seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Adoption of the Articles of Confederation

articles-of-confederationThe Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, the first written constitution of the United States is adopted by the Second Continental Congress on November 15, 1777. A number of the members of the Congress hail from Ireland including Secretary of the Congress Charles Thomson who is born in Maghera, County Derry in 1729. Thomson is the permanent Secretary of the Continental Congress for more than fifteen years. At least three signatories to the Declaration of Independence are Irish – James Smith, George Taylor, and Matthew Thornton.

The Articles of Confederation is approved, after much debate between July 1776 and November 1777, by the Second Continental Congress and sent to the states for ratification. The Articles come into force on March 1, 1781, after being ratified by all thirteen states. A guiding principle of the Articles is to preserve the independence and sovereignty of the states. The weak central government established by the Articles receives only those powers which the former colonies had recognized as belonging to king and parliament.

The document provides clearly written rules for how the states’ “league of friendship” are to be organized. During the ratification process, the Congress looks to the Articles for guidance as it conducts business, directs the war effort, conducts diplomacy with foreign nations, addresses territorial issues and deals with Native American relations. Little changes politically once the Articles of Confederation go into effect, as ratification does little more than legalize what the Continental Congress had already been doing. That body is renamed the Congress of the Confederation however most Americans continue to call it the Continental Congress, since its organization remains the same.

As the Confederation Congress attempts to govern the continually growing American states, delegates discover that the limitations placed upon the central government render it ineffective at doing so. As the government’s weaknesses become apparent, especially after Shays’ Rebellion, some prominent political thinkers in the fledgling nation begin asking for changes to the Articles. Their hope is to create a stronger national government.

Initially, some states meet to deal with their trade and economic problems. However, as more states become interested in meeting to change the Articles, a meeting is set in Philadelphia on May 25, 1787. This becomes the Constitutional Convention. It is quickly agreed that changes will not work, and instead the entire Articles needs to be replaced. On March 4, 1789, the government under the Articles is replaced with the federal government under the Constitution of the United States. The new Constitution provides for a much stronger federal government by establishing a chief executive (the President), courts, and taxing powers.


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Death of William Paterson, U.S. Senator & New Jersey Governor

william-patersonWilliam Paterson, Irish-born American jurist, one of the framers of the Constitution of the United States, United States senator (1789–90), and governor of New Jersey (1790–93), dies in Albany, New York on September 9, 1806. He also serves as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from 1793 to 1806.

Paterson is born on December 24, 1745 in County Antrim, to Richard Paterson, an Ulster Protestant. He immigrates with his parents to New Castle, Pennsylvania in 1747, eventually settling in Princeton, New Jersey. At the age of 14, he begins college at the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University), graduating in 1763. After graduating, he studies law with the prominent lawyer Richard Stockton and is admitted to the bar in 1768. He also stays connected to his alma mater and helps found the Cliosophic Society with Aaron Burr.

Paterson serves twice in the Provincial Congress of New Jersey (1775–76), is a delegate to the state constitutional convention (1776), and from 1776 to 1783 is attorney general of New Jersey.

In 1787 Paterson heads the New Jersey delegation to the federal Constitutional Convention, where he plays a leading role in the opposition of the small states to representation according to population in the federal legislature. As an alternative to James Madison‘s large-state Virginia Plan, he submits the small-state New Jersey Plan, also called the Paterson Plan, which advocates an equal vote for all states. The issue is finally resolved with the compromise embodied in the bicameral Congress —representation by population in the House of Representatives, and equality of states in the Senate.

Paterson is instrumental in securing ratification of the final document in New Jersey and is elected one of the state’s first two U.S. senators. He resigns his seat in 1790 and serves as governor of New Jersey until 1793, when he is named an associate justice of the United States Supreme Court.

On September 9, 1806, Paterson, aged 60, dies from the lingering effects of a coach accident suffered in 1803 while on circuit court duty in New Jersey. He is on his way to the spa at Ballston Spa, New York, to “take the waters”, when he dies at the Manor of Rensselaerswyck home of his daughter, Cornelia, and son-in-law, Stephen Van RensselaerStephen Van Rensselaer, in Albany, New York. He is laid to rest in the Van Renssalaer family vault. When the city acquires the property, his remains are relocated to Albany Rural Cemetery in Albany County, New York. Also buried there are Associate Justice Rufus W. Peckham and President Chester A. Arthur.

The city of Paterson, New Jersey and William Paterson University are named for William Paterson.

(Pictured: Portrait of William Paterson (1745–1806) when he was a Supreme Court Justice (1793–1806). This image is from a copy by C. Gregory Stapoko(1913-2006) of the original by James Sharples(1751-1811))