Never Caught – Should Congress have argued for George Washington’s impeachment when he violated Pennsylvania’s prohibition on slavery during his presidency?
With the 1780 Gradual Abolition Act, Pennsylvania prohibited the importation of slaves and restricted slaveholders from another state to keep their personal slaves for only up to six months. After this time, the law gave the slaves the power to free themselves.
In May of 1796, Ona Judge, a household slave of Martha Washington living in the Presidential Residence, fled while traveling between New Jersey and Philadelphia during a rotations out of the city to prevent her establishing six-month’s residency. Washington used every means possible to apprehend Ona, including sending federal marshals to New Hampshire.
Should the President have been held be subject to local and state laws was Washington exempt as President? Did Washington’s disregard for the state laws of Pennsylvania constitute “high crimes and misdemeanors,” as spelled out in Article II, Section 4 of the US Constitution? Should Congress have rebuked, or even impeached, Washington for his actions? If Congress had rebuked Washington, demanding that he abide by state law, how might this have impacted the way subsequent presidents viewed Executive Authority?
Recommended reading: Dunbar, Erica A, 2017, Never Caught: The Washington’s’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge, ISBN 9781501126390
Hero or Traitor — Did Congress and the Army cause Benedict Arnold to defect?
Recommended reading: Philbrick, Nathaniel, 2017, Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution, ISBN: 978-0143110194<
The Missing Abuse from the Declaration of Independence:
Between July 2 and July 4, 1776; the Continental Congress made over 86 edits to Thomas Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration of Independence including the complete deletion of one for the accusations for usurpation and abuse of power by the King and Parliament where Jefferson argues that the institution of African slavery was crime against both the peoples of Africa, who were enslaved, and the people of America, who were forced to participate through economic necessity. How would the history of America have been altered if this clause had been included? Would America have suffered through its Civil War had Congress taken a stand against slavery? Was Congress even capable of standing against slavery?
“He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating it’s most sacred rights of life & liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. this piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the Christian king of Great Britain. determined to keep open a market where men should be bought & sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce: and that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, & murdering the people upon whom he also obtruded them; thus paying off former crimes committed against the liberties of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another. “from Thomas Jefferson’s original draft of the Declaration of Independence, removed by the Continental Congress in 1776.
The Price of Independence:
According to John Adams about a third of the American population was in favor and another third opposed to independence from Great Brittan. Later historians wanted to number the Loyalist at only 20% but clearly the majority of Americans either opposed or took no stand regarding the outcome of the war. Most just wanted it to go away so they could live their lives. Choosing sides could have dire consequences as both the American and British armies (particularly their quartermasters) frequently punished people who they found to have strong pollical leaning against their causes. This leaves the average person in a perilous position, where do you stand? Do you support the noble experiments proposed by Thomas Paine and the Continental Congress; or do you stand with the King and face the wrath of the Sons of Liberty?
From the safety of knowing the final outcome of the war 250 years ago, nearly everyone is convinced they would have taken up arms with the Continental Army and rebelled against the Crown. It was certainly not so simple in 1777. Rebelling against the King and Parliament was treason and being even accused of treason could result in forfeiture of property and potential execution. Of course, when the protection of the British Army was withdrawn, loyalty to the Crown would be viewed by the American Forces as treasonous to THEIR cause, and similar penalties could ensue. So, place your self in Philadelphia in the Fall of 1777. Do you profess your loyalty to the Crown and welcome General Howe’s Army or do you flee and lose everything? If you flee and the American Army loses, you will lose everything. If you stay and welcome the Crown Forces, you may also lose when they leave. What do you do? Who can you trust?
The Age of Enlightenment and the Gentleman Scientist:
While we all know the ramification of Enlightenment thinking on politics in the 18th Century, it also had a profound and seminal effect on science. Prior to the Enlightenment, scientific thought, when it could be separated from theology, was dominated by theories of absolute truth but over the course of the 16th and 17th Centuries this absolutism began to be replaced by modern empirical observation and experimentation. The world doesn’t work as it does because it should, or because of supernatural forces, but rather it follows series of natural laws. Rocks don’t fall to the earth because, as Plato argued, they belong to the earth; they fall because, as Newton observed, objects are attracted to each other in proportion to their mass and inverse proportion to their distance separation [squared]. The role of scientific investigation is to challenge the status quo on EVERYTHING from physics to politics. In the Enlightenment, we are slowly shifting our understanding of how the world works from folklore and tradition to mathematical scientific “laws.” My question for you tonight is how do we balance BOTH ideals of Freedom of Religious Practice, enshrined in more than just the Constitution but in the very fabric of North American settlement, and Modern Scientific Thought where God, if involved at all in the process at all, is the author of laws that govern the universe, not the prime mover who physically controls each particle.
