Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for September, 2011

George Clymer was a member of the Pennsylvania legislature.  He had also been a member of the Constitutional Convention.  That gathering, which spanned the summer months of 1787, had seen argument, contention, and discord give way to eventual consensus.  A Constitution had been ratified in mid-September, but as the month neared its end, the time had come for the states to get involved.

On the 28th (just a couple weeks after Mifflin unveiled the new document), George stood up in the state body and proposed that a convention for ratification be agreed upon.  While there was hearty approval from those favoring the Constitution, there was plenty of dissent.  The more hesitant noted that legislative session was due to end the following day (a Saturday), and new business (especially something as important as the Constitution) was probably better left tabled for the next session.  In addition, elections were just a month away, so it was preferred to let the new body take up the debate about a special convention.

Those in Clymer’s camp knew the situation.  They believed they had the votes to pass Clymer’s resolve now.  But with the session ending and elections coming, there was adequate time for the “anti-federalists” to make enough noise to scare people.  Maybe the elections would cause a wave of anti-federalists to be voted in, and a convention would be buried under the weight of opposition.

After some debate, the issue was put off until late Friday afternoon.  But when everyone reconvened at 4:00pm, some people were missing from the room.  Nineteen anti-federalists were no-shows, which meant the body didn’t have the quorum necessary to conduct any business…such as, shall we say…vote on a state convention for the purpose of debating the Constitution.  What a coincidence!

This caused no small uproar in the city of Philadelphia.  Taverns that evening were full of strong ale and strong opinion.  People took to the streets, some with strong feelings one way or the other, and others with no real knowledge of what was being argued about at all.  And the federalists?…those in favor of the Constitution?…they just wanted to know where the nineteen missing men were holed up.  The sergeant-at-arms went looking and found them sequestered in a home owned by “Mr. Boyd” on 6th Street.

Do I really need to tell you what was about to happen?  18th century politics were a little bit different than they are today.  Oh yeah, we have groups of delegates that will, in opposition to a bill or some piece of legislation, purposely vacate their chairs so that a quorum cannot be reached…it still happens from time to time.  But we don’t very often see the response that the citizens of Philadelphia witnessed on September 29, 1787.

That Saturday morning, a group of men broke down the door of Mr. Boyd’s house, ran in, and absconded with two legislators.  They were dragged, kicking and screaming, back to Independence Hall, and placed in their chairs.  A quorum had been reached and, very quickly, the question of a constitutional convention was put to a vote.  Not surprisingly, it passed 45-to-2.

Pennsylvania, ready or not, was going to debate and decide what to do about the Constitution.  The date was set for November 30th.

Recommended Reading:  Ratification:  The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788 – This one is not yet in my collection…it should be.  It should also be in yours.

Read Full Post »

The thunderstorm that broke out over the southern coast of Spain on September 26, 1942 was not particularly remarkable, despite its relative violence.  After all, at any given time there are hundreds of storms all over the world, scattering rain, hail, lightning, and occasional tornadoes across the landscape.

When we have storms around here, one of the first things I do is go outside to watch them roll in.  I find them to be awesome, mesmerizing displays of the power of weather as it fights for calm and equlibrium.  And as I look down the street, usually one or two of my neighbors seems somewhat captivated as well.  In 1942, people were apparently interested in watching storms as well (there certainly weren’t any emergency weather broadcasts on the TV to watch), because a bunch of people stopped what they were doing to have a look.

But this storm was a bit different than the others…the spectators saw a little bit more than they bargained for.

At 3:30pm, an airplane came crashing from the sky and plowed into the Atlantic Ocean in an explosion of fire and water near the port of Cadiz.  The Catalina flying boat was carrying ten passengers and crew, and all were killed.  Among them was Lieutenant-Paymaster J. H. Turner and Louis Danielou Clamorgan, who was bound for northwest Africa.

What those watching didn’t know was that these two men, Turner in particular, were carrying secrets.  In his book Deathly Deception, Denis Smyth writes that Turner was “carrying on his person documents which seriously threatened to compromise a major forthcoming Allied offensive, if they fell into the wrong hands.  The operation in question, code-named Torch, was to be an amphibious assault of a size and complexity never before attempted in the history of war and for which secrecy was absolutely crucial.”

Fortunately for Allied planners, all the documents and all the bodies were recovered within hours.  Disaster had been averted.

And a seed had been planted.

