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John Witherspoon

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States Rights

States Rights

 

States rights are grounded in the United States Constitution under the 10th Amendment to the United States Constitution.  The 10th Amendment states that “the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” 

The interpretation of the 10th Amendment has been argued over the entire history of the United States.  Where some interpret the Constitution to have a strict construction, meaning that the federal government is permitted pass laws in strict compliance within the specific language of the constitution others have interpreted the Constitution to allow the federal government to regulate and make laws that are “necessary and proper” to achieving the goals set forth in the “enumerated powers” of Article 1, section 8 of the United States Constitution.

The enumerated powers are a list of duties that Congress is entrusted with.  These consist of an 18 clauses outlining the duties of Congress.  These include the authority to raise an army, to borrow money, lay taxes, coin money, create a post office, declare war, and create inferior federal courts, among others.  Those individuals who stand for strict construction of the constitution believe that the authority given to Congress through these 18 clauses are black and white and that the federal government does not have the authority to expand Congress’s influence.  Those who follow the expansionist view specifically focus on clause 18 of section 8 and the “necessary and proper” clause.

The necessary and proper clause, as stated in Article 1, section 8, clause 18 states that “the congress shall have Power – To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.”  

What this means is that the federal government may create laws and regulations that are “necessary and proper” to achieve the goals of the federal government concerning the enumerated powers.  A great example of the “necessary and proper” clause at work is by looking at the commerce clause of Article 1, section 8, clause 3 of the United States Constitution.

The commerce clause; under Article 1, section 8, clause 3 states that Congress has the authority “To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes.”  A States rights, strict constructionist, view would look at this as being black and white, having the interpretation follow logically that Congress may regulate interstate travel on and goods that have been put in the stream of commerce.  A more expansive viewpoint would be that of the holding of Wickard v. Filburn where the Supreme Court found that the effects of a farmer growing too much wheat on his property, in the aggregate, would affect interstate commerce and, thus, Congress had the right to regulate it.  

This argument over the rights designated to Congress through Article 1, section 8 of the United States Constitution and the 10th Amendment are the main points of argument held by those who follow states rights; and a strict constructionist view, and those who follow an expansionist view of the Constitution.

States Rights in United States History up to the Civil War

The argument of States rights began even before the drafting of the Constitution.  Prior to the Constitution the United States government was bound by the Articles of Confederation.  The Articles of Confederation created in it a strong respect for states rights and left a very weak federal government.  Subsequently, during the drafting of the Constitution, one of the aims was to strengthen the federal government.  Many proponents felt that states rights should be afforded greater weight and in that regard the 10th Amendment was drafted to appease those individuals concerned with centralized power.  

One of the first instances where the idea of states rights in the Constitution came to the for forefront was during the Washington administration and the dispute over the creation of a national bank.  Alexander Hamilton, then the secretary of the treasury, intended to use the enumerated powers, along with the necessary and proper clause, to create a national bank of the United States.  Advocates of States rights such as Thomas Jefferson and James Madison argued that this was not within the strict construction of the Constitution.  Washington sided with Hamilton and upon the creation of the national bank essentially split the founders into two different sects and, in essence, was a large contributing factor to the creation of the first major parties in American politics; the Federalists, controlled by Washington and Adams, and the Republicans; dominated by Jefferson and Madison.  The Federalists would argue on the platform of implied powers whereas the Republicans were advocates for “strict construction” and states’ rights.

The argument over implied powers and states’ rights came to a head once again during the Adams administration when the Federalist controlled Congress adopted the Alien and Sedition laws which prohibited actions, even verbal comments, against the government.  The Republicans argued that this was a direct violation of the 1st Amendment to the Constitution and Jefferson and Madison countered the acts by independently drafting the Kentucky and Virginia resolutions which were meant to assert state rights and send a message to the federal government that the States had a right to nullify laws proposed by the federal government to be too far reaching.  Essentially the resolutions claimed that the federal government served at the will of the states and that states rights were paramount to those proposed by the federal government.  

The issue of States rights versus implied powers was resurrected once more during the Jefferson administration and the Louisiana purchase.  Strict constructionists who advocated for states rights and the limitations on the powers of the federal government opposed the purchase, stating that it was not within the powers granted to the federal government to expand nation beyond its current borders.  Ironically, these arguments were brought against Jefferson, one of the original proponents for states rights and strict construction.  

The implied powers of Congress were once again tested during the nullification acts of 1832.  This issue came about due to tariffs that were imposed on goods that were being imported into the United States.  In the current economic climate the southern states relied on goods from Europe and from the northern states in order to meet their economic needs.  Because of stiff competition with Europe, Congress, at the behest of the northern states imposed tariffs upon European goods shipped into the country.  The result was that the southern states were either reduced to dealing only with the northern states for necessary goods or paying higher prices for European goods.  In response South Carolina, under the policies of John C. Calhoun, proposed a re-formulation of the Virginia & Kentucky resolutions.  The new resolution essentially stated that the people in each state were sovereign and only by their will was there any power given to the state of federal governments.  As a result South Carolina refused to obey the tariff acts of 1828 or 1832 and in response President Jackson asked Congress for the right to send in the navy and army for enforcement of the law.  

The issue involving states rights versus implied powers really came to a head in the issue of slavery.  Advocates of the implied powers claimed that the issue of slavery was one for the federal government to decide, as was done through the Compromise of 1820 and 1850.  Advocates for states rights claimed that it was for each individual state to decide whether it should permit slavery within its borders and argued that the federal government was permitted to adopt rules and regulations but could not designate the policies that affected the states.  States rights advocates won a battle on this issue with the holding in the Dredd Scott decision whereby Justice Taney declared that "The Government of the United States had no right to interfere for any other purpose but that of protecting the rights of the slave owner.”

