The Rocky Road to Nationhood: The Conventions,  George Washington & Adam Stephen
Articles Blog

The Rocky Road to Nationhood: The Conventions, George Washington & Adam Stephen

August 22, 2019

well, when the speaker starts standing still, and takes deep breaths and starts pulling on their hair, it’s time to begin. I first gotta thank Todd. He asked me: “Would you do something here?” He’s been a great
help and it’s because of Todd that we’re here today. and also for you.
Just so you know, I’m gonna speak kind of straightaway within a pre-recorded timed framework
of in-and-out music, fx and all of that . . . which means, if you say “Can I
ask you something?” it’s gonna be hard. Later . . .later. Also, now you’re all really puzzled
at this: (yeh, I heard that). This is really a visual analogy – analogue – of what we’re
gonna do today. And I’m gonna take just a second to go down through – and you’re gonna
know when we’re hitting that topic. OK? This is about fifty-five minutes. If, you feel
– if you’re getting a call from a cell phone or the rest room – you’re fine. Just go quietly
and come back and re-join us. Let’s begin. The first few (images) don’t involve people. The first few are about the land. This
is Jefferson County. The yellow is indicating that we were in an area with a lot of limestone,
which will become important later. This is a painting of Harpers Ferry in 1830. If you’re
on the Virginia side and you’re driving by, and you look to the right, you’re gonna see
that image. And what it’s showing is the violent nature – there was very violent collisions
between two continents, causing violent upheavals of the land; and that’s a very good example
of that. The Ice Age – this is – just remember – “mile-high glacier” – right? Got about as
far as the Susquehanna. We touch on that. That is Cornstalk, the Shawnee chief from around
the 1700s in this area, and behind it (the portrait), is a place which was – I’ll explain
it – it was a sacred feasting area where tribes came together to re-kindle their tribes. The
ship is us “Euro-peans.” This is us coming. This describes the emigration from Europe
to America. This guy – that’s an early version of George Washington. Yeh, it’s a modeling
that they were doing at Mount Vernon. Let’s just say that covers a lot of ground. “We
the People” – an extraordinary story of how fifteen West Virginians within our boundaries
today REALLY saved the Constitution. Really. James Rumsey. You know who he is, I hope. Rezin
Davis Shepherd. Great story there. Arguably the – you know if you had to pick somebody
– probably the most successful person to be born here. Down here is R. J. Funkhouser.
He was “in competition,” but he was actually born in Big Pool, Maryland. That’s not a man. That’s
John H. Hall’s breechloading rifle, and that symbolizes the most extraordinary, world-changing
event that happened in Jefferson County. World-changing. Martin Delany. Incredible life. Never heard
of him. That seems to be the story here. We’ll hit on that. If you look at his accomplishments,
regardless of color, he might have been THE most accomplished person born in Jefferson
County. This is right across from Trinity Episcopal Church around 1855 and that is Benjamin
Franklin Harrison. This is on the corner of Church and German. And that is Mamie. I know because that is what it said below the daguerreotype. I believe that that’s the earliest known photograph of an African-American in Jefferson County, and there’s a girl about her age in the 1860
Census with a big “E” next to it – which means “escaped.” John Pendleton Kennedy who wrote
a book called “Swallow Barn” – which was hugely influential; and then this tradition of plantation
literature, morphed into something we have known as “Gone With The wind.” You know John
Brown – a few comments on that. I tended to hit a few points, but not go deep on the Civil
War. Do I hear any sighs? Logan Osburn – a key person who had to make a decision whether
he supported his state or the nation – a Hamlet figure. Henrietta Bedinger Lee. All I can
tell you is: DON’T MESS WITH HER. It’s a great story. But something happened to her which
after this-that, this-that-and-the-other-thing altered the outcome of the Civil War. You
can judge for yourself. You know how it is: one thing leads to another. And when Jubal
Early burns Chambersburg to the ground because of what happened to your house, that starts
altering the complexion of the war. John Trowbridge was not born here. But he was able to be in
Charles Town in the summer of ’65 and he soaks up that mood. Apples for the salvation after
the war. All those horses and wagons compacted that soil for wheat so it was unuseable for
wheat. Hence apple trees. One of my favorites – Danske Dandridge. Some of you know about
her. Fabulous writer. It’s impossible not to like her. You know who this guy is? Well,
this is one of my favorites. He came to Charles Town because one of his closest buddies from
Princeton, John Peale Bishop. He stayed with him for a month. And we are so fortunate that
the woman who was with him every day was able to put it into words. And she didn’t pull
some of her punches. That’s Laura Hillenbrand – Seabiscuit. It was a horse at Charles Town
that made her fall in love with horse-racing. Behind her image are about six surprising
and fascinating facts about people related to the race-track. (Can you hear me all right?). R.J. (Fuknhouser).
