The Conventional Debate

Dr. William Smith
William Smith. By: Gilbert Stuart. 1801-02.

In Pennsylvania, extraordinary events were transpiring that would shape how people expressed their will. William Smith (“Cato”) and a group of individuals, led by James Cannon (“Cassandra”) in 1776, debated the issue of how institutions should reflect the people’s will, given the Radical Political Experiment unfolding in Pennsylvania.

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Unalterable Constitutions

independence_hall_in_philadelphia_by_ferdinand_richardt_1858-63
Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. By: Ferdinand Richardt.

As the constitutions of the states were implemented and executed during the Revolutionary years, the population began holding conventions for amendment of those constitutions, believing that “Legislatures were incompetent” to do so. Gordon Wood, The Creation of the American Republic: 1776-1787, 306 quoting Farrand, ed., Records of the Federal Convention, II, 91-93. In fact, James Madison believed that “it would be a novel and dangerous doctrine that a Legislature could change the constitution under which it held its existence.” Id.

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Shaping the Contours of the Revolution

john_singleton_copley_-_the_copley_family_-_google_art_project
The Copley Family. By: John Singleton Copley, one of the most prominent early American painters of middle-class, ordinary life.

The political discourse in the years of the American Revolution parallels with the discourse of today. Just as commentators and analysts opine about trends in society, pamphleteers did the same in the Revolutionary years.

For example, pamphleteers believed that American society during the American Revolution was unique, as there was a perception that “wealth does not obtain the same degree of influence here, which it does in old countries.” John F. Roche, Joseph Reed: A Moderate in the American Revolution (N.Y. 1957), 187.

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