Tuesday, September 13, 2005

History Lesson: An Agreement Among Enemies

Today, hearing John Robert's mention "we are a government of laws and not of men", gave us the idea of blogging on the Constitution. We're coming up the Birthday of the Constitution (Sept 17th, 1787), but we shouldn't forget the history of this vital document... first and foremost being an agreement among people who didn't trust and in some cases hated each other. Several 'Founding Fathers' refused to participate in the convention because they liked the government the way it was (Sam Adams, Thomas Paine, Patrick Henry), and didn't think the Constitution necessary at all. At times, vicious fights surrounded its eventual ratification which didn't take place until March 4 1789, and even then - it wasn't an unanimous agreement.

Check out some of the mudslinging insults of the Founding Fathers. For more, look up Distory, "A Treasury of Historical Insults":

We also shouldn't forget that in the early years of our country, Vice President Aaron Burr shot Alexander Hamilton dead..and despite warrants for Burr's arrest in New York and New Jersey, he was allowed to serve out his term as Vice President. The full quote by Jefferson about his V.P. Burr was:"I never thought him an honest, frank-dealing man, but considered him as a crooked gun, or other perverted machine, whose aim or shot you could never be sure of."

The Constitution is an amazing document, but even more amazing when you hear how it came to be.

The The Duel | Hamilton and the U.S. Constitution
Wikipedia Constitution


  1. A timely post. A few comments:

    There may have been vicious political conflict over ratification in New York but there were also many debates on the very highest plane, often made by relatively humble farmers serving in State legislators, whose sincere eloquence put todays Ivy-league lawyer-Congressmen to shame.

    Two key individuals were missing from the Convention while abroad on diplomatic missions who were, nevertheless, present in Spirit. Thomas Jefferson, through letters and advice to Madison and John Adams through his influential book on the principles of the State constitutions.

    The Burr-Hamilton feud revolved around patronage politics in New York, not real Constitutional principles ( of which it must be said, Burr had few if any). It is noteworthy that while Hamilton and Jefferson were the bitterest of rivals, Hamlton tipped the High Federeralist electors to Jefferson because he considered Burr an outright danger to the Republic. In my view, Hamilton's instincts were right - at a minimum Burr was an erratic and ambitious character ( though this could also describe, to a lesser extent, Hamilton himself)

    There is circumstantial evidence that in the famous duel neither Hamilton nor Burr really intended to shoot the other and that Burr, like Hamilton did, intended to fire his shot into the air, honorably resolving a dispute rooted in allegations of malicious sexual gossip about Burr. The pistols were set with a hair-trigger, very unusual for the time.

  2. We hadn't heard that Burr may have not meant to kill Hamilton, but it's easier to think a little better of Burr if that were true. I confess I have found history much more interesting as I've gotten older because my ability to empathize with the difficult decisions being made (certainly decision-making under uncertain conditions) is much better.

    Part of the challenge of interesting younger people in history - is that they haven't experienced enough of life themselves yet. One needs more of a track record of personal choices made, with failures as well as successes, before really appreciating other peoples' life histories in that way.