To Rediscover America's Forgotten History
Below: Six Important Lessons, Classroom Resources, and Suggested Field Trips
Six Important Lessons
If your textbooks do not go into detail about the government under the first constitution--the one before the current Constitution--we can help you teach six important lessons about the pre-1789 United States:
1. The First American Republic
There was an original form of government used by the United States under an initial constitution, the Articles of Confederation, a unitary structure that consisting of a unicameral Congress that included officers such as a president, a chair, and a secretary.
Between 1774 and 1788 there were 14 separate men who held the title of "President" before George Washington, going back to the First Continental Congress. This first type of United States government, and the presidents who served before Washington, are mostly ignored.
2. There were U.S. capitals before D.C.
The unicameral version of Congress met in eight cities before Washington, D.C.: Philadelphia, Baltimore, Lancaster, York, Princeton, Annapolis, Trenton and New York City.
Thus, all eight of these cities served as capitals of the United States. However, in not one of these capital cities does there exist a place where people can study this history through exhibits, films, live performances and other public events.
3. There is more than one Treaty of Paris
3. Not only is there a 1763 Treaty of Paris that ended the French and Indian War, the handwritten 1783 Treaty of Paris signed in France by John Adams, John Jay and Benjamin Franklin is a separate document from the printed, ratified Treaty of Paris Proclamation. It was the ratified version that was signed in Annapolis by President Thomas Mifflin and Secretary of Congress Charles Thomson, then embossed with the seal of Congress and shipped back to France.
It was then exchanged with Britain's ratified version in order to bring the war to an official conclusion. Thus, Annapolis is known for the ratified version, not the handwritten version, although most people don't know that the handwritten and printed versions are two separate documents.
4. There was a Treaty of Paris Period
The 1783 Treaty of Paris not only ended the Revolutionary War; it also began the Treaty of Paris Period, a four year, frantic effort to raise the huge sums of money necessary to pay both the foreign creditors named in the Treaty (Great Britain, France, Spain and the Netherlands) and the American soldiers who had not been paid in full for their service during the war. Many of these soldiers later took part in Shays's Rebellion.
The Treaty of Paris Period ended when the Constitutional Convention began in Philadelphia, which created a new Constitution giving Congress the power to raise the funds necessary to pay the nation's debts. The first bicameral Congress from 1789-91 paid off most of the debts of the American Revolution and by 1835 the national debt of the United State was ZERO.
5. There were Pre-Constitutional Conventions
There were two important steps taken during the Treaty of Paris Period that led to the third and final step, the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. The first two steps took place at Mount Vernon in Virginia in 1785 (the Mount Vernon Compact) between Maryland and Virginia and at Mann's Tavern in Annapolis in 1786 where five states sent 12 delegates to try to remedy the Articles of Confederation (the Annapolis Conference). These two preliminary meetings between several of the states led to Congress calling for a third meeting in Philadelphia that became the Constitutional Convention.
6. Annapolis: The first peacetime capital of the U.S.
Annapolis played the dominant role during the Treaty of Paris Period. following official independence from Great Britain (i.e. full British recognition). The Maryland State House hosted Congress from 1783-84, during which time General George Washington resigned from the Army as Commander-in-Chief; the Treaty of Paris was ratified; Delegate Thomas Jefferson authored the 1784 Land Ordinance and then was appointed to France as a minister (eventually becoming Ambassador); and John Jay was appointed Secretary of Foreign Affairs.
After Congress left Annapolis in 1784, Annapolis resident Samuel Chase took part in a Maryland delegation that met Virginia representatives in Mount Vernon in 1785 to discuss the use of the Potomac River. After the Mount Vernon Compact was signed, Annapolis hosted a meeting in 1786 between five states that evaluated the Articles of Confederation and concluded that under this document, Congress would not be able to pay the nation's debts. Their report to Congress, written by Alexander Hamilton and assisted by James Madison, called for another meeting in 1787 in Philadelphia to be attended by all of the states. Thus, Annapolis served as a Bridge, connecting the Revolution to the Constitution.
Ten Classroom Resources
The ten resources below will help you teach the six important points about the pre-1789 United States in the classroom:
Six Suggested Field Trips
1. Hall of Presidents Before Washington
3. The Maryland State House
The Maryland State House in Annapolis, with its redesigned Old Senate Chamber and exhibit focusing on the resignation of General George Washington as Commander-in-Chief, a selfless act that led a permanent civilian government in the new United States.
4. The Banneker-Douglass Museum
5. The Hammond Harwood House
6. The Chase Lloyd House
Mark Croatti is available to come to your school and talk about the Treaty of Paris Period and/or take your class on a tour of the Treaty of Paris Trail.
Want to book a talk at your school or a tour of the Treaty of Paris Trail? Or both?
TEACHERS, it is up to you to choose a way to bring the First American Republic back to life for your students. How long will your students continue to believe that there has only been one constitution or that there were no presidents before George Washington?