The 14th Amendment

With the end of the civil war came Amendments to the Constitution banning slavery and calling for the equal treatment of African-Americans throughout the United States.  In addition, the 14th Amendment attempted to lay to rest any idea of states rights usurping the Constitutional guarantees prescribed by the federal government.  In this the 14th Amendment contains, what is known as, the equal protection clause.

The equal protection clause is stated in section 1 of the Amendment and notes that “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.  This clause solidified the Constitution, and the Amendments to the Constitution, as being, not only a federal right, but subjected the Amendments to the States as well.  

States Rights and The Civil Rights Era

Probably the largest issue of states rights post-civil war came about during the civil rights movement.  In response to Jim Crow, the federal government began a series of reforms, beginning with the Supreme Court decision in Brown v. The Board of Education, which officially overturned the decision in Plessy v. Ferguson and declared that “separate but equal”, was not constitutional.  

In response many proponents against integration declared that the federal government did not have the authority to require integration by the states as it would be a violation of state rights.  States refused to integrate and it was not until a show of force by the federal government that the states began to recede from their previous stance.  

States Rights and the Commerce Clause

One of the most contentious issues involving states rights is the issue involving the commerce clause.  The federal government has been able to use the commerce clause in a number of situations to expand the authority of the federal government into areas where, without the necessary and proper clause, would be deemed to be an unconstitutional intrusion upon states rights.  The federal government has been able to use the commerce clause to enter almost any situation where something is put into the stream of commerce.  As discussed above, the case of WIckard v. Filburn took this to extreme lengths arguing the “aggregate” view.  

Many issues have come to the forefront lately involving the death penalty, assisted suicide, gay marriage, gun rights and the health care individual mandate.

Currently the health care individual mandate that is one of the cornerstones of the Obama administrations health care bill is working its way up to the Supreme Court of the United States.  Currently the appellate courts have been split as to the constitutionality of the issue.  States rights advocates for strict construction advocate that the Constitution’s enumerated powers, even with the expansive view of the commerce clause through the “necessary and proper” clause do not afford the federal government to mandate that an individual be required to pay for health care.  In the alternative those who are against the states rights assertions argue that the commerce clause, along with the necessary and proper clause permit the federal government to mandate that each individual in this country pay for their own health car or face a penalty.  It is yet to be determined where the high court will rule on this argument but it is a strong possibility that states rights advocates will be disappointed.  

 

Edmund Randolph

Edmund Randolph

Founding Fathers: Edmund Randolph

Randolph was born into a well-established Virginia family on August 10, 1753 in Williamsburg, Virginia. Edmund Randolph was tutored and later attended the College of William and Mary. After graduating, Edmund Randolph studied law under his father John Randolph and his Uncle Peyton. He then passed the Virginia bar, and started practicing law in Williamsburg, Virginia. 

Once the American Revolution broke out, John Randolph kept his position as a Loyalist and returned to England with the royal governor, Lord Dunmore in 1775. Edmund Randolph stayed in America where he lived with his uncle Peyton Randolph, who was a prominent member in Virginia politics. During the Revolutionary War, Edmund Randolph showed his support by acting as an aide-de-camp to General George Washington.

After returning to Virginia after hearing about the death of his uncle, Edmund Randolph was elected to the Virginia Convention of 1776. This was the convention that established the Commonwealth of Virginia’s first constitution. During this time, Edmund Randolph was only 23 years old, making him the youngest member at the convention. Randolph married Elizabeth Nicholas in 1776.

Edmund Randolph was also elected as the Commonwealth of Virginia ’s first Attorney General as well as the Mayor of the city of Williamsburg in 1776. Afterwards, Edmund Randolph was elected to be a delegate for Virginia for the Continental Congress both in 1779 and 1881. During this time, he maintained his law practice, handling many issues for important politicians including George Washington. In 1786, Edmund Randolph was elected Governor of Virginia. 

Constitutional Convention

he following year, Edmund Randolph was a delegate from Virginia for the Constitutional Convention. Here, he introduced the Virginia Plan as a foundation for a new government for the country. Edmund Randolph argued against the importation of slaves and was in favor of the new government having a strong central government. He also supported a plan that had three chief executives from different areas of the country. The Virginia Plan also suggested two houses, where in both of these houses delegates were picked based on state population. Edmund Randolph additionally suggested, and was supported with unanimous approval by the Constitutional Convention's delegates, that having a national judiciary branch should be necessary. Article III of the United States Constitution created the federal court system, which did not exist under the Articles of Confederation. 

Edmund Randolph was also a part of the Committee of Detail. This committee had the responsibility of converting the 15 resolutions of the Virginia Plan into the very first draft of the federal Constitution. While Edmund Randolph supported independence, he refused to sign the final version of the Constitution, because he felt that it did not have enough checks and balances placed. He published an account of his objections to the Constitution in October 1787. Despite this stance, he nevertheless changed his position in 1788 at the Virginia Ratifying Convention and voted for ratification of the Constitution since eight other states already ratified the Constitution, and he did not want Virginia to be left out of the new government.

President Washington's Cabinet

Edmund Randolph became the first United States Attorney General in September 1789 under President Washington, where he maintained a sense of neutrality between Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton. When Thomas Jefferson resigned as Secretary of State in 1793, Edmund Randolph succeeded him. The major diplomatic action of this term was in 1794 during the Jay Treaty with Britain, but it was actually Alexander Hamilton who created the plan and drafted the instructions, leaving Edmund Randolph the formal role of signing the papers. Edmund Randolph was hostile to the resulting treaty. At the end of his term as the Secretary of State, negotiations for the treaty were finalized.

As Secretary of State, Edmund Randolph faced many of the challenges that his predecessor, Thomas Jefferson, had tried to address during his term. Edmund Randolph managed the Citizen Genêt Affair’s settlement. Edmund Randolph also prompted the resumption of talks with Spain and also helped in the negotiations of the Treaty of San Lorenzo of 1795, which resulted in the opening of the Mississippi River to United States navigation and also adjusted the boundaries between the United States and Spanish possessions.

