by Robert Kimmel –
The issues which confronted America during its earliest years and how they continue to resonate in our lives today will be the subjects of “Revisiting the Founding Era,” a Town Hall meeting open to the public on Wednesday evening, October 16, at Warner Library.
Four significant periods during the nation’s formation will be examined by four local scholars of American history. Questions and comments from the audience will also be sought. The free event, to begin at 7 p.m., is a co-presentation of Warner Library and The Hudson Independent.
Declaring Independence, Realizing Independence, Creating the Constitution, and Governing the New Nation are the four highlighted periods to be discussed by the panelists.
Jessica Hunsberger will focus on “Declaring Independence.” Ms. Hunsberger chairs the Social Studies Department at Sleepy Hollow High School where she has taught AP Government and Politics for most of her 24 years there. She was a Political Science major at Colgate University where she participated in the prestigious Semester in Washington Program.
“Realizing Independence” will be depicted by Patricia Bonomi, Professor Emerita of History at New York University, from which she retired in 1996, after teaching there for 26 years. She has authored six books and has had more than 100 articles published. Professor Bonomi has been a visiting professor of history at Columbia University and a fellow at the John Carter Brown Library in Providence, RI. She has a Master’s from N.Y.U. and a Ph.D. from Columbia University.
“Creating the Constitution” is the period to be described by Richard Hoffman who has taught American History, Government and Economics at Dobbs Ferry High School for 27 years. An estimated 2,000 students have taken his classes. He is a coordinator of the Senior Internship Program and administers the High School’s voter registration drive. Hoffman has an A.B. degree from Harvard and a Master’s from Indiana University.
Richard Rose will take on “Governing the New Nation.” He is Tarrytown’s Historian and past President of the Historical Society Inc., Serving Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown. His teaching career embraced over 45 years at both the high school and college level. He continues to teach in the Collegium Program at Westchester Community College. Rose has degrees from the University of Buffalo and the University of Maryland.
The program will be moderated by Barrett Seaman, The Hudson Independent’s Editorial Board Chairman. Mr. Seaman spent 30 years at Time magazine where he was an editor and correspondent before his retirement in 2001 from that publication.
An eye-catching array of six replicas of historical American flags from the nation’s earliest years will also be on display in the Library’s third floor meeting room at the time of the Town Hall discussion. They are from the American flag collection of Sleepy Hollow resident Lee Kennedy.
Warner Library, under the guidance of its Director, Maureen Petry, was one of 100 public libraries across the nation to have been awarded a $1,000 grant from the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, to pursue activities publicizing “The Founding Era’s” concepts and how they influence the nation today. The Institute had received a $400,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, (NEH), to “spark public conversations about the Founding Era’s enduring ideas and themes.”
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.