230 Years Ago Today, the Confederation Congress Calls for a Constitutional Convention

On February 21, 1787, the Confederation Congress resolved –

Whereas there is provision in the Articles of Confederation & perpetual Union for making alterations therein by the Assent of a Congress of the United States and of the legislatures of the several States; And whereas experience hath evinced that there are defects in the present Confederation, as a mean to remedy which several of the States and particularly the State of New York by express instructions to their delegates in Congress have suggested a convention for the purposes expressed in the following resolution and such Convention appearing to be the most probable mean of establishing in these states a firm national government Resolved that in the opinion of Congress it is expedient that on the second Monday in May next a Convention of delegates who shall have been appointed by the several states be held at Philadelphia for the sole and express purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation and reporting to Congress and the several legislatures such alterations and provisions therein as shall when agreed to in Congress and confirmed by the states render the federal constitution adequate to the exigencies of Government & the preservation of the Union.
This resolution was based on a request made by commissioners of the states of Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York, who had assembled at Annapolis, MD, to discuss interstate commerce. While that was the original topic of discussion, the commissioners soon realized that issues of interstate trade could not be disentangled from the inadequacy of the Articles of Confederation to address the current political and economic turbulence.
The Commissioners from the aforementioned states included –
New York
ALEXANDER HAMILTON
EGBERT BENSON

New Jersey
ABRAHAM CLARK
WILLIAM C. HOUSTON
JAMES SCHUARMAN

Pennsylvania
TENCH COXE

Delaware
GEORGE READ
JOHN DICKINSON
RICHARD BASSETT

Virginia
EDMUND RANDOLPH
JAMES MADISON, Junior
SAINT GEORGE TUCKER

At the end of their meeting, they concluded by calling for a convention to meet in Philadelphia “on the second Monday of May next . . . to devise such further provisions as shall appear to them necessary to render the constitution of the Federal Government adequate to the exigencies of the Union.” They transmitted the following to Congress –

That there are important defects in the system of the Federal Government is acknowledged by the Acts of all those States, which have concurred in the present Meeting; That the defects, upon a closer examination, may be found greater and more numerous, than even these acts imply, is at least so far probably, from the embarrassments which characterize the present State of our national affairs, foreign and domestic, as may reasonably be supposed to merit a deliberate and candid discussion, in some mode, which will unite the Sentiments and Councils of all the States. In the choice of the mode, your Commissioners are of opinion, that a Convention of Deputies from the different States, for the special and sole purpose of entering into this investigation, and digesting a plan for supplying such defects as may be discovered to exist, will be entitled to a preference from considerations, which will occur without being particularized.

Your Commissioners decline an enumeration of those national circumstances on which their opinion respecting the propriety of a future Convention, with more enlarged powers, is founded; as it would be a useless intrusion of facts and observations, most of which have been frequently the subject of public discussion, and none of which can have escaped the penetration of those to whom they would in this instance be addressed. They are, however, of a nature so serious, as, in the view of your Commissioners, to render the situation of the United States delicate and critical, calling for an exertion of the untied virtue and wisdom of all the members of the Confederacy.

Under this impression, Your Commissioners, with the most respectful deference, beg leave to suggest their unanimous conviction that it may essentially tend to advance the interests of the union if the States, by whom they have been respectively delegated, would themselves concur, and use their endeavors to procure the concurrence of the other States, in the appointment of Commissioners, to meet at Philadelphia on the second Monday in May next, to take into consideration the situation of the United States, to devise such further provisions as shall appear to them necessary to render the constitution of the Federal Government adequate to the exigencies of the Union; and to report such an Act for that purpose to the United States in Congress assembled, as when agreed to, by them, and afterwards confirmed by the Legislatures of every State, will effectually provide for the same.

 

The First Constitution of the United States: The Articles of Confederation Were Adopted By the Continental Congress 239 Years Ago Today

On June 7, 1776, Richard Henry Lee of Virginia, introduced a resolution in the Second Continental Congress proposing independence for the American colonies. The resolution read:

Resolved, That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.

That it is expedient forthwith to take the most effectual measures for forming foreign Alliances.

That a plan of confederation be prepared and transmitted to the respective Colonies for their consideration and approbation.

Four days later, the Continental Congress appointed three committees in response to the Lee Resolution. One of these committee was created to determine “a plan of confederation,” and was composed of one representative from each colony. John Dickinson of Delaware served as the principal drafter.

After 16 months of debate, the Continental Congress adopted the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union on November 15, 1777. The Articles set out that

Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not by this Confederation expressly delegated to the United States, in Congress assembled.

And that

The said States hereby severally enter into a firm league of friendship with each other, for their common defense, the security of their liberties, and their mutual and general welfare, binding themselves to assist each other, against all force offered to, or attacks made upon them, or any of them, on account of religion, sovereignty, trade, or any other pretense whatever.

The Articles did not go into effect until March 1, 1781, when the last of the 13 states – Maryland – ratified it.

The Articles provided for a loose federation of the states; a single legislative body, where each state had one vote, and a president who chaired the legislative assembly. The Confederation Congress had the following powers: to make war and peace; conduct foreign affairs; request men and money from the states; coin and borrow money; regulate Indian affairs; and settle disputes among the states. The following powers were reserved to the states: enforcing laws, regulating commerce, administering justice, and levying taxes.

No provision was made for an executive authority to enforce the laws or a judicial system to interpret them.

Within a short time, the weaknesses of the Confederation became apparent:

[The Continental Congress] could — theoretically — declare war and raise an army, but it could not force any state to meet its assigned quota for troops or for the arms and equipment needed to support them. It looked to the states for the income needed to finance its activities, but it could not punish a state for not contributing its share of the federal budget. Control of taxation and tariffs was left to the states, and each state could issue its own currency. In disputes between states — and there were many unsettled quarrels over state boundaries — Congress played the role of mediator and judge, but could not require the state to accept its decisions.

The result was virtual chaos. Without the power to collect taxes, the federal government plunged into debt. Seven of the 13 states printed large quantities of paper money — high in face value but low in real purchasing power — in order to pay veteran soldiers and a variety of creditors, and to settle debts between small farmers and large plantation owners.

. . . .

A weak central government, without the power to back its policies with military strength, was inevitably handicapped in foreign affairs as well. The British refused to withdraw their troops from the forts and trading posts in the new nation’s Northwest Territory, as they had agreed to do in the peace treaty of 1783. To make matters worse, British officers on the northern boundaries and Spanish officers to the south supplied arms to various Indian tribes and encouraged them to attack American settlers. The Spanish, who controlled Florida and Louisiana, as well as all territory west of the Mississippi River, also refused to allow Western farmers to use the port of New Orleans to ship their produce.

Although there were signs of returning prosperity in some areas of the fledgling nation, domestic and foreign problems continued to grow. It became increasingly clear that the Confederation’s central government was not strong enough to establish a sound financial system, to regulate trade, to enforce treaties or to exert military force against foreign antagonists when needed. Internal divisions between farmers and merchants, debtors and creditors, and among the states themselves were growing more severe. With Shay’s Rebellion of desperate farmers in 1786 vividly in mind and only recently crushed, George Washington warned: “There are combustibles in every state which a spark might set fire to.”

As a result, the new nation was on the brink of political and economic chaos. In 1785, George Washington wrote to Henry Knox saying “it does not appear to me, that we have wisdom, or national policy enough to avert the evils which are impending—How should we, when contracted ideas, local pursuits, and absurd jealousy are continually leading us from those great & fundamental principles which are characteristic of wise and powerful Nations; & without which, we are no more than a rope of Sand, and shall as easily be broken.” (Emphasis Added).

On July 21, 1786, the Virginia General Assembly passed a resolution proposing “a joint meeting of the states to consider and recommend a plan for regulating commerce.”

That convention met in Annapolis, Maryland, on September 11, 1786. Only 12 delegates were present at the meeting, representing only the states of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Virginia. On September 14, Alexander Hamilton introduced a resolution calling for a special convention of all the states to amend the Articles of Confederation.

This ultimately led to what we now call the Constitutional Convention of 1787. You can read James Madison’s notes of the Constitutional Convention here.

Our Nation’s First Presidential Cabinet

As president-elect Trump considers who he will choose to fill his cabinet, I thought it might be useful to look at the men who comprised our nation’s first presidential cabinet.

Today, the president’s cabinet includes includes the Vice President and the heads of 15 executive departments — the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Labor, State, Transportation, Treasury, and Veterans Affairs, as well as the Attorney General.

George Washington cabinet, by contrast, included just four original members: Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of Treasury Alexander Hamilton, Secretary of War Henry Knox, and Attorney General Edmund Randolph. Below I have included a brief biographical sketch of each cabinet secretary.

(1) Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson

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Thomas Jefferson, after attending my alma mater the College of William & Mary, practiced law and served in local government as a magistrate, county lieutenant, and member of the House of Burgesses. He also served as a member of the Continental Congress and was chosen in 1776 to draft the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson left Congress in 1776 and served in the Virginia legislature. He was elected governor and served in the office from 1779 to 1781. Following his governorship, Jefferson wrote his famous Notes on the State of Virginia. In 1784, he returned to public service by serving first a trade commissioner in France and then as Benjamin Franklin’s successor as minister to France. After serving as Secretary of State during President Washington’s administration, Jefferson went on to serve as Vice President under John Adams and then President of the United States. He sold his collection of books to the government, which formed the nucleus of the collection of the Library of Congress. At the age of 75, he founded the University of Virginia.

(2) Secretary of Treasury Alexander Hamilton

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Alexander Hamilton, born in Nevis, British West Indies, left school at King’s College (later renamed Columbia) in 1774 to begin a career in politics. That same year, he wrote “A Full Vindication of the Measures of Congress,” defending the Continental Congress’ proposal to embargo trade with Great Britain. In 1776, after the Revolutionary War began, Hamilton was commissioned as a captain in the Continental Army. In 1777, he accepted a position on General George Washington’s staff. He served admirably throughout the war. After the war’s conclusion, Hamilton passed the New York bar and practiced law in New York City. In 1787, Hamilton served as a New York delegate to the Constitutional Convention, where he advocated for the creation of a stronger central government. Along with James Madison and John Jay, Hamilton wrote “The Federalist,” a collection of 85 essays on the origins, purpose, and design of the United States Constitution. Hamilton wrote 51 of the essays. He served in New York’s ratifying convention and was instrumental in securing ratification of the new Constitution in the state. As the nation’s first Treasury secretary, Hamilton crafted a monetary policy that saved the nation from financial ruin. He was responsible for creating the First Bank of the United States, and his Report on Manufactures promoted commercial and industrial development in the new nation.

(3) Secretary of War Henry Knox

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Henry Knox began his life as a bookbinder. During the Revolutionary war he served as General Washington’s chief of artillery and eventually rose to the rank of Major General. During the war, his most notable accomplishments include leading the expedition to transfer captured British cannon from Fort Ticonderoga to Boston, directing Washington’s famous crossing of the Delaware River, and take charge of the placement of the artillery at Yorktown. He served as secretary of war under the Articles of Confederation before serving as Washington’s Secretary of War under the new Constitution.

(4) Attorney General Edmund Randolph

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Edmund Randolph studied at the College of William & Mary and studied law under his father’s tutelage. During the Revolutionary War, Randolph served as aide-de-camp to General Washington, and also attended the convention that adopted Virginia’s first state constitution in 1776 (he was the convention’s youngest member at the age of 23). He served as mayor of Williamsburg, Va, and Virginia’s attorney general. In 1779, he was elected to the Continental Congress, and in 1786 became the Governor of Virginia. He attended the Annapolis Convention in 1786, and was a delegate from Virginia during the Constitutional Convention of 1787. He presented the Virginia Plan on behalf of the Virginia delegation. Despite his support of Virginia Plan, he ultimately declined to sign the Constitution. By the time of the Virginia ratifying Convention, Randolph supported the Constitution and worked to secure its ratification in his state. He stated his reason for his switch as “The accession of eight states reduced our deliberations to the single question of Union or no Union.” He served as attorney general under President Washington until Jefferson resigned as Secretary of States, at which point Randolph assumed the role of Secretary of State.

The Founders on the Separation of Powers

Although, the Constitution does not expressly mention the “separation of powers,” the government created by the 1787 U.S. Constitution presupposes and gives expression to it. Below are quotes from the founding generation on why the separation of powers is referred to by Madison in The Federalist No. 47 as an “invaluable precept in the science of politics.”

(1) “The chief improvement in government, in modern times, has been the compleat separation of the great distinctions of power; placing the legislative in different hands from those which hold theexecutive; and again severing the judicial part from the ordinaryadministrative. ‘When the legislative and executive powers (says Montesquieu) are united in the same person, or in the same body of magistrates, there can be no liberty.'” – Centinel No. II (October 24, 1787)

(2) “Liberty therefore can only subsist, where the powers of government are properly divided, and where the different jurisdictions are inviolably kept distinct and separate. . . . This doctrine is not novel in America, it seems on the contrary to be every where well understood and admitted beyond controversy; in the bills of rights or constitutions of New-Hampshire, Massachusetts, Maryland, Virginia, North-Carolina and Georgia, it is expressly declared. “That the legislative, executive and judicial departments, shall be forever separate and distinct from each other.” InPennsylvania and Delaware, they are effectually separated without any particular declaration of the principle.” – “William Penn” No. 2 (January 3, 1788)

(3) “No political truth is certainly of greater intrinsic value or is stamped with the authority of more enlightened patrons of liberty, than that on which the objection is founded. The accumulation of all powers legislative, executive and judiciary in the same hands, whether of one, a few or many, and whether hereditary, self appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny. Were the federal constitution therefore really chargeable with this accumulation of power or with a mixture of powers having a dangerous tendency to such an accumulation, no further arguments would be necessary to inspire a universal reprobation of the system. I persuade myself however, that it will be made apparent to everyone, that the charge cannot be supported, and that the maxim on which it relies, has been totally misconceived and misapplied. In order to form correct ideas on this important subject, it will be proper to investigate the sense, in which the preservation of liberty requires, that the three great departments of power should be separate and distinct.” – The Federalist No. 47 (James Madison)

(4) “The conclusion which I am warranted in drawing from these observations is, that a mere demarkation on parchment of the constitutional limits of the several departments, is not a sufficient guard against those encroachments which lead to a tyrannical concentration of all the powers of government in the same hands.” – The Federalist No. 48 (James Madison)

(5) “But the great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department, consists in giving to those who administer each department, the necessary constitutional means, and personal motives, to resist encroachments of the others. The provision for defence must in this, as in all other cases, be made commensurate to the danger of attack. Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to controul the abuses of government. But what is government itself but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controuls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: You must first enable the government to controul the governed; and in the next place, oblige it to controul itself. A dependence on the people is no doubt the primary controul on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions. This policy of supplying by opposite and rival interests, the defect of better motives, might be traced through the whole system of human affairs, private as well as public. We see it particularly displayed in all the subordinate distributions of power; where the constant aim is to divide and arrange the several offices in such a manner as that each may be a check on the other; that the private interest of every individual, may be a centinel over the public rights. These inventions of prudence cannot be less requisite in the distribution of the supreme powers of the state. But it is not possible to give to each department an equal power of self defence. In republican government the legislative authority, necessarily, predominates. The remedy for this inconveniency is, to divide the legislature into different branches; and to render them by different modes of election, and different principles of action, as little connected with each other, as the nature of their common functions, and their common de pendence on the society, it will admit. It may even be necessary to guard against dangerous encroachments by still further precautions. As the weight of the legislative authority requires that it should be thus divided, the weakness of the executive may require, on the other hand, that it should be fortified. An absolute negative, on the legislature, appears at first view to be the natural defence with which the executive magistrate should be armed. But perhaps it would be neither altogether safe, nor alone sufficient. On ordinary occasions, it might not be exerted with the requisite firmness; and on extraordinary occasions, it might be perfidiously abused. May not this defect of an absolute negative be supplied, by some qualified connection between this weaker department, and the weaker branch of the stronger department, by which the latter may be led to support the constitutional rights of the former, without being too much detached from the rights of its own department? If the principles on which these observations are founded be just, as I persuade myself they are, and they be applied as a criterion, to the several state constitutions, and to the federal constitution, it will be found, that if the latter does not perfectly correspond with them, the former are infinitely less able to bear such a test.” – The Federalist No. 51 (James Madison)

(6) “The same rule, which teaches the propriety of a partition between the various branches of power, teaches us likewise that this partition ought to be so contrived as to render the one independent of the other. To what purpose separate the executive, or the judiciary, from the legislative, if both the executive and the judiciary are so constituted as to be at the absolute devotion of the legislative? Such a separation must be merely nominal and incapable of producing the ends for which it was established. It is one thing to be subordinate to the laws, and another to be dependent on the legislative body. The first comports with, the last violates, the fundamental principles of good government; and whatever may be the forms of the Constitution, unites all power in the same hands. The tendency of the legislative authority to absorb every other, has been fully displayed and illustrated by examples, in some preceding numbers. In governments purely republican, this tendency is almost irresistable. The representatives of the people, in a popular assembly, seem sometimes to fancy that they are the people themselves; and betray strong symptoms of impatience and disgust at the least sign of opposition from any other quarter; as if the exercise of its rights by either the executive or judiciary, were a breach of their privilege and an outrage to their dignity. They often appear disposed to exert an imperious controul over the other departments; and as they commonly have the people on their side, they always act with such momentum as to make it very difficult for the other members of the government to maintain the balance of the Constitution.” – The Federalist No. 71 (Alexander Hamilton)

(7) “It is important, likewise, that the habits of thinking in a free country should inspire caution in those entrusted with its administration, to confine themselves within their respective constitutional spheres, avoiding in the exercise of the powers of one department to encroach upon another. The spirit of encroachment tends to consolidate the powers of all the departments in one, and thus to create, whatever the form of government, a real despotism. A just estimate of that love of power, and proneness to abuse it, which predominates in the human heart, is sufficient to satisfy us of the truth of this position. The necessity of reciprocal checks in the exercise of political power, by dividing and distributing it into different depositaries, and constituting each the guardian of the public weal against invasions by the others, has been evinced by experiments ancient and modern; some of them in our country and under our own eyes. To preserve them must be as necessary as to institute them.” – George Washington, Farewell Address (1796)

The Federalist No. 68: A Defense of the Electoral College

As has become customary after a closely divided election (especially, one where the popular vote winner loses in the electoral college), there is a growing chorus of individuals calling for the abolishment of the electoral college. Just last night on Real Time With Bill Maher, former Attorney General Eric Holder called for an end to the electoral college.

I suspect these debates will continue not just this year, but in future elections, as well, and so I thought it might be useful to spotlight The Federalist No. 68, wherein Alexander Hamilton explains why the Framers created the electoral college system.

The mode of appointment of the chief magistrate of the United States is almost the only part of the system, of any consequence, which has escaped without severe censure, or which has received the slightest mark of approbation from its opponents. The most plausible of these, who has appeared in print, has even deigned to admit, that the election of the president is pretty well guarded. I venture somewhat further; and hesitate not to affirm, that if the manner of it be not perfect, it is at least excellent. It unites in an eminent degree all the advantages; the union of which was to be desired.

It was desireable, that the sense of the people should operate in the choice of the person to whom so important a trust was to be confided. This end will be answered by committing the right of making it, not to any pre-established body, but to men, chosen by the people for the special purpose, and at the particular conjuncture.

It was equally desirable, that the immediate election should be made by men most capable of analizing the qualities adapted to the station, and acting under circumstances favourable to deliberation and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements, which were proper to govern their choice. A small number of persons, selected by their fellow citizens from the general mass, will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to so complicated an investigation.

It was also peculiarly desirable, to afford as little opportunity as possible to tumult and disorder. This evil was not least to be dreaded in the election of a magistrate, who was to have so important an agency in the administration of the government, as the president of the United States. But the precautions which have been so happily concerted in the system under consideration, promise an effectual security against this mischief. The choice of several to form an intermediate body of electors, will be much less apt to convulse the community, with any extraordinary or violent movements, than the choice of one who was himself to be the final object of the public wishes. And as the electors, chosen in each state, are to assemble and vote in the state, in which they are chosen, this detached and divided situation will expose them much less to heats and ferments, which might be communicated from them to the people, than if they were all to be convened at one time, in one place.

Nothing was more to be desired, than that every practicable obstacle should be opposed to cabal, intrigue and corruption. These most deadly adversaries of republican government might naturally have been expected to make their approaches from more than one quarter, but chiefly from the desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils. How could they better gratify this, than by raising a creature of their own to the chief magistracy of the union? But the convention have guarded against all danger of this sort with the most provident and judicious attention. They have not made the appointment of the president to depend on any pre-existing bodies of men who might be tampered with before hand to prostitute their votes; but they have referred it in the first instance to an immediate act of the people of America, to be exerted in the choice of persons for the temporary and sole purpose of making the appointment. And they have excluded from eligibility to this trust, all those who from situation might be suspected of too great devotion to the president in office. No senator, representative, or other person holding a place of trust or profit under the United States, can be of the number of electors. Thus, without corrupting the body of the people, the immediate agents in the election will at least enter upon the task, free from any sinister byass. Their transient existence, and their detached situation, already taken notice of, afford a satisfactory prospect of their continuing so, to the conclusion of it. The business of corruption, when it is to embrace so considerable a number of men, requires time, as well as means. Nor would it be found easy suddenly to embark them, dispersed as they would be over thirteen states, in any combinations, founded upon motives, which though they could not properly be denominated corrupt, might yet be of a nature to mislead them from their duty.

Another and no less important desideratum was, that the executive should be independent for his continuance in office on all, but the people themselves. He might otherwise be tempted to sacrifice his duty to his complaisance for those whose favor was necessary to the duration of his official consequence. This advantage will also be secured, by making his re-election to depend on a special body of representatives, deputed by the society for the single purpose of making the important choice.

All these advantages will be happily combined in the plan devised by the convention; which is, that the people of each state shall choose a number of persons as electors, equal to the number of senators and representatives of such state in the national government, who shall assemble within the state and vote for some fit person as president. Their votes, thus given, are to be transmitted to the seat of the national government, and the person who may happen to have a majority of the whole number of votes will be the president. But as a majority of the votes might not always happen to centre on one man and as it might be unsafe to permit less than a majority to be conclusive, it is provided, that in such a contingency, the house of representatives shall select out of the candidates, who shall have the five highest numbers of votes, the man who in their opinion may be best qualified for the office.

This process of election affords a moral certainty, that the office of president, will seldom fall to the lot of any man, who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications. Talents for low intrigue and the little arts of popularity may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single state; but it will require other talents and a different kind of merit to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole union, or of so considerable a portion of it as would be necessary to make him a successful candidate for the distinguished office of president of the United States. It will not be too strong to say, that there will be a constant probability of seeing the station filled by characters pre-eminent for ability and virtue. And this will be thought no inconsiderable recommendation of the constitution, by those, who are able to estimate the share, which the executive in every government must necessarily have in its good or ill administration. Though we cannot acquiesce in the political heresy of the poet who says–

“For forms of government let fools contest–  That which is best administered is best.”

–yet we may safely pronounce, that the true test of a good government is its aptitude and tendency to produce a good administration.

100 Years Ago Today, Jeannette Rankin Was Elected as First U.S. Congresswoman

On November 7, 1916, Jeannette Rankin, a suffragist from Montana, was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, becoming the first woman in the history of this nation to win a seat in the United States Congress. When she was elected, she said:“I may be the first woman member of Congress . . . But I won’t be the last.” Today, 104 women hold seats in the United States Congress. 20 women serve in the U.S. Senate and 84 serve in the U.S. House of Representatives.

 

Who Was Jeannette Rankin?

Jeannette Rankin, the eldest daughter of a rancher and a schoolteacher, was born near Missoula, Montana, on June 11, 1880. She graduated from Montana State University (now the University of Montana) in 1902 and attended the New York School of Philanthropy (later the Columbia University School of Social Work). After a brief period as a social worker in Spokane, Washington, Rankin entered the University of Washington in Seattle. It was there that she joined the woman suffrage movement, a campaign that achieved its goal in Washington State in 1910. Rankin became a professional lobbyist for the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). Her speaking and organizing efforts helped Montana women gain the vote in 1914.

When Rankin decided in 1916 to run for a House seat from Montana, she had two key advantages: her reputation as a suffragist and her politically well-connected brother, Wellington, who financed her campaign. Some national woman suffrage leaders feared she would lose and hurt the cause. The novelty of a woman running for Congress, however, helped Rankin secure a GOP nomination for one of Montana’s two At-Large House seats on August 29, 1916. Rankin ran as a progressive, pledging to work for a constitutional woman suffrage amendment and emphasizing social welfare issues. Long a committed pacifist, she did not shy away from letting voters know how she felt about possible U.S. participation in the European war that had been raging for two years: “If they are going to have war, they ought to take the old men and leave the young to propagate the race.” Rankin came in second, winning one of Montana’s seats. She trailed the frontrunner, Democratic Representative John M. Evans, by 7,600 votes, but she topped the next candidate— another Democrat–by 6,000 votes. Rankin ran a nonpartisan campaign in a Democratic state during a period of national hostility toward parties in general. And this was the first opportunity for Montana women to vote in a federal election. “I am deeply conscious of the responsibility resting upon me,” read her public victory statement.

Rankin and the Fight for Women’s Suffrage

As the first woman Member, Rankin was on the front lines of the national suffrage fight. During the fall of 1917 she advocated the creation of a Committee on Woman Suffrage and, when it was created, she was appointed to it. When the special committee reported out a constitutional amendment on woman suffrage in January 1918, Rankin opened the very first House Floor debate on this subject. “How shall we answer their challenge, gentlemen,” she asked. “How shall we explain to them the meaning of democracy if the same Congress that voted for war to make the world safe for democracy refuses to give this small measure of democracy to the women of our country?” The resolution narrowly passed the House amid the cheers of women in the galleries, but it died in the Senate.

Abraham Lincoln was Elected as First Republican President On This Day in 1860

On November 6, 1860, Abraham Lincoln became the 16th president of the United States. He was the first Republican to win the presidency. He received only 40% of the popular vote, but still handily defeated the three other candidates: John C. Breckenridge (Southern Democrat), Stephen Douglas (Northern Democrat), and John Bell (Constitutional Union).

Lincoln’s victory signaled the secession of Southern states, which had publicly threatened secession if Republicans gained the White House. By the time of Lincoln’s inauguration on March 4, 1861, 7 states had seceded, and the Confederate States of America had been formally established. A month later, the Civil War began when Confederate forces opened fire on Fort Sumter in South Carolina.

This was the Republican Party Platform in 1860

Resolved, That we, the delegated representatives of the Republican electors of the United States in Convention assembled, in discharge of the duty we owe to our constituents and our country, unite in the following declarations:

1. That the history of the nation during the last four years, has fully established the propriety and necessity of the organization and perpetuation of the Republican party, and that the causes which called it into existence are permanent in their nature, and now, more than ever before, demand its peaceful and constitutional triumph.

2. That the maintenance of the principles promulgated in the Declaration of Independence and embodied in the Federal Constitution, “That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,” is essential to the preservation of our Republican institutions; and that the Federal Constitution, the Rights of the States, and the Union of the States must and shall be preserved.

3. That to the Union of the States this nation owes its unprecedented increase in population, its surprising development of material resources, its rapid augmentation of wealth, its happiness at home and its honor abroad; and we hold in abhorrence all schemes for disunion, come from whatever source they may. And we congratulate the country that no Republican member of Congress has uttered or countenanced the threats of disunion so often made by Democratic members, without rebuke and with applause from their political associates; and we denounce those threats of disunion, in case of a popular overthrow of their ascendency as denying the vital principles of a free government, and as an avowal of contemplated treason, which it is the imperative duty of an indignant people sternly to rebuke and forever silence.

4. That the maintenance inviolate of the rights of the states, and especially the right of each state to order and control its own domestic institutions according to its own judgment exclusively, is essential to that balance of powers on which the perfection and endurance of our political fabric depends; and we denounce the lawless invasion by armed force of the soil of any state or territory, no matter under what pretext, as among the gravest of crimes.

5. That the present Democratic Administration has far exceeded our worst apprehensions, in its measureless subserviency to the exactions of a sectional interest, as especially evinced in its desperate exertions to force the infamous Lecompton Constitution upon the protesting people of Kansas; in construing the personal relations between master and servant to involve an unqualified property in persons; in its attempted enforcement everywhere, on land and sea, through the intervention of Congress and of the Federal Courts of the extreme pretensions of a purely local interest; and in its general and unvarying abuse of the power intrusted to it by a confiding people.

6. That the people justly view with alarm the reckless extravagance which pervades every department of the Federal Government; that a return to rigid economy and accountability is indispensable to arrest the systematic plunder of the public treasury by favored partisans; while the recent startling developments of frauds and corruptions at the Federal metropolis, show that an entire change of administration is imperatively demanded.

7. That the new dogma that the Constitution, of its own force, carries slavery into any or all of the territories of the United States, is a dangerous political heresy, at variance with the explicit provisions of that instrument itself, with contemporaneous exposition, and with legislative and judicial precedent; is revolutionary in its tendency, and subversive of the peace and harmony of the country.

8. That the normal condition of all the territory of the United States is that of freedom: That, as our Republican fathers, when they had abolished slavery in all our national territory, ordained that “no persons should be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law,” it becomes our duty, by legislation, whenever such legislation is necessary, to maintain this provision of the Constitution against all attempts to violate it; and we deny the authority of Congress, of a territorial legislature, or of any individuals, to give legal existence to slavery in any territory of the United States.

9. That we brand the recent reopening of the African slave trade, under the cover of our national flag, aided by perversions of judicial power, as a crime against humanity and a burning shame to our country and age; and we call upon Congress to take prompt and efficient measures for the total and final suppression of that execrable traffic

10. That in the recent vetoes, by their Federal Governors, of the acts of the legislatures of Kansas and Nebraska, prohibiting slavery in those territories, we find a practical illustration of the boasted Democratic principle of Non-Intervention and Popular Sovereignty, embodied in the Kansas-Nebraska Bill, and a demonstration of the deception and fraud involved therein.

11. That Kansas should, of right, be immediately admitted as a state under the Constitution recently formed and adopted by her people, and accepted by the House of Representatives.

12. That, while providing revenue for the support of the general government by duties upon imports, sound policy requires such an adjustment of these imports as to encourage the development of the industrial interests of the whole country; and we commend that policy of national exchanges, which secures to the workingmen liberal wages, to agriculture remunerative prices, to mechanics and manufacturers an adequate reward for their skill, labor, and enterprise, and to the nation commercial prosperity and independence.

13. That we protest against any sale or alienation to others of the public lands held by actual settlers, and against any view of the free-homestead policy which regards the settlers as paupers or suppliants for public bounty; and we demand the passage by Congress of the complete and satisfactory homestead measure which has already passed the House.

14. That the Republican party is opposed to any change in our naturalization laws or any state legislation by which the rights of citizens hitherto accorded to immigrants from foreign lands shall be abridged or impaired; and in favor of giving a full and efficient protection to the rights of all classes of citizens, whether native or naturalized, both at home and abroad.

15. That appropriations by Congress for river and harbor improvements of a national character, required for the accommodation and security of an existing commerce, are authorized by the Constitution, and justified by the obligation of Government to protect the lives and property of its citizens.

16. That a railroad to the Pacific Ocean is imperatively demanded by the interests of the whole country; that the federal government ought to render immediate and efficient aid in its construction; and that, as preliminary thereto, a daily overland mail should be promptly established.

17. Finally, having thus set forth our distinctive principles and views, we invite the co-operation of all citizens, however differing on other questions, who substantially agree with us in their affirmance and support.

 

On the eve of an election that has bitterly divided this country, I am reminded of this passage from Lincoln’s first inaugural address –

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearth-stone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.