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THE KALENDS OF MARCH

 

To understand the significance of the American Kalends of March we must, once again, look back to the founding period of the United States of America. In the fall of 1780, four long years after declaring independence, the hopes of a prompt peace with England were now a distant memory. The fortunes of the “Rebels”, instead of improving, had grown worse to the point of desperation. France’s aid was waning due to States' failure to unite under one constitution, the southern Continental Army had been annihilated, American money wasn’t worth a “Continental” and credit abroad hung on the dwindling fortunes and talents of patriots like Robert Morris and Haym Salomon. The founding constitution passed in 1778 had yet to form the “Perpetual Union” of the United States of America due to the failure of all thirteen states to ratify the binding Articles of Confederation. Legally, the nation that sought foreign recognition and aid was not united at all.

 

The army, clothed in rags, half-starved and not paid, was ripe for mutiny; desertions to the British lines averaged more than 100 a month. The British launched a southern spring campaign and successfully captured the key southern ports.  Even former Continental Congress President Henry Middleton surrendered with the fall of Charleston, South Carolina re-declaring his loyalty to King George III. George Washington wrote "he had almost ceased to hope."

 

In July 1780 through the efforts of Samuel Huntington and General Schuyler, Benedict Arnold, considered by many to be Washington’s greatest general, obtained the command of West Point.  Arnold’s plan was anything but patriotic.  His scheme was to surrender the Fort to the British, accept a commission as a British Brigadier-General and call to arms what he believed to be a silent Tory majority. Arnold’s plan was foiled by the timely capture of Major Andre forcing him to abandon West Point and flee to the British lines in New York City.

 

This defection was a real blow to President Huntington as Arnold was a fellow Norwich, Connecticut son. Ovations were made to Huntington through Arnold’s family in hopes he would turn. The traitor’s “Address to the American People” published in many newspapers, Arnold believed, would “surely”ignite an uprising of people faced what appeared to be an inevitable defeat by British forces.   Among Arnold’s lengthy proofs that sought justification of his betrayal were passages that condemned the French alliance and the States’ failure to ratify the Articles of Confederation.  Arnold in part wrote:

 

“Certainly not, because no authority had been given by the people to conclude it, nor to this very hour have they authorized its ratification. The Articles of Confederation remain still unsigned.

 

In the firm persuasion therefore, that the private judgment of any individual citizen of this country is as free from all conventional restraints, since as before the insidious offers of France, I preferred those from Great Britain, thinking it infinitely wiser and safer, to cast my confidence upon her justice and generosity, than to trust a monarchy too feeble to establish your independency, so perilous to her distant dominions; the enemy of the Protestant Faith, and fraudulently avowing an affection for the liberties of mankind, while she holds her native sons in vassalage and chains.  

 

With the highest satisfaction I bear testimony to my old fellow soldiers, and citizens, that I find solid ground to rely upon the clemency of our sovereign, and abundant conviction that it is the generous intention of Great Britain, not only to leave the rights and privileges of the colonies unimpaired, together with their perpetual exemption from taxation, but to super add such further benefits as may consist with the common prosperity of the empire. In short, I sought for much less than the parent country is as willing to grant to her colonies as they can be to receive or enjoy.”

 

The Founders, instead of acquiescing to Arnold’s arguments, ordered a thorough investigation into his service as a Continental General. In mid October President Huntington wrote Governor Trumbull of Connecticut, "The treason of Benedict Arnold hath been a topic of much conversation, and many of his scandalous transactions are brought to light that were before concealed.”  Huntington refuted and condemned Arnold’s betrayal making a public spectacle of signing the Presidential Order to erase the traitor’s name from the register of continental officers.

