Posts Tagged ‘Articles of Confederation’

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On today’s bike ride I stopped by to see the United States Constitution at the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration Building. I chose to do so because it was on this day in 1789 that an American government under the Constitution initially began when the first session of Congress was held in New York City.

It was three years earlier, in 1786, that shortcomings in the Articles of Confederation became apparent, such as the lack of central authority over foreign and domestic commerce and the inability of Congress to levy taxes. This led Congress to endorse a plan to draft a new governing document.  In September of the following year, at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, the new U.S. Constitution was approved by 38 of 41 delegates to the convention, creating a Federal government with an intricate system of checks and balances.

However, the new document would not become binding until it was ratified by nine of the 13 existing states. So it was sent to the state legislatures for ratification.  Five states – Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, and Connecticut – quickly ratified it. However, other states opposed the document for its failure to reserve powers not delegated by the Constitution to the states and its lack of constitutional protection for such basic political rights as freedom of speech, religion and the press, and the right to bear arms.

The following February, a compromise was reached in which the other states agreed to ratify the document with the assurance that amendments would immediately be adopted. The Constitution was thus narrowly ratified by Massachusetts, Maryland, South Carolina, and New Hampshire, giving it the number needed for adoption, and government under the U.S. Constitution was scheduled to begin on March 4, 1789.

However,  for that first session of congress, of the 22 senators and 59 representatives called to represent the 11 states who had ratified the Constitution, only nine senators and 13 representatives showed up.   So I guess the today’s work ethic in Congress is really nothing new.

(Note:  They wouldn’t let me bring my bike into the National Archives to take a photo next to the Constitution.  In fact, they don’t allow any photography at all, which is why the photo I quickly took when no one was looking is not very good.)

Statue of Doctor John Witherspoon

Statue of Doctor John Witherspoon

On today’s anniversary of his death in 1794, I chose the Statue of Doctor John Witherspoon at the intersections of Connecticut Avenue, N Street and 18th Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s DuPont Circle neighborhood as the destination for this bike ride. The bronze sculpture by William Couper is part of a group of fourteen statues in D.C. known collectively as the “American Revolution Statuary.” They are listed together as a group on the National Register of Historic Places, and are scattered across the city, mainly in squares and traffic circles.

John Knox Witherspoon was born in February of 1723 at Gifford, a parish of Yester, at East Lothian, Scotland. He was a Scots Presbyterian minister before he and his family emigrated to New Jersey in 1768 in order to become President and head professor of the small Presbyterian College of New Jersey, which would eventually become Princeton University.

As a native Scotsman who was long wary of the power British Crown, Witherspoon came to support the Revolution in his new country. He was then elected in June of 1776 to the Continental Congress as part of the New Jersey delegation, and appointed Congressional Chaplain. He voted to adopt the Virginia Resolution for Independence, which was finally approved on July 2, 1776. The text of the document formally announcing this action, the United States Declaration of Independence, was approved two days later, to which Witherspoon was a signatory, and the only college president to sign it.

Witherspoon went on to serve in Congress until November 1782, and became one of its most influential members. He served on over 100 committees, spoke often in debate; helped draft the Articles of Confederation, and played a major role in shaping foreign policy. He also helped organize the Federal government’s executive departments.  He later served twice in the New Jersey Legislature, and strongly supported the adoption of the United States Constitution during the New Jersey ratification debates.

Actress Reese Witherspoon has claimed to be a direct descendant of John Witherspoon. However, it has been noted by the Society of the Descendants of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence that her claim has yet to be verified.

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The U.S. Postal Service Headquarters

On this day I rode to the U.S. Postal Service Headquarters because on this day in 1792, President George Washington signed legislation creating the U.S. Postal Service. The USPS headquarters building is located in southwest D.C., at 475 L’Enfant Plaza (MAP).

In 1707, the British government established the position of Postmaster General to better coordinate postal service in the colonies. In 1737, a 31-year-old American colonist named Benjamin Franklin took over as Postmaster General. He was later fired for subversive acts on behalf of the rebellious colonies in 1774. Franklin then returned to America and helped create a rival postal system for the emerging nation. The next year he was reappointed postmaster general by himself and other Continental Congress members.

Although the Articles of Confederation written in 1781 authorized Congress to establish and regulate post offices from one State to another, the formation of an official U.S. Postal Service remained a work in progress until February 20, 1792, when President Washington formally created the U.S. Postal Service with the signing of the Postal Service Act. The act outlined in detail Congressional power to establish official mail routes. The act also made it illegal for postal officials to open anyone’s mail. In 1792, a young American nation of approximately 4 million people enjoyed federally funded postal services. The cost of sending a letter ranged from 6 cents to 12 cents. Under Washington, the Postal Service administration was headquartered in Philadelphia. Later, in 1800, it followed other federal agencies to the nation’s new capital in Washington, D.C.

The Postal Service was transformed from a Federal agency into a corporation run by a board of governors in 1971 following passage of the Postal Reorganization Act. Today, the modern USPS sorts and delivers more than 700 million pieces of mail each day, except Sunday. It has the nation’s largest retail network, which is larger than McDonald’s, Starbucks and Wal-Mart in this country, combined. It is the nation’s 2nd largest civilian employer, with more than 211,000 employees. It has the world’s largest civilian fleet of vehicles, with approximately 212,000 cars and truck, at last count. The Postal Service also moves and delivers mail using planes, trains, boats, ferries, helicopters, subways, float planes, hovercraft, mule, and by foot. There are even some routes in the country where the mail travels by bicycle.

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