and is flexible.

b. Culture—the founders came together in 1787 (when their suspicions of each other were more intense), why couldn’t the statesmen or people come together in the 1850s?

c. Why did the American tradition of compromise fail in the 1850s?

d. What conflicts between the North and South became so intense compromise was impossible?

e. The causes are much more complex than what occurred in Washington, D.C. States and regions must be examined, and it should be remembered that soldiers in the Civil War fought in state regiments.

3. Secession could have been accepted by people in the North and let the original 7 states that seceded attempt to go it alone.

4. All the efforts of politicians—the Wilmot Proviso, Compromise of 1850, Kansas-Nebraska Act, and the Dred Scott Case, were political efforts to solve the divisive issues.

5. Uncle Tom’s Cabin as an historical document brings women into the issues of the Civil War, at least white, Northern women.

a. Southern white women did write responses to Harriet Beecher Stowe’s book.

b. Women were indeed political participants in Antebellum America.

6. Just because the sections were different does not mean the Civil War was inevitable. Northern whites themselves were divided.

B. Underlying sources of division within the Union.

1. Economic Issues.

a. The industrial North and Agrarian South image is absolute foolishness.

b. The vast majority of the North was agricultural; industrialization was in its beginning stages.

c. The tariff issue was much decreased in importance by the 1850s.

d. Both section were capitalistic, market-oriented businessmen. Plantations were agri-business, and they exported cotton.

e. The North’s economy was diversified, but did that create inevitable conflict?

f. There were alternative paths the states, sections, and nation could have pursued.

2. The states’ rights issue.

a. Simpson believes the so-called “states’ rights” issue was actually one much more of “Southern rights.”

b. The Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 created a massive federal bureaucracy to protect slavery, and certainly the South supported it. Notice they voiced no opposition to the act because it violated the principle of states’ rights.

c. Simpson believes the states’ rights issues is greatly over-blown.

3. Dr. Simpson contends slavery was the one consistent issue that could not be ignored or ultimately compromised.

C. “Slavery as the cause of the Civil War . . .but it’s not that simple.”

1. The steps—or in the North appearances—that Southerners took to protect slavery are what really angered many people of the North.

a. Views about slavery were polarized:

Necessary evil Positive good
b. Northerners believed the “3/5 Compromise” gave the South an unfair advantage in the Congress and Electoral College—an artificial help.

c. Missouri Compromise provided for the expansion of slavery, but the majority of the Louisiana Purchase would be free.

d. By the decade of the 1830s, the abolition movement demanded an end to slavery to a Southern white defense of slavery

Gag Rule of 1836.

e. The annexation of Texas allowed the further expansion of slavery.

f. The Mexican War led to acquisition of possible expansion of slavery. If, as has been proposed, slavery could not exist in areas of the Mexican Cession, why did the South oppose the Wilmot Proviso.

2. People of the North asked: What was the future of slavery? What would the South do to defend slavery? Those two questions were of great significance to people in the North.

3. People of the North became progressively angrier as events of the 1850s seemed to show the national government appeased the South.

a. The Compromise of 1850.

b. The Kansas-Nebraska Act expanded the possible areas of slavery.

c. The caning of Charles Sumner (who was a pompous, dandy, that did indeed insult many Southern slave owners) angered people in the North. The image of a white Southerner beating Sumner became a symbol in the North at the same time as “bleeding Kansas.”

d. By the election of 1860, Northerners decided it had bent far enough; they would no longer compromise the slavery issue and allow the South the unfair advantages that existed since the nation began.

D. Secession and war.

1. The South saw Lincoln as a danger, so it seceded before he became president.

2. The South saw war as a means to expanding the Confederacy; bring Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Arkansas and the Border States into the Confederacy.

3. Lincoln and the North saw the war as a means to strengthen its own position.

E. Talk about slavery as an integral component of Southern society and culture.

1. The second greatest source of income among Virginia planters by the 1850s was selling slaves out of state.

2. Slavery was an important part of the South’s culture and society.

3. There was no conspiracy or plot among Southerners to expand or force the North’s acceptance of slavery, but they were determined to protect their peculiar institution.

4. Attempt to give the Southern perspective to students.
The American Civil War.

A. Was Union victory in the Civil War inevitable?

1. Given the North’s superiority in population, industry, transportation, and etc., why would the South believe it could win the war?

2. Both the American Revolution and the War in Vietnam demonstrate the most powerful military and economy do not always win a war.

a. The North had to win the fighting/rebellious states back into the Union.

b. The North’s goal during the war was not to destroy the South, but to defeat the Confederacy’s army and government, and then re-integrate the states and people back into the Union.

c. The Union commanders who could win the war were not in command until the year 1864, when Grant and Sherman took control.

d. Why did the North win the Civil War?

  • There were times when the South may have won a decisive victory.

  • In 1862 at Antietam, Lee’s offensive into Maryland could have won a victory, and perhaps won foreign recognition or intervention. Simpson states both Great Britain and France would not actually recognize the Confederacy’s sovereignty until the Union did so.

  • In 1863, a combination of victories at Vicksburg, Gettysburg, and Chattanooga likely would have resulted in Confederate independence.

e. Lincoln pursued a method of trial and error in appointing commanding generals, and it was not until 1864 he found success.

  • Simpson believes the year 1864 was pivotal because the re-election of Lincoln seemed unlikely and the military situation was a stalemate. The South still may have been successful if Sherman had not captured Atlanta and Phil Sheridan scorched the Shenandoah Valley, which in return led to Lincoln’s re-election.

f. The Union remained seriously divided in 1864 as the vote totals demonstrate: Lincoln received 55% of the vote and McClellan 45%. It was less than an overwhelming popular mandate for Lincoln.

3. The issue of “generalship.”

a. At the first of the war the South did have an advantage in generals competent in fighting traditional set battles.

b. George McClellan appeared competent, but he proved less so [being more show than substance]. McClellan advised Lincoln not to emancipate the slaves so that the South would return into the Union more easily.

c. Robert Lee and Stonewall Jackson were competent and courageous commanders.

d. Generals Grant, Sherman, Sheridan, and George Thomas were the Union’s best generals, but they rose to prominence in the West, the newspapers focused on Virginia. Grant—by far—understood the nature of the war and the best strategies for victory.

  • Be relentless in pursuing the Confederate Army.

  • Attack the supply lines and cut them.

  • Attack slavery and destroy it.

  • Fight the war for the hearts and minds of the enemy.

e. Union general Benjamin Butler began to declare slaves he captured in Louisiana “contraband” because they assisted the South’s war efforts. As slaves made their way to Union lines and turned themselves in, it forced Lincoln and the Union to make a decision about the slaves and slavery.

f. Grant was the first and the best in using railroads and telegraphs to coordinate armies. He also worked well in communicating with Lincoln.

g. By the month of June 1864, Lee’s army was virtually defeated.

B. The battlefront and homefront.

1. Women in both the North and South adapted to the roles of directing families, running farms and businesses, and other traditional male responsibilities.

a. As men departed for war, women’s influence increased.

b. Women pushed men to enlist during the years 1861-3, but by mid 1863 many asked men/husbands to return home and save the farm, business, or home. The women of the South defined honor.

c. As the war reached mid-point, division occurred in the South as the Confederate government adopted military policies that seemed more tyrannical than general policies of the Union before secession.

  • There had always been areas or pockets of people in the South who opposed secession.

2. In the North there were anti-draft riots during the summer of 1863.

a. In New York City rioting took place between primarily Irishmen and African-Americans.

b. Simpson reminded all to teach the Blacks’ roles in the Civil War.

c. Lincoln toyed with the idea of compensated emancipation of all slaves and then colonizing the freed slaves in Africa or the Caribbean.

d. Lincoln struck at slavery with emancipation as a military measure

e. After the “Emancipation Proclamation,” Lincoln pushed for the 13th Amendment.

f. There was a wide spectrum of racial views and attitudes during the period.

g. Ulysses Grand did own one slave—inherited from his wife’s family—and he freed the slave in the year 1859.

3. Treatment of Southern states invaded by Union armies differed according to the state and Northern commanders.

a. Georgia and South Carolina were handled very roughly, especially South Carolina.

b. North Carolina and Tennessee were not destroyed or treated as harshly as many of the other Southern states.

4. Jefferson Davis desired to fight to the very end. He was not captured until May 10, 1865 in Georgia—a month after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox.

5. Historians speculate about the possibility of Lee’s evacuating Richmond and Petersburg much earlier and fighting a guerrilla war against the North.

a. It would have meant the end of slavery in the South (and Simpson viewed it as the root cause of division between North and South, secession, and the war.)

b. Also, the South believed guerilla warfare was cowardly.

c. The Southern views of “honorable warfare” frequently harmed the South’s war efforts.

6. It is difficult to envision a Union victory without Abraham Lincoln as president and Ulysses Grant as commanding general.

a. Both viewed military “campaigns” as more significant than individual battles.

b. Lee’s strategic vision was Virginia; Grant’s strategic vision was the entire Confederacy.

7. Simpson contends that Lincoln’s image and reputation—in many ways—is greatly enhanced because he did not have to deal with the tremendous challenges of reconstruction.

Third Session: “Reconstruction.”

A. Simpson believes the Reconstruction Period is the most difficult to teach, even to college students.

B. Pertinent questions: Was the outcome of Reconstruction inevitable? Was it a success or failure? What should or was the outcome of Reconstruction?

C. Reconstruction meant different things to different people of the time. Basic ideals:

1. National reunification.

2. What would be the situation after the Civil War? With the end of slavery, what roles would African-American freeman have?

3. Southern whites desperately desired to be allowed to deal with their racial and economic problems as individuals and states.

4. By the 1880 white Southerners could state Reconstruction was successful because they had control of their own states and African-Americans.

5. Southern Blacks had a “half-full glass;” they were freed from slavery but were they truly free?

6. The white Republicans fulfilled their goals by the year 1866:

a. The Union was saved and the states held together—the Confederacy’s efforts at political independence failed.

b. Slavery would not expand—in fact—it was completely abolished.

B. Simpson believes that in April 1865 there was a window of opportunity to have a more positive and successful reconstruction but

1. Lincoln was assassinated.

2. Andrew Johnson became president, and he was an openly and profoundly racist man.

a. Johnson did use and play the race card for political ends.

b. He believed in white supremacy.

c. Many people in both the North and South embraced and accepted Johnson’s racist message.

3. Johnson’s reconstruction policy for bringing the rebellious states back into the Union (May 1865).

a. Each state must repudiate their ordinances of secession.

b. Each state must ratify the 13th Amendment.

c. Each state must repudiate their Civil War debts.

4. Johnson’s peace/reconstruction plan was very liberal, but Southern states did not readily accept it.

a. Southern states passed “Black Codes” to control Freedmen’s labor.

b. In many states that seceded, residents elected former Confederate officers and officials.

c. There were outbreaks of white violence against blacks. There were massacres of Freedmen at both New Orleans and Memphis.

