The Declaration and The Constitution

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Shell Point Program Details Founding Documents

 “Forget 1776,” says Professor Adrian Kerr of Florida Southwestern State College to roughly 50 people in the Life Enrichment Series at the Shell Point Senior Center on Tuesday afternoon, June 27.

“The founding of the United States began in 1154!” Professor Kerr uses this date to begin his examination of The Declaration of Independence and US Constitution.

“We took a blank piece of paper – did we do it right or screw it up – you decide!” Making his presentation particularly effective is Professor Kerr’s thick British accent, though he admits upfront he is now an American citizen.

Professor Kerr reminded the audience that the colonies were British, vastly populated by English citizens, the overwhelming majority of who had little desire for independence until just a few years prior to 1776, so the basis of our freedoms lay in British history and law. “King Henry II reigned forever, from 1154 to 1189, but he was touchy and grumpy, and did not deal well with messes,” he explained. “English barons were unhappy, and this did not improve under the successive kings, Richard Lionheart and John. This ultimately led to the 1st Baron’s Revolt that produced the Magna Carta in June 1215, to guarantee Habeas Corpus, lower the Crown’s ability to raise taxes, and produced other issues to limit the Monarchy. King John repealed it a year later, but the genie was out of the bottle, as the Magna Carta was the beginning of the eventual US Constitution, more than 200 years before the discovery of the New World.”

British colonies in North America began in 1606 with the Virginia Charter, but they still were the King’s land, so settlers continued to pay the throne and were under English law. The colonies rapidly expanded to the Mississippi River in 1763, with the conclusion of the French & Indian War, but this was a massive expenditure, requiring taxes from the colonies that were extremely unpopular. “A cool, calm, and mature king might have tiptoed through this minefield,” explained Professor Kerr; “unfortunately King George was in power, and he never passed ‘How to Rule 101,’ even going bonkers for a time!”

To gain revenue, Britain implemented The Stamp Act, meaning all documents needed a government stamp, causing James Otis to proclaim immortally: “No Taxation Without Representation!” The Sons of Liberty popped up, leading to revolts, especially in New England, causing the British to repeal it one year later.

The ‘Red Bull’ of Its Day

“Britain, however, did not learn its lesson,” explained Professor Kerr, “implementing the Quartering Act in 1765 and the Revenue Tax on tea, the ‘Red Bull’ of its day and favorite drink of colonists, in 1767, leading the British to station 4,000 troops in Boston. To make matters worse, the soldiers were mostly Catholic while the colonists mostly Protestant; a recipe for disaster that ultimately led to the Boston Massacre in 1769. Surprisingly, however, with this powder keg in place, relatively little happened the next three years, until the Boston Tea Party in 1773 that led to the Intolerable Act in April 1774 to punish Boston. Suddenly here came the independence group, with Patrick Henry uttering the equally immortal: ‘Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death!’”

From May 1775 to July 1776, the action shifted to Independence Hall in Philadelphia, with Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson joining the movement, and George Washington taking over the Continental Army. “The Battle of Bunker Hill led to deaths on each side, leading King George to prohibit trade with the colonies and ending any possibility of peace,” the professor relates. “In June 1776, the Constitutional Congress charged a committee to author a Declaration of Independence, with Jefferson taking the lead. Delegates signed it on July 4, leading John Hancock to say, ‘we must now all hang together,’ with Franklin brilliantly quipping, ‘or we will assuredly all hang separately!’”

With independence, however, the New England states refused to pay taxes, “meaning the infant federal government had no troops and very little power to control anything,” said Professor Kerr. “Many Americans felt the nation needed something stronger, with this opinion growing over the next decade, leading to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia from May through September 1787 that produced a compromise between the federal and state governments that guaranteed citizens inalienable rights.”

The states offered 189 amendments that eventually whittled down to 10 that became The Bill of Rights, including free speech, the right to bear arms, and the prevention of illegal search and seizures, with the states ratifying the United States Constitution from 1788 to 1790. “Since then, the nation only added 17 amendments, with the last granting 18-year-olds the vote in 1971. The Founding Fathers deserve a round of applause for putting this together,” concluded Professor Kerr!

Coming Attractions

For those who cringe at the thought of sitting through a 90-minute history lecture, recalling your monotone high school civics teacher who lulled you to sleep, fear not! If his captivating British voice does not draw you in, his outgoing and hilarious sense of humor combined with interesting subject matter will – Professor Kerr is fantastic!

The Life Enrichment Series continues in July, with Professor Kerr returning for a two-part program on “The Glories of Thailand and Bangkok” on Tuesdays, July 18 & 25, from their prehistory through today’s politics. The classes are $10 each, with reservations at 239-489-8472. July 18 features “The Miami Music Festival Performance” with some of the most talented young singers from top American conservatories and music schools at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $25 with reservations at 239-454-2067. Award-winning author Robert Macomber discusses two famous Confederate generals who helped to bring America back together 33 years after the end of the Civil War with “Confederate Generals in Blue: 33 Years Later” on Thursday, July 25, at 10:15 a.m. Tickets are $10 with reservations at 239-489-8472.

The Shell Point Retirement Community is 2 miles before the Sanibel Causeway; for more details see www.shellpoint.org/events.

 

Gary Mooney