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Tuesday, January 2, 2024

January 2, 2024: 2024 Anniversaries: The First Continental Congress in 1774

[As I’ve done for each of the last few years, this week I’ll start 2024 by AmericanStudying a few anniversaries for the new year. Leading up to a special post on the 200th anniversary of a frustratingly familiar election.]

On interesting stories from three of the less well-known of the 56 men who served as delegates to the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia.

1)      Silas Deane (1738-1789): Connecticut delegate Silas Deane is likely the best-known of the three figures I’ll highlight in this post, thanks to the strange and mysterious late-life (and thus late-Revolution, since Deane only lived a few years past the Revolution’s end) circumstances detailed in that hyperlinked piece surrounding Deane’s supposed opposition to the Revolutionary cause and even potential treason. Those ambiguities become even more strange when we remember that Deane played as pivotal a role in the Revolution as any individual, when he negotiated (alongside Ben Franklin) the 1778 Treaty of Alliance that helped ensure the French as a vital ally to the U.S. throughout the Revolution. A good reminder that each and every delegate, like each Revolutionary figure, had a complex identity and story that makes the idea of a unified “Founding Fathers” community pretty silly.

2)      Christopher Gadsden (1724-1805): South Carolina delegate Christopher Gadsden left as lasting an influence as any Revolutionary figure, if one that has become significantly more complicated in the last couple decades: he designed the “Don’t Tread on Me” Gadsden Flag that has come to be so fully associated with right-wing extremism in 21st century America. But flag designer was only one of many impressive roles that Gadsden played during and after the Revolution, including serving as a Brigadier General in the Continental Army, helping draft South Carolina’s first Constitution in 1778, and becoming the state’s first Lieutenant Governor shortly thereafter. The states, like the new nation, didn’t just randomly emerge—they were created by the contributions and efforts of figures like Gadsden.

3)      Robert Treat Paine (1731-1814): Massachusetts delegate Robert Treat Paine holds a special place in my heart because Stonehurst, the Waltham estate highlighted at that hyperlink and which belonged to Paine’s descendant of the same name, was just a few minutes from where I lived for 6.5 years and was an impressive spot I visited frequently. But Paine himself was also very impressive as a legal mind and voice in the Revolutionary era, and a reminder of how many ways such legal thinkers could influence the new nation: in Paine’s case he not only attended the Continental Congress and signed the Declaration of Independence but also served on multiple Massachusetts courts including the state Supreme Court, served as Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, helped draft the 1780 state constitution, and was MA Attorney General for more than a decade during and after the Revolution. Like his 55 fellow delegates, a figure well worth remembering more fully!

Next anniversary tomorrow,


PS. What do you think?

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