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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Thursday, July 07, 2011

John Lansing’s Notes on the Constitutional Convention

This spring John Fea shared a press release from the New-York Historical Society about the acquisition of notes on the Constitutional Convention by John Lansing (1754-1829), a delegate from New York. The society plans to digitize the notes for easy public study.

Having made only limited study of the Constitutional Convention, I looked to see what this document added to the well of sources that scholars use.

I learned that Lansing thought the convention was overstepping its mandate and would produce a too-powerful national government, so he left after six weeks. (The whole convention took a little over four months.) Lansing opposed the Constitution in the New York ratification process. Though he spent many years in state offices, he never participated in the federal government.

Lansing’s notes came to light too late to appear in Max Farrand’s monumental compilation of records from the convention, but they were published by the Princeton University Press in 1939 in a volume titled The Delegate from New York, edited by Joseph Reese Strayer.

That led me to wonder how the society’s new document compares to the 1838 volume titled Secret Proceedings and Debates of the Convention Assembled at Philadelphia, in the Year 1787, for the Purpose of Forming the Constitution of the United States of America, from Notes Taken by the Late Robert Yates, Esquire, Chief Justice of New York, and Copied by John Lansing, Jun., Esquire, Late Chancellor of that State, Member of that Convention. That text is here. Yates was Lansing’s legal mentor.

And just as I, unabashed gossip that I am, was about to drift off under the influence of legal prose, I read:
Lansing’s death was the most mysterious of all the delegates to the Constitutional Convention.
TOMORROW: Wait. What?


Joseph D'Agnese said...

I fear I am obsessed with his death. Heard about it first about three years ago. Can't wait to see what you'll say about it...

Timoteo said...

He probably foresaw how the Democrats were going to abuse Federal authority...

J. L. Bell said...

Joseph D'Agnese, I first heard about this case about three weeks ago, so I doubt I've found anything you haven't already seen. But it's nice to know someone cares about Chancellor Lansing!

J. L. Bell said...

Actually, Timoteo, Anti-Federalists coalesced into the Democratic Party.

And any perusal of American history, especially recent American history, shows that no party is free of having expanded and, according to at least a significant portion of observers, abused governmental authority.

Folks who care about U.S. history, rather than just about making what they consider to be telling political jabs, probably already know those things.

Timoteo said...

Were the Anti-Federalists against a modest centralized government or more concerned about losing their power and lucrative positions in the localized fiefdoms?

Liberal Democrat Nancy Pelosi is a good example of abuse of power.

The budget deficit before she became Speaker was a mere $160 billion. When she was forced out, the deficit had increased tenfold to an almost$1.6 trillion.

Care to name a Republican speaker who can match that?

I didn't think so...

J. L. Bell said...

Timoteo, you seem to feel that folks wouldn't remember the Bush-Cheney recession leading to the worst economy since the Depression, and the wars the Bush-Cheney administration entered into and kept off the regular budget for a while.

You seem to feel that people wouldn't remember that the Bush-Cheney administration and Republican Speaker Dennis Hastert inherited a budget in surplus and never passed a budget in balance.

In the past decade, including both Democratic and Republican Houses, the federal government's non-mandatory domestic spending hasn't changed when adjusted for inflation and population. Mandated spending and security spending have gone up by large amounts.

Again, someone who truly values the study of history instead of trying to exploit it for political reason would know those things.

Timoteo said...

Don't try to take the high road Mr. Bell....on many occasions you have taken issue about insignificant things and try to make a mountain out of a mole hill.

Sometimes the truth hurts your propaganda.

You know as well as I do that the congress controls the purse strings.

Why don't you just admit that historically speaking, that democrats have always seeked out deficit spending to pay for their pet projects.

I will state my question again:

Care to name a Republican speaker of the House that has increeased the budget ten fold as did Nancy Pelosi?

J. L. Bell said...

Your attempts at claiming equivalence, Timoteo, are as ludicrous as your one-sided presentations of history and current events. As far as I can recall, your comments on this blog have never been about history. They have always been partisan political complaints. And in most cases, as now, they’re blatantly inaccurate and incomplete.

First you claim that John Lansing as an Anti-Federalist foresaw “how the Democrats were going to abuse Federal authority,” ignoring the Republican administration’s expansion of federal authority over the last decade. Both parties (and quite likely the Federalists and Whigs as well) have expanded federal powers at times. It’s clownish to suggest that only one party does so.

When I challenged you on that history, you quickly fled to another topic and complained about recent federal spending, putting all the blame on the House Speaker from 2007 to 2011. That has nothing to do with John Lansing, but obviously you have a resentment against Nancy Pelosi to work out. (The way you personalized that complaint reveals your profound hypocrisy in objecting to attacks on female politicians, but then I never took you for an honest observer.)

You say, “You know as well as I do that the congress controls the purse strings.” Yes, that’s why I referred to “Republican Speaker Dennis Hastert” and “both Democratic and Republican Houses.” That statement reveals how selective you are in acknowledging evidence and how willing you are to misrepresent the record—even when everyone can see exactly what I’d just written.

You ask, “Care to name a Republican speaker of the House that has increeased the budget ten fold as did Nancy Pelosi?” Your premise is, not surprisingly, inaccurate. Between the 2008 and 2011 budget years (years that included the worst economic recession since the Depression), non-inflation-adjusted federal spending went up 32%, not 1000%.

Shall we compare that to the record of Dennis Hastert, Speaker of the House from 1999 to 2007, presiding during the discussions of the budgets from 2000 to 2007 (a period with two wars and a large tax cut)? During his tenure, federal spending by the same measure went up 53%, and the budget moved from surplus to deficit. In addition, there were plenty of examples of “deficit spending to pay for their pet projects” by Republicans during that time and previously. Not that you’d acknowledge that historical truth, Timoteo. We’ve learned not to expect that of you.