Resignation from the Cabinet

A scandal which involved an intercepted French message resulted in to Edmund Randolph’s resignation in August 1795. A correspondence was intercepted by the British Navy from the French minister, Joseph Fauchet, to the United States which was turned over to President Washington. Washington was disappointed that the letters showed contempt for the United States and that Edmund Randolph was mainly responsible for it.

The letters suggested that Randolph had revealed the inner arguments in the cabinet to the French government and suggested that the United States Administration was hostile to France. President Washington immediately overruled Edmund Randolph’s negative advice about the Jay Treaty. A few days later President Washington, in the presence of the full cabinet, handed the minister's letter to Edmund Randolph and demanded that he explain it.

Randolph was absolutely speechless and resigned immediately. It was concluded that Edmund Randolph was not bribed by the French but rather, he was rather a pitiable figure who sometimes lacked good sense. However, Edmund Randolph's own published Vindication showed his concerns regarding both private and public perceptions of his character, which were concerns that had great value during the 18th century. After leaving the President’s cabinet, Edmund Randolph returned to Virginia to continue his practice. During this time, his most famous case was one where he defended Aaron Burr for treason in 1807.

During his retirement from politics, Edmund Randolph wrote a history of Virginia. On September 12, 1813 Randolph passed away at the age of 60. He was buried in a graveyard at a nearby chapel.

Fun Facts about Edmund Randolph 

• Edmund Randolph practiced the law until his death.

• The only proof of any tension between him and his father about the Revolution was in one letter where he was worried about his father’s actions would affect his reputation.

• Because of the generosity of his relatives, he avoided poverty in his old age.

 

George Mason

George Mason

Founding Father: George Mason
 
 
George Mason was born on December 11, 1725, in Fairfax County, Virginia. His parents were George and Ann Thomson Mason. In 1735, George’s father died on the Potomac River in a boating accident, when his boat capsized and he drowned. After this, young George Mason was sent to his uncle, John Mercer, who raised him. George Mason’s future education was shaped profoundly by the contents of John Mercer’s library that had 1500 different volumes, a third of them concerning law.
 
 
George Mason established himself as a very important figure in the community. As the owner of Gunston Hall, Mason was one of Virginia’s richest planters. On April 4, 1750, Mason married Anne Eilbeck, who was from a plantation in Charles Country, Maryland. He was married to her for 23 years of and during this time, they had nine surviving children; four daughters and five sons. In 1752, George Mason acquired an interest in the Ohio Company, a company that speculated in western lands. In 1773, the crown revoked the rights of Ohio Company. George Mason, as the company's treasurer, wrote his very first major state paper titled “Extracts from the Virginia Charters, with Some Remarks upon Them”.
 
 
Around this time, George Mason also began to pursue his political interests. Mason was a justice of the Fairfax County court. Between 1754 and 1779, George Mason was also a trustee of the city of Alexandria. In 1759, Mason was elected as a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses. When the Stamp Act of 1765 created outrage in the colonies, Mason wrote an open letter where he explained the colonists' position and distress regarding the act to a committee of London merchants, in hopes of enlisting their support.
 
 
In 1774, George Mason was in the forefront of political events once again when he helped write up the Fairfax Resolves, a document which outlined the constitutional grounds of the colonists for their objections to the Boston Port Act. George Mason also framed the Virginia's Declaration of Rights in 1776, which was widely copied in many of the other colonies. This document also served as a model for Jefferson when he was writing the in the first section of the Declaration of Independence. Furthermore, the Virginia Declaration of Rights was also the foundation for the Bill of Rights in the Federal Constitution.
 
 
The years from 1776 to 1780 were full of great legislative activity. The ratification of the Declaration of Independence and the creation of a government that was independent of Great Britain required the talents of people like George Mason. Mason supported the disestablishment of the church in America and was very active in the organization of military affairs, particularly in the West. The influence of Mason’s early work, “Extracts from the Virginia Charters,” can be seen in the peace treaty of 1783 with Great Britain, which adjusted the Anglo-American boundary at the Great Lakes rather than the Ohio River. After independence, George Mason created up the plan for Virginia's cession of some of its western lands to the United States.
 
 
However, by the early 1780s, George Mason grew tired with the conduct of public affairs and decided to retire. In 1780, he then married his second wife, Sarah Brent. Five years later, George Mason attended the Mount Vernon meeting. This was prelude to the Annapolis convention of 1786. While he was appointed to attend, he did not go to Annapolis.
 
 
While George Mason did not attend the Annapolis Convention, he did attend the Constitutional Convention. In Philadelphia in 1787, George Mason was one of the top five most frequent speakers at the Convention. Here, Mason exerted great influence. However, during the final two weeks of the Constitutional Convention, he decided against signing the United States Constitution. 
 
 
George Mason's refusal sparked some surprise from many people, particularly since his name is linked very closely with constitutionalism. Mason explained his reasons from not signing the Constitution at length, stating that the lack of a declaration of rights was his biggest concern about the Constitution. He then talked about the different provisions of the United States Constitution point by point, starting with the House of Representatives.
 
 
George Mason criticized the House of Representatives by saying it was not truly a good representative of the country, since the Senate as too powerful. He also felt that the power of the federal judiciary had the potential destroy the state judiciaries, rendering justice unattainable, and enabling the rich to easily oppress and destroy the poor. Because of these fears, George Mason came to the conclusion that the new government was meant to either become a monarchy or wind up in the hands of a powerful, corrupt, and oppressive aristocracy.
 
 
Two of George Mason's biggest concerns were later incorporated into the Constitution. The ratification of the Bill of Rights answered George Mason’s main objection, and the 11th amendment to the Constitution addressed his request for strictures placed on the judiciary branch.
 