It was this aircraft accident that, much like lightning itself, sparked the idea in British minds to actually fabricate a duplicate incident.  Put some faked documents on a dead soldier and have him wash ashore.  Let him be “captured” by the enemy and hope they read the documents, which would send them scurrying in the wrong direction.

This was the beginning of what was, in all likelihood, the most successful deception operation of the war:  Operation Mincemeat.

Recommended Reading: Deathly Deception

Read Full Post »

Well, with ratification came reading, and with reading came the inevitable reaction.  I suppose that a statement like that, in light of all the times I’ve blathered on about the Constitutional Convention, isn’t all that surprising.  But let’s speak to it for a minute this evening.

On a September Monday in 1787, the Constitution was ratified by the delegates meeting on the first floor of Independence Hall in Philadelphia.  On a September Tuesday (the next day), which happened to be September 18, 1787, Thomas Mifflin got to make the climb to the second floor.  It was there that the Pennsylvania legislature had been meeting for the last couple of weeks.  The first floor was normally their domain, but they had graciously allowed the Convention delegates to use the space.  And with all the rumor swirling around about a new Constitution and a change in government structure, it’s pretty easy to imagine a bunch of legislators quietly listening with ears pressed against the floor, trying to catch snatches of what was being said one floor below.

One can almost see the “lookout”, standing outside the door, making sure no one is coming.  And when Mifflin’s shoes are heard on the steps, the lookout quickly and quietly runs back to the room and half whispers, “Somebody’s on the way!”…at which point everyone jumps back to their spots and makes things look like normal business.  I’m sure it didn’t happen that way, but it paints a humorous, children-in-the-classroom type of behavior with which we’re all familiar.

Anyways, Thomas Mifflin entered the room, Constitution in hand, and read it to those assembled.  It was the first public disclosure of the document.  If you’ve never read the Constitution, you might fear that the delegates were in for a many-hours-long discourse.  But of course, we’ve all read our nation’s most important document, so we know that, assuming no interruptions, Mifflin likely completed his work in less than two hours.  And once he was done, Pennsylvania’s governing body knew they were in for some dramatic changes.  Pennsylvania’s constitution (in place for nearly a dozen years) called for a one-chambered legislature, yearly elections, and a leader chosen by the legislature.  All this talk of electors and a bicameral legislature and checks and balances was a lot to process at one time.

And let’s be honest, even Pennsylvania’s own constitution was the subject of fighting among the citizens…there had much inkshed and some bloodshed over it.  There were factions and fights, division and disruption aplenty.  Now, to top it off, here was Mifflin telling them their national government was radically changing.  There was something new about which to fight!!

Those against ratification would go to great lengths to prevent it, and those for ratification would go to greater lengths to get it.  We’ll be back in 1787’s version of the Pennsylvania statehouse before too long, because it’s going to get a bit goofy…

Read Full Post »

Fridays around our office tend to be relaxed affairs.  We wear jeans and tennis shoes and white socks.  Well, those of us that don’t take the day off, which is sometimes about 50% of staff.  We take it easy…maybe a slightly longer lunch period, an extra 15 minutes of Angry Birds, some extra snacks, that second soda we normally deny ourselves.  Believe me, we still work, but it’s definitely a wee bit lighter duty than the other four days of the week.

For the delegates at the Constitutional Convention, the final Friday of their gathering was anything but relaxed.  Of course, I’m referring to September 14, 1787, which was a Friday.  The Committee of Style and Arrangement, tasked with taking the various agreed-upon articles and molding them into a cohesive document, had taken the better part of five days to do its work.  But they got through it and presented their final draft of the Constitution to the delegate body…that was the 12th, a Wednesday.

And then the debate over language and syntax began.  There was word-smithing and a general tightening up of the Constitution’s language.  But there were also some bigger ideas that received some “last-minute” consideration.  This Friday saw some of those.

Benjamin Franklin offered up that Congress should be given the power to build canals.  It seems a bit strange to us that Franklin would ask for something so specific to be added, but if we think ahead to all of the canals that were created in the 1800s, we realize that the old doctor had a bit of foresight.  But concerns over monopolies and a fear that some states would use the canal system as an excuse to establish a bank – and we know that Aaron Burr used a similar tactic to do just that a few years later – killed the idea pretty quickly.

There was a debate over Section 8 of Article 1, which dealt with piracy, but that, too, remained unchanged.

