Before embarking on a series of articles on American Presidents, I
thought it would be useful and important to give the young reader a
sense of how much care and dedication to law were behind the actions of
the framers of our American republic.
The long, difficult process actually began on September 5, 1774, when
delegates from the colonies, the First Continental Congress, met in
Philadelphia to draw up a Declaration of Rights and Resolves, in an
effort to get the British government to grant these basic rights to
which all British subjects were entitled.
However, on April 19, 1775, British forces, in an effort to disarm the
colonists, killed eight Minute Men at Lexington, Massachusetts, thus
galvanizing colonial resistance to British rule. By the time the Second
Continental Congress met at Philadelphia on May 10, 1775, the delegates
were committed to common action. They created a Continental Army of
20,000 troops, under the command of George Washington, chosen
unanimously by the delegates.
The Congress then set a course of military action. When they learned on
November 9th that George III refused the Olive Branch Petition and was
sending an army to crush them, there was no turning back.
Thus began the War for Independence. On July 4, 1776, the delegates of
the Continental Congress signed the Declaration of Independence, which
gave the reasons for the colonies’ separation from Britain and
spelled out a new philosophy of government based on unalienable rights
derived from God, not from a king.
On November 15, 1777, the Articles of Confederation were passed by
Congress and presented to the states for ratification. Meanwhile, a
terrible bloody war was waged for the next four years until October 19,
1781, when the Americans, helped by their French allies, were able to
force British General Cornwallis to surrender at Yorktown. But it
wasn’t until April 11, 1783, that Congress was able to proclaim
the end of hostilities.
On September 3, 1783, the warring parties signed the Treaty of Paris,
thus ending the conflict, with Britain recognizing the independent
United States. The Treaty was ratified by Congress on January 14, 1784.
Washington had resigned his commission a month earlier and retired to
Under the Articles of Confederation, the new republic was unable to
effectively govern the country, and so on February 21, 1787, Congress
adopted a resolution calling for a Constitutional Convention to meet on
May 14 in Philadelphia. Deliberations began on May 25, when enough
delegates from seven states met and created a quorum. Washington was
chosen as Chairmen.
The delegates spent the long hot summer crafting the new Constitution,
which involved much give and take, creating a Bicameral Legislature, an
Executive Branch or Presidency, and a Judicial System. By September 17,
1787, the work was completed and 39 delegates from the twelve attending
states voted to approve the new Constitution. (Rhode Island refused to
attend.) It required the ratification of nine states before the new form
of government could be implemented.
On June 21, 1788, New Hampshire was the ninth state to ratify the
Constitution, thus making it the law of the land. But both Virginia and
New York had reservations about the new basic law. They obtained a
promise from the Congress that a Bill of Rights would be added to the
Constitution. The ratifying votes were close: Virginia, 87 to 79. New
York, 30 to 27.
On July 2, 1788, Congress declared the Constitution of the United States
to be in effect and issued instructions for choosing members of the
first bicameral Congress and electors for the first President. In
September, New York City was declared the temporary capital of the
United States, and on November 1, 1788, the central government of the
United States under the Articles of Confederation ceased to exist.
On January 7, 1789, electors were chosen for the first Presidential
election in our history, and on February 4, 1789, the electors cast 69
votes for Washington, and 34 for John Adams, who became Vice President.
This method of choosing a Vice President was changed by the 12th
amendment in 1804.
On April 30, 1789, George Washington was inaugurated as the first
President of the United States. His cabinet included Alexander Hamilton,
Secretary of the Treasury; Gen. Henry Knox, Secretary of War; Edmund
Randolph, Attorney General; and Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of State.
Thus began the First Administration.
On September 25, 1789, Congress submitted twelve amendments, including
the Bill of Rights, to the states for ratification. From then on, the
new representative republic was off and running. In the articles to
follow, we shall learn how well the new system worked and how each new
President left his mark on the process.
Education expert Sam Blumenfeld’s Alpha-Phonics reading
program is available on www.samblumenfeld.net. His latest book, The
Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection, is about the Shakespeare authorship