  • The two massacres occurred before Republican Reconstruction acts passed Congress that convened in December 1865.

  • Congress responded to the violence with passage of legislation.

  • Remember, “colored troops” made up a good portion of the Union army that occupied the South after the war. It outraged Southern whites.

  • Congressional Reconstruction created great tension in the South.

d. In the North, people saw the Confederate and rebellious spirit exhibited in the South as a trend that must be ended. The North refused to allow Southerners to return to the political advantages the North perceived the South enjoyed from 1787 until the Civil War.

e. Johnson’s policies of easily obtained amnesty for the rebels effectively ended the Freedmen’s desires for land ownership or a redistribution of land in the South.

5. Republican Reconstruction.

a. Congress passed the Civil Rights in April 1866.

b. Congress started the Freedmen’s Bureau to assist the freed African-Americans.

c. 14th Amendment ratified in 1868.

d. 15th Amendment ratified in 1870 (raised the question why black men could vote but not white women?).

6. Andrew Johnson’s infamous “swing round the circle” stump speaking tour of 1866.

a. Johnson was a “stump speaker” that seemed beneath the dignity of the president.

b. Johnson traded insults with hecklers.

c. The president’s efforts to encourage Republicans to elect moderate not “radical” Republicans to Congress backfired.

7. When—in the year 1867—Republicans recognized Southerners and their states refused to accept their defeat, the Congress established military reconstruction.

8. Simpson portrays Andrew Johnson as an “obstructionist” president.

a. In the election of 1868 the Republicans lost the initiative for Reconstruction and went for continued control of the White House.

b. Republicans turned to the military hero, General Ulysses Grant, as their candidate, and “waved the bloody shirt.”

c. Grant’s slogan was “Let us have peace.”

d. Blacks voted overwhelmingly for Grant, and that encouraged Republicans to work for ratification of the 15th Amendment and add to the Republican voter pool.

9. The Republican Party in the South was comprised of three groups:

a. Carpetbaggers or political and financial opportunists.

b. Scalawags or native Southerners who worked for the carpetbaggers.

c. The Freedmen.

d. All three groups had to be protected from acts of terrorism and murder.

C. There was the idea, and Grant supported it, to purchase the Dominican Republic (at the time San Domingo) to become a state and refuge for Freedmen who were mistreated or desired to leave the United States.

1. Charles Sumner opposed it.

2. It ultimately failed. Was it too expensive to implement?

D. The Financial Panic of 1873.

1. Republicans were blamed for the economic hard times.

2. There was a money shortage and significant unemployment.

3. The panic justified to many Americans inside and out of Congress that reconstruction must end because there was not money to continue it.

4. On April 13, 1873 white supremacists massacred over 100 blacks at Colfax, Louisiana. To make matters worse, the perpetrators went unpunished.

E. In the year 1875 there was an attempted coup de etat to overthrow the “black legislature” that federal troops had to put down.

F. The election of 1876.

1. Rutherford Hayes received 165 electoral votes.

2. Samuel Tilden received 185 electoral votes.

3. 185 electoral votes were necessary to win the election.

4. There were 20 disputed electoral votes in South Carolina, Florida, and Louisiana; all three states were occupied by federal troops.

5. Hayes had already committed to ending all military occupation in the South, so it was really a dead issue.

G. The South ultimately wore down and won out on its positions and issues. Reconstruction ended. They ended reconstruction and the states controlled the important issues of society and culture until the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s.

Notes from the Lectures of

Dr. Gordon Wood—2001

Brown University-AP Institute in American History


“The Background of the Revolution”

THESIS: Dr. Wood argues that the American Revolution has always been and extraordinary kind of revolution. There was none of the legendary tyranny of history that had so often driven desperate people into rebellion; however the American Revolution was momentously Radical and far-reaching!
The Whig Science of Politics:

  • The American response was all out of all proportion to the stimuli.

  • No American doubted that there had been a revolution

  • How then was it justified and explained?

  • The Americans were fortunate to have been born at time when time and principles of government and freedom were better known than any time in history.

  • Justly so, it may be said that this was an age of philosophy and the American Empire of reason.

  • John Dickinson wrote “not, what evil has actually attended them.” Americans were an enlightened people. John Adams called it the “divine substance of politics!”

  • For James Otis, who was well read, his frantic attempt was to reconcile two laws of Coke and Vatrel common law and natural law.

  • Jefferson claimed the principles were already embodied in the historic English Constitution because it was in accordance with the laws of nature.

The English Constitution:

  • If any era of modern times found its political ideals incorporated in a particular nation institution, it was the 18th century—the Enlightenment!

  • Men like Montesquieu, Adams, and Sam Adams, boasted that the English Constitution “no government that ever existed was so essentially free.”

  • It is when viewed amidst this widespread and enthusiastic acclamation for the English constitution that the American Revolution.

  • It was an amazing transformation and even after the Declaration of Independence Americans continued express their astonishment at what happened.

  • The Americans were rushing into revolution even as the denied it! Their progress was sustained by powerful revolutionary ideology—the radicalism of which…flowed from the English constitution.

  • Thus the American Revolution was radical movement!

  • The revolution character of these radical Whigs came more from fundamental…unwillingness to accept the development of the 18th century.

  • The radical tradition of the colonists and their Whig tradition messed with the Enlightment rationalism and New England covenant theology which provided the revolutionary implications.

The Power Against Liberty:

  • The theory of government that Americans clarified was the perpetual battle between passions of the rulers—in opposition one or the few, for whatever was the good of the People!

  • Politics…was still commonly viewed along the classic power spectrum from absolute power in the hands of ONE person to absolute power—or liberty in the hands of the people at the other end. This met full circle when absolute liberty would inevitable lead to the tyranny of a dictator at the other end of the spectrum

  • The ideal of politics since Aristotle had been of course to avoid either extreme.

  • The idea of separation of powers and balance of power was judiciously place and balanced.

  • The acquisition of power, of course, was what politics was all about. “The love of power is natural”.

  • The minimal amount of power a man deserved, because he was a man defined “liberty” and power. This was personal liberty or physical liberty.

  • Therefore, men were further separated from the rest of the community, and hence, more dangerous than the rulers of a society. One can now see the ideas of Hamilton who stated later, that government was “for the rich, the well-born, and the able!”

  • Liberty, defined as the power held by the people, was thus the victim and the antithesis of despotism

  • The ultimate sanction for protection of the people’s liberty was,,,the mutual contract between them.

  • The participation by the people in the government was what Whigs called as civil liberty. Civil liberty as Hamilton claimed “right of the people to share in the government.” Civil liberty is the power of a civil society to govern itself.

  • Hence, it was “obvious that Civil Liberty” where people were compelled could meet and conduct public affairs, and “can be enjoyed in small states.”

  • Representation was a delicate point…

  • The clash came with the “actual representation vs the virtual representation” theories.

  • Indeed, lack of confidence in the representational system became the most important means of measuring degrees of radicalism among a Whiggish people. (Including the Americans.)

English Corruption:

  • The heart of the transitional conflict was the issue of English corruptions.

  • English political thought owed more to Machiavelli and Montesquieu, than to Locke!

  • In every Englishman’s eyes, “amidst a tyrannical world England stood as a solitary bastion of defense and freedom.”

  • For most Whigs, the Glorious Revolution had not marked the end of the struggle. In their aversion to the developments of the 18th century

  • The colonists…watched in bewilderment as what had long been predicted by “her senators and historians”—the English constitution, formerly “the noblest improvement in human reason” was succumbing to the forces of tyranny.

  • The corruption of the constitution’s internal principles was the more obvious and the more superficial danger. The marvelous mixture of the constitution was the “the three distinct power or bodies.”

  • Borrowing pointedly from the relevant writings of history, especially from classical antiquity, 18th century intellectuals—Montesquieu was among the best believed that the moral spirit of the political constitution was best protected.

The Patterns of Tyranny:

  • Whig spokesmen who bothered to go beyond a simple articulation…offered an impressive articulation of maxims of the patterns of culture and history—many could conclude with David Hume that it was on custom or opinion only that the government was founded, and the most despotic were the military government

  • It was obvious to the Americans that these things come not causeless but bring calamity. It was scarcely believable that for the past dozen years British government carried out “the conspiracy against the rights of humanity. And thus, the American need to defend and to protect themselves.

  • The notion of conspiracy was NOT new in Western history and society.

  • The pieces fell into place to make it clear that the nature of English society and the patterns of the Crown’s policy were there for all to see. Tyranny, to tyranny, to tyranny

The Preservation of Principles:

  • By 1776 there could be no longer any doubt in the Americans minds that they were “in the midst of a revolution, the most complete, unexpected, and remarkable, of any in this history of nations!” The American Revolution was as John Adams said, “In the hearts and minds of the people, long before the war broke out! In effect, it surfaced in 1736 in the Zenger Trial and did not end until the Constitution was ratified with the Bill of Rights!

The Rise of Republicanism:

  • Republicanism meant more for Americans than simple the elimination of a king and the institution of an elective system. It added a moral dimension, a utopian depth, to the political separation from England.

  • For Americans the mid-eighteenth century was truly a neo-classical age—the high point. The perfect government was always republican. Such classicism was not only a scholarly ornament of educated Americans, it helped shape their values and their ideals.

  • The American interest in the ancient republics was in fact crucial to their attempt to understand the moral and social basis of politics.

  • It was not the force of arms which made the ancient republics great or which ultimately destroyed them. It was rather the character and spirit of their people. Frugality, industry, temperance, and simplicity—the rustic traits of the sturdy yeoman.

  • The sacrifice of the individual interests to the greater good of the whole formed the essence of republicanism and comprehended for Americans the idealistic goal of their Revolution.

    1. America was not born free

    2. They struggle to find new attachments

    3. They threw off the shackles of monarchy in 1776

    4. They were now a pluralistic society. They were visionary and idealistic.

    5. They sought new enlightened connections to hold their society together

  • To base a society on the commonplace behavior of ordinary people may be obvious and understandable to us today, but it was momentous radical in the long sweep of world history up to that time. The Revolution did not merely create a political and legal environment conducive to economic expansion; it also released the powerful popular entrepreneurial and commercial energies that few realized existed in this country. In short, the Revolution was the most radical and most far-reaching event in American History.” This was Dr. Woods conclusion to this line of inquiry.

  • Because monarchy and hierarchy demanded humiliation and dependency, Anglo-Americans could never be good monarchial subjects.

  • LIBERTY: Englishmen could not celebrate it enough! Yet, it is anti-monarchial.

  • There was this matter of egalitarianism vs conformity in a static culture.

  • Religion tended to uphold authority, order, and hierarchy—American in 1776 became enlightened and deistic. From Roger Williams to TJ religion in America was to be an issue of conscience and individualism. That was another radical move!

The Public Good:

  • The sacrifice of individual interests to the greater good of the whole formed the essence of republicanism and comprehended for Americans the idealistic goal of the Revolution.

