New Jersey is the third state to ratify the US Constitution

New Jersey is the third state to ratify the US Constitution

 

On this day in history, December 18, 1787, New Jersey is the third state to ratify the US Constitution. The area was first settled by European settlers from the Netherlands and Sweden, but was transferred to England when Fort Amsterdam, which would become New York City, was captured by an English fleet in 1664.

 

The area between the Hudson River and the Delaware River was given by King James II as a land grant to two of his supporters, Sir George Carteret and John, Lord Berkeley of Stratton. Carteret and Berkeley named New Jersey after the largest of Britain’s Channel Islands, Jersey, which was Carteret’s birthplace.

 

New Jersey was always a leader in the fight for freedom during the founding period of the United States, being largely populated, not by direct European immigration, but by migrants from other American colonies who fled to the colony seeking even more freedoms than in their previous locations. New Jersey not only became the third state to accept the US Constitution, with a unanimous vote, but New Jersians ratified their own state constitution on July 2, 1776, two days before the Declaration of Independence was even adopted. On November 20, 1787, New Jersey also became the first state to adopt the Bill of Rights.

 

The state has always played an important role in American history due to its location, situated between New York City on the northeast and Philadelphia on the southwest. This pivotal location earned it the name "Crossroads of the Revolution," during the American Revolution as both British and American armies crisscrossed the state numerous times.

 

Several important battles of the Revolution were fought in the state, including the Battle of Trenton, in which George Washington crossed the Delaware and surprised the Hessian Troops at Trenton on Christmas Eve, 1776, and the Second Battle of Trenton, in which Lieutenant General Cornwallis’ troops were stopped by Washington at Trenton late at night on January 2, 1777. Cornwallis stopped the assault, intending to resume the next morning, but instead, Washington’s army slipped away to Princeton and defeated British forces there. The victories at Trenton and Princeton were a huge rallying point for the Americans who had suffered a devastating string of losses earlier in 1776.

 

Morristown served as the Continental Army’s winter quarters twice and the massive Battle of Monmouth proved that the Continental Army could contend with the British army, drawing them to a standstill after a winter of training and military exercises at Valley Forge increased their skills in battle.

 

During the Constitutional Convention, New Jersey played an important role in the development of the bicameral congress. Small states rejected Virginia’s plan to have congressional representatives apportioned by state population. This would mean the smaller states would constantly be overrun by the larger states. Instead, New Jersey’s delegate William Paterson proposed a unicameral legislature with each state receiving equal apportionment. The two ideas were eventually put together, with the House being apportioned by population and the Senate containing equal apportionment, balancing the interests of the small states vs. the larger states.

 

http://www.revolutionary-war-and-beyond.com

 

Jack Manning

Secretary General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

 

"We are either a United people, or we are not. If the former, let us, in all matters of general concern act as a nation, which have national objects to promote, and a national character to support. If we are not, let us no longer act a farce by pretending to it." —George Washington (1785)

French government formally recognizes the United States

French government formally recognizes the United States

 

On this day in history, December 17, 1777, the French government formally recognizes the United States for the first time. France had been secretly helping the Americans since early 1776, with supplies of guns, ammunition, money and soldiers, but all this was done under the radar. With the acknowledgement of the new country by Charles Gravier, Comte de Vergennes, the French Foreign Minister, the war became an international one and entered a whole new phase.

 

Benjamin Franklin first went to France to seek an alliance against the British a year earlier, in December, 1776. Franklin sought arms and money, but also recognition for the fledgling nation. The Americans believed that if France would acknowledge them as a sovereign country, it would aid in their ability to rally other nations to their side.

 

France had a strong interest in aiding the Americans. The Comte de Vergennes wanted to see England paid back for taking French territory in America during the French and Indian War, which caused France to lose millions of acres of fertile land. King Louis XVI wanted to acknowledge the Americans as well, in order to punish his chief adversary, Great Britain, but he felt the Americans needed to prove themselves on the battlefield first to show the world that they were actually capable of beating Britain, which had the largest army in the world.

 

The moment arrived on October 17, 1777 when British General John Burgoyne was forced to surrender an army of over 6,000 men at the Battle of Saratoga when he was severely outnumbered and outmaneuvered by American General Horatio Gates. This was the first major loss of the war for the British and it convinced France that the Americans were capable of defeating them if they had some help.

 

Word of the victory arrived in Paris on December 4 and Ben Franklin went immediately to Vergennes with the news. Less than two weeks later, Vergennes went public with an acknowledgement of the Americans for the first time. By February, a formal treaty of alliance would be signed. French entrance in the war caused Britain to rethink and realign its entire war strategy. French involvement created a much broader theater for the war, including the West Indies, Africa, southeast Asia and Europe, stretching Britain’s forces too thinly, even to the point of withdrawing troops from North America to be deployed elsewhere.

