5.06.2009

Miracle at Philadelphia: QOTD 1

I am reading "Miracle At Philadelphia: The Story of the Constitutional Convention May - September 1787" by Catherine Drinker Bowen, and it's chock full of very interesting quotes and anecdotes about a momentous time in human history and progress. I plan to post some of these quotes of the day (QOTD) as I go through the book.

Context: Chapter 1 sets the scene for the Constitutional Convention, describes some of the influential men in it, and the tenuous staqte of the Convention and the Confederation of states in general.  James Madison--described as both pertinacious and flexible, "two qualities not often found together"--prepared tenaciously for the daunting task ahead.  
Of the entire delegation no one came better prepared intellectually.  At his request Jefferson... had sent books from Paris.  Madison asked for "whatever may throw light on the general constitution and droit public of the several confederacies which have existed."  The books arrived not by ones and twos but by the hundred:  ... books on political theory and the law of nations, histories, works by ... Voltaire, Diderot, Mably, Necker, d'Albon.  There were biographies and memoirs, histories in sets of eleven volumes...  Madison threw himself into a study of confedereracies ancient and modern, wrote out a long essay comparing governments, with each analysis followed by a section of his own...
Madison, in particular, was concerned that even in the unlikely event they could come up with a new Constitution, the very real possibility existed that it would not be ratified.  Bowen wrote:
Yet should it fail, what hope was there of calling another [Convention]?  In April, a full month before the Convention met, Madison had told a Virigina colleague that the nearer the crisis approached, the more he trembled for the issue.  "The necessity," he wrote, "of gaining the concurrence  of the Convention in some system that will answer the purpose, the subsequent approbation of Congress, and the final sanction of the states, presents a series of chances which would inspire despair in any case where the alternative was less formidable."

It was like Madison to declare that the situation was too serious for despair.  It was like Washington, too, of whom the British historian Trevelyan was to write that he "had learned the inmost secret of the brave, who train themselves to contemplate in mind the worst that can happen and in thought resign themselves -- but in action resign themselves never."  ...  It was hard to say which man was the more serious by nature.  Reading Madison's long letters on politics, with ther cool forceful arguments, or Washington's with their stately rhythym, one senses beneath the elaborate paragraphs a very fury of concern for the country.  And one takes comfort in this solemnity.  One rejoices that these men felt no embarrassment at being persistently, at times awkwardly serious, according to their natures.
I highlight these passages to show the quality of the men who founded the country, their passion and the sharpness of their intellects, and the profound seriousness with which they took their mission.  At a time when many are looking to rekindle the spirit of the Boston Tea Party, it is more important than ever to fully understand the nature of the men who shaped our nation and the ideas they held so dearly.

In the quotation above, Bowen remarked on the "very fury of concern for the country" held by Madison, Washington, Jefferson and others.  While concern for the country was certainly a part of it, I prefer to think of it as a fury of concern for truth, justice, and liberty; a concern for ideas, as both moral and practical, a vision for the world as it ought to be and would be.
[H]e "had learned the inmost secret of the brave, who train themselves to contemplate in mind the worst that can happen and in thought resign themselves -- but in action resign themselves never."
I get chills reading that.  I'm going to like reading this book, I think.  I hope you'll enjoy the passages I quote.

2 comments:

Rajesh said...

[H]e "had learned the inmost secret of the brave, who train themselves to contemplate in mind the worst that can happen and in thought resign themselves -- but in action resign themselves never."

What wonderful words. I will read them in times of despair when the whole world seems to be going mad and draw strength from them. Thank you for sharing them and I look forward to reading the passages you will quote.

Anonymous said...

How fortunate to find your posts on "Miracle at Philadelphia." I recently recommended this book to my book discussion group. We had already agreed to read it after our next meeting. Virtus sola invicta.