 

Despite Huntington and Washington’s steadfastness measures continued to worsen for the Continental Army and the Disunited States of America. On December 20th British Brigadier General Arnold departed New York City with 1600 men. His plans were to invade Virginia, disrupt the state government while seeking to capture the author of the Declaration of Independence, Governor Thomas Jefferson. As the British advanced northward towards Virginia, desperation seized Washington's troops and resulted in a mutiny on January 1, 1781. Washington ordered the New Jersey Continentals to march and position themselves between the mutinying Pennsylvania troops and the British on Staten Island to thwart any possible defections to the enemy. British General Henry Clinton learning of the mutiny immediately dispatched messengers through the lines to the Pennsylvania Continentals hoping to turn them to their cause. The mutineers realizing they would have to fight their way through the New Jersey Militia to defect seized the messengers, as their opportunity for salvation, and turned them over to President Huntington. The messengers were tried and hung as British spies by the Continental Congress ending the mutiny.

 

Meanwhile, Benedict Arnold's plundering expedition into Virginia reached Richmond on January 14, 1781 and forced Thomas Jefferson and government officials to flee what was soon to be a burning city.  Thomas Jefferson learned of the impending invasion from James Madison and indicated in a letter that Virginia was to put up her best defense.  Jefferson also blamed the 13 States' failure to ratify the Articles of Confederation was at the heart of this 1780-81 Revolutionary War crisis:

 

"This is a crisis at which we conceive a most assiduous application to these great objects to be necessary, and (next to the completion of the Confederacy which is perhaps the Basis of the whole) of the first importance to America therefore highly importing us to know, as the measures of so large a state as ours cannot but have considerable effects on the other states in the Union."

 

Despite these challenges, through painstaking diplomacy, encouragement and a firm commitment to independence, President Huntington was successful in persuading the States to meet their necessary quotas of men, dollars and provisions, for Washington and his Generals to conduct what many Americans believed to be a lost war for freedom.

 

Samuel Huntington understood all too well that the failure to ratify the 1st Constitution was the slippery slope undermining the revolutionary war effort. Determined to achieve the ratification necessary to form the United States, Huntington brokered legislation and sent this circular letter to each of the states:

 

I am directed to transmit Copies of this report and the several Papers therein mentioned to the Legislatures of the several States, (1) that they may all be informed of the Desires & Endeavours of Congress on so important a Subject, and those particular States which have Claims to the Western Territory, & the State of Maryland may adopt the Measures recommended by Congress in Order to obtain a final ratification of the Articles of Confederation.

 

Congress, impressed with a Sense of the vast Importance of the Subject, have maturely considered the same, and the result of their Deliberation is contained in the enclosed report, which being full & expressive of their Sentiments upon the Subject; without any additional Observations: it is to be hoped, and most earnestly desired, that the Wisdom, Generosity & Candor of the Legislatures of the several States, which have it in their Power on the one Hand to remove the Obstacles, and on the other to complete the Confederation, may direct them to such Measures, in Compliance ...

 

Samuel Huntington, President

 

It was on the Kalends of March amidst all this Revolutionary War chaos that President Huntington accomplished what fellow Continental Congress Presidents John Hancock, Henry Laurens and John Jay failed to do; he achieved the unanimous ratification of the Articles of Confederation. The “Perpetual Union” known as the United States of America, at last, became a legal reality on March 1, 1781:

 

"Articles of Confederation and perpetual Union between the states of New Hampshire, Massachusetts-bay Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia."  

  1. The Stile of this Confederacy shall be "The United States of America".

  2. Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not by this Confederation expressly delegated to the United States, in Congress assembled.

  3. The said States hereby severally enter into a firm league of friendship with each other, for their common defense, the security of their liberties, and their mutual and general welfare, binding themselves to assist each other, against all force offered to, or attacks made upon them, or any of them, on account of religion, sovereignty, trade, or any other pretense whatever ..."

