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.
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.
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.