And Section 9, Article 1 also got floor time.  This piece of the Constitution addressed the regularity with which Congress should publish a record of its public expenditures.  As written, it was to be done annually.  But some wondered if that a little too specific.  Maybe more than one report a year would be necessary, while in other years, none would be required.  As we know, in today’s world of trillion-dollar debts and exorbitant waste, once a year isn’t nearly enough.  At end of the discussion, the delegates settled on the phrase, “shall be published from time to time.”

And that was that.  As we know, Saturday would also be a day of work, as the final changes and discussions were ironed out and the Convention came to an end.  Monday, September 17th, would see the Constitution ratified.

Recommended Reading: Miracle at Philadelphia

Read Full Post »

Like most days on the history spreadsheet, yesterday had topics about which I might have said a little something.  But like so much of this year, I didn’t say anything.  And that was fine…you got plenty of history this weekend as we commemorated the 10th anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks.  In a very good speech in Shanksville (site of the crash of Flight 93) on Saturday, President Bush mentioned Antietam and Abraham Lincoln.  He was followed by President Bill Clinton – who I thought gave a brilliant what-appeared-to-be-extemporaneous speech – mentioning the Alamo and the ancient Battle of Thermopylae.

And of course yesterday (the 11th) was a day filled with ceremony, celebrations of life, the reading of the names of those killed a decade ago, and the dedication of memorials.  And while the typical emotion of Sunday football was certainly there, there was (at least in our house) this underlying feeling of sadness and a remembrance of how we changed that bright, sunny Tuesday morning in 2001.

And as we come to today, it’s somewhat coincidental that we have another plane crash popping up on the calendar.  It also involves a suicide mission, as well as our nation’s capital.  But the circumstances – 1 small plane carrying 1 passenger – and the outcome – 1 fatality – are very different than the terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people.

As some of you may recall, Frank Corder stole a single-engined Cessna 150L (like the one shown above) late on the night of the 11th and, at nearly 2:00am on September 12, 1994, he attempted to crash it into the White House.  But it appears that Corder’s suicide mission was not an attempt to kill anyone except himself, while gaining a bit of notoriety in the act.  Corder was despondent over the way his life was going.  The 38-year old had been in and out of jail for drug issues and had recently been thrown out by his wife.

And while I mentioned just a single fatality, there may have been a second (though I’m not 100% sure), as Corder’s plane succeeded in hitting a magnolia tree planted by President Andrew Jackson.  He also succeeded in creating something of a national incident, as lots of people wondered how a slow-flying single-engined airplane piloted by a man under the influence of drugs and alcohol could get by the vaunted air defenses that supposedly surrounded the White House.

Read Full Post »

In the madness and chaos that is war, there have been many, many times when soldiers have shot at their own comrades, mistaking them for the enemy.  With his head down in a foxhole at night, it’s hard to know for sure if the guy approaching is on the same side.  Maybe a fellow Marine is out of position and his buddies open fire.  A fighter pilot may accidentally drop his bombs a little short of the target, spraying death among his own.  A tank may look, from a distance, like one belonging to the enemy.

We call these “friendly fire” incidents, and they drive commanders, politicians, and the general population crazy.

Back on September 6, 1939, the British called it The Battle of Barking Creek.

Having declared war on Germany for their invasion of Poland, the British war was now just three days old.  And since the war was being fought in Poland, British pilots hadn’t really seen the enemy, they hadn’t seen an enemy plane, they weren’t familiar with their own planes in combat, and they weren’t really used to air combat at all.

Not good.

So when the air raid sirens sounded, the Spitfires scrambled, looking for an enemy that, as it turns out, didn’t exist.  It was a false alarm.  But unbeknownst to the inexperienced pilots, some Pilot Officers flying Hawker Hurricanes were also sent up and followed from a distance.

And while you’d think the Spitfire guys would know what other planes in their own arsenal looked like, you’d be wrong in the thick of the first “air attack” of the war.  The guys flying the Hurricanes got mistaken for Germans flying Messerschmitts and were summarily attacked.  Both were shot down and one of the pilots was killed…the first British pilot to be killed in “combat” in World War II.

But as is the case with many of these tragic occurances, much was learned.  The British learned that some of their pilots were woefully inept at aircraft identification, and they learned that their radar systems weren’t nearly as good at identifying enemy aircraft formations as originally thought.  These lessons, brought about by unfortunate death, better prepared them for the time when enemy formations were really coming in anger…during the Battle of Britain.

Read Full Post »