Independence – Was the Continental Congress amiss in first offering the Olive Branch Petition
We live in a new era of political apologists. Politicians are eager to express their loyalty to party and causes and sometimes this loyalty defies reason or even their own best interests but this is not a new behavior in American politics. In on July 5, 1775 the Continental Congress send an apologetic letter pleading for Parliament and the King to reconcile with the colonies. The King never responded and is rumored to have refused to even read it. Was sending this letter a necessary step in creating the resolve of Congress to declare independence 12 months later or was this a vain attempt at preserving the self-interests of the delegates? Should Congress have sent this petition or taken a stronger stance against the Crown? Could the Revolution have been avoided or had the actions in Boston put the Colonies on an ineluctable path toward separation from the British Empire?
like Forest Gump, Joseph Plumb Martin appears at most of the significant events in the Revolution. How?
Joseph Plumb Martin is nearly EVERYWHERE during the American Revolution. Is his account real or an amalgamation of the lives of many Continental Soldiers?
Recommended Reading: Plumb Martin, Joseph; A Narrative of a Revolutionary Soldier: Some Adventures, Dangers, and Sufferings of Joseph Plumb Martin, 1782; ISBN-13: 978-0451531582
The Conway Cabal!
The Conway Cabal sought to unseat Washington as Commander-in-Chief. How is that different from today’s political intrigues, influence pedaling, and accusations of “fake news.”
Recommended Reading: Lender, Mark;Cabal!: The Plot Against General Washington; 2019; ISBN-13: 978-159413265
Did Jefferson ever believe “All men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights including Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness“?
We all know Jefferson owned slaves. We also know that in 1803, he purchased Louisiana from Bonaparte setting the stage for future displacements, genocides, and other crimes against America’s First Nations. Were “all men” only white Protestant males in Jefferson’s mind? Did he feel that Africans and Indians deserved any rights or were they just to be treated like the cattle and fauna of the land? Was the Declaration of Independence meant to be a vision and ethos for our new nation, or was it just convenient propaganda to gain support for separation from the British Empire?
We all know Betsy Ross did not sew the first American Flag. We all know that George Washington never chopped down a cherry tree nor did he throw a dollar across the Potomac. There are may American myths that we cling to. We know they are pure myth and yet they are as key to our national identity as Zeus is to the Greeks. What role did mythology play in the founding of our nation? Does it have a role in the preservation of the nation?
“Remember the Ladies”
“I long to hear that you have declared an independency. And, by the way, in the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.”Letter from Abigail Adams to her husband in Philadelphia — March 31, 1776
It won’t be until 1848 that the movement for women’s rights is launched on a national level with the Seneca Falls Convention. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott and, of course, Susan B. Anthony fought hard to raise public awareness and support in Congress for women’s voting rights. Even after the 19th Amendment was ratified on August 18, 1920, women still were considered second class citizens under the law with many restrictions and prohibitions. What would have been the implications had Congress Assembled followed Abigail’s advice to “remember the ladies” in 1787 and granted full rights of citizenship under the Constitution to both men and women?
Recommended reading: Carmon, Irin and Shana Knizhnik; Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg; 2015; ISBN: 9780062415837
We are all familiar with the political ramifications of the Declaration of Independence but what of the economic impact? What were the consequences both during the war and after to “.. our Fortunes..” as men like John Hancock cut their trade ties with the British Empire?
“A Hideous Hermaphroditical Character” — The Impact of Political Parties
When the US Constitution was first drafted, the idea of political factions and party politics was not foreseen. By the Election of 1800, however, factionalism and infighting between political parties had taken hold in the Congress. Today we have grown are accustomed to the name calling and legislative subversion of parties but this was all new in 1800. Having seen the personal and political toll such infighting was having on John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, George Washington warned of the rise of parties in his farewell address:
“However [political parties] may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”FAREWELL ADDRESS | SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 17, 1796
There is no basis for parties in the US Constitution and yet they are integral to how our government works today. Why do we tolerate political parties in America?
Was Howe’s Victory at Brandywine Assured?
On September 11, 1777, General Washington fielded an army of approximately 20,000 men against a combined British Army of 17,000 along the Brandywine Creek. General Wilhelm von Knyphausen held the southern bank of Chadds Ford with 6,800 men while the balance of General Howe’s expeditionary force marched north to cross the Brandywine at Thimbles Ford unopposed. In the early morning under the cover of fog, Washington initially attached the Hessians but then withdrew fearing the flanking maneuver by Howe. Howe did outflank the American Army but Washington had the advantage at Chadds Ford. What would have been the outcome if he had pressed the Hessians into retreat? Could the British have been pushed back or delayed?
Was Howe’s Successful Invasion of Philadelphia a Victory or Disaster for the Crown?
In the Spring of 1777, Lord George Germain, Secretary of State for America in Lord North’s cabinet, launched a three-prong attack on the American rebellion designed to cut off New England from the rest of the colonies and allow to the British expeditionary forces to conquer the individual colonies piecemeal.
General John Burgoyne lead an army down Lake Champlain and attacked the Hudson Valley. General Barry St. Ledger lead an army from Lake Ontario east along the Mohawk River valley and General Clinton was to march up the Hudson to Albany. General Howe, however, withdrew from New York City to invade the Chesapeake preventing Clinton from completing this strategy, allowing Burgoyne to be defeated at Saratoga, forcing St. Ledger siege at Fort Stanwick to fail, and encouraging the French to join the war.
