Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Religious Liberty and the Founding Workshop

James Madison stated in Federalist No. 51 that “In a free government the security for civil rights must be the same as that for religious rights.” And, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “The constitutional freedom of religion [is] the most inalienable and sacred of all human rights.” (Minutes of the Board of Visitors, University of Virginia, 1819).

The Washington, Jefferson & Madison Institute's is pleased to announce that its next continuing education workshop will be on the topic of “Religious Liberty and the Founding.” The program will include four, 50-minute sessions, each led by a moderator with an open discussion focused on original source documents.  Instead of lectures or presentations, the format of the "roundtable" will be a civic conversation that draws deeply on the documents with participation by all.  If you would like to participate in the roundtable, we ask you to prepare by doing the document readings (about 50 pages) and coming ready to discuss with your fellow teachers.  After you register we will email you the Reader (or mail if you prefer a hard copy).  Copies of the Reader will be provided at the conference as well.  The outline of the sessions and source documents are as follows:

1. The Foundation: The Declaration of Independence, Natural Rights, and Limited Government 

2. Religious Liberty in Virginia: George Mason v. James Madison: Toleration v. Freedom of Conscience in the Virginia Declaration of Rights; and James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom 

3. The First Amendment: Free Exercise and the Establishment Clause 

4. George Washington & Religious Liberty: Letters to the Congregations 

WJMI welcomes the following panel of moderators to this conference:

Jeffry H. Morrison, Ph.D., Director of Academics at the James Madison Memorial Fellowship Foundation and Professor of Government at Regent University
Tony Williams, WJMI Program Director and Senior Fellow at the Bill of Rights Institute
J. David Gowdy, J.D., WJMI Founder & President
All class materials including the Reader, a continental breakfast, as well as a luncheon, are complimentary. The roundtable is primarily for public and private Virginia secondary school teachers who teach Social Studies, U.S. Government, Virginia Government, and U. S. History.  The Workshop qualifies for four recertification points or 4 hours.
The Roundtable will be held Friday morning, October 7th, 2016 from 9:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at Prospect Hill Plantation Inn near Charlottesville.  If you wish to attend, please Contact Us.

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Image: First Prayer in the Continental Congress (1974). See: http://chaplain.house.gov/archive/continental.html 

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

George Washington, Alexander Hamilton & the Constitution

George Washington and Alexander Hamilton were instrumental figures in the making and ratification of the Constitution.  However, they played very different roles at the Constitutional Convention and in the ratification debate that followed.  The differences resulted in their different characters and their respective public positions. 

Both Washington and Hamilton were nationalists who adopted a continental vision of America after the Revolutionary War.  They both lamented that the government under the Articles of Confederation was too weak to govern the new nation effectively.  Congress did not have the power to tax or regulate trade, states almost went to war with each other several times, and states routinely violated the 1783 peace treaty.  Washington responded by hosting the Mount Vernon Conference to help Virginia and Maryland resolve some trade disputes.  Hamilton attended the Annapolis Convention which advocated a stronger central government and called for a Philadelphia Convention. 

Washington played a pivotal role before the Convention helping Madison create the Virginia Plan and the strategy to win a stronger government.  When the Convention opened, the delegates unanimously selected Washington as president of the proceedings.  Washington’s prestige as the great hero of the American Revolution ensured that any resulting document would bear his considerable stamp of approval even when the delegates exceeded their mandate to revise the Articles. 

Hamilton for his part clearly sided with the nationalists but was consistently frustrated and thwarted in his design when two anti-federalists outvoted him in the New York delegation (as each state had only one vote).  Hamilton played a highly controversial role in the Convention when he delivered a six-hour speech on June 18.  The Convention had been deadlocked between the Virginia Plan and the New Jersey Plan, so Hamilton presented a more radically nationalist plan that would tend to moderate the Virginia Plan in the minds of the delegates.  The plan stretched the limits of republican government with a president and senate elected for life, but the strategic prudence contributed to the eventual Connecticut Compromise. 

On September 17, Hamilton appealed to the moderation of the other delegates he signed the new Constitution despite his reservations about some parts of it.  Washington affixed his signature to the document, thereby announcing to all Americans that he supported it as the law of the land.  The Constitution was then submitted to the representatives of the people in ratifying conventions in the states and the debate began between its supporters (Federalists) and opponents (Anti-Federalists). 

Washington and Hamilton were keen strategists who were fated to play different roles in the ratification debate.  Washington refused to enter into partisan debates and avoided the fray.  Instead, he wrote letters to friends in favor of the Constitution that he knew would be made public.  But, he obsessively read newspapers to follow the progress of the Constitution and avidly exchanged letters with correspondents to predict its chances for ratification.  Virginian James Monroe wrote of Washington, “Be assured, his influence carried this government.” 

On the other hand, Hamilton was a one-man wrecking crew.  He conceived of the Federalist essays and penned fifty-five of them, which were lauded by Thomas Jefferson as “the best commentary on the principles of government which ever was written.”  Hamilton also was instrumental in winning ratification in the New York Convention, where the Anti-Federalists outnumbered their opponents by a margin of three to one.  The persuasive force of his arguments, and the successful ratification of the document in Virginia, led to victory for Federalists in New York.  Hamilton, like Washington, closely followed the results in every state and even dispatched series of writers to speed news of the outcomes. 

Washington and Hamilton were key figures in the making of the Constitution and winning ratification.  This alliance would continue to bear fruit when Washington was unanimously elected the country’s first president, and Hamilton was appointed Secretary of the Treasury.  Together they helped breathe life into the new government created by the Constitution. 

Tony Williams is the Program Director of the WJMI and the author of five books on the American Founding period including Washington & Hamilton: The Alliance that Forged America


Sunday, September 4, 2016

Benjamin Franklin's Speech For Adoption Of The Constitution of the United States of America

DOC'r FRANKLIN rose with a speech in his hand, which he had reduced to writing for his own coveniency, and which Mr. Wilson read in the words following:
MR. PRESIDENT,  I confess, that there are several parts of this Constitution which I do not at present approve, but I am not sure I shall never approve them: For having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged by better information, or fuller consideration, to change opinions even on important subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise. It is therefore that the older I grow, the more apt I am to doubt my own judgment, and to pay more respect to the judgement of others. Most men indeed as well as most sects in Religion, think themselves in possession of all truth, and that wherever others differ from them it is so far error. Steele a Protestant in a Dedication tells the Pope, that the only difference between our Churches in their opinions of the certainty of their doctrines is, the Church of Rome is infallible and the Church of England is never in the wrong. But though many private persons think almost as highly of their own infallibility as of that of their sect, few express it so naturally as a certain french lady, who in a dispute with her sister, said, "I don't know how it happens, Sister but I meet with no body but myself, that's always in the right -- Il n'y a que moi qui a toujours raison."
In these sentiments, Sir, I agree to this Constitution, with all its faults, if they are such; because I think a general Government necessary for us, and there is no form of government but what may be a blessing to the people if well administered, and believe farther that this is likely to be well administered for a course of years, and can only end in Despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic Government, being incapable of any other. I doubt too whether any other Convention we can obtain, may be able to make a better Constitution. For when you assemble a number of men to have the advantage of their joint wisdom, you inevitably assemble with those men, all their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinion, their local interests, and their selfish views. From such an assembly can a perfect production be expected? It therefore astonishes me, Sir, to find this system approaching so near to perfection as it does; and I think it will astonish our enemies, who are waiting with confidence to hear that our councils are confounded like those of the Builders of Babel; and that our States are on the point of separation, only to meet hereafter for the purpose of cutting one another's throats. Thus I consent, Sir, to this Constitution, because I expect no better, and because I am not sure, that it is not the best. The opinions I have had of its errors, I sacrifice to the public good. I have never whispered a syllable of them abroad. Within these walls they were born, and here they shall die. If every one of us in returning to our Constituents were to report the objections he has had to it, and endeavour to gain partizans in support of them, we might prevent its being generally received, and thereby lose all the salutary effects & great advantages resulting naturally in our favour among foreign Nations, as well as among ourselves, from our real or apparent unanimity. Much of the strength & efficiency of any Government in procuring and securing happiness to the people depends, on opinion, on the general opinion of the goodness of the Government, as well as of the wisdom and integrity of its Governors. I hope therefore that for our own sakes as a part of the people, and for the sake of posterity, we shall act heartily and unanimously in recommending this Constitution (if approved by Congress & confirmed by the Conventions) wherever our Influence may extend, and turn our future thoughts & endeavours to the means of having it well administered.
On the whole, Sir, I cannot help expressing a wish, that every member of the Convention who may still have objections to it, would with me, on this occasion doubt a little of his own infallibility, and to make manifest our unanimity, put his name to this Instrument. – 
He then moved that the Constitution be signed by the members . . .
Philadelphia, September 17th, 1787