Author Archives: FTB1(SS)

Frederick Muhlenberg

In the wake of the elections of 1788, the 1st Congress of The United States began to gather in New York.

To say that absolutely nobody had any clue what to do would be the understatement of the last two centuries. Sure, they had the rules laid out in Article I and plenty of experience in State Legislatures, but nobody had any idea if this would actually work or not. Two States had not yet ratified the Constitution and consequently had not even held elections for the new Congress. Travel times were much different than today, as horses or walking were the only ways to get from there to here. Things were slow.

From March 4th, when the Congress convened, it would take a month before a quorum could be achieved. And before a single piece of legislation could be presented, debated or passed, the first order of business in the House was to elect the 1st Speaker of the House. In the Congress of a nation that was as yet strongly divided, the new Speaker was elected on the very first ballot. It was pretty much the only thing that went easy.

The hurdles faced by the 1st Congress were things that we take for granted in today’s Country. At least half of the Congressmen in New York believed that the new Constitution was not sustainable and that New Yorkers – and by extension Northerners – were conspiring to keep the Nations new capital in New York. As James Madison said, “We are in a wilderness with not a single footstep to guide us.”

And so with the Constitution as their guide and the son of a German Immigrant Luthern Pastor, Frederick Muhlenberg, at the gavel, things got underway…


In Huawei Is That a Bill of Attainder?

“No Bill of Attainder… shall be passed…” – Article 1 Section 9

In 1974, Richard Nixon resigned from the Presidency, the only person to ever do so. The primary evidence against him was a set of tapes that he had made in the Oval Office, which purported to contain direct evidence of the Watergate Conspiracy, or at least a lot of buzzing that replaced sections that might have proved the Watergate Conspiracy if they hadn’t been so obviously erased.

After he resigned President Ford pardoned Mr. Nixon on September 8, 1974.

Prior to that day, Presidential papers were not considered “public documents.” They were private papers which belonged to the President. In fact, until Franklin Roosevelt donated his papers to the National Archives through his Presidential Library and Museum in 1939, they had never been available to the public except in the form of books and articles written by researchers who had been granted access.

Until December 19, 1974. On that day, President Ford signed a bill passed by Congress, The Presidential Recordings and Materials Act.” This law, which by definition applied ONLY to the records and Materials of Richard Nixon, made it clear that these were now the property of the United States, to be overseen by the National Archivist, who was charged with determining which records and documents the United States would keep – for potential use in judicial proceedings – and which would be returned as the property of Richard Nixon.

Naturally, the former President sued, claiming that this law was clearly unconstitutional as it violated the ban on Bills of Attainder. 

It would take until 1998 to fully resolves Nixon’s role in this. Today, the Federal Courts are preparing to take up two cases that both Defenses are arguing are Bills of Attainder. Will history repeat or will the Courts find that no bills of attainder shall be passed?

This Day in History: The Constitutional Convention finally begins | Tara Ross

On this day in 1787, the Constitutional Convention finally begins. The meeting had been scheduled to start nearly two weeks earlier, on May 14, but things hadn’t gone according to plan. Instead, only two states showed up that day: Virginia and Pennsylvania.

Travel was never easy back then. It was always making people late.

Source: This Day in History: The Constitutional Convention finally begins | Tara Ross

George Washington was among those who’d made it to Philadelphia on time. As he entered the city on May 13, the General was welcomed by a discharge of artillery and the peal of bells. Virginia delegate James Madison was especially happy to see him: The General’s presence lent a certain air of seriousness to the Convention.

It had been a close call. Washington nearly decided not to come.

A fraternal military organization, the Society of the Cincinnati, was meeting in Philadelphia at about the same time, and Washington had already declined to attend that meeting. Could he now attend this one, he wrote, “without giving offence to a very respectable and deserving part of the Community, the late officers of the American Army”? Moreover, he worried that the public might not yet be ready for the planned Convention. Did he want to lend his name to an effort that was destined to fail?

In the end, though, Washington came. He was always one to serve, just when he was needed most.

Nevertheless, delegates were trickling into the city too slowly, and James Madison was getting impatient. He had ideas for how American governance might be revised, and he decided to act. The Virginia delegates would do more than just wait: They began meeting every morning, hammering out a proposed outline for a new government. The “Virginia Plan” that was crafted during this time would later be presented to the Convention, forming a basis for the discussions that followed.

Perhaps it’s no wonder that Madison is known as the Father of the Constitution?

When the Convention finally opened on May 25, its first order of business was to appoint its presiding officer. George Washington was selected unanimously, although he probably would have preferred not to be appointed. Naturally, he stepped up when asked to do so, whatever his personal feelings.

“[I]n a very emphatic manner,” Madison’s notes of the Convention record, “he thanked the Convention for the honor they had conferred on him, reminded them of the novelty of the scene of business in which he was to act, lamented his want of better qualifications, and claimed the indulgence of the House towards the involuntary errors which his inexperience might occasion.”

Humble, as always.

Washington didn’t speak much during the Convention, in deference to his position as presiding officer, but he was still influential in the discussions that followed.

“Washington showed himself firm, courteous, inflexible,” historian Catherine Drinker Bowen writes, “When he approved a measure, delegates reported that his face showed it. Yet it was hard to tell what the General was thinking and impossible to inquire. In his silence lay his strength. His presence kept the Federal Convention together, kept it going.”

The delegates would spend months engaged in an intense, philosophical debate: How can a diverse nation composed of both large and small states govern itself, even as it treats minority groups fairly? How can it protect itself against government officials who would abuse power?

They disagreed. They argued—and then they came together in compromise.

When those men finally emerged from Philadelphia’s State House on September 17, they’d created something special—a unique experiment in self-government.

Perhaps Benjamin Franklin said it best: Our Constitution creates a “Republic, if you can keep it.”

%d bloggers like this: