By Jeff Salter
I’m delighted to have as my Guest Fox today, the talented author J. Gunnar Grey. It’s difficult to remember exactly when (or over what topic) I first encountered Gunnar, because so many of my wonderful colleagues at Astraea Press have been so considerate to me. So let’s just say I met her on the Facebook group which includes all those participating A.P. authors. We have a LOT of fun over there, folks. And no topic is off-limits!
But I DO recall that her WW2 novel, Deal With the Devil, was among the very first books I read by any of my A.P. colleagues. And that story is terrific.
Anyway, this autumn, I’m catching up on my Guest Foxes — since I had neglected (for many months this year) this very enjoyable aspect of blogging.
It will soon be obvious why I selected a historian for this guest appearance.
Witnessing a Significant Historical Event
By J. Gunnar Grey
August 1787 — The Constitutional Convention
Every window in the Pennsylvania State House Assembly Room stood open, and still the summer heat must have beaten down upon the delegates. Artists’ renditions all show the men as being formally dressed, with powdered wigs arranged just so, cravats tied, breeches buckled, and tailcoats buttoned. Personally, I find this difficult to believe. Are they seriously suggesting that, during the height of summer and the ferocious heat of disagreement and debate, nobody even loosened a tie? All I can say is, if that’s true, then the Founding Fathers who attended the Constitutional Convention and drafted the governing document that formed America, really must have been beings on a totally different plane from the average Joe or Jane. Including me.
The debates were fierce because the Convention’s delegates knew the survival of the nation they’d fought for, that their friends and family members and neighbors had died for, was at stake. The Articles of Confederation had proven too weak, unable to contain the boisterous states. An economic crisis had paralyzed the federal government, squeezed credit dry, made hard currency scarce, and necessitated austerity measures for several states, intended to bring ballooning deficits under control. (Any of this sound familiar?)
Clearly the previous grand plan wasn’t working. It was time to try again.
Wish I’d Seen
There are so many events in history I wish I’d seen. But the Convention, and the rebirth of the United States it created, hold a central place within my soul, not least because so many of the arguments held during that long, hot summer in 1787 remain applicable today. In some ways the election this coming November will be a mere continuation of those Philadelphia debates, because it pits a proponent of a large, powerful federal government against a proponent of a smaller, more nimble government that seeks to delegate certain rights and responsibilities to the states — one more way in which history repeats herself.
And yet — and yet my favorite exchange from the Constitutional Convention is a minor one.
Many early Americans had an inbred distrust of a standing (permanent) army. In an attempt to contain costs, limit the threat that a strong federal government posed to individual liberty, and continue the tradition of the citizen-soldier in preference to a professional one, George Mason of Virginia suggested that only a few small garrisons should be allowed under the Constitution. Several other delegates agreed, and Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts suggested five thousand men should be sufficient.
Some historians have attributed the next words to George Washington himself, the unanimously-elected president of the Convention. Others claim it was Charles Cotesworth Pinckney of South Carolina. But everyone agrees the idea behind the words could only have arisen from the general who’d commanded the Continental Army:
He said he would have no objection to such a clause, so long as it was amended to ensure no enemy presumed to invade with an army of more than three thousand.
Cheers for the general. And for our modern-day soldiers.
J. Gunnar Grey writes books. She’s a historian, political junkie, target shooter, and retired adventurer and equestrian, as well as a voracious reader. Occasionally her poor husband surfaces from beneath a pile of paperbacks, gasping for air… but he’s learned to be such a good sport about it.
Captain Kelly Bonham agreed to adopt a war dog, but Pojo’s not what she expected. This German Shepherd isn’t interested in rolling over for a tummy rub; he’s a working dog, a retired bomb sniffer who saw his handler cut in half by a landmine in Afghanistan. That’s serious trauma, and Bonnie wonders if his canine brain is still fully functional.
Now she’s shaking it down with a dog who has more teeth than the law allows. A dog whose behavior is puzzling, threatening, maybe even unhinged.
Can she rescue this war dog … or will he rescue her?
You’ve just had a peek at the Constitutional Convention. Now, which historical event would YOU most want to witness?
Being directly descended from one of the founders of this country whom by the by also signed his name to the Declaration of Independence thereby making not only him but all members of his family traitors in the eyes of the British but for a brief time President of these United States I find it completely plausible the gentlemen at the First Constitutional Convention would have been attired as was acceptable in that time in our history.
Thomas McKean during his career not only as a patriot but as a leading force in the Continental Conventions, both the first and second. During his long tenure as Chief Justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court he set down or assisted in laying down ground works in jurisprudence that also flowed over into the Congress of the United States that still exist to this day.
wow, that’s quite a lineage, Lindsay. Thanks for commenting today.
Wow- this was fascinating!!
There is a YA author from a while back named Jean Fritz who wrote historical fiction. I found her books fascinating and used them all the time in my classroom. I find I have the same feeling reading your article today as I did back then- I want to know more!! I loved reading about your account of that crucial time in our history.
Your book sounds terrific and I’m off to buy it today. I believe it will make wonderful Christmas gifts for the dog lovers in my life.
If I could have been a fly on the wall during an event in our past, it would have been at the meeting that decided to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
good morning, Stacey … very glad to see you here again.
Yeah, those meetings about some of the HUGE events of WW2 would have been amazing === imagine the STRESS involved.
Hi, Stacey, pleasure meeting you. Wow, President Truman’s first briefing on the Manhattan Project, and his subsequent decision, was another of those white-knuckle moments in history, wasn’t it? Problem was, there was no good or easy answer. No matter how he decided, millions of people were going to die, either through a direct military invasion of Japan, continued air raids, or dropping the bomb. I’d love to have witnessed that discussion, too. Can you picture the dawning horror on Truman’s face as he realized the horror of his decision?
Thanks so much for your kind words. And Jean Fritz’s books look great. Might have to take a tour through her backlist…
Good morning, folks, I’m traveling today, so I just have time to zoom in & say hello. Then I’m back on the road. Gunnar will be in & out, however, so nobody should get too lonely.
Hope you’re having a wonderful trip, Jeff.
Just got home a few mins. ago.
Getting a late start here,Jeff.
Gunnar…I admit to having to shift gears,as you are the first female Gunnar I have ever met…Interesting!(Because of mine,I am sort of a ‘name collector’).
Have you read,”Founding Mothers” by Cokie Roberts? I got so much out of that one;you seem to really ‘know your stuff’!
Welcome and do drop back in;I’m up tomorrow.
Hi, Tonette, pleasure meeting you. Love your name. And you’ve mentioned one of those books that I feel the need to re-read every year or so, rather like sitting down with an old friend for a good, long chat. Our Founding Mothers’ influence may not have been as direct as that of the Fathers, but it was every bit as important and lasting, wasn’t it?
Yes, Tonette, I was traveling. Very short get-away for our 42nd anniv.
Well, folks, It’s 6 p.m. eastern and I’m home — slightly earlier than I’d figured. Now I’m checking my list and taking names … for all my correspondents who haven’t shown up yet to read Gunnar’s column today. Better hurry, folks! Only about 7 hours left.
Well, congrats, Jeff! WOW, 42 years! (And I thought our 30th coming up was good.) Yesterday was Denise’s birthday, right?Did you get married on her b-day or the day after so you didn’t have to remember too many dates???LOL! You had to probably wait for that girl to be of legal age..She hardly looks old enough to be married that long.
Gunner, no kidding! I really had not given much thought as to what the women went through; so much more than they ever tell you in history books.And you will be up all night, so to speak. I will do what I have made a habit of doing, leaving Jeff or his guests’ posts up all night. I’ll set mine to come up in the morning. Glad you were here…although ol’ Jeff has been actin’ like a hound-dog under the porch!
…I’ll be up…? Ah. I catch on. Thanks, Tonette. And let’s not be too ruff — ah, rough on Jeff. I’m glad he had a fun vacation and he’s back to entertain us, something he does very well.
Thanks, Gunnar. I do my best.
That’s me, Tonette — the flea-bitten hound living under the porch!
Don’t tell anybody, but we did get married on her birthday. It seemed like a very practical solution to me at the time. We’d had a big discussion back & forth about whether to get married shortly before her b-day or shortly after it. So, thnking myself quite wise, I just said: “no problem … we’ll use the same date.”
I hope you at least spring for dinner AND a present,(if not tow presents!) And yes, Gunner,I pick on Jeff but it is because he IS so entertaining.His Facebook observations are a riot!
yep — two presents … & more than two meals. Plus a “king suite” at the Drury.
OK, you need to give Joe some pointers!
Fascinating post, Gunnar. History was always my favorite subjects in school and the suggestions here are great, but I’d love to find out more about my own family’s history – specifically, what was behind my grandfather’s decision to come to America? I know a little bit, but the reason I know about doesn’t seem compelling enough to travel to a little known area of the country. I wish I could have asked him.
Great to see you here again, Patty. I wonder if any of your grandfather’s correspondence is still in existance? Might be a great deal in any letters that could be found.
My mom had come across a small handful of letters my grandfather wrote to his mom (my great-grandmother) during WW ONE when he was training stateside and later when he was stationed in France . And I was able to get a LOT of insight into his experiences.
Jeff, if any of Grandpa’s letters are in existence, I’d have to find someone to translate them. Someone his age. My mom found a scrapbook of his from his days at the Imperial Art Academy in Tokyo as well as art school in Paris. SHE had trouble reading some of his journaling because it’s in an older dialect of Japanese. But that would be great if I could find some. Or if I could find any of his relatives. He was from Sendai, the city in Japan that suffered the earthquake and tsunami last year.
That’s great that some of the letters survive …
I had never known there were older dialects within Japanese writing. Perhaps some university language professor could help locate somebody to translate.
Patricia,I think one of the saddest things is that we are not hearing and telling family stories.I keep encouraging people to talk and ASK.I am sorry that you didn’t get a chance to ask or that no one passed it along,if he told anyone at all.
I don’t have a lot to say…but I would really like to have been there to hear and see Abraham Lincoln deliver the Gettysburg Address on that battlefield. For a short speech, I think that one beats all for packing a huge wallop! I have always admired Abraham Lincoln and his skills at rhetoric – would love to have encountered him (and the skills) in person in such a historic place, loaded with so much emotion.
oh, that would be a great moment, Carol.
In a college speech class, I once recited Lincoln’s 2nd inaugural address. Not as powerful or famous as the address you noted, but it was exciting to present it nonetheless.
When I get a chance,I’d like to read that,Jeff.It was standard form for all 7th graders to memorize the Gettysburg Address in our school system, but so much of the meaning was lost.It is too bad that they did not think to transcript all of Lincoln’s speeches .The real punch is that he wrote them himself.
In some ways it’s amazing that ANY written material survives from that era. A lot of it was printed in newspapers, of course, and who knows how many errors they made. Ha.
Pingback: Quizzing a Historical Figure or Two | Four Foxes, One Hound