Thursday, 15 January 2015

The Paca Bed: Bedrooms in the late eighteenth century

The William Paca House might be closed for the winter, but take a tour later this year, and you will see our forthcoming exhibit: an eighteenth-century bed with possible Paca connections, newly conserved and awaiting assembly in the second floor of the house.

A few months ago, Historic Annapolis staff members and interns piled into several cars and took a weekend trip to Williamsburg. We were off to pick up the Paca bed!

The bed; loaded into our curator's car (with Natalie's supervision, and some custom-made padding!)
and ready to return to Annapolis

Recently donated to the William Paca House, the dismantled bed pictured above will soon be assembled in the room that is currently interpreted as Mrs. Paca’s lying-in chamber. The bed has been confirmed as dating from the 1780s-90s by textile expert Natalie Larson. It is thought to have been bought by the donor’s grandfather, one James Bordley, from his uncle. There is therefore reason to believe that the bed has Paca connections; the Bordley family shared Wye Island with the Pacas after William Paca moved to Wye Hall.

Dr James Bordley, Jr. (1874-1956), a collector of fine American antiques and early champion of historic preservation in Annapolis, might have been the buyer. Perhaps he was trying to preserve for posterity an important piece of Annapolis' history: William Paca's bed.

Eighteenth-century beds are exciting objects, not least because a bed like this would have been the most valuable possession in a household when it was first bought.

The Paca Bedchamber
The Bed in the Bedchamber

There was rarely more than one elaborately decorated bed in a late eighteenth-century house. As the most valuable item in a household, such a bed was designed to be seen. Bed hangings were therefore extremely important. They were indeed so important that they warrant a blog post all to themselves. Look out for that!

A good and complete bed [see: "bed & furniture" in the glossary at the bottom of this post], owned by a wealthy Annapolitan in the 1760s and 1770s, would usually cost between £3 and £6. This would not have included a feather bed; feathers were incredibly expensive, and a feather bed would usually cost more than a bedstead.

Feathers needed to be properly cured and oil-free. If not, they would start to smell pretty awful after a while. Accruing enough feathers for a bed, and treating them properly, was no mean feat.

Excerpt from the Inventory of Henrietta Maria Dulany, 1766.

Key: ££.ss.dd (pounds; shillings; pence)

7 ¾ yds Irish Linnen 1/10: 14.10 ¼.0
8 ½ yds ditto 1/8: 14.2.0
24 ¼ yds cotton check: 2.5.0

9 prs. yellow and white cotton and wasted window curtains: 2.18.8
1 rich suit of bed curtains of yellow silk damask tester, valences, head piece, 4 large window curtains, 1 dozen mahogany yellow damask bottom chairs, feather bed mattress blankets bolster, 2 pillows and calico quilt: 50.0.0

1 tent bedstead and suit of curtains: 3.0.0
1 bed and bolster upon the tent bedstead: 3.0.0

Henrietta Maria Dulany (née Lloyd) was Paca's mother-in-law; she bought her property in Annapolis, on 162 Conduit Street, in 1761. Among the items listed in a 1766 description of her £50 matching bedroom furniture (see above), the yellow silk and feather bed mattress would have been most expensive new.

In the 1780s, Samuel Grant, a Boston upholsterer, charged between three and four shillings per pound for feathers. To put this into perspective, a complete bed required roughly sixty pounds of feathers, which would have cost between £10 and £12 in England at the time. In contrast, a bed frame alone typically set back an individual just over £3. The feather beds we see in the Annapolitan inventories are not priced at £10 each – but then, they are not new. It is very unlikely that the societal elite of Annapolis would buy a used mattress, and - like a new car today - mattresses and bed sheets would have quickly depreciated from their first day of use.

Camp bed with sacking bottom, from Thomas Sheraton's The Cabinet Dictionary, 1803.
Feathers for me, flock for you

In the inventory of Robert Eden, the last Governor of Maryland, of the furniture &c. ‘left on his departure in his dwelling house at the city of Annapolis taken the 26th day of June 1776’ contains good examples of beds at the extremes of wealth.[1] A ‘Servant mans Bed Room’ contained ‘1 Corded Bedstead, flock Mattrass, Bolster, 1 Rug, 1 Windsor Chair’, valued together at £3. ‘Flock’ was waste or surplus wool, sometimes combined with old rags, used to stuff mattresses or upholster other furniture. A ‘corded bedstead’ was a bedstead strung with ropes, which required regular tightening in order to hold the weight of layered mattresses – and, of course, the weight of a sleeper.