If that’s not beetle-browed. If you know Randy Funkhouser – can you see a little bit of Randy
– but Randy’s a little nicer. I won’t say any more, but I thought – Clay Lashley said
to me – “Where’s Frank Buckles?” So I put in Frank Buckles – and his wonderful daughter Susannah. What would we have done without that mutual mystical bond that held the General with his ragged volunteers? Many a He’rts will break in twa Should he nair’ come back again.
Will ye no’ come back again? Will ye no’ come back again?
Better lo’ed ye canna be Will ye no’ come back again? Re-doing the nation to Last had its seed in a chat in an inn in September, 1784 in today’s
Berkeley Springs, WV but then Warm Springs, Va. – but it was in disguise. The war finally over, and with peace gently
reclaiming daily life, George Washington’s providential shmoozing in September, 1784
with an innkeeper in Berkeley Springs named James Rumsey, Washington went down to the river saw Rumsey’s
upstream paddle boat work. He was completely satisfied with the boat and “the ingenious
Mr. Rumsey” immediately seeing how this could make possible his dream. He thought:
There must be a way to unite my two worlds: the coastal ports, seamen and lenders with
the woodsmen and farmers on the frontier and all this by way of rivers and canals that
we WILL build. Rumsey as Washington’s choice to be the Potomac
Company’s supervisor and chief engineer, who was charged with blasting through rock on
the Potomac, endured a year of miniscule pay and monstrous un-do-ability – and quit. But the Potomac Company in a sense, succeeded
vastly by failing – showing unequivocally once and for all – that ONLY interstate
teamwork fed by federal funds could get big road and canal projects DONE. Now, Washington and Rumsey knew that the law
of the land – the Articles of Confederation – was a bigger obstacle than any boulder
in the Potomac to interstate river travel because it forbad a strong central government
that could plan, fund, and execute it more properly than a gaggle of dithering states. Ron Chernow, recipient of the Pulitzer Prize
for his biography of George Washington wrote: The plan to extend navigation of the Potomac influenced American history in ways that far
transcended the narrow matter of commercial navigation. It created a set of practical
problems that could be saved only by cooperation between Virginia and Maryland, setting a pattern
for a seminal interstate conference at Annapolis in September, 1786 and indeed, the Constitutional
Convention itself in 1787. Possessed by the need to reform Washington had kept driving home his idea of uniting
frontier and shore with – first – one meeting of a few people at Mount Vernon in the spring
of 1785, carrying over to another meeting – same issues and more at a bigger stage and
more actors in Annapolis, MD in September, 1786 – morphing again into the mother of
all meetings – with all the actors on the largest stage of all – the Constitutional
Convention in Philadelphia in the summer of 1787 to rewrite the worthless nation’s Articles
of Confederation. At Mount Vernon in 1785 they took a baby step
and showed Virginia and Maryland could create a framework for profitably sharing their rights
to their common waterways: the Potomac and Chesapeake More talk at Annapolis on easier trade between
citizens of different states, but turnout was low. So, On May 24th 1787, the eve of the Constitutional
Convention at Independence Hall in Philadelphia – call it – make or break time – there starkly
stood Need for a central gov’t that could forcibly tax the people to retire a huge war
debt, a need to regulate ALL interstate commerce, a need to be ONE voice before all the world
for all times in regulating foreign trade, and a need to kill OFF the one rule that all
thirteen states needed by law to explicitly OK any new power to the already hobbled central
government – even any amendment to the Articles. The articles were not a road to the future.