 
Throughout his career, George Mason was guided heavily by his belief in the rule of reason as well as his beliefs in the centrality of the natural rights of man. Mason approached problems rationally, impersonally, and coolly. In recognition of Mason’s accomplishments and dedication to the important principles of the Age of Reason, George Mason has been often thought of as the American manifestation of the Enlightenment. George Mason passed away on October 7, 1792, and was put to rest on the grounds of Gunston Hall.
 
 
Fun Facts about George Mason
 
 
George Mason is sometimes thought of as the “Forgotten Father” and was also known as a “reluctant Statesman” and the “Penman of the Revolution”
 
 
Another reason why he did not sign the Constitution was because it did not abolish slavery.
 
 
The George Mason Memorial was dedicated on April 9, 2002 in Washington, D.C.
 

Gouverneur Morris

Gouverneur Morris

 


Gouverneur Morris was born on January 31, 1752 in Westchester County, New York. His family was very prominent and well off in New York and had a long record of public service.  A gifted scholar, Gouverneur Morris entered King's College in 1764 at the age of 12 and graduated in 1768. He then received his master's degree in 1771.

On 8 May 1775, Gouverneur Morris was elected to represent his estate in the New York Provincial Congress. Here, he focused on turning New York into an independent state. However, his support of independence for the colonies created conflict with him and his family along with his mentor, William Smith, who had given up the patriot cause when it pushed toward independence. Gouverneur Morris was a member of the New York State Assembly between 1777 and 1778.

After the August 1776 Battle of Long Island, the British took New York City and Gouverneur Morris family's estate across the Harlem River. His mother who was a loyalist gave the estate to the British so the military could use it.

Gouverneur Morris was appointed as a delegate to the Continental Congress, where he took his seat on 28 January 1778. Morris was selected immediately to a committee who coordinating reforms of the military with Washington. After seeing the army encamped at Valley Forge, Morris was so appalled by the troops’ conditions that he started speaking on the behalf of the Continental Army in Congress, and helped enact many reforms for the training, financing, and methods of the army. In 1778, Morris also signed the Articles of Confederation.

In 1779, Morris was not re-elected to Congress, mainly because his support for a strong central government which was against the decentralist views mostly found in New York. He then moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where he started working as a merchant and a lawyer.

In 1780, Gouverneur Morris’s left leg was shattered and had to be replaced with a wooden peg leg. While he claimed it was due to a carriage accident, there was evidence suggesting that he was involved with a woman and he jumped from a window to escape a from jealous husband. Despite his exemption from military duty due to his handicap as well as his service in the legislature, Gouverneur Morris joined a special club for the protection of New York City.

Prior the Constitutional Convention, was working as a merchant in Philadelphia for some time. After that, he gained an interest in financial affairs and business, so he began to work with Robert Morris, another founding father. Later, George Washington and Robert Morris then recommended Gouverneur for the Constitutional Convention because of it. 

In Philadelphia, Gouverneur Morris was appointed the assistant superintendent of finance from 1781 to 1785, and in 1787 was also the Pennsylvania delegate to the Constitutional Convention. Morris moved back to in New York in 1788.

During the Philadelphia Convention, Gouverneur Morris was a friend and a strong ally of George Washington as others who wished for a strong central government. Gouverneur Morris was elected onto a committee of five men who drafted the final language of the constitution. 

Gouverneur Morris believed that any civilized Society would always have an Aristocracy and that the common people were not able of self-government because the poor would sell their votes to the wealthy. Because of this, he felt that voting rights should only be given to property owners. Gouverneur Morris also opposed admitting any new western states on an equal basis with the eastern states that existed, worrying that the interior wilderness could not provide "enlightened" statesmen.

At the Constitutional Constitution, Gouverneur Morris gave more speeches than any other person. He was also categorized as the theistic rationalist since he felt strongly in a guiding god and that morality had to be taught through religion. Regardless, he did not have patience for any established religion. Gouverneur Morris often strongly defended a person’s right to practice his chosen religion without any interference, and he felt that it had to be included in in the Constitution.

Gouverneur Morris was one of the very few delegates at the Philadelphia Convention who openly spoke against domestic slavery in America. According to James Madison notes, Gouverneur Morris openly spoke against slavery in August.

Gouverneur Morris went to on business in 1789 on business and acted as Minister Plenipotentiary to France between 1792 and 1794. During this time, his diaries chronicled the French Revolution, describing much of the violence and turbulence of the era, as well as discussing his affairs with different women there.

In 1798, Gouverneur Morris returned to the United States, and in April 1800 he was elected to the United States Senate as a Federalist, filling the vacancy after the resignation of James Watson. Gouverneur Morris served between May 3, 1800 and March 4, 1803. In February 1803, he was defeated for re-election.

After leaving the United States Senate, Gouverneur Morris served as Chairman of the Erie Canal Commission between 1810 and 1813. The Erie Canal helped define New York City as a financial capital of the country.

At the age of 57, Gouverneur Morris married Anne Cary Randolph, the sister of Thomas Mann Randolph, Jr., who was the husband of Thomas Jefferson's daughter. Morris had one son with Anne, Gouverneur Morris Jr., who later became a railroad executive.[11]

On November 16, 1816, Gouverneur Morris died after sticking a whale bone through his urinary tract in order to relieve a blockage. He passed away at the family estate, called Morrisania, and was buried in New York City at St. Ann's Church.

Fun Facts about Gouverneur Morris

• At the Constitutional Convention, Gouverneur Morris gave 173 speeches.

• The Village of Gouverneur and the Town of Gouverneur are both named after Gouverneur Morris.

• The S.S. Gouverneur Morris was a United States liberty ship that was launched in 1943. It was finally scrapped in 1974.

John Dickinson

John Dickinson

Founding Father: John Dickinson

John Dickinson was born on November 8, 1732 in Talbot County, Maryland. He lived as a political pamphleteer and a statesman. His well off family owned a lot of land in both Maryland and Delaware. John Dickinson was homeschooled until the age of 18 when he started studying law. When he was 21, John Dickinson traveled to London for four years to conclude his legal training. He then came back to Philadelphia where he opened up a law office that eventually earned a very good reputation.