As you know, Howe was successful in taking Philadelphia but not in crushing the Continental Army nor in capturing the Continental Congress. If you were a member of Parliament, how would you judge General Howe’s success? Did he achieve a strategic victory or he abandon his post and cause the crushing defeats in New York?
Taxation without Representation
In 1765, Parliament enacted the Stamp Act imposing taxes on the American Colonies with the intention of paying off the national debt for the Seven Years War (AKA French and Indian War). That same year, urged by Patrick Henry, the Virginia Burgesses passed a series of resolves (the Virginia Resolves) protesting these taxes as unfair. The phrase “no taxation without representation” entered the American political lexicon and sowed the seeds for ultimate rebellion against the Crown. Americans protested in the streets, committed acts of vandalism and civil disobedience, and generally provoked Parliament until these taxes were repealed. Parliament and the Colonies would engage in a sort of cold war over taxes for the next several years until in 1773 after having occupied the city of Boston for five years, King George orders that the city be cut off from all trade following the Boston Tea Party. Americans were willing to die over the issues of taxes and yet, in 1787 when we ratified our new national constitution, there was no protection against such abuse. Even when we amended the Constitution in 1793 and added the Bill of Rights, There was no mention of taxation. Why?
Clearly, our Founding Fathers considered the issue important. Our first national constitution – the Articles of Confederation – severely limited the Federal Government’s authority to tax. This was one of the principal reasons it had to be replaced. Under the US Constitution, Congress can impose taxes with simple majority votes (representative) but so can the President (not representative). In fact, in recent years, taxes are levied not by elected officials but rather by the various departments of the Executive Branch with no accountability to the People. Do we really care about “Taxation without Representation” or is this just one of the many myths of American History like George Washington chopping down a cherry tree?
In 1765, Bostonians were willing to tar and feather tax collectors over a few shillings on a deed or other official document, a tax they might be exposed to two or three times in a lifetime, but today, we blithely accept 25-35% tariffs imposed solely by the President without the review or consent of Congress. What has changed? Do we really care about “representation” or was this just a rallying cry for protest? Did we ever really care?
Loyalty and Oaths of Allegiance
In most political movements, the vast majority of the people neither actively support nor oppose the change—they are neutral. Unfortunately, zealots for the cause, in Revolutionary America we call them Whigs or Torys, frequently equate apathy with opposition making would be bystanders into enemies.
John Adams is frequently cited as postulating that 1/3 of the population of the American Colonies favored independence and 1/3 opposed it. It is likely, however, that far more than 33% of the people really didn’t care who governed, they just wanted to live their lives in peace. These nonparticipants in the Revolution displayed loyalty to whoever held local control switching allegiance from Britain to the Continental Congress as the armies took and lost control of their cities. What else could they do? They had families to support, businesses to run, and lives that would, hopefully, continue after the war regardless of its outcome.
Knowing that oaths, pardons, and similar statements of loyalty could easily be made in untruthfully, could easily be forged, and were often ignored, and given that the majority of the people of North American were ambivalent as to the outcome of the war, why were Oaths of Allegiance and visible displays of loyalty considered so important to the armies occupying Philadelphia and New York? Why was this not expected in Boston? Did any of this effect the outcome of the war?
The Election of 1800
The election of 1800 had all the attributes we have come to know and tolerate in modern elections:
- A paranoid, egotistical president (John Adams) who is anti immigration and believes that criticism of the government is a crime.
- An ambitious, liberal former Secretary of State who wants a very different government and is not opposed to a little rebellion every few years. “I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.“
- Interference in the electoral process (through lobbying of Senators) by a foreign country (France).
- Name calling and character assassination.
Join us as we discuss the candidates, share some barbs and insults that they used to parry in newspaper and letter debates, examine their ambitions, their strengths and their weaknesses.
- Adams: a Harvard graduate and Massachusetts lawyer who helped negotiate the Treaty of Paris in 1783 and served two terms as Washington’s Vice-President before his election to the Presidency in 1796. Distinguished, disputatious, short, ugly, hot-tempered, upstanding, provincial, learned (president of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences). Very clever wife. Suspected of wanting to be king. Loves England. Thinks his diplomats have to tread carefully with Napoleon. Signed into law the Sedition Act in 1798; depending on your point of view, this was either so that he could have anyone who disagreed with him thrown in jail or so that he could protect the country from dangerous anarchists.
- Jefferson: former governor of Virginia, onetime Ambassador to France, Washington’s Secretary of State. Eminent, brilliant (president of the American Philosophical Society), surpassing prose stylist, author of the Declaration of Independence (with help from Adams), unrivalled champion of liberty, slave owner, grieving widower, rumored to have fathered children by one of his slaves. Tall, humorless, moody, zealous, cosmopolitan. Artistic. Loves France, not so worried about Bonaparte. Ardently opposes the Sedition Act. Reputed atheist.
We know who was elected. If you were an elector, would you agree?