NORWICH BULLETIN Editorial
Americans love success stories, historian Stanley Klos of Pittsburgh, Pa., reflected the other day. And the Constitution and Bill of Rights, the basis for the most successful democracy in the world and model for so many nations, is a fabulous success story.
So much of a success story, it's generally considered that our nation began with the enactment of the Constitution in 1788 and George Washington's election as "first president" the following March.
But wait a minute.
From 1781, the nation had been operating under the Articles of Confederation -- a failure, Klos said, and Americans don't like failure.
Under the articles, enacted in 1777 -- ratification took four years -- Congress' powers were minimal.
It was unable to set tariffs or levy taxes. States had their own foreign policies and, in some cases, armies and navies. There was no standard currency and that -- and lack of a national economic policy -- prompted Alexander Hamilton to propose a constitutional convention in 1787.
Still, if anything, it was more of a challenge -- not less -- to keep the country from coming unglued under the Articles, and the man who did that, Samuel Huntington of Norwich, has a legitimate claim to Washington's "first president" title.
As president of a unicameral legislature, Huntington's job combined that of chief executive, chief justice, Senate president and speaker of the House, Klos argued.
Among Huntington's accomplishments leading up to his four-month term -- March 1 to July 6,1791 -- was getting Maryland, the last holdout of the colonies, to sign the Articles.
He presided over the states when the British effectively took control of the South near the end of the American Revolution, (Cornwallis lost the Battle of Yorktown that October.) Not bad for a boy from Scotland -- the rural Windham County one.
Huntington returned to Norwich -- his home was that yellow mansion on East Town Street, now United Community and Family Services headquarters -- and became governor. He died in 1796.
Our colleague Bill Stanley, Sunday Bulletin columnist as well as president of the Norwich Historical Society, has been arguing for some time now that Huntington's historical role has been too little appreciated.
Congress may be about to agree.
Norwich-bred U.S. Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., has agreed to look into Senate action declaring Huntington the first president of the United States under the Articles of Confederation.
U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons, R-2nd District, planned to introduce language to that effect into the Congressional record.
The goal is to give Huntington -- and the other nine presidents under the Articles who succeeded him -- the same honors as George Washington and his successors (passively) enjoy.
On his birthday, for instance, a Marine honor guard would place a wreath at Huntington's tomb in Old Norwichtown Cemetery. He would also deserve a 21-gun salute, an honor reserved for presidents and visiting chiefs of state.
Such a salute in Huntington's honor will be fired by a seven-member squad during the patriot's re-interment ceremonies, which begin at 2:30 p.m. Monday at the cemetery.
The First Company, Governor's Footguard, chartered in 1771 by Connecticut's colonial General Assembly, will provide pallbearers for the former president. The Second Company, from New Haven, will do so for Huntington's wife, also Martha.
Honor guards will be present from the Navy, the Norwich Police Department and the Huntington Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution.
Dodd -- unless the Medicare bill keeps him away -- Simmons and Mayor Arthur L. Lathrop will speak, and Klos will keynote. The public is welcome. It should be quite an afternoon.
It can only be hoped that this ceremony signals the start of a process to correct an injustice. Honoring Huntington takes nothing from Washington. It simply recognizes a reality of American history.
Yes, quite an afternoon.
Start your search on Re-entombment of Samuel Huntington.
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