A bed currently in the Paca House, featuring a sacking bottom,
in the room that is interpreted as a child's sick room
Eighteenth-century bedsteads, especially the cheaper examples, would often be corded or feature sacking bottoms. Regularly tightened rope would create the tension needed for a bed that wouldn't swallow the sleeper whole.

The coming Paca bed features slats to better support mattresses. Slats were a more expensive alternative to a rope-based bed support, but they were available to those who could afford them.

Another interesting bed in Robert Eden’s house is his own, recorded as belonging to 'His Excellency's Bed Room'. On top of the ‘Mahogany 4 post Bedstead with white Dimothy furniture ornamented Cornice with vases compleat’ were the layered mattresses that ensured the comfort of a wealthy man or woman. Ordinarily, a straw-filled tick would form the base of the bed, followed by a feather bed and a mattress, a bolster, the bottom sheet, two pillows, a top sheet, blankets, and a counterpane (bedspread). Eden’s hair mattress (£4) probably sat atop his large feather bed, which – together with a bolster, and pillows – cost £10. A mattress of hair, wool, or straw would have been a much cooler surface to sleep on than a feather bed in hot summer months. It is likely that Annapolitans would only have layered their feather beds on top of their mattresses during the winter, when extra warmth in the night was welcomed.

Things that go bump in the night

The bedchamber was the scene of all sorts of night-time activity. It seems needless to say that a bed (and before public hospitals, one's own bed) was central to life’s ultimate moments: birth and death.

The Paca Bedchamber
Less monumental events, though just as essential, also occurred in the bedchamber. In January of 1775, Charles Carroll (III) ordered “a very neat night chair, with its furniture formed with such a deception as to appear anything but what it truly is … but not troublesome to use”.[2] An equivalent in the Paca House is not quite so glamorous, but is more akin to the usual receptacles used by men such as Paca and Carroll.

Indeed, Carroll ordered many chamber pots from England - often several dozen (highly breakable!) pots at a time. Those readers who witnessed the November 2013 installation of the carpet in the Paca dining room will understand the drama of knocking over a full chamber pot, and watching in horror as the contents pour onto your luxurious woolen carpet!

Shortened shut-eye

Contemporary literature and modern studies suggest that it would have taken much longer to get to sleep at night before the introduction of artificial light. Whilst today lying awake for two hours before drifting off is frustrating, in the mid-eighteenth century it would have been the norm.[3]

Surprisingly, before artificial lighting sleep patterns in the Western world were not so uniform as the conventional c.11pm-7am of recent centuries. In the early modern period and into the eighteenth century, it was not uncommon to have a 'first sleep' and a 'second sleep', the alert period in-between used for study or prayer among other activities. One explanation for such a routine is that a fire intended to last throughout a winter night would require tending in the early hours. As a man with servants to tend his fire for him, and as a man whose work was conducted in daylight, Paca was likely to have slept through the night.

Henry Robert Morland, Woman Reading by a Paper-Bell Shade, 1766.

Away from prying eyes

A four-poster bed, surrounded by a canopy, had a variety of practical benefits. Not only would the canopy provide privacy, but it would also protect the sleeper from cold drafts and insects. Rooms would often be shared by several occupants; and it was not uncommon for families to sleep in one room. In the house of a man like Paca, however, privacy would have been important. Increasingly over the eighteenth century, the bedchamber ceased to be a public arena for entertaining. At a time when social elites were increasingly concerned with appearances, Paca and his wife Mary would have required private spaces.

Whilst William Paca was wealthy enough to afford matching curtains in the bedroom, it was not uncommon for a room to be without window hangings in the late eighteenth century. There were few window curtains in comparison with bed hangings before the American Revolution. When privacy within a room was as significant as protection from prying eyes on the street, bed hangings become the priority; they provided a little of both.

Privacy behind curtains in the room currently interpreted as Mary's lying-in chamber, where she might have slept apart from her husband during pregnancy
It is likely that William and Mary shared the same bed. Peter Earle writes, ‘it is clear that the wife was expected to sleep in the same bed as her husband and be available for his embraces, though under some circumstances, such as catching the pox from his whores, it was accepted that a wife may well want to ‘part beds’’. One does not suppose that any such "circumstances" afflicted the Paca House.


Bed and furniture’: A bed, fully kitted out. i.e. with a mattress, bolster, pillows, sheets, pillowcases and hangings.
Similarly, a ‘tea table and furniture’ referred to a tea table complete with the objects needed for the service of tea.[4]
BolsterA long, thick pillow used at the head of the bed for support. It would be placed under other pillows to stop them shifting out of place or falling behind your soft feather bed.
Tick(en)/ticking: A linen twill fabric used for cushion cases, which would have enclosed feathers[5] – or any other filling material.

