Category Archives: Podcast
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…
“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?
After a long public debate in the media, the delegates for New York have arrived in Poughkeepsie to decided if New York will ratify the Constitution. While there is a STRONG Anti-Federalist contingent in the State, there is something else going on. Governor George Clinton is the leading opponent of ratification but even he is beginning to understand that the very purpose of the Constitution supersedes the arguments against its ratification. After Massachusetts and Virginia ratify, it is beginning to dawn on New York that going it alone is an untenable position.
At the convention, Melancton Smith will be the primary speaker for the Anti-Federalist position. He is most likely the author of numerous Anti-Federalist papers, including the “Letters from a Federal farmer.” He is a simple man, a country farmer, not as well polished as Hamilton but he is focused (unlike Hamilton), polite (unlike Hamilton) and he is of “a gentle, liberal, and amiable disposition” (unlike Hamilton). He is so persuasive that the issue in New York is never really in doubt.
The biggest problem now is that the ground has shifted. While the numbers are clearly in favor in the Anti-federalist position, the realization is dawning on the Delegates that New York may have waited too long to ratify. The realization that the only way to get what the amendments that they “require” for ratification, is to be able to send delegates to the new Congress. The realization is dawning that only way to keep New York together is to ratify.
Melancton Smith, the man who will try to broker an acceptable system of ratification, realizes that despite their numbers, Hamilton is right. Not Ratifying is no longer an option. Clinton is furious at him, but at the end of the day, even the future Vice President has to accept what Melancton Smith has accepted – the Ben Franklin cartoon drawn all those years ago still applies. Join or Die.
And on the verge of eternity, New York ratifies the Constitution…