Posts Tagged ‘Benjamin Franklin’

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

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Throughout the three-plus months of the Constitutional Convention, the delegates disagreed about a bunch of stuff.  It had started almost immediately with a debate over semantics.  Was the government national or federal?  Both words were nuanced depending on which ears heard them, and the delegates argued for (and against) each.  And that was the very beginning.  The delegates argued over slavery.  They argued over the number of executives (can you imagine two Presidents?!?).  They debated checks and balances.  They debated the judiciary.  And at the end, when the Constitution had been written and submitted for approval, it was back to semantics and language.

But one of the things on which nearly all the delegates agreed was the issue of democracy.  And they were mostly against it.


Yep.  Much like innovation (which we discussed last year when talking about the Convention), well, I’ll let Catherine Bowen explain.  She writes, “…to members of the Federal Convention the word democracy carried another meaning than it does today.  Democracy signified anarchy; demos was not the people but the mob.  When Paterson of New Jersey said ‘the democratic spirit beats high,’ it was meant in derogation, not in praise.  Again and again we meet these phrases:  if aristocracy was ‘baleful’ and ‘baneful,’ unchecked democracy was equally to be shunned.”

But the delegates knew from whence they came, and unchecked aristocracy led to, if I may call it such, “tyranny of the few.”  The just-ended War of Independence had been fought over this issue.  Virginia’s George Mason, a wealthy landowner much like his neighbor George Washington, spoke for many when he said, “We ought to attend to the rights of every class of the people . . . provide no less carefully for the . . . happiensess of the lowest than of the highest orders of citizens.”

There had to be balance.

So I suppose that it only made sense to the delegates that there be a divided legislature, on the order of their British counterparts.  And on May 31, 1787, they made it official.  The Committee of the Whole voted in favor of Edmund Randolph’s Resolve 3:  “That the national legislature ought to consist of two branches.”

Of the existing state legislatures, only Pennsylvania and Georgia had one-chambered legislatures.  And the greatly-respected Dr. Benjamin Franklin (representing Pennsylvania at the Convention) was a staunch advocate of a one-chamber house (he would be so until the day he died).  So when the votes were tallied, James Madison noted that the measure passed “without debate or dissent, except that of Pennsylvania, given probably out of complaisance of Docr. Franklin.”

Of course, there would still be a bundle of debate concerning terms of service, checks on the legislative branch, and most importantly, the issue of representation.  But one of the foundational elements of our system was settled on this day…the bi-cameral legislature.

Recommended Reading: Miracle at Philadelphia

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The Marquis de Lafayette may not have been a Colonist, but it didn’t take him long to become something of a celebrity in the Colonies.  His arrival in South Carolina was a story of heroism, daring escape, and swashbuckling action on the high seas.

His youth, good looks, royal upbringing, wealth, and penchant for finery warmed him to the people in short order.  But most of all, his love of freedom, a willingness to share his military knowledge with a fledgling Colonial army, and his desire to fight the British made him most welcome in this time of Revolution.

His stay in South Carolina last only a couple weeks before he began his month-long journey north to Philadelphia, where he met his first roadblock, the Second Continental Congress.  For them, LaFayette was yet another French “glory seeker” foisted on them by Silas Deane (an envoy to France).  Thomas Jefferson thought the French lad possessed “…a canine appetite for popularity and fame“, a charge that may have been true to a degree.

But when the Marquis offered to fight without pay, well, the men who wrote the checks (but had no money to do so) suddenly saw him as a valuable asset (of course, it didn’t hurt to have the unfailing support of Benjamin Franklin, either).

On July 31, 1777, the Marquis de LaFayette was commissioned into the Continental Army as an honorary Major General.  General Washington was encouraged, by Franklin, to befriend his new subordinate, but that was unnecessary advice, as the two found an instant connection.  The man who would become the nation’s first President was something of a father-figure to LaFayette throughout the War.

He also became a close compatriot with Alexander Hamilton, then a young 20-something Lt. Colonel serving on Washington’s staff who could communicate with the Army import in fluent French.  The two, along with Hamilton’s close companion John Laurens, were something of a Revolutionary “Three Musketeers”.

In his impressive work on Alexander Hamilton, Ron Chernow writes that the Marquis was a bit temperamental and was given to some of the foibles stereotypical of French aristocracy of the day.  But Chernow is quick to add that LaFayette “proved to be a valiant officer of surprisingly mature judgement and more than rewarded the faith of his admirers.”

We’ll see some examples of that in the future.

And a Happy Birthday to my older brother!!

Recommended Reading: Alexander Hamilton

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I don’t pretend to know much about our first President’s demeanor, so if I were discussing that as part of Today’s History Lesson, there’s at least a 50% chance that the title of this piece is way off the mark.  But happily for all of us, I’m not writing about George Washington’s attitude nor his bouts with anger, because I’d pretty much have to stop here.

On February 20, 1792, the President signed into law the Postal Service Act, which created the United States Post Office Department.  But the Postal Service Act wasn’t the creation of a new agency as much as it was the “officialization” of an existing one, so let’s step back to just before the Revolution got started…to 1775.  It was then that the Second Continental Congress established the Constitutional Post with some guy named Franklin as the first Postmaster General…Benjamin Franklin.  Franklin served in the position until late 1776 (when he was sent to France) and while in office, he did much of the initial work, setting up postal routes and rate charges.

Fifteen years later, the Revolution had ended, the Constitution had been written and ratified, and States were joining the Union.  And the Constitutional Post was there, well-established and functional and growing with the size of the country.  The Postal Service Act simply gave Postmaster General more power to organize and standardize the postal system.  Timothy Pickering would be the first official U.S. Post Office Postmaster General (he held the position when the President signed the legislation), and the Post Office would remain a part of the Federal Government until 1971, when it became an independent government agency called the United States Postal Service.

Today, the U.S. Postal Service is still the primary method of mail and package delivery in the United States.  I pulled a few stats from the Postal Service pages, and the numbers are staggering.

  • Each year, more than 210 billion pieces of mail are processed each year.  That’s 6,000 items a second.
  • The Postal Service operates a fleet of 214,000 vehicles that log, in total, a billion miles a year.
  • According to their site, the USPS uses boats, bicycles, and even mules to deliver the mail (though not to my house).
  • The USPS processes well over 40 million change-of-addresses each year.
  • If the USPS delivered only 99.9% of the mail accurately, it would still mess up 21,000,000 pieces of mail.

So, next time the mail arrives and you happen to be outside, thank them for a job well done.  And think of President George Washington and Benjamin Franklin, who made it all happen more than 200 years ago.

Recommended Reading: A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America

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Without a doubt, the most important treaty in the history of America was the treaty that finally established the existence of a free and independent America.  The Treaty of Paris, signed on September 3, 1783, officially ended the American Revolution and recognized the Thirteen Colonies as autonomous states.

“Revolutionary” fighting had ended on colonial soil in 1781 with the Battle of Yorktown.  But it’s important to note that, in 1781, the British didn’t consider the war lost…or even over.  They had plans to continue the conflict, but they were fighting the French elsewhere, and things were going badly enough that the British felt that peace with America would actually weaken the Franco-American alliance.  So the British presented a treaty proposal to Benjamin Franklin recognizing the colonies as independent, which somewhat upset our ally.

But then successes by the British Navy in the Mediterranean weakened the French position to the point that the French fell into agreement with the treaty as well.  It’s somewhat ironic that the French and British signed the treaty due to their weakened positions relative to each other as much as they did because of American strength.  But sign they did, as did our representatives in Paris: John Jay (who co-authored The Federalist Papers), John Adams (who became our 1st VP and 2nd President), and Benjamin Franklin (who spent the war in France as our Ambassador).

The birth of America, first begun more than seven years prior, was now complete.

Recommended Reading: Benjamin Franklin: An American Life

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