Welcome back to our ongoing series. I’m reading Blood of Tyrants and I would love it if you would join me and add to the comments below. This week I read Chapters 4 – 6. You can check out the schedule here. I’m reading the book with a group of around 40 others on the goodreads group history book club. You can join the conversation there as well.
Chapter 4: The Phoenix
Chapter 4 starts out the same as previous chapters, noting Washington as a “superstar…known to elicit shrieks from young women–puritanical norms be damned!” This chapter then goes into discussing and describing the members of invited to the Constitutional Convention. They were “…chosen representatives from among America’s top political leaders to attend this convention for the purpose of fixing the nation’s government.” Emphasis mine. Fixing the nations government. Thats no small deed! They gathered at the “…Pennsylvania State House. This two-story hall was already historic: it was colloquially called “Independence Hall: because the Declaration of Independence had been signed there eleven years earlier.”
Going on this the description of those assembled Beirne describes Ben Franklin, as “…the second most famous American…” in attendance at the convention. But he dives a little deeper here and I learned something I didn’t know before, “he had to be carried to the hall from his near by home.” I can see why this wasn’t included in some histories and the man was adored in his present time and by current day historians. No one wants to embarrass him. I knew he was large and loved food and drink, but I didn’t know it was so bad that people had to carry him to work. Beirne goes on to say most of the group were “well-fed”, “portly” and just “overweight.”
Beirne goes on to describe the sad state of attendance. Turns out that it took weeks for everyone to get there and they weren’t sure they would get quorum. They finally got 55% of those invited. Some were very young like Jonathan Dayton at only 26 and Hamilton himself was only 30. Those with the wisdom of years, like Hamilton were still only 36. And while he may have had wisdom he didn’t have height, at 5 foot and 120 pounds.
Hamilton was smart, but so were most of the people there. I mean really educated and thats impressive at this time. 60% of these guys had attended college, and not some Podunk place either, they were alumni from Yale, Harvard, Princeton and Columbia.
Chapter 5: Wield the Sword
“From the start of the…Convention, Washington was…already the de facto leader of the country.” Again, strong words of worship from our fellow Americans. And again Beirne starts out a chapter with reverence and then follows it up by bringing Washington down a peg: “He had begun losing his teeth in his twenties and they were almost gone now.” Again, making Washington a real person. He does this again by letting us know that he didn’t eat the best. His teeth were falling apart “…due to nutrition and dental hygiene typical of the time.” In addition to poor hygiene he also ingested Mercury Chloride when he was a child. It’s also called Calomel. It was a popular remedy used in America throughout the 18th century.
Another way Washington was like us common folk: he was cheap. He had teeth made from hippopotamus ivory which was common for a man of his statue, but he didn’t ear them, instead he wore teeth used from salves. This was probably because they were cheaper than the ones from white men.
Double Dog Dare You
Hamilton dared a fellow delegate to slap Washington on the back and say, “My dear General, how happy I am to see you look well.” It didn’t go well. Washington was offended and pulled the man’s hand away. A long uncomfortable silence ensued.
Even though working in the hot summer with the windows and doors closed, for privacy, was had on the delegates, they did manage to have some fun. As mentioned earlier, they were quite fat and did enjoy their food. The drank “…plenty of rum, wine, ale and hard cider…” However, Washington abstained believing that alcohol was the
“source of all evil.”
This chapter rounds out by letting us know that the delegates had finally come to the conclusion that the Articles of Confederation were too far gone to save and they would have to be scrapped. And reminds us that everyone was still looking to Washington as (read with the voice of the “Most Interesting Man in the World” voice) “the greatest man in the world.”
Chapter 6: Supreme Law of the Land
This is a very short chapter at only 2.5 pages long. It wraps things up nicely before we enter Part II of the book “Cruel and Usual Punishment”. Basically, the idea here is that no one likes the idea of having a “president” almost king really, but if its Washington that would be okay. They define that “the president shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States.” clap their hands together and bob’s your uncle.
And thats it thats what the president does, which oddly enough are “…the same powers that General Washington had exercised in the war…” Nice and tidy then right? One delegate did warn that “The executive will have great opportunities of abusing power…” But this was Washington we’re talking about, the man can do no wrong. Problem solved, concern addressed.
“Surely, lesser men would eventually occupy the office”,
but all they would have to do is follow Washington’s example and we’re all good.
So without further ado, they wrote up the new Constitution on some lamb skin and the 39 remaining delegates signed it on September 17, 1787. Not everyone was happy with this final document even Washington, but while not perfect its still the best in the world as Washington said. Lastly, as I’ve tried to make clear above “the founding generation ratified …[the commander and chief] …clause with a specific person in mind. No pressure George!