By virtue of this ratification, the ever fluid Continental Congress ceased to exist. On March 2nd "The United States in Congress Assembled" was placed at the head of each page of the Official Journal of Congress. The United States of America, which was conceived on July 2, 1776, proclaimed on the 4th had finally been born on March 1, 1781 under the watch of President Samuel Huntington.  The elated Minister of France was the first to address Samuel Huntington as “His Excellency the President of the United States in Congress Assembled”

 

On March 7, 1781 the Pennsylvania Gazette in Philadelphia reported:

 

"IN pursuance of an Act of the Legislature of Maryland, intituled, 'An Act to empower the Delegates of the State in Congress to subscriber and ratify the Articles of Confederation,' the Delegates of the said State, on Thursday last, at twelve o, signed and ratified the Articles of Confederation; by which act the Confederation of The Unuted States Of America was compleated, each and every of the Thirteen States, from New Hampshire to George, both included, having adopted and confirmed, and by their Delegates in Congress ratified the same.

 

This happy even was immediately announced to the public by the discharge of the artillery on land, and the cannon of the shipping in the river Delaware.

 

At two o’clock his Excellency the President received on this occasion the congratulations of the Hon. the Minister Plenipotentiary of France, and of the Legislative and Executive Bodies of this State, of the Civil and Military Officers, sundry strangers of distinction in town, and of many of the principal inhabitants.

 

The evening was closed by an elegant exhibition of fireworks. The Ariel frigate, commanded by the gallant John Paul Jones, fired a feu de joye, and was beautifully decorated with a variety of streamers in the day, and ornamented with a brilliant appearance of lights in the night.”

 

Thus will the first of March, 1781, be a day memorable in the annals of America, for the final ratification of the Confederation and perpetual Union of the Thirteen States of America --- A Union, begun by necessity, cemented by oppression and common danger, and now finally consolidated into a perpetual confederacy of these new and rising States: And thus the United States of America, having, amidst the calamities of a destructive war, established a solid foundation of greatness, are growing up into consequence among the nations, while their haughty enemy, Britain, with all her boasted wealth and grandeur, instead of bringing them to her feet and reducing them to unconditional submission, finds her hopes blasted, her power crumbling to pieces, and the empire which, with overbearing insolence and brutality she exercised on the ocean, divided among her insulted neighbors."

 

The Journal of Congress was replaced with a new heading “The United States in Congress Assembled” on March 2, 1781 and began:

 

“The ratification of the Articles of Confederation being yesterday completed by the accession of the State of Maryland: The United States met in Congress, when the following members appeared: His Excellency Samuel Huntington, delegate for Connecticut, President ...”

 

On March 2, 1781 President Samuel Huntington sat down and wrote a letter to each of the states stating:

 

“By the Act of Congress herewith enclosed your Excellency will be informed that the Articles of Confederation & perpetual Union between the thirteen United States are formally & finally ratified by all the States.
 

We are happy to congratulate our Constituents on this important Event, desired by our Friends but dreaded by our Enemies.

 

Samuel Huntington, President”

 

On March 1, 1781 the Presidency of the United States of America was born with the ratification of this 1st U.S. Constitution.  A Constitution unanimously ratified with the bold heading "Perpetual Union" that four score years later would become President Lincoln’s legal foundation for nullifying the secession of South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, Virginia and the other Southern States.  Lincoln, on July 4th, 1861, to a joint session of the United States Congress would justify his use of military force to preserve the Union stating

 

"The express plighting of faith by each and all of the original thirteen in the Articles of Confederation, two years later, that the Union shall be perpetual is most conclusive."  

 

The American Kalends of March, unlike Caesar’s Ides, is a time for celebration and reflection on a forgotten Constitution and Confederation that forged the Perpetual Union of the United States out of wisdom, war and an unwavering unified will.  Should you take the time this week to reflect on the words of the 1st U.S. Constitution be sure not to miss the Article XIII, that states:

 

“And Whereas it hath pleased the Great Governor of the World to incline the hearts of the legislatures we respectively represent in Congress, to approve of, and to authorize us to ratify the said Articles of Confederation and perpetual Union.”  

 

A simple clause that the Founders inserted from the Psalms "Incline my heart” in a constitution enacted“… in the Year of our Lord One Thousand Seven Hundred and Seventy-Eight, and in the Third Year of the independence of America ” and ratified on March 1, 1781.

 

Your most humble and obedient Servant,

 

Stanley L. Klos


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