John Dickinson began his political career in 1759 as a member of the Delaware Assembly and eventually also the speaker. In 1762, John Dickinson won the election to the Pennsylvania Assembly, where his very conservative views clashed with the beliefs of Benjamin Franklin. The two of them engaged in a pamphlet war, which resulted in Benjamin Franklin’s removal from the Assembly while John Dickinson remained. Dickinson continued his public career during the Stamp Act Congress of 1765. Here, Dickinson was given the task of writing the Declaration of Rights and Grievances. He served as a very large player in the American Revolution by encouraging citizens of America to disregard certain laws like the Stamp Act.

In 1765, Dickinson published a pamphlet called The Late Regulations Respecting the British Colonies. Here, John pamphlet, Dickinson argued that Britain and the colonies would be affected greatly by trade regulations and that America’s trade should become independent. Next, he wrote an Address to the Committee of Correspondence in Barbados, accusing them of he ignoring basic human rights.

John Dickinson’s most famous work was Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania, which was published in the Pennsylvania Chronicle. This work was first printed on December 2, 1767 after Parliament’s threatening acts after the Stamp Act. It received positive feedback and was reprinted in 19 other newspapers throughout the colonies. They were also circulated in London and Paris, bringing American grievances onto the international stage. John Dickinson addressed the Quartering Act of 1765, Restraining Act of 1766, and Townshend Duties of 1767. While the acts were not appealed immediately, the letters still helped instigating revolt in Americans. 

John Dickinson married Mary Norris of Philadelphia in 1770, whom he had five children with. John Dickinson continued being a member of the Pennsylvania assembly while writing against British taxes.  John Dickinson also joined the First Continental Congress in October 1774, where he helped draft the Declaration of Rights and Grievances. 

Dickinson was also a part of the Second Continental Congress in May 1775. In June, he prepared the final draft of the “Declaration of the Causes & Necessity of Taking Up Arms.” However, he tried to stay conservative by opposing extreme action by the colonies. Dickinson opposed the Declaration of Independence and in 1776, voted against it in, which hurt his popularity. Soon after, he retired from the Pennsylvania Assembly.

John Dickinson moved with his family to Delaware where he became a Delaware representative for Congress in February 1779. In November 1781, he also became President of Delaware, despite voting against himself for the seat. He resigned December 1782 from this position upon running for President of Pennsylvania. He received strong opposition with his return to Pennsylvania due to his conservative views. He served as President of Pennsylvania for three years, which were plagued with political disputes and economic issues. In October 1785, Dickinson returned to Wilmington, Delaware with his family.

John Dickinson continued his public career as a representative in 1787 to the Constitutional Convention. He attempted to protect the representation of smaller states while favoring a strong central government. This became his last big event in public office as his health started to fail. John Dickinson died on February 14, 1808 in Wilmington, Delaware, and was buried in the Wilmington Friends Meetinghouse Burial Ground.

 

Elbridge Gerry

Elbridge Gerry

Founding Fathers: Elbridge Gerry

Elbridge Gerry was born in on July 14, 1744 at Marblehead, MA, as the third of twelve children. Elbridge Gerry’s mother was the daughter of a merchant in Boston. His father was politically active and wealthy merchant-shipper who had previously been a sea captain. After attending Harvard College at the age of 14 and graduating in 1762, Elbridge Gerry joined his two brothers and father in the family business of exporting dried codfish to Spain and Barbados.

He was elected the colonial legislature, the General Court of Massachusetts from 1772 to 1774, where he came under the Samuel Adam’s influence, and took part in the Massachusetts and Marblehead committees of correspondence. After the British Parliament closed the Boston harbor in June 1774, Marblehead, Massachusetts became an important port of entry for goods that were donated by patriots throughout the other colonies to help support Bostonians. Elbridge Gerry was involved in transporting these supplies.

From 1774 to 1776 Elbridge Gerry attended both the first and second provincial congresses. There, he served with John Hancock and Samuel Adams on the council of safety and, and acted as chairman of the committee of supply where he raised troops and considered military logistics.

On April 18, 1775 Elbridge Gerry attended a meeting at an inn in Menotom, between Cambridge and Lexington, for the council of safety. Here he barely escaped the British troops that were marching on Lexington and Concord.

In 1776, Elbridge Gerry entered the Continental Congress, where his specialties were financial and military matters. Both in Congress and throughout his political career, Elbridge Gerry’s actions often appeared very contradictory. Elbridge Gerry earned the nickname "soldiers' friend" due to his strong advocacy of better equipment and pay, yet he often hesitated on the issue of soldier pensions. Despite his strong disapproval of standing armies, Elbridge Gerry recommended long-term enlistments.

Until 1779, Elbridge Gerry sat on and sometimes even presided over the congressional board which regulated the Continental Congress’ finances. After a dispute over the price schedule for suppliers, Elbridge Gerry, who also a supplier, walked right out of Congress. Although he was nominally a member, Elbridge Gerry did not reappear for three years. During the interim, Elbridge Gerry engaged in trade and was a member of the lower house of the Massachusetts legislature.

During 1783 to 1785, Elbridge Gerry was a representative in Congress, where he was one of many who had a gift as a Revolutionary agitator and a wartime leader. However, he could not effectively handle the difficult task of stabilizing the federal government. He was conscientious and experienced, but made many enemies due to lack of humor, obsessive fear of military and political tyranny, and suspicion in others. In 1786, a year after Elbridge Gerry left Congress, he retired from business. Elbridge Gerry  married Ann Thompson and became a member of the state legislature.

Elbridge Gerry was one of the most vocal delegates during the 1787 Constitutional Convention. Gerry presided as chairman of the committee that made the Great Compromise, even though he personally did not like the compromise itself. Elbridge Gerry antagonized almost everyone by his inconsistency and, according to one colleague, objected to practically everything that he did not propose. While Elbridge Gerry was first an advocate of a good strong central government, he ultimately refused and rejected to sign the Constitution because it did not include a bill of rights and because he felt it was a threat to republicanism. Elbridge Gerry led the drive against ratification of the Constitution in Massachusetts and said that the document was full of vices. Among these vices, he pointed out inadequate representation of the people of the state, dangerously unclear legislative powers, the mixing of the legislative and executive branch, and the potentially oppressive judiciary.

Elbridge Gerry did see some potential in the Constitution, and he believed that the flaws could be fixed through amendments. After he declared his intention to support the new Constitution, Elbridge Gerry was elected to the First Congress in 1789 where he championed many Federalist policies.

Elbridge Gerry left Congress for the last very time in 1793 and retired for four years after. During this time, he came to distrust the plans of the Federalists, particularly their attempts to form an alliance with Great Britain. Because of this, he sided with the pro-French Democratic-Republicans. President John Adams appointed him in 1797 as the only non-Federalist of a three-man commission that was charged with negotiating some sort of reconciliation with France, whom the United States was on the brink of war with.

During this affair from 1797 to 1798, Elbridge Gerry hurt his reputation. The French foreign minister, Talleyrand, led Gerry to believe that his presence in France could prevent war, and he stayed in France for a bit more after the departure of Charles Cotesworth Pinckney and John Marshall, the other two other members of the commission. Finally, the embarrassed President Adams recalled Gerry, and Gerry received severe censure from the Federalists after his return.

Elbridge Gerry met his defeat in four bids for the Massachusetts governorship due to his aristocratic haughtiness between 1800 to 1803. However, he somehow finally managed to triumph in 1810. Around the end of his two terms, the Democratic-Republicans who were scarred by a partisan controversy passed a redistricting law that ensured their domination in the state senate. In response to this law, the Federalists placed all the ridicule on Gerry and coined the term "gerrymander" as a way to describe one of the restricted areas, which was shaped like a salamander.

Despite his age, frail health, and a threat of poverty due to the neglect of his personal affairs, Elbridge Gerry served as the Vice President in 1813 under President James Madison. In November 23, 1814, Elbridge Gerry collapsed on his way to the Senate and died at the age of 70. His wife, who lived until 1849, was the last widow of a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Elbridge Gerry is buried in the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, DC.

 

James Wilson

James Wilson


James Wilson was born in September 14, 1742 at Carskerdo, Fife, Scotland near St. Andrews, Scotland. Here, he received his education at many different universities including St. Andrews, Glasgow, and Edinburgh without receiving a degree. Instilled with the ideas from the Scottish Enlightenment, James Wilson then moved to America, during the tensions of the Stamp Act in 1765. Early the next year, James Wilson accepted a position at the College of Philadelphia as a Latin tutor with the help of very valuable letters of introduction. James Wilson petitioned the college to give him a degree, and several  months later he was awarded an honorary Master of Arts. Afterwards, he left to read the law under John Dickenson. After studying for two years, he was admitted to the Philadelphia bar in 1767. The next year, James Wilson set up his own law practice in Reading, Pennsylvania. This office was very successful and he was able to earn a small fortune. Two years after, James Wilson moved westward to Carlisle, Pennsylvania, a Scotch-Irish settlement. The afterwards, he got married to Rachel Bird with whom he had six children with. 

James Wilson specialized in land law and he was able to build up a broad clientele. He also began to speculate in land by using borrowed capital. He also started to lecture about English literature at the College of Philadelphia as well.

James Wilson soon became very involved in Revolutionary politics. In 1774, he became the chairman of the Carlisle committee of correspondence, went to the very first provincial assembly, and published the “Considerations on the Nature & Extent of the Legislative Authority of the British Parliament”. This writing was heavily circulated in both England and America, establishing James Wilson as a Whig leader in America.

The next year, James Wilson was elected to the provincial assembly as well as the Continental Congress, where he mainly sat on the committee for military and Indian affairs. In 1776, James Wilson joined the moderates in Congress due to the wishes of his constituents and voted for a 3-week delay in looking at Richard Henry Lee's resolution for independence on June 7. However, on the July 1 and 2 ballots, James Wilson voted in the affirmative for independence and signed the Declaration of Independence on the same day.

James Wilson's strong opposition to the 1776 Republican Pennsylvania constitution, besides showing a switch to conservative views on his part, resulted in his removal from Congress the next year. In order avoid the talk among his frontier constituents, James Wilson went to Annapolis for the winter of 1777 and 1778 and then went back to live in Philadelphia.

James Wilson confirmed his new political stance by identifying closely with the conservative and aristocratic republican groups, which multiplied his business interests, and accelerated his land speculation. James Wilson also took a seat as Advocate General for France in America between 1779 and 1783, where he dealt with maritime and commercial matters, and defended Loyalists and their sympathizers in legal matters.

In fall 1779, during a time of food shortages and inflation, a mob of people which included militiamen led by radical constitutionalists, went out to attack the republican leadership. James Wilson was one of the prime targets of this attack. James Wilson as well as around 35 of his colleagues closed themselves in his home at Walnut and Third Streets, known after as "Fort Wilson." During a short skirmish, many people on both sides were wounded or killed. The shock of the situation cooled sentiments and pardons were given all around, though there were many major political battles regarding the commonwealth constitution yet to come.

In 1781, Congress appointed James Wilson as one of the directors of the newly founded Bank of North America, which was created by legal client and close associate Robert Morris. In 1782, when the conservatives had regained a little of their political power, James Wilson was reelected to Congress, where he served between 1785 and 1787.

