Presentation on theme: "Well, hurrah for independence! “Though the shell may belong to Great Britain, the Eagle inside… belongs to us!”"— Presentation transcript:
Well, hurrah for independence! “Though the shell may belong to Great Britain, the Eagle inside… belongs to us!”
On the video guide (final question), I asked you what you learned from the video that you didn’t know before. If you answered that you didn’t know how hard it was to get the Declaration passed, you’d be like most LM students. You’d also be telling me that, in your heart, you’re still glad it was passed. You’d be right. Britain still allowed slavery in 1776; in fact, it lasted in British colonies well into the 1800s! No one would have been better off under British rule.
Meanwhile, no one in America was free under British rule, because they had no say in the British government. If you think it’s wrong that women, blacks and the poor could not vote in the first U.S. elections, I agree 100%! But none of the people in those groups could vote in England, either. The U.S. got more democratic, faster, than its British brothers. Plus, we could rule ourselves.
How would we set the new country up? Would we opt for confederation, where thirteen separate sovereign nations co- operate on foreign policy and defense, but do their own thing otherwise? Or would we have a strong, unitary and national government? Hmmm…
Anyway, I’m getting ahead of my own story. Declaring independence doesn’t mean achieving it, and as you know, the week the Declaration was signed, Washington had evacuated Manhattan and was attempting to hold Brooklyn Heights with 5000 teenage goose-hunters against 25,000 trained British and Hessian regulars. Any curious person would wonder how, five years later, we forced the British to quit. For those not so curious, I’ll try to make this quick and painless!
There were really three “keys to victory”: 1) After Washington was able to evacuate from Brooklyn back over to New Jersey, our army made it down to Trenton by Dec. 1776 and crossed over to Pa. Although U.S. forces had increased after the Declaration, most of the original 5000 were free to go home on Dec. 31 st ! Washington knew he needed a quick victory; hence, the Xmas night attack on the Hessians, who were sleeping off a “drunk”. That, plus a moving G.W. speech, held the army together.
Washington’s Retreat and the ambush of the Hessians, Dec. 1776
The second key to victory was a British bungle in the fall of 1777. One British general (Howe) was supposed to move north through New York State from Manhattan while another general (Burgoyne) moved south from Montreal. They’d link up and cut New England off from the Middle and Southern states. Good plan, except Howe never got his marching orders. Burgoyne had to face the Americans alone, and we defeated him at Saratoga, NY.
As a result of Saratoga, on top of Washington’s earlier wins, France made a crucial decision. The French were still mad about the French + Indian War, and hated Britain. In Feb.1778, France signed an alliance with the new United States, and helped us win in a variety of ways. They attacked the British West Indies, splitting British forces, they encouraged the boys at Valley Forge to hang on through that winter, they sent Lafayette to help G. Washington, and they sent their navy, which we didn’t really have. Without the French, we couldn’t have won.
The British fought defensively from that point on, and almost entirely in the South. Except for Manhattan, they abandoned the area from Maryland north. But the war could still have dragged for longer than it did, if Washington and Lafayette hadn’t tempted the bulk of the British army onto Virginia’s Yorktown Peninsula, in October 1781. Just then, the French fleet arrived and ferried more Americans to Yorktown, while it blocked the British fleet. Surrounded, the British surrendered and the war was over.
No matter how big a nuisance they’ve become in recent times, we should always be grateful to the French. Their king, Louis, paid with his life for helping us: the cost of the war for France set up an economic collapse that provoked the French Revolution and King Louis’ trip to the guillotine. In some respects, the end of the war was just the beginning of the trouble for the new United States. Before we can get to the Constitution, we’ve got to deal with the messy business of our first government, the Articles of Confederation.
Even Social Studies teachers have a tendency to yawn over the Articles. Why study a failed government? Well, in order to understand the Constitution, and why some of its concepts seem so odd, you have to realize that it was a reaction to the failure of the Articles of Confederation. That, as much as Hobbes with his “social contract”, Locke with his “natural rights”, and Montesquieu with his “separation of powers” (three branches and three levels), was on the minds of the “Framers” in 1787. What a mess, here in the U.S., during the six years after 1781!
Back to 1781 for a moment: The Articles of Confederation were, themselves, a reaction…to the overbearing British. Everyone wanted a weak central government, so we wouldn’t replace British tyranny with an American version. Better to have thirteen governments than one. Besides, the colonies had been politically separate from each other all along, and considered themselves sovereign states. Of the three types of government, “confederation” was the logical choice.
But the structure of the national government under the Articles was fatally flawed. One, only a Congress was created, without an executive or judicial branch. These functions were handled by committees of Congress, much as the British Prime Minister chooses his cabinet from members of Parliament. But the President of Congress, unlike the British Prime Minister or Presidents under our Constitution, had no power beyond his single vote.
Another flaw in the Articles was the inability of Congress to impose or collect any taxes. The central government was totally dependent on the States for funds; either that, or it could try to borrow from private people. The third major flaw was that each State had one vote in Congress, regardless of size. Fine if you’re Rhode Island, or Delaware. Not fine at all if you’re Virginia, or New York.
The Congress couldn’t regulate commerce, or make meaningful treaties. States fought with each other. Several even made separate treaties with foreign governments, though this was forbidden. Who could stop them? What few powers the Articles did have, required the consent of nine of the thirteen States. Thus, the slave-owning South, or even New England, could hold the rest of the States hostage. Likewise, it took a 9/13 vote to amend the Articles. In fact, very little got done…
With the background of economic chaos and violence (whole sections of States in open rebellion), and total disrespect by the Europeans (who played one State against another), those with money and property got scared. They set up a conference at George Washington’s house, then at Annapolis, Maryland, and finally, in spring 1787, back in good old Independence Hall. Twelve of the thirteen States sent delegates, including some of the heroes of 1776.
But most of the 55 delegates to the Constitutional Convention were younger men, and the bigwigs (in some cases, no pun intended) of 1776 were mostly elsewhere. Franklin was too ill to attend many meetings. Adams was our minister to England and Holland (a tiny bit of spite-work, there), and Jefferson was our minister to France. Instead, the people who played the biggest part were Washington, the unanimous choice to preside, James Madison of Virginia, and Alexander Hamilton of New York. They got to work, in secret.
The task was pretty clear. The new govt. had to be federal, not a confederation. There’d be state and local governments, but the national (central) government had to be supreme. Within the national government, each branch had to check and balance the others. There had to be separation of powers (all nine ways). Moreover, the big states had to have their size factored in, and the small states had to have their rights protected. The slave states had to be catered to as much as the free states did. Commerce had to be regulated. Let the fun and debating begin!
Actually, the debates pretty quickly led to compromises. People really wanted to get this done. The main compromises were: 1) Big State (Virginia) Plan + Small State (New Jersey) Plan = Connecticut Compromise; 2) Slave State Plan + Free State Plan = 3/5 Compromise and “Commerce and Slave Trade Compromise”; and 3) the compromise represented by the Bill of Rights, which for the first time, did something meaningful for people who weren’t rich (though not as much as democrats like Jefferson wanted).
That will be our focus for the next week: learning about the Constitution. Then we may watch another movie most of you will like a little better…while you write the next essay.
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