  • To make the people’s welfare—the public good—the exclusive end of government became for the Americans the “Polar Star” and central tenet of their faith

  • Te word republic, said Tom Paine, “means the public good…”

  • Americans gave up on titles, class, and even and eventually ethnicity!

  • Thomas Jefferson was once asked what he wished to be called at President, he said, “Mr. Jefferson”

  • We will never comprehend the distinctiveness of that pre-modern world until we appreciate the extent to which many ordinary people still accept their own lowliness. Only then can we begin to understand the radical changes in the consciousness and humility which the Revolution brought about.

  • What is the American application of Patricians and Plebeians?


  • In the end the disintegration of the traditional eighteenth-century monarchial society of paternal and dependent relationships prepared the way for the emergence of the liberal, democratic, capitalistic world of the early nineteenth century. It might well be called the age of republicanism.

  • Republicanism eroded monarchy and aristocracy

  • Republicanism seeped through every pore of American society.

  • Republicanism was as radical in the eighteenth century as Marxism was to the 19th century.

  • Republicanism was like the Italian Renaissance—becoming “civic humanism” or classical republicanism.

  • According to the classical tradition, man was by nature a political being who achieved his greatest moral fulfillment by participating in a self-governing republic.

  • Liberty was realized when citizens were virtuous. The virtue of classical republicanism was public virtue—such as prudence, frugality, industry, integrity, and worthiness. Republicanism put an enormous burden on the individual!

  • Along with virtue lay the concept of honor as the heart of political leadership. The key to this among the common man was the concept of Liberal education!

  • Patriarchy was being challenged. Not only were the sons and daughters leaving home, they also claimed the right to have the choice of marriage partners.

  • The Revolution brought to the surface the republican tend in American life—privacy, individuality, and cultural courage to be different and be equal!

  • The first steps in constructing a new republican society were to enlighten the people and to change the nature of authority and give dignity to change!!!

  • The vision of the revolutionary leaders is breath-taking. The very modern, forward looking and utterly were convinced that they had the future in their hands.

  • From these premises flowed the revolutionaries’ preoccupation with education—not just their interest in formal schooling but their concern with variety of means and created new attitudes to make the culture.

  • The Revolution was simply the climax of this grand historic drama

  • Republicanism was supposed to decrease pain and increase the pleasure of the people.

  • Republicanism was above all a matter of personal and social morality.

  • Republicanism agreed to abolish “cruel and unusual punishment.”

  • John Adams said, “a gentleman” was a man of liberal arts education. Do you see why we admire this so much today?

  • “We shall never understand the unique character of the revolutionary leaders until we appreciate the seriousness with which they took these new republican idea of that it means to be a gentleman! No generation in American history has ever been so self-conscious about the moral and social values necessary for the public leadership

  • Jefferson was probably the revolutionary leader most taken with the new enlightenment and liberal prescriptions for gentility and education!

  • The American Revolution became a test of America’s capacity for virtue.

  • The republican revolution was the greatest utopian movement in American History.

  • The revolutionaries aimed at nothing less than a reconstituted American society based upon equality, fraternity, and liberty. All of these things preceded the French Revolution here in America.

  • The American Revolution created this democracy, and we are living with its consequences still!

  • There was unrequited need for virtue in the American republic.

NOTE; This was two of the most intense hours of lecture & discussion that I have ever witnessed.


“The Revolutionary Ideas of EQUALITY!”

THESIS FOR SECOND DISCUSSION: The Revolutionary society would be governed, as it had not been in the past, by the principle of equality—a principle central to republican thinking, the very “life and soul” of republicanism.

  • The doctrine possessed inherent ambivalence: on one hand it stressed equality of opportunity, which implied social differences and distinctions; and on the other hand it emphasized equality of condition which denied these same social differences and distinctions.

  • This lecture has struck me already of the validity of J. Franklin Jamieson, about the Revolution as a social movement as well as political!

  • Equality was thus not directly conceived by most Americans in 1776, including even a devout Samuel Adams as a social leveling…

  • The revolutionaries had no intention of destroying the gradations of social hierarchy—such as the Livingston’s (NY), the Lodge’s (MA), the Byrd’s (VA), and Pinckney’s of (SC)

  • Education was to be the great leveling social movement. It was supposed to open up the advantages of learning and advancement for all! [Just an aside, look what the GI Bill for vets after WWII and the accumulated consequences since!]

  • Equality was an ambiguous ideal. Great consequences were expected to flow from the egalitarian society.

  • Conflicts of equality are not social, they are intense personal. A New England lawyer and a Virginia planter could fill their diaries with struggles of prestige and social refinement.

  • The American Revolution was actually many revolutions at once!!!

  • Nothing was more despicable to a Commonwealthman that a “Courtier” defined as one of prejudices, follies, and vices of Great Men. They were often fawning parasites and cringing courtiers of too much flattery.

The Pennsylvania Revolution:

  • The situation in Pennsylvania was very complicated.

  • Ben Franklin led a Quaker group to have the Penn family’s charter revoked and the colony declared a royal colony.

  • While the dominant political and social groups, entrenched in the Assembly, balked at any final separation from the mother country, the growing momentum of independence enabled new aspirants for political leadership to slip past them, resulting in a revolutionary transference of authority that was no where in 1776 so sudden and stark.

  • The Constitution (of Pennsylvania) was radical; the ideology extreme; the political situation revolutionary.

  • Yet, what happened in Pennsylvania was only an extension and exaggeration of what was taking place elsewhere in America.

  • Equality became the great rally cry of the Pennsylvania radicals in the spring and summer of 1776.