James Wilson reached the highlight of his career in the 1787 Constitutional Convention, where his influence over the delegates was only second only to that of Madison. James Wilson rarely missed a session and sat on the Committee of Detail and applied his impeccable knowledge of political theory to many convention problems. Gouverneur Morris was the only person at the Constitutional Convention to give more speeches.

That same year James Wilson overcame powerful opposition and led Pennsylvania for ratification, making the state the second one to oppose the Constitution. The new commonwealth constitution, which was drafted in 1789 to 1790 along the lines of the United States Constitution, was mainly Wilson's work and represented the purpose of his 14-year fight against the 1776 Constitution.

For his services in helping form the federal government, President Washington named James Wilson as an associate justice in 1789, although James Wilson expected to be named Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. That same year, James Wilson was also chosen as the very first law professor at the College of Philadelphia. Two years later, he started an official digest of the Pennsylvania laws, a project Wilson never finished, although he carried on for a short time after his funds ran out.

James Wilson, who only wrote a couple opinions in the Supreme Court, did not achieve the success in the Court that his abilities and experience promised. During those years, James Wilson found himself being at the center of much criticism and he only barely escaped impeachment form the court. He tried to influence the ratification of a law in Pennsylvania that was favorable to land speculators. From 1792 to 1795 James Wilson also made large, unwise land investments in Pennsylvania and Western New York, along with in Georgia. These mistakes did not deter him from creating a grandiose but ill-fated plan, involving large sums of European capital, of recruiting European colonists and settling them in the West. Meantime, as a widower with six children, James Wilson remarried to Hannah Gray in 1793. They only had one son who died in infancy.

Four years later, James Wilson moved from Philadelphia to Burlington, New Jersey in an attempt to avoid arrest due to his debt. The next year, while on federal circuit court business, James Wilson arrived at Edenton, North Carolina, in a state of acute mental distress and was moved into the home of James Iredell, another associate Supreme Court justice. James Wilson died there within a few months on August 28, 1798 at the age of 55. Although he was first buried at near Edenton at the Hayes Plantation, his remains were later moved to the Christ Church at Philadelphia.

 

An Overview of the 24th Amendment

An Overview of the 24th Amendment

What is the 24th Amendment?

“Section 1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax.
Section 2. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

The 24th Amendment Defined

Date Proposed
The 24th Amendment was proposed on August 27th, 1962
Date Passed
The 24th Amendment was passed on January 23rd, 1964
President of the United States

Lyndon B. Johnson was the President of the United States during the ratification of the 24th Amendment

Stipulations of the 24th Amendment
The 24th Amendment expresses the inability of a Federal or State government to deny a citizen of the United States the right to vote as a result of failure to satisfy the required payments of a poll tax
The poll tax was a tax that was prevalent within Southern states; as its name suggests, a poll tax was instituted in order to validate an individual’s right to vote subsequent to the payment of the tax; poll taxes were typically instituted with regard to specific races and socioeconomic classes in lieu of institution based on property and possessions
The 24th Amendment eliminated applicable Grandfather Clauses, legal exploitation, and prejudicial examinations with regard to the classification of the individuals required to satisfy a poll tax payment in order to retain the right to vote
24th Amendment Facts
The poll tax was deemed unconstitutional in 1966; the Supreme Court had deemed that it was in direct violation of the protection clause passed in the 14th Amendment
Virginia, Alabama, Texas, Arkansas, and Mississippi were the only states to enforce a poll tax at the time of the ratification of the 24th Amendment; many lobbyists suspected the poll tax of further disenfranchising African Americans and prospective Northern sympathizers through the enforcement of contingency-based suffrage
John F. Kennedy had expressed an interest in eliminating the poll tax during his presidency
States Ratifying the 24th Amendment

1. Alabama
2. Alaska
3. California
4. Colorado
5. Connecticut
6. Delaware
7. Florida
8. Hawaii
9. Idaho
10. Illinois
11. Indiana
12. Iowa
13. Kansas
14. Kentucky
15. Maine
16. Maryland
17. Massachusetts
18. Michigan
19. Minnesota
20. Missouri
21. Montana
22. Nebraska
23. Nevada
24. New Hampshire
25. New Jersey
26. New Mexico
27. New York
28. North Carolina
29. North Dakota
30. Ohio
31. Oregon
32. Pennsylvania
33. Rhode Island
34. South Dakota
35. Tennessee
36. Texas
37. Utah
38. Vermont
39. Virginia
40. Washington
41. West Virginia
42. Wisconsin
States Not Participatory in the Ratification of the 24th Amendment
1. Arizona
2. Arkansas
3. Georgia
4. Louisiana
5. Mississippi
6. Oklahoma
7. South Carolina
8. Wyoming


Court Cases Associated with the 24th Amendment
Breedlove v. Suttles (1937) – this court case validated the legality of the poll tax, expressing that individual states were permitted to regulate the suffrage policies within their respective jurisdiction
Harper v. Virginia Board of elections (1966) – this court case overturned an individual state’s ability to regulate suffrage policies; as a result of this decision, the poll tax was deemed to be unconstitutional

An Overview of the Bill of Rights

An Overview of the Bill of RightsWhat is the Bill of Rights?

Upon its ratification on September 17th, 1787, the Constitution of the United States was considered to be the primary legislative document expressing the implicit legality and jurisdictional procedure within the United States of America. The Bill of Rights – proposed in 1789, and subsequently ratified in 1791 – is the classification granted to the first 10 Constitutional Amendments to have been passed; these Amendments were passed in unison.

The History of the Bill of Rights

George Mason and James Madison are the 2 individuals primarily credited with the creation of the Bill of Rights, resulting from a collective concern addressing the lack of a Constitutional Clause providing the document with a procedural system for modifications and adjustments with regard to the original text. George Mason and James Madison had understood that as the United States underwent progression, innovation, and an invariable paradigm shift, certain legal statues would require modification; in order to retain the innate framework of the Constitution of the United of the United States while allowing for measures of adjustment and modernization, a policy was implemented with regard to the adoption of future – and potential – Constitutional Amendments

The Contents of the Bill of Rights

1st Amendment

Date Proposed: September, 25th 1789

Date Ratified: December 15th, 1791

Contents of the Amendment: This Amendment affords citizens of the United States with the freedom of religion, the freedom of press, the freedom of speech, and the right of assembly

2nd Amendment

Date Proposed: September, 25th 1789

Date Ratified: December 15th, 1791

Contents of the Amendment: The right to bear arms in a lawful manner with regard to self-protection; firearms covered under the 2nd Amendment do not address service within the Militia


3rd Amendment

Date Proposed: September, 25th 1789

Date Ratified: December 15th, 1791

Contents of the Amendment: The 3rd Amendment prohibits unlawful entry with regard to private resident(s) in possession of citizens of the United States of America; the 3rd Amendment is not typically applicable to times of war

4th Amendment

Date Proposed: September, 25th 1789

Date Ratified: December 15th, 1791

Contents of the Amendment: The 4th Amendment prohibits the unlawful search and seizure of resident belonging to citizens of the United States of America; this amendment also defines the rights of privacy awarded to citizens of the United States


5th Amendment

Date Proposed: September, 25th 1789

Date Ratified: December 15th, 1791

Contents of the Amendment: The 5th Amendment addresses the modern incarnation of the ‘Right to remain silent’; this Amendment also prevents the unlawful and unethical abuse of power undertaken by a governing body

6th Amendment

Date Proposed: September, 25th 1789

Date Ratified: December 15th, 1791

Contents of the Amendment: The 6th Amendment addresses legal procedure undertaken with regard to the prosecution – and investigation – of alleged criminal activity; this Amendment includes the right to a judicially-sound trial

7th Amendment

Date Proposed: September, 25th 1789

Date Ratified: December 15th, 1791

Contents of the Amendment: The 7th Amendment affords individuals undergoing judicial trials with the right to be tried in accordance with the presence of a jury; juries present within judicial trials are indicated to consist of an individual’s ‘peers’


8th Amendment

Date Proposed: September, 25th 1789

Date Ratified: December 15th, 1791

Contents of the Amendment: The 8th Amendment addresses legal criminal procedure; this Amendment prohibits punitive recourse classified as ‘cruel and unusual’ with regard to prosecution, as well as the prohibition of an excessive bail process


9th Amendment

Date Proposed: September, 25th 1789

Date Ratified: December 15th, 1791

Contents of the Amendment: The 9th Amendment serves as legislative protection with regard to corollary Amendments within the Bill of Rights; this Amendment disallows for the violation of civil liberties and unlawful expansion of governmental power


10th Amendment

Date Proposed: September, 25th 1789

Date Ratified: December 15th, 1791

Contents of the Amendment: The 10th Amendment addresses the apportionment process latent within administrative responsibilities; this Amendment expressed that any or all administrative powers that have not been claimed by Federal or State governments become the responsibility of the general populace

A Background to the Constitutional Convention

A Background to the Constitutional ConventionWhat is the Constitutional Convention?

The Constitutional Convention, which is also known as the Philadelphia Convention, was a conference that took place in Philadelphia in the year 1787 between May 5th and September 17th; the ratification of the Constitution of the United States signaled the end of the Constitutional Convention – this convention was called in order to solidify and finalize a finished Constitution of the United States. 

What Spawned the Constitutional Convention?

The Articles of Confederation – the first piece of national legislature adopted by the United States of America subsequent to the end of the Revolutionary – served as the primary piece of administrative legislation after gaining their respective independence from England:

The authors of the Constitution of the United States cited the Articles of Confederation to be reactionary to the unpleasant conditions under which citizens of the United States lived with regard to the totalitarian rule under King George II of England

The authors of the Constitution deemed that the lack of any governmental power established a lack of organization, as well as national unity

The Articles of Confederation limited the jurisdiction of the central government to the military, postal service, regulation of currency, and the authorization of foreign policy

The central government was granted no authority over the 13 states, which were considered to be sovereign bodies

Which Events Preceded the Constitutional Convention?

In 1785, a Convention was held at Mt. Vernon – commonly referred to as the Mount Vernon Convention – in order to discuss potential action with regard to the separation of the Potomac River with regard to the vague precepts conveyed within the Articles of Confederation. Federalists Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, as well as pundits including Benjamin Franklin and George Washington were in attendance – as a result of this meeting, the replacement of the Articles of Confederation in lieu of an updated legislature was proposed.

Ratification and the Constitutional Convention

Due to a variety of complication within the approval process – stemming from varying degrees of disapproval from individual State legislature, the Constitution of the United States underwent a vast array of editing and adjustment. The Final draft of the Constitution of the United States was ratified on September 17th, 1787; 12 of the 13 United States approved of the Constitution – Rhode Island was the only state that refused to ratify the Constitution

States in Attendance at the Constitutional Constitution

Although 9 States initially participated in the Ratification of the Constitution on an individual basis, each of the original 12 States subsequently ratified the Constitution:

Delaware

Pennsylvania

New Jersey

Georgia

Connecticut

Massachusetts

Maryland

South Carolina

New Hampshire

Who Attended the Constitutional Convention?

Subsequent to the conference in Mt. Vernon, a draft of the Constitution of the United States was completed as a result of the Constitutional Convention; 39 individuals signed the Constitution of the United States – the following influential figures were in attendance at the Constitutional Convention:

Alexander Hamilton, both a state representative from New York, as well a member of the Federalist Party, has been credited with the initial ideology expressed in the Constitution

James Madison is renowned for his contribution to the authorship of the Federalist Papers, as well as the recognition with regard to the facilitation of the Bill of Rights

George Washington was appointed as the head of the Constitutional Convention by the attendees

States Rights

Right to Privacy

John Witherspoon

James Wilson

Elbridge Gerry

John Dickinson