They were a tomb. Philadelphia – May 25, 1787 Fifty-five delegates from all but one state poured into town. It began with some quick sleight of hand by Pennsylvania’s early arriving delegates
that transformed the whole affair to be not just a tinkering of the Articles, as planned
but an expedition to blow them up and start over with something new. That glorious day – when the Constitution’s
skirt was decorated with the blood-oath signatures of the “YES” men – but for three. Our county’s history has made some big contributions to our country’s
history. This is special to our nation’s fortunes. This is one. Listen in — The proposed United
States Constitution is passed by a vote in Philadelphia in September, 1787 – PENDING
the approval of at least nine states in their own ratifying conventions. If Virginia, which
included us here, and being a state with one fifth of all the potential nation’s population
– were to vote “NO” What might have happened? We would have been descended into an enfeebled
anarchy and be exploited by powerful countries with vast holdings immediately to our west. Eight states had ratified the Constitution by June 1st 1788. They hoped the Virginia Convention would be the 9th to make the Constitution law. IT DID NOT LOOK GOOD. It didn’t look
good because George Mason of Virginia – a delegate-to-be at the Virginia Convention
– humiliated Washington at the Convention the year before and left refusing to sign
the final product. Mason had stormed out of the Philadelphia meeting the previous summer,
refusing to sign the result because a 9-0 and one abstention vote blocked his last-minute
motion to start a new committee to explore a Bill of Rights. All the delegates were exhausted
and had been trickling homeward already. Gouverneur Morris along with James Wilson from Pennsylvania
wrote the final version of the Constitution. and he was also a close friend of General
Washington. He turned to Mason and said sarcastically: “What a marvelous idea, we have been talking
about that for weeks!” But when Mason, while debating a measure to check the power of an
American president devilishly crowed before Washington: This Convention is “about to try
an experiment on which the most despotic Governments had never ventured – the Grand Signor himself
has his Divan.” Washington, from that day forth until Mason died – called this old wrecking
ball of a man: my “quondam (“erstwhile”) friend.” But what did not
fade away was a stream of vilely-worded hand bills about the delegates of the Constitutional
Convention going back to George Mason. With the Virginia Convention approaching, Washington’s
private secretary, Tobias Lear, wrote to John Langdon: Mr. Mason and Mr. Henry still continue
opposition with unabated violence. The opponents . . .here have changed their mode of attack
—- The are now endeavoring to deprecate the characters which composed the general
convention. . .Even Col. Mason has descended to this low method and has declared that the
Convention, generally speaking, was made of blockheads, from the northern, coxcombs from
the southern & office seekers from the middle states. It’s now June, 1788. Of Virginia’s
168 delegates who met at their convention in Richmond, sixteen of them were from the
part that is today’s West Virginia. Our guy – Adam Stephen who owned land in both today’s
Berkeley & Jefferson County, who, for many years was Washington’s executive officer and
later a general in the Revolution – was their spokesman and leader. Writes Historian Roy
Bird Cook: “In this small space, Stephen’s life can scarcely be touched upon. In the
story of this constitutional convention, he stands forth as the leader of the western
delegates.” On one side of the contest was the soft-spoken, walking encyclopedia – James
Madison, who was hard to hear – facing the two Bombasts – George Mason and Patrick
Henry. “The federal convention ought to have amended the old system; for this purpose they
were solely delegated; the object of their mission extended to no other consideration.
The distinction between a national government and a confederacy is not sufficiently discerned.
Had the delegates who were sent to Philadelphia a power to propose a consolidated government,
instead of a confederacy? Here is a resolution as radical as that which separated us from
Great Britain. It is radical in this transition; our rights and privileges are endangered,
and the sovereignty of the State will be relinquished: and cannot we plainly see that this is actually
the case? The rights of conscience, trial by jury, liberty of the press, all your immunities
and franchises, all pretensions to human rights and privileges, are rendered insecure, if
not lost, by this change, so loudly talked of by some, so inconsiderately by others.
A number of characters, of the greatest eminence in this country, object to this government
for its consolidating tendency. This is not imaginary. It is a formidable reality. If
consolidation proves to be as mischievous to this country as it has been to other countries,
what will the poor inhabitants of this country do? This government will operate like an ambuscade.
It will destroy the state governments, and swallow the liberties of the people, without
giving previous notice. If gentlemen are willing to run the hazard, let them run it; but I
shall exculpate myself by my opposition and monitory warnings within these walls.” At
one point, Henry goaded the ever-silent western men from over the mountains and Stephen was
silent no more: Henry means to frighten us by his bugbears of hobgoblins, his sale of
lands to pay taxes, Indian purchases, and other horrors, that I think I know as much
about as he does. He continued for a while: If the gentleman does not like this government,
let him go and live among the Indians. 1 know of several nations that live very happily;
and I can furnish him with a vocabulary of their language.
For three weeks, the debates raged – Patrick Henry hogging vast hours and sessions with
rhetoric that was generally free of earthbound factuality – but accurately nailing the
Constitution for its complete transference to the federal court the final review of all
cases “under the Constitution.” And the tough question remained: do we ratify first
with the express intention of creating the bill of rights next or not ratify the Constitution
until the bill of rights is all finished? The second alternative was a trap because
each state could have its own ideas of the bill of rights. For Patrick Henry just about
every comma in the Constitution was a conspiratorial dagger. At the Revolution, it must be admitted
that it was their sense to set down those great rights which ought, in all countries,
to he held inviolable and sacred. Virginia did so, we all remember. She made a compact
to reserve, expressly, certain rights. She most cautiously and guardedly reserved and
secured those invaluable, inestimable rights and privileges which no people, inspired with
the least glow of patriotic liberty, ever did, or ever can, abandon. She is called upon
now to abandon them, and dissolve that compact which secured them to her. Will she do it?