 

French help in the war was of enormous significance. The equivalent of 13 billion dollars was lent by the French government to the Continental Congress. Several fleets of ships assisted in various battles of the Revolution, including the Surrender at Yorktown. French officers and generals fought alongside American militia members and contributed greatly to the American victory. Many historians believe that if it were not for the French, the Americans may not have won the war.

 

http://www.revolutionary-war-and-beyond.com

 

Jack Manning

Secretary General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

"[A] wise and frugal government … shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government."
Thomas Jefferson (1801)

Boston Tea Party takes place

Boston Tea Party takes place

 

On this day in history, December 16, 1773, the Boston Tea Party takes place when a group of angry patriots dump the tea from three ships into Boston Harbor to protest Parliament’s tax on tea. In 1767, the Townshend Acts placed a tax on tea and other items for the first time, leading to boycotts of English goods in the colonies. The Townshend Acts were finally repealed in 1770, except for the tea tax, which Parliament left in place to assert that it did indeed have the right to tax the colonists.

 

By 1773, the British East India Company, the main importer of tea to England and the colonies, was suffering a severe financial crisis. The Indemnity Act of 1767, which removed certain taxes on the Company, had expired, causing the price of tea to go up. Tons of tea that could not be sold at the higher price sat in warehouses in London. In order to rescue the Company, Parliament passed the Tea Act of 1773, which removed taxes on the Company, allowed it to export directly to the colonies, thereby bypassing middlemen who raised the price and raised the tax on end-consumers.

 

The Tea Act actually lowered the price of tea in America, but the colonists stood on the principle that it was unjust for Parliament to tax them at all because they were not represented in Parliament. 7 tea ships left England for America that year. Patriots at Philadelphia and New York successfully prevented the ships from unloading, while the ship at Charleston, South Carolina was confiscated by patriots and the goods resold to aid the patriot cause.

 

In Boston, the Dartmouth, arrived on November 27 and was prevented from unloading by local patriots. The Eleanor and the Beaver arrived over the next few weeks, but they could not unload either, while a fourth ship was lost in a storm. By law, ships arriving in the Americas had 20 days to pay the required customs duties, meaning the taxes due on the Dartmouth’s cargo had to be paid by December 17. The owners and captains of the ships volunteered to return the goods to England, but Royal Governor Thomas Hutchinson would not allow them to leave until the taxes were paid. Local citizens posted sentries around the ships to prevent them from unloading.

 

On the 16th, a mass meeting of 7,000 people met at the Old South Meeting House in Boston. After the meeting, which was led by Samuel Adams, several dozen men, some dressed as Mohawk Indians, marched to Griffin’s Wharf and boarded the ships. 42 tons of tea from all three ships was dumped into the harbor, so much that the water of Boston Harbor was reportedly brown for a week! The dumping of the tea on this date was important because it meant the tea could not be resold to pay the taxes.

 

The term Boston Tea Party was not used for nearly another century. In fact, many Americans looked down upon the event for the first several decades after the Revolutionary War because it involved the destruction of private property. Eventually, though, the event came to represent a moment of pride in American history as a revolt against tyranny.

 

Parliament responded to the Boston Tea Party by passing the Coercive Acts, which ended self-government in Massachusetts by disbanding the colonial assembly and shut down the port of Boston until the price of the tea was repaid. Theses "Intolerable Acts," as the colonists called them, were the direct cause of the calling of the First Continental Congress, which met to coordinate the joint response of the united colonies.

 

http://www.revolutionary-war-and-beyond.com

 

Jack Manning

Secretary General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

"Among the natural rights of the colonists are these: First a right to life, secondly to liberty, and thirdly to property; together with the right to defend them in the best manner they can."
Samuel Adams

United States ratifies the Bill of Rights

United States ratifies the Bill of Rights

 

On this day in history, December 15, 1791, the United States ratifies the Bill of Rights. On December 15, 1791, Virginia became the 10th of 14 states to vote to ratify the first ten amendments to the Constitution. 14 states? Yes, Vermont had already come in as the 14th state on March 4 of the same year.

 

When the new US Constitution was being debated, many people refused to ratify it because they thought it did not give enough protection to individual rights. Proponents of the Constitution agreed to add a bill of rights in the first Congress if the opponents would agree to support it. This argument persuaded enough opponents to see the new Constitution ratified.

 

In the first Congress, James Madison proposed twenty amendments to the Constitution, the most popular from a long list of amendments proposed by the states. According to the Constitution’s directions for the amendment process, Congress debated them and recommended twelve of them to the states. Each state then had its own internal debate and ten of them were eventually ratified, becoming the Bill of Rights.

 

The Bill of Rights contains a list of restrictions on the federal government and guarantees various rights to the people and the states. The Bill of Rights guarantees freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, the right to keep and bear arms and freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures of private property.

 

The Bill of Rights also guarantees that the government cannot house soldiers on private property except in case of war, the right to have a grand jury review infamous criminal charges, the right to trial by jury, the right not to incriminate oneself in court and the right to be tried in the district where criminal charges are alleged.

 

The Bill of Rights also guarantees that a criminal defendant must be informed of the charges against him, be able to obtain witnesses in his favor and be able to confront the witnesses against him. It also guarantees the right to have an attorney represent you in court, bans excessive bail, fines and cruel and unusual punishments. Finally, the Bill of Rights states the federal government only has the powers specifically given to it in the Constitution and reserves every other power and right to the states and individuals in them.

 

http://www.revolutionary-war-and-beyond.com

 

Jack Manning

Secretary General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

 

"The aim of every political constitution is, or ought to be, first to obtain for rulers men who possess most wisdom to discern, and most virtue to pursue, the common good of the society."
James Madison (1788)

George Washington dies at Mount Vernon

George Washington dies at Mount Vernon

 

On this day in history, December 14, 1799, George Washington dies at Mount Vernon after contracting a respiratory illness after being outdoors in the rain. George Washington was born in 1732 in Westmoreland County, Virginia. He first joined the military in 1753 when his older brother Lawrence, who led the colony’s militia, passed away. Royal Governor Robert Dinwiddie broke the position into four smaller districts and appointed George as one of the adjutants with the rank of major.

 

Washington first came to international attention when he was accused of assassinating a French officer. The event helped set off the French and Indian War. He was later chosen by the Continental Congress to lead the Continental Army during the American Revolution. His bravery, determination and ultimate victory in the face of impossible circumstances endeared him to the American people forever.

 

Washington desired to retire from public service at the end of the war, but the people needed a President for their newly formed nation and they wanted him. Out of a sense of duty and responsibility, Washington agreed and served two terms as President of the United States. When his term ended in 1797, he finally entered retirement on his plantation, Mount Vernon, near Alexandria, Virginia.

 

On December 12, 1799, Washington was out all day directing work on the house and inspecting parts of the property on horseback in the freezing rain. That evening, he failed to change his wet clothes during dinner with guests and developed an extremely sore throat. Historians believe he had acute laryngitis or acute epiglottitis, which causes the throat and epiglottis to swell, obstructing the airway. By early on the morning of the 13th, it was apparent that Washington was severely ill. Doctors were called, who drained blood from his arm. This was the practice of the day, as it was believed the sickness was in the blood.

 

When he knew the end was nearing, Washington told Dr. Craik, his oldest friend, "Doctor, I die hard; but I am not afraid to go; I believed from my first attack that I should not survive it; my breath cannot last long;" to Martha, he said, "Go to my desk, and in the private drawer you will find two papers. These are my Wills -preserve this one and burn the other;" shortly before 10pm, Washington asked the time and after being told, spoke no more. He was 67 years old.

 

Abigail Adams wrote of George Washington, "No Man ever lived, more deservedly beloved and Respected… When assailed by faction, when reviled by Party, he suffered with dignity, and Retired from exalted station with a Character which malice could not wound, nor envy tarnish."

 

From the draft of his Farewell Address to the People of the United States when he left the Presidency in 1797, Washington wrote these words, "I leave you with undefiled hands, an uncorrupted heart, and with ardent vows to heaven for the welfare and happiness of that country in which I and my forefathers to the third or fourth progenitor drew our first breath."

 

http://www.revolutionary-war-and-beyond.com

 

Jack Manning

Secretary General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

"Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice?"
George Washington, Farewell Address, 1796

General Charles Lee is captured at Basking Ridge

General Charles Lee is captured at Basking Ridge

 

On this day in history, December 13, 1776, General Charles Lee is captured at Basking Ridge, New Jersey after an overnight stay at a local tavern by a British patrol who learned of his location. Lee remained in British custody until the spring of 1778, when he was exchanged for General Richard Prescott.

 

Charles Lee fought for the British army during the French and Indian War, where he gained a great deal of battlefield experience. He even met and married a Mohawk princess while staying in New York. After the war, he returned to Europe, but never received an appointment higher than Lieutenant Colonel, a slight which embittered him to the point of rebuking King George III to his face. In 1773, Lee left England and moved to Virginia where he quickly fell in with the local patriots. Once the war began, he felt slighted again when the less experienced George Washington received command of the Continental Army. Lee was placed 3rd in command, after General Artemis Ward of Massachusetts.

 

After the loss of Manhattan Island, Washington sent word to General Lee to join him in New Jersey as quickly as possible, but Lee did not hurry to meet Washington’s request, possibly hoping to see Washington defeated so he could take over his command. Lee’s forces eventually made it to Morristown, New Jersey and on the night of December 12th, he and a small group of men went to the Widow White’s Tavern at Basking Ridge a few miles away. Lee’s purpose for going there is unclear. Some believe it was to find a prostitute or to meet the Widow White herself, coming there at her invitation. Others believe he just wanted a place to rest.

 

At any rate, in the morning, a small contingent of soldiers led by Colonel Banastre Tarleton learned Lee was at the tavern. When Tarleton’s men approached, Major James Wilkinson saw them out the window and a fire fight began. Several on each side were killed, but the Americans were overpowered. Tarleton then informed General Lee that if he would surrender, he would spare his life. Lee surrendered wearing his nightgown and was taken captive to New York where his capture was celebrated by the British army since he was viewed as a deserter. In New York, Lee was treated to a suite with a servant, even though he was in captivity, after drawing up a plan for the British to take the colonies. His plan was never used, but had it been found out, it would have been considered treason by the Continental Congress. The plan was never revealed until 1857.

 

George Washington tried to arrange a prisoner exchange for Lee, but was unsuccessful. Finally, in the spring of 1778, he was exchanged for General Richard Prescott. After being freed, Lee went to Valley Forge and rejoined the army, but was soon fired by George Washington at the Battle of Monmouth for insubordination when he failed to obey orders. He was later court-martialed for the same offense and removed from the army for a year. After writing a series of scathing letters to Congress, he was permanently relieved in January, 1780. After that he lived in obscurity, dying in Philadelphia in 1782.

 

http://www.revolutionary-war-and-beyond.com

 

Jack Manning

Secretary General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

“The present Constitution is the standard to which we are to cling. Under its banners, bona fide must we combat our political foes.”
Alexander Hamilton (1802)

Continental Congress leaves Philadelphia fearing British invasion

Continental Congress leaves Philadelphia fearing British invasion

 

On this day in history, December 12, 1776, the Continental Congress leaves Philadelphia fearing a British invasion. George Washington’s Continental Army was defeated in and around New York City in several battles during the fall of the year. As the army fled across New Jersey and into Pennsylvania, the British were hot on their heels. Since the dead of winter was setting in, however, the Commander of the British forces, General William Howe, stopped pursuing the Americans. He posted several large contingents in various places in New Jersey, including Princeton, Trenton and Bordentown, but many of his troops went back to New York for the winter.

 

The Continental Congress, which met at Philadelphia, of course had no knowledge that Howe would stop his advance through New Jersey. They feared he would march straight into Philadelphia, which was only 30 miles from Trenton. When Congress adjourned on December 12, they moved the whole operation to Baltimore, which was a hundred miles to the southwest, putting them far out of range of any British advance.

 

Congress convened again in Baltimore on December 20th at the Henry Fite House, which they rented for three months for £60. The building was built as a tavern by Henry Fite in 1770. With 3 stories and 14 rooms, it was the largest building in Baltimore at the time. It had large rooms with fireplaces that could accommodate Congress’ need for multiple committees to meet at the same time and still stay warm in the cold winter months. It was located downtown, so it was near places to lodge and eat, but was also on the western edge of town, protecting it from any British advance from the east. While Congress met there, the building took on the name Congress Hall and in later years, it was referred to as Old Congress Hall. Unfortunately the building was destroyed in the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904.

 

While in Baltimore, some Congressman complained that the city was dirty and they could only get to Congress Hall on horseback through deep mud. They created the powerful Board of War during this time, as well as a new Treasury Committee. Samuel Adams later said, "We have done more important business in three weeks than we had done, and I believe should have done, at Philadelphia, in six months."

 

Congress ended up staying in Baltimore from December 20, 1776 through February 27, 1777, the worst of the winter months. At this time, it was determined that the British would not be able to attack Philadelphia any time soon. George Washington had won several important battles during the intervening months, including the Battles of Princeton and Trenton, which helped increase American morale. Congress reconvened in Philadelphia again on March 5th. General Howe would eventually occupy Philadelphia in the fall of 1777, causing Congress to flee yet again, this time to York, Pennsylvania.

 

http://www.revolutionary-war-and-beyond.com

 

Jack Manning

Secretary General

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

www.sar.org

 

"The same prudence which in private life would forbid our paying our own money for unexplained projects, forbids it in the dispensation of the public moneys."
Thomas Jefferson (1808)