“The Quartet”

I just finished reading “The Quartet” by Joseph Ellis and wanted to give a few thoughts. Overall I really liked the book — it was a short and sweet (220 pages w/o appendices and footnotes) dissertation on the origin and establishment of the United States Constitution, spanning most of the 1780s, but chiefly 1786-89. The quartet described by the title includes George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay. Had it been “the Quintet”, you could have thrown Gouverneur Morris in there, too, since he’s the guy who actually put pen to paper and wrote the finished document. “We the people of the United States of America” are his words (originally they wanted to list all the states, he decided on his own to use the country’s name since union was the object).

I underlined a number of passages but here is a favorite: “…the United States came into existence in an era ‘when the rights of mankind were better understood and more clearly defined, than at any former period.’ Immanual Kant had yet to coin the term Enlightenment to describe this chapter in Western history, but even without the convenient vocabulary, Washington clearly grasped the central idea: namely, that the American Revolution had happened at a truly providential moment. It occurred when a treasure trove of human knowledge about society and government had replaced the medieval assumptions — that ‘gloomy age of Ignorance and Superstition’ — and thereby provided Americans with an unprecedented opportunity to construct a society according to political principles that maximized the prospects for personal freedom and happiness more fully than ever before. In effect, European thinkers over the past century had drafted the blueprint for a new political architecture, which was now readily available for Americans to implement.”

This passage stood out to me because it puts forth the idea that, in a way, the Revolution was a foregone conclusion; it was only a matter of time before it would be demanded by the people, and whether the war took seven years or twenty, Britain was probably going to lose. How fortunate America was that this revolution was placed in the hands of incorruptible people like Washington and others, rather than despots, as took place in France the following decade. Also amazing that the Congress didn’t totally bungle the entire thing, though not for lack of trying. It was all a confluence of miraculous events, one after the other.

Before reading this book, and studying the period in general, I didn’t realize how very controversial the Constitution was when it was drafted. Some members of Congress even considered it “illegal” because it replaced the Articles of Confederation without explicit permission to do so. There was great resistance to nationhood; the states thought that after winning the war, they could go back to their disorganized and ineffective confederation. But Madison, who was a brilliant thinker if not a great orator, studied history and found that almost every other example of confederacy had been torn apart eventually by civil war or by foreign conquest. Long before the American Civil War, it was predicted by many as a very real possibility (and most knew the catalyst would be slavery). Without unity, the larger states would prey upon the smaller ones, and larger European countries with money and armies would eventually swoop in to snatch America’s considerable resources. The United States was burdened by massive war debt, no way to pay it off, and no international credit, or reputation. The country was on the brink of imploding, and wasting every effort made in the Revolution.

It was truly a miracle that the Constitution came together when it did, and so quickly, and by such intelligent people, with such obstacles in the way. Political parties did not yet exist (but they would very, very soon), which is one of the many reasons the convention will never again be replicated.

Tripolitan Wars

Sorry, it’s been a week, I know. Alas.

Last night I was watching Antiques Roadshow, like ya do, and one of the items featured was this rifle, which was a gift presented to Commodore Thomas Macdonough after he took part in the burning of the USS Philadelphia in 1804 after its capture by Tripoli (they decided it was better to destroy the frigate than to let the enemy have it). I perked up immediately because I literally just read a couple chapters in a book about this very event.

Glory in my nerdery!

Salty

This morning the women’s group I am a part of held an activity that was part self-care and part caring for friends. We put together jars of epsom salts with essential oils and some botanicals. It was pretty easy, and I never take a bath without epsom salts, so I am looking forward to trying mine. The other two are going to friends. I hope giving away bath salts doesn’t send the message “you could use a bath.” Lol.

At the end of the activity we read a few interesting quotations having to do with the theme. This is the one that spoke to me:

What if no one is coming to discover your hidden talents, to acknowledge your untapped potential, to heal you, to save you from yourself? What if the saviour was always supposed to be you? What if that’s why it hasn’t worked out with anyone else?― Vironika Tugaleva

Yesssssssss

Later, I “somehow” ended up at another wine tasting at the fancy grocery store, and verily enjoyed the amazing label on this California chardonnay.

I also enjoyed the wine inside, so I brought one home with me.

Finally!

“What is the Battle of Brandywine!!!!!” – me watching Jeopardy! last night, as all my reading and nerding out finally pays off in the form of sweet imaginary cash prizes ($2000).

Leeward Isles

Here is something I learned last night while reading Six Frigates: The first real naval battle fought by a United States frigate was engaged off the coast of the tiny island of Nevis, which happens to be Alexander Hamilton’s birthplace, who just happens to be the person who strongly advocated the creation of a Navy in the Unites States.

IT’S THE THE CIRCLE OF LIFE AMERICAN MILITARY HISTORY

“Ham”

My friend forwarded this to me because she gets me.

Morning

I started reading a novel for my book club yesterday and already noticed no fewer than three errors that could have been easily corrected by a copy editor or proofreader. In a printed, bound book. What is this world coming to?

Of course, my habitual spotting of errors in print is more of a sickness on my part.

I just dragged the trash can to the street and was intoxicated by the fresh, wild smell of the cold air around me. The light outside is a sedate blue-gray, the sky concealed by formless sheets of clouds, the trees standing still and dark against it. I wished I could stay out there longer and breathe, but coffee awaited me.

Oh then I checked the weather and apparently this glorious air is today infused with high levels of tree pollen. Spring!

Artifacts

A small sample of the treasures I keep in a bin in the closet.

I am forever grateful that I lived during a time when writing letters was a normal, near-daily activity. Long distance phone calls were far, far more expensive than stamps. So we sent mail. I got to participate in a ritual that was similar to that of the people I’m reading about, who lived hundreds of years ago. It is now all but extinct. But this should give you an idea of the joy they still bring me.

I am also grateful I didn’t throw them away. They are curiosities now, and sadly, I do not recognize some of the names anymore. Yet I love them just the same.

Those PO boxes haven’t belonged to me in years; you won’t find me there.

Did you know

One of my favorite things about artist Charles Willson Peale is that he named his sons Rembrandt, Raphaelle, Rubens, and Titian. That takes guts.

He also painted this 18th c. portrait of … Hamilton?

Yeah I’m not sure who that is.

Especially charming

If ever you wanted to read the Historic Furnishings Report or the Historic Structure Report for the Hamilton Grange National Monument, please, feel free to download the linked giant PDFs. I’m warning you that they are scans of copies that were produced over thirty years ago, so.

But there is some interesting info. Did you know Hamilton spent $103 on a mirror? I mean that is a LOT of money in 1800. Make what you will of that. Perhaps explains a bit of his incredibly ironic debt problems.

You may also enjoy this inventory of a collection that was owned by a woman who parceled it out for sale back to the Grange (I think) in the 1920s. I think the price for that lock of hair may have been $250. It sold at auction earlier this year for $37,500.

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