This is the question. If you intend to reserve your unalienable rights, you must have the
most express stipulation; for, if implication be allowed, you are ousted of those rights.
If the people do not think it necessary to reserve them, they will be supposed to be
given up. If you give up these powers, without a bill of rights, you will exhibit the most
absurd thing to mankind that ever the world saw, — a government that has abandoned all
its powers, — the powers of direct taxation, the sword, and the purse. You have disposed
of them to Congress, without a bill of rights, without check, limitation, or control. And
still you have checks and guards; still you keep barriers — pointed where? Pointed against
your weakened, prostrated, enervated, state government! You have a bill of rights to defend
you against the state government — which is bereaved of all power, and yet you have
none against Congress — though in full and exclusive possession of all power. You arm
yourselves against the weak and defenseless, and expose yourselves naked to the armed and
powerful. Is not this a conduct of unexampled absurdity? It’s coming down to the wire and
a final vote, Patrick Henry is volcanically railing for hours and even days against ratification.
Up jumps Stephen: Stephen argues: 1. Let the popularly-elected Congress – with
all states represented – develop the bill of rights after the constitution is ratified. 2. The federal system preserves states’
rights while providing strong central government. ‘I was sent hither to adopt the constitution
as it is, but such is my regard for my fellow citizens, that I would concur in amendment.
The gentlemen on the other side have adduced to reasons or proofs to convince us that the
amendments would become a part of the system before ratification. What reason have we to
suspect that persons who are chosen from among ourselves will not agree to the introduction
of such amendments as will be desired by the people at large? In all safe and free governments,
there ought to be a judicious mixture of three kinds. But the democratic kind preponderates
as it ought to do. The members of one branch are immediately chosen by the people and the
people also elect in a secondary degree the members of the other two. At present we have
no confederate government. It exists but in name. The honourable gentlemen asked where
is the genius of America? What else but that genius has stimulated the people to reform
that government, which woeful experience has proven to be totally inefficient. What has
produced the unison of sentiments in the states on this subject? I expected that filial duty
and affection would have impelled him to enquire for the genius of Virginia, -that genius which
formerly resisted British tyranny and in the language of manly intrepidity and fortitude
said to that nation-thus far and no farther shall you proceed. What has become of that
genius which spoke that magnanimous language-that genius that produced the Federal Convention?
Yonder she is in mournful attire, her hair dishevelled-distressed in grief and sorrow
– supplicating our assistance against gorgons, fiends, and hydras, which are ready to devour
her and carry desolution through out her country. She bewails the decay of trade and neglect
of agriculture-her farmers discouraged-her ship-carpenters, blacksmiths, and all other
tradesmen unemployed. She casts her eyes on these and deplores her inability to relieve
them. She sees her eyes on these and the profits of her commerce goes to foreign states. She
further bewails that all she can raise by taxation is inadequate to her necessities-She
sees religion die by her side, public faith, prostituted and private confidence lost between
man and man. Are the hearts of her citizens so deaf to compassion that they will not go
to her relief? If they are so infatuated that dire consequences may be easily forseen.-Expostulations
must be made for the defection of Virginia when Congress meets. They will enquire where
she has lately discovered so much wisdom-she that gave us an immense tract (Northwest Country)
to relieve the general distresses?-Wherein constitutes the superiority to her friends
of South Carolina and the respectable state of Massachusetts, who to prevent a dissolution
of the Confederacy, adopted the Constitution and proposed such amendments as they thought
necessary placing confidence in the other states, that they would accede them? WE ARE
a Wednesday, the final vote: 89 YES ratify 79 NO don’t ratify. Of the 16 votes from today’s West Virginia who Stephen spoke repeatedly and passionately
for – fifteen were “AYE,” one was “NAY.” Virginia became part of the United States. And the
nation was truly born, crucially because of Adam Stephen and fifteen of our West Virginia
brethren. Pretty nice. You all pumped up?. I love it. A marker marks where Adam Stephen
is buried today in his town, where he died in July 16, 1791. (What has become of that
genius which spoke that magnanimous language-that genius that produced the Federal Convention?
. . She sees religion die by her side, public faith, prostituted and private confidence
lost between man and man. Are the hearts of her citizens so deaf to compassion that they
will not go to her relief? Singing “And we’ll all go together to pluck wild mountain thyme”
all around the bloomin’ heather. Will ye go Lassie go?”)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *