J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Monday, December 13, 2010

The Ratification Response

Thanks to everyone who submitted answers to Friday’s quiz on Constitutional trivia. All commenters got at least one answer correct, many got more than one, and correct answers seemed to be proportionate to amount of time available for Googling.

Here are the answers I was looking for.

1) Of the South Carolina delegates to the Constitutional Convention, Pierce Butler had lived in Boston in 1769-70. Younger son of an Irish baronet, Butler entered the British army and in the late 1760s was a major in the 29th Regiment of Foot. That regiment was sent to Boston in late 1768, and Butler arrived a few months later.

On 5 Mar 1770, Pvt. Hugh White of Butler’s company was on sentry duty at the Customs house, where he started the spiral of violence that led to the Boston Massacre. Butler played little role in that crisis. He had apparently already set his sights on marrying the heiress to some South Carolina slave-labor plantation, and in 1771 he achived that goal and retired from the army. At the Constitutional Convention and later in the U.S. Senate, Butler was a strong voice for his elite landed class.

2) When Rufus King hypothesized on 20 Jan 1788 that another politician would “improve in his Health as soon as a majority shews itself on either side of the convention,” he was writing about Massachusetts governor John Hancock, and his state’s ratifying convention.

Hancock was very good at amassing popularity in Massachusetts, and very reluctant to spend any of that political capital. He reserved judgment on the new U.S. Constitution for a long time, pleading illness as a reason for keeping away from the public debate. Federalists convinced Hancock to become the spokesman for the idea of ratifying the document while proposing amendments, which might have been decisive in building a majority. (Some historians suggest they dangled the possibility that Hancock himself might become President.)

I chose that quote from King in part because I found it interesting, and in part because it’s not easy to Google. The document apparently wasn’t known when King’s writings were published in 1894. But the letter does appear in the Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution, thanks to the Wisconsin Historical Society.

Hancock also pled illness as an excuse for not coming out to meet George Washington when the President visited New England in late 1789. As at the ratifying convention, the governor finally had himself carried in, swathed in flannel bandages, which deflected criticism that he was being petulant, at least at that moment. Which brings me to the third question, about Washington’s tour…

3. In asking, “Of our six New England states, which did he not visit and why?” I wanted to signal that the question applied to all the New England states that exist now. Some folks missed that parameter at first glance, but, hey, I was being tricky.

As folks noted, two of today’s New England states didn’t exist as such in 1789. Vermont was an independent country, so Washington never went there. (In 1912 one regional historian tried to claim otherwise.) Maine was still part of Massachusetts, but Washington’s record of his 1789 trip includes a brief touchdown “at a place called Kittery in the Provence of Main,” so I count that as a visit.

The second New England state Washington didn’t visit was Rhode Island. In late 1789 it had yet to ratify the Constitution or send delegates to the new bicameral Congress. The President’s choice to skip entering that state was taken as a sign of displeasure. The next year, Rhode Island finally ratified with suggestions and started participating in the new national government.

Congratulations to all the commenters who posted correct answers. The randomly chosen winner of a copy of Pauline Maier’s Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788, supplied by the publisher, is Liberty Atheist. (L.A., please send me an email or comment with a surface-mail address, and I’ll mail the copy this week.) For the rest of us, we can enjoy Maier’s talk about her new book at the Massachusetts Historical Society, via the Forum Network.

1 comment:

Todd Andrlik said...

Good game, good game. I was only one for three, but enjoyed the difficulty level of your questions as well as the Google hunt. I went with Maine for No. 3, and I had read about John Dickinson being sick during a good part of the Constitutional Convention, so I made that leap. Thanks for the historical entertainment!