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Revisiting The Founding Era: Video of Oct 16 Panel Discussion

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Understanding the issues that confronted Americans during the nation’s Founding Era and how those same issues influence life in our country today was the focus of a scholarly panel discussion with audience participation held at the Warner Library on October 16. Watch the video of this interesting, history-filled event (1 hr, 24 min):

Our original article discribing the event is excerpted below:

The panel, composed of four American History scholars and moderated by Barrett Seaman, The Hudson Independent’s Editorial Board Chairman, will delve into four crucial time periods in our young nation’s history: Declaring Independence, Realizing Independence, Creating the Constitution, and Governing the New Nation. Audience members will be invited to comment on the topics.

In addition to the discussion, attendees will have the opportunity to view six large replicas of historical American flags from those periods from the collection of Sleepy Hollow resident Lee Kennedy, which will be displayed within the library’s third floor meeting room.

The four pe­ri­ods to be dis­cussed dur­ing “Re­vis­it­ing the Found­ing Era” are sum­ma­rized be­low.

De­clar­ing In­de­pen­dence

Great Britain in 1763 ruled the 13 Amer­i­can colonies along the East­ern seaboard fol­low­ing its tri­umphant war with France. It saw the colonies gen­er­ally as com­mer­cial ven­tures. Many of the set­tlers in those colonies were not happy with British im­posed var­i­ous taxes in­clud­ing those for com­modi­ties such as glass, lead, and pa­per, as well as tea. “No tax­a­tion with­out rep­re­sen­ta­tion” was the ral­ly­ing colo­nial slo­gan. Rev­enue was mainly di­rected at pay­ing for the up­keep of the Eng­lish sol­diers, whose pres­ence was also re­sented by many of the colonists and which led to sev­eral clashes with the Amer­i­cans. In 1770, a street fight in Boston be­tween a sin­gle British sol­dier and bel­liger­ent res­i­dents led to the death of five colonists when ad­di­tional troops ar­rived, and was known as The Boston Mas­sacre.  It ush­ered in more re­sent­ment of British rule.

The Boston Tea Party at which 46 tons of East In­dia Com­pa­ny’s tea were tossed into the har­bor by lo­cals in 1773 led the British to close the Boston Har­bor un­til it paid for the dumped tea. The British also re­acted by cut­ting the au­thor­ity of the Mass­a­chu­setts Town meet­ings and di­min­ish­ing the power of other lo­cal leg­isla­tive bod­ies, which had their own laws and levied taxes. Re­spond­ing to the curbs im­posed by the British, there were moves to cut trade with Britain. Del­e­gates from each state at­tended the First Con­ti­nen­tal Con­gress. In April, 1775, colo­nial mili­tias en­gaged the British in the Bat­tles of Lex­ing­ton and Con­cord, the first ma­jor con­flicts ini­ti­at­ing the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary War.  On July 4, 1776, the De­c­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence was adopted by the Con­ti­nen­tal Con­gress.

Re­al­iz­ing In­de­pen­dence 

The Rev­o­lu­tion against the British rule was not uni­ver­sally sup­ported in the colonies. Some colonists re­mained loyal to Britain, and lit­er­ally fought their neigh­bors.  There were loy­al­ists that as­sisted or par­tic­i­pated with the British forces fac­ing the colonists. When the British Gov­er­nor of Vir­ginia of­fered free­dom to the slaves of Amer­i­can colonists, if they crossed lines to the British, tens of thou­sands did. Oth­ers fought with the Amer­i­cans, al­though they were not al­ways wel­comed. The war also brought hard­ships to many, and the poor suf­fered the most.

Even be­fore the De­c­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence, the fight­ing had be­gun. The Bat­tle of Bunker Hill took place near Boston, in June of 1775.  Be­fore re­treat­ing, in­ex­pe­ri­enced colo­nial mili­tias both held off British sol­diers and also caused heavy ca­su­al­ties among them. George Wash­ing­ton’s first Con­ti­nen­tal Army num­bered about 20,000, and most of the sol­diers were not well trained, nor was the army prop­erly sup­plied.  Bat­tles were won and lost. The French en­tered the war on the side of the Amer­i­cans, as did Spain and the Nether­lands. In 1777, the Con­ti­nen­tal Army be­came bet­ter trained and a bet­ter fight­ing force, in­flict­ing more losses on the British. Pre­lim­i­nary Ar­ti­cles of Peace were signed by the two op­po­nents, and Con­gress rat­i­fied a pre­lim­i­nary peace treaty. Fi­nally, in Sep­tem­ber of 1783, the United States and Great Britain signed the Treaty of Paris, of­fi­cially end­ing the war.

Cre­at­ing the Con­sti­tu­tion 

While each state re­mained in­de­pen­dent in re­gard to gov­ern­ing dur­ing the Rev­o­lu­tion, to­gether they adopted “a league of friend­ship” con­fed­er­a­tion that was au­tho­rized to fight the war and en­ter a peace agree­ment. The next step, The Ar­ti­cles of Con­fed­er­a­tion, in 1777, was the ini­tial con­sti­tu­tional doc­u­ment ac­tu­ally gov­ern­ing the Amer­i­can states; how­ever, it was too con­strained in re­gard to han­dling and solv­ing many of the dif­fi­cul­ties that arose fol­low­ing in­de­pen­dence. Un­der its weak frame­work, each state vir­tu­ally gov­erned it­self. A decade af­ter that doc­u­ment was cre­ated, rep­re­sen­ta­tives from each state, ex­cept Rhode Is­land, met in Philadel­phia for the Con­sti­tu­tional Con­ven­tion.  George Wash­ing­ton was named pres­i­dent of the con­ven­tion. There were de­bates on many is­sues, in­clud­ing state rep­re­sen­ta­tion in the leg­is­la­ture. Small states de­manded equal rep­re­sen­ta­tion, and larger ones sought rep­re­sen­ta­tion by pop­u­la­tion. The prob­lem was solved with the cre­ation of the two leg­isla­tive bod­ies, which be­came the Sen­ate and the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives. The three branches of gov­ern­ment, ex­ec­u­tive, leg­isla­tive and ju­di­cial were de­vised so no branch would have over­whelm­ing au­thor­ity. Cit­i­zens’ ba­sic rights were out­lined. The Con­sti­tu­tion of the United States was signed by the rep­re­sen­ta­tives on Sep­tem­ber 17, 1787.

Gov­ern­ing the New Na­tion

The Con­sti­tu­tion was rat­i­fied June 21, 1788, fol­low­ing George Wash­ing­ton’s unan­i­mous elec­tion as Pres­i­dent about a month be­fore. The time that fol­lowed was not easy for the new gov­ern­ment. There were dis­agree­ments about how the United States should pay its heavy for­eign debts, with north­ern states sup­port­ing pro­pos­als by Trea­sury Sec­re­tary Alexan­der Hamil­ton and south­ern states, with heavy farm­ing, op­pos­ing them.  Also, those states which had al­ready paid off their debts from the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary War re­sisted con­tribut­ing taxes to help other states clean up their debts. How­ever, the Hamil­ton plan worked and brought in for­eign in­vest­ment as well. His pro­posal to cre­ate a na­tional bank also met some op­po­si­tion, but it was ul­ti­mately ap­proved. In 1791, The Bill of Rights was added to the Con­sti­tu­tion with its 10 amend­ments as­sur­ing  safe­guards for cit­i­zens, in­clud­ing free­dom of speech and re­li­gion.

Dur­ing Pres­i­dent John Adams time as Pres­i­dent in the late 1790s, the Fed­er­al­ists Party had con­trol of Con­gress and claimed that the crit­i­cism of its poli­cies by the party of Thomas Jef­fer­son, the De­mo­c­ra­tic-Re­pub­li­cans, amounted to dis­loy­alty to the gov­ern­ment. Con­cerns about for­eign in­flu­ence in the gov­ern­ment also be­came an is­sue. An­other dis­pute grew out of fear that im­mi­grants would be sym­pa­thetic to a for­eign power, when bat­tles at sea broke out be­tween the United States and the French. That led to the Alien and Sedi­tion Acts which curbed crit­i­cism of the gov­ern­ment and were op­posed by Thomas Jef­fer­son and James Madi­son. Other is­sues, such as slav­ery and tar­iffs also cre­ated dis­putes, but the na­tion sur­vived its ini­tial decade, and went on to thrive with great suc­cess.

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