  • Beneath these claims for legal and political equality lay strong feelings of social equivalence.

  • The egalitarianism of republicanism could now assuage the rankling bitterness against “gentlemen” who for years brings all so nearly on a level!” And the radical meant to keep it that way.

  • More than in any other colony in 1776 the Revolution in Pennsylvania was viewed as a social conflict between people and aristocracy…

  • For all of its bitter tones, the egalitarian language of the Pennsylvania radicals in 1776 can be easily misunderstood. The internal revolution that took place was a minority movement.

  • To convince the people that they rightfully had a share in government became the task of the Pennsylvania radicals in all the states in the years ahead. Indeed, it became the essence of democratic politics as America came to know it—and equality was the prime food on Pennsylvania political table.

The Moral Reformation:

  • The changes the Americans intended to make in their politics and society were truly momentous—so momentous in fact that it is difficult to comprehend the swiftness and confidence with which they embraced republicanism and equality.

  • The Revolution was no simple colonial rebellion against English imperialism, It was meant to be a social revolution of the most profound sort. Break down the class structures make society all for one and one for all!

  • Thomas Paine could exclaim in 1776 that It was only common sense for Americans to become republicans and have American heartily agree with him.

  • For Americans this social dimension of republicanism was precisely the point of the Revolution.

  • By 1776 republicanism had become not only a matter of suitability. It had become a matter of urgency. This is one reason why old Ben Franklin said, “We must all hang together on this one, or most assuredly, we all hang separately!”

  • Thomas Paine in the incendiary pamphlet, Common Sense, touched off the argument that burnt to the heart of the social issue. “Time had found us”

  • If America delayed it would be too late. Fifty years from now, said Paine, trade and population would have increased so much as to make the society incapable of fighting for and sustaining republicanism! (Think of fifty years hence in 1820-1830’s)

  • Many people claimed that Paine was flagrantly wrong in estimate of the peculiar nature of American society. A republican form of government would neither suit the genius of the people, nor the extent of the mother country. Many claimed that Americans are “properly Britons.”

  • The defense of American liberties but convinced that the republican remedy was worse than the disease.

  • From this analysis involved in the Revolutionary polemics and from the Enlightenment portrait drawn of them, Americans fashion a conglomerate image of themselves as a distinct people with a social character possessed by few, if any, people before them!

Republicans by Nature:

  • All men republicans by nature and royalists only by fashion, said Thomas Paine.

  • The American colonists, declared John Dickinson, “in general are more intelligent than any people whatever, as has been remarked by strangers, and it seem with reason.”

  • American, it appeared were meant to be “republicans”

  • To young James Madison it seemed that “a spirit of Liberty and Patriotism animates all degrees and denominations of me”. so great was this prevailing love of virtue and liberty that no power in the world could “put the yoke on us.”

  • It seems very likely that ultimately the persuasiveness of republicanism for Americans had something to do with the defense of their self-respect.

  • Britain by her abuse of American rights, she had provoked American principles; but her arrogance, said Paine, was what had worn out their tempers!

  • When the American examined themselves in the years leading up to the Revolution, it became apparent that their society had been undergoing a drastic and frightening transformation. To increase in numbers, in wealth, in elegance and refinements, and at the same time to increase in luxury, profaneness, impiety, and a disesteem of things sacred, is to go backward and not forward.

  • Indeed, it is not an exaggeration to say that in the minds of many Virginians the colony seemed on the verge of ruin…

  • American spirits could be exalted not only by the love of liberty but by the love of family as well.

  • The Americans were running fast into our vices.

  • In a broad sense republicanism became the Americans’ ideological response to the great social changes that had, as they often described them “crept in unaware among us” by the middle of eighteenth century.

  • America had become a Christian Sparta.

  • Independence thus became not only political but moral. Revolution, republicanism, and regeneration all blended in American thinking.

  • It was a grandiose and dangerous experiment, and because it succeeded it has succeeded so well

  • Even Thomas Jefferson sanguine as he was, raised the re-acknowledgment of the King as our King!

  • The American Revolution was NOT finished until the Constitution was conceived and born.


The Restructuring of Power:

  1. Foundation of freedom

    • The American Revolution was not simply a war for independence from bondage.

    • A military victory was of course a necessity

    • Building a permanent foundation for freedom became the essence of the Revolution

  2. Transformation of magistry

  • “To form a new government requires infinite care and unbounded attention.” Geo. Wash.

  • In a most basic sense, however, the Revolutionary governments did maintain connection to the past

  • Even after the Revolution Americans tended to see politics in Whigish terms

  • American did not object to a government, they wanted their own of their own making!

  • In Pennsylvania, where radical Whig thought found its fullest expression, the governor was actually totally eliminated, and replaced by a council of twelve, who were elected directly by the people.

  • In all states, except (Penn, Vermont, and New York) the governors were elected by the legislatures. This was done by two houses.

  • Most states provided for annual elections of executives.

  • New governors would be denied to share the law-making process with the legislature

  1. The power of appointment

  • He who has the giving of all places in a government “will always be master!”

  • It was not simply a matter of patronage. In an age where politics was still very personal and political offices and emoluments were the major sources of social distinction.

  1. Separation of Powers

  • All power must be vested in the people

  • It must be summoned up constitutionally

  • It is essential to liberty that legislative, judicial, and executive powers be as nearly as possible independent and separate of each other.

  • No principle of American constitutional government has attracted more attention than that of separation of powers.

  • Abuse of power in any of these, by any of these is a threat to liberty and freedom

  • The Revolution intensified the power of the legislature. 20th Century Presidents and Courts have had to balance this accretion of power.

The Nature of Representation

  1. Representation in the Legislature

    • American legislatures in the States were the heirs to the powers of colonial governors

    • All state constitutions except (Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Vermont) divided their legislatures into two houses

    • Wood says that the key to all republican democracy is to take care of the electing of the representative assemblies.

    • In Whig circles, small numbers of representatives were dangerous.

    • Constitution-makers realized that qualifications and powers of legislators should be broad.

    • None of the electoral safeguards for representational system, however, was as important as equality so claimed John Adams.

    • Representing the people in the legislature was not all that simple

  2. Virtual Representation

  • Every MP was to represent the whole interest no matter where or when for the realm. This is according to Blackstone.

  • Even though Americans rejected the concept of virtual representation, they never never discarded it.

  • The arguments against virtual representation on the basis of taxation, this did not under cut it rather it reinforced it.

  1. Explicitness of Consent

  • The people believed right from the beginning that it was their right to be consulted. This even extended to Church as well as civil matters.

  • Blackstone, of all people, with his description of English virtual representation, was called in to support this justification for the most extreme kind of actual representation voiced in the first year of the Revolution.

  • In the years after 1776, Americans without grasping what they were doing, would increasing press for fuller realization of the doctrine of explicit consent!

  1. Ambassadors to an Extraneous Power

  • The use of instructions—directions drawn up by the assembly to particular representatives—had long been a common practice in colonial politics.

  • Instructions by themselves, however, did not necessarily connote a theory of actual representation.

  1. Evolving power of the executive

  • All representatives represented the United States and not the state or district from which they were elected. Hence, senators likewise were the voice of a whole country rather than states that selected them.

Mixed Government and Bicameralism

  1. The American Defense of the mixed state

  2. Mixed republics (North vs South, cold vs warm, and agrarian vs commercial)

  3. Senatorial part of Society

  4. Persons and property

  5. Simple democracy

  6. Radical experiment in politics

  7. Homogeneity of Orders

  8. Double representation of the People (state vs federal)

Laws and Contracts:

  1. Written (social contract law) and unwritten Law (common law & traditions)

  2. The Contract of Rules and Ruled

  3. Constitution as Fundamental law

  4. The Social Contract

  5. The Ambiguity of American Law

Conventions of the People:

  1. Novelty of Constitutional Conventions

  2. Deficiency of Conventions

  3. People Out of Doors

  4. A Power Superior to Ordinary Legislature

The Sovereignty of the People:

  1. Anglo-American Debate over Sovereignty

  2. Articles of Confederation

  3. Disintegration of Representation

  4. Transferal of Authority

  5. Disembodiment of Government


“The Constitution As the Crown Jewel of the Revolution”

The Novelty of Constitutional Conventions:

Olliver Ellsworth from Connecticut when he arrived in Philadelphia said “there seems to have crept in sinc

  • The American Revolution brought to the country a situation of unplanned but spontaneous government. The only acceptable proposal was Ben Franklin’s 20 year old Confederation idea

  • The Americans in 1776 had as yet no real modern appreciation of the permanent unalterable nature of the constitution.

  • In all states except Pennsylvania, the constitutions were created by the legislatures.

  • The distinction between fundamental law of the constitution and ordinary statutory law was strong enough to put devices meddling with the constitution beyond the mere legislative acts.

  • To justify and to make intelligible the presence of the constitutional convention in the American political system required more than just distinguishing between higher law and statue law.

The Deficiency of Conventions:

  • Convention was ancient term in English history from the medieval period.

  • Eighteenth century Americans usually found conventions deficient!

  • Hasty calling usually meant “ram-rod” predetermined results.

  • Convening of these Conventions and congresses, “without the Governor, by the meer act of the People” immediately touched off a debate of their constitutionality. Constitutionalism by definition is the regularized control of most of the people most of the time.

  • Because of imperial control, the colonies up and down the continent contended that they had no alternative but to call for conventions and committees.

  • Alexander Hamilton said, “Even if such conventions were illegal, it would not matter, for there are some events in society, to which human laws cannot extend.”

The Calling of Conventions:

  • First came the calling of the legislatures

  • Next came the calling of the Continental Congresses

  • Convention to establish the Articles of Confederation

  • Confederations are by their nature weak and do not endure stress or weakness

  • What the Articles of Confederation did that was successful: fought the war, concluded the peace, and ran the government for the period of decade of turmoil with internal conflict.

  • What the Articles failed to do was: taxation problems in equity, no effective court systems for uniform justice, and failure to be effective with governments abroad. Individual American ambassadors did the most effective work in keeping foreign governments out of the new world.

The People Out-of-Doors:

  • America had a long tradition of extra-legal action by the people, actions more often than not had taken the form of mob violence and crowd disturbances.

  • In fact it seemed at times that governments were so weak that they had to be bypassed in dealing with such mobs.

  • The dangers of thus throwing all power back into the hands of the people conspicuous wrote Thomas Jefferson.

  • To the participants of the people outside of the regularly constituted government seemed as necessary under the new republican governments as they did under the British government.

  • So prevalent did the usurpation of governmental functions by conventions become that some Americans began to fear that the whole society would “shortly be overrun by committees.”

  • The unique position of legitimacy that constitutional convention attained has tended to obscure forces of the mob rule.

  • The people were rapidly becoming a permutable force whose will could never be embodied by any representative institution. For this reason the urgency of the action to call the conventions at Mt. Vernon, Annapolis, and finally Philadelphia were so crucial. The fact that they succeeded is the key to stable government thereafter.

  • If it were the sense of a majority of the people of the society to change the constitution, “it is entirely in power to effect it without the smallest disturbance.” (TJ)

The Sovereignty of the People:

  • In the eighteenth century the conviction that there must be in every state, if it were to be a state, an indissoluble supreme power from which there could be no appeal was a necessary concomitant of the growth of the nation-state with its emphasis on centralization.

  • For the English, this authority could only reside in Parliament.

  • Americans came to revere it as the right of the rich, the well-born and the able. The famous Hamiltonian slogan.

  • Jefferson argued that Parliaments acts over America were null and void because they were unjust just as James Otis had argued.

The Articles of Confederation:

  • With Independence it became obvious that Continental Congress began working on the transfer of sovereignty to a more permanent body

  • The principle of sovereignty was not probed the way it had been in 1760’s

  • There were nationalistic sentiments in the 1760’s, 1770’s, & 1780’s

  • The authority of Continental Congress and Continental Army were great.

  • The Articles of Confederation, for all the powers it theoretically gave to Congress of Confederation did not in fact alter this independence.

  • The states jealously guarded their sovereignty.

  • The Articles were given powers for making war, providing armies, laying embargoes and some diplomatic correspondence.

  • The Confederation was intended, and remained to be, a confederation of sovereign states.

  • There was expedient rationalization made by large states to protect their individual grand designs.

  • What is truly remarkable about the Confederation is the degree of union that was achieved.

  • By the middle eighties A of C Congress had virtually ceased trying to govern. Hence back to the states

  • By 1780’s there were some Americans concerned about the weaknesses of the Confederation

  • There was no middle ground between the federal and the states.

  • Each party to the Confederation must possess sovereignty or else they were not States.

  • It had become obvious from the early 1780’s that no substantial reform of the Confederation was possible as long as each state retained “the idea of an uncontrollable sovereignty…over its police.”

  • Here is where the individual voice of Washington, Hamilton, Adams, and Thomas Jefferson began to echo for change.

Disintegration of Representation:

  • This disintegration of the concepts of representation begun by the most suspicious and estranged groups.

  • It was at the bottom a problem of representation, of the proper relationship between the people-at-large and their elected representatives from such States as Mass and So. Carolina where large numbers of people were unable to satisfy their desires through legislatures.

  • Erroneous or not, this is precisely what many Americans believed their representatives to be—mere agents or tools of the people…

Transferal of Sovereignty:

  • It was inevitable that sovereignty would be thrust in the way of radical constitutional developments.

  • Thus began the private consultations at Mr. Vernon and elsewhere to discuss the ways and means of strengthening the A of C.

  • Many people found themselves pressed to determine these bounds and to distinguish between lawful and unlawful resistance to legislative authority.

  • No one saw the problem with more clarity than Noah Webster who argued that Americans could not have the developments and devices without the troubles. They were bound together.

  • Written constitutions and bills of rights, Said Webster, “could never be effective guarantees of freedom.”

  • Webster further wrote, “There has been, from time immemorial, some rights of government—some prerogatives vested in some man or body of independent of the suffrage body of subjects.”

  • At the heart of America’s problems, said Webster, lay this misconception of the nature of representation… Americans did not understand the proper role and duty of a representative.

  • The new conception of a constitution, the development of extralegal conventions, the reliance on instructions, the participation of the people in politics out-of-doors, the clarification of the nature of the representation, the never-ending appeals—all gave coherence and reality, even a legal reality, to the hackneyed phrase, the sovereignty of the people

Dismemberment of Government:

  • Transferring sovereignty from the legislative bodies to the people-at-large outside of all government would lead inevitably to meetings and places like Annapolis and Philadelphia to start a new revolutionary process—creating a Constitution (the higher law) beyond the people and beyond the representatives without consent from both!

  • Rarely before, 1787 were these new thoughts comprehended by necessities of argument and condition, with broad design or significance. However, they could result in a mosaic of an entirely new conception of politics to those would attempt to describe it.

The Grand Convention:

  • So, under Washington at Philadelphia, with the greatest collection the world has ever known of leaders meeting in an extra-legal convention of secrecy, hammered out a new social contract we know as the Constitution.

  • It did not contain a “Bill of Rights:” and so from the pen and voice of George Mason, the voice of the people was made known and eventually accepted

  • There were four major plans examined in detail and with point-counter-point analysis, the representatives hammered out the new fundamental law. It could not emerge as an ideological theory, nor a dogma of group dynamics. It was framed by compromise and ultimately won approval because of the influence of those brilliant young leaders of new generations who looked to the rising sun. Can you imagine a room containing Ben Franklin, Geo. Washington, James Madison, George Mason, and Alexander Hamilton? These were 55 men whose average age was 29, who created a new nation. But equally significant, can you imagine a document to represent the country just established by the revolutionaries with no Thomas Jefferson, no John Adams, no Patrick Henry, no Samuel Adams, and no Joseph Warren!

Books by Gordon Wood:

Creation of the American Republic 1776-1787. Winner of Bancroft Prize!

Radicalism in the Revolution Winner of the Pulitzer Prize!

The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin Recent Biography of Franklin

“The Greatness of George Washington” in Portrait of America Oates and Errico

NOTE: During the early morning hours when I was awake and alone, I took the recorded tapes of Dr. Gordon Wood’s lectures, and transcribed them. I filled in a few places from consulting his books, where my notes were a mess, because I was doing administrative work for the Institute. But from the notes, the recordings, and the books I reassembled this complete set of his remarks at the summer Institute at the Salt Lake City Seminar.
John A. Braithwaite


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