With thanks to Samantha Dorsey, Curator of Historic Properties and Museums at City of Bowie; Carter Lively, Executive Director of The Hammond-Harwood House; Tara Owens, Research Intern/Education Programs Coordinator at The Hammond-Harwood House; Paul Koch.

Keep reading the curatorial blog in the coming weeks to learn more about colonial bed hangings.

Written by OUIIP intern, Elena Porter


A. Roger Ekirch. At Day’s Close: A History of Nighttime. (London, 2005). Orion Books. (Kindle edition).
Clive Edwards. Eighteenth-Century Furniture(1997). Manchester University Press.
Elisabeth Donaghy Garrett. At Home: The American Family 1750-1870. (New York: 1990) Harry N. Abrams, Inc. 
R.T.H.H.‘Textiles as Furnishings in Early American Homes’. Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Jennifer N. Johnson.‘The Upholstery and Chairmaking Trades of Eighteenth-Century Newport, 1730–1790’,  May 14, 2012. Thesis for the MA Program in the History of the Decorative Arts and Design: Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum,Smithsonian Institution; and Parsons The New School for Design.
Whitney A.J. Robertson. ‘Sleeping Amongst Heroes: Copperplate-printed Bed Furniture in the "Washington and American Independance [sic] 1776; the Apotheosis of Franklin” Pattern’, Textile Society of America Symposium Proceedings.
Peter EarleThe Making of the English Middle Class: Business, Society, and Family Life in London, 1660-1730. (Berkeley, 1989). University of California Press.

[1] All Robert Eden inventory information is taken from: Graham Hood. The Governor's Palace in Williamsburg: A Cultural Study. (1991). Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, p.299-300
[2] “Anywhere So Long as There be Freedom”, Charles Carroll of Carrollton, His Family and his Maryland. BMA, 1795.
Garrett, Elisabeth Donaghy, At Home: The American Family 1750-1870. p.109
[3] A. Roger Ekirch. At Day’s Close: A History of Nighttime, loc. 5082 (Kindle edition).
[4] ‘A Guide to Reproduction Fabrics’, The Old-House Journal: Restoration and Maintenance Techniques for the Antique House. Vol V, No. 11, November 1977. p.131
[5] Jennifer N. Johnson.‘The Upholstery and Chairmaking Trades of Eighteenth-Century Newport, 1730–1790’,  May 14, 2012. Thesis for the MA Program in the History of the Decorative Arts and Design: Cooper-Hewitt, National Design 

Friday, 17 October 2014

The Sauceboat of a Signer

It is amazing how one tiny fragment of pottery from an archaeological dig can tell us the appearance and function of an entire object. At Historic Annapolis, we have been delving deep into past archaeological records to see if they can tell us anything new about William Paca’s Annapolitan lifestyle.

Figure 1: White salt-glazed stoneware fragment found during the William Paca House garden excavations

This white salt-glazed stoneware fragment was dug up in the 1960s from the area just in front of the west wing of the William Paca House.[1] Although it may not look like much in its current state, a closer examination of its shape enables a direct match to be made with a white salt-glazed sauceboat on exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. The diaper pattern and the rococo edge of the fragment perfectly matches the sauceboat. This match gives us a wealth of information about William Paca’s tastes in both fashion and food!

Figure 2: White salt-glazed stoneware sauce boat. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Online:

The design of the sauceboat and the material in which it was made conveys that William Paca was an exceedingly fashionable gentleman. Rococo tableware was all the rage amongst elite circles from London to Annapolis in the third quarter of the eighteenth century. An excavation of the Calvert House on State Circle, Annapolis, has revealed that the Calvert family owned rococo style white salt-glazed plates with similar decorative motifs to William Paca’s sauceboat.

Figure 3: White salt-glazed plate from the Governor Calvert House.

What would have been served in William Paca’s sauceboat?

The colonial dining table would often have included a large dish of meat or fish accompanied by a complementary sauce served in an elegant sauceboat. A popular combination was the serving of duck with an orange sauce, a pairing still popular today! To make your own authentic eighteenth-century dish, follow these instructions:

·         1.) Stuff a duck with a mixture of ducks liver, streaky bacon, butter, onions, parsley and mushrooms

·         2.) Place bacon slices on top of the duck and cover with paper (or foil if you want to follow twenty-first-century conventions!)

·         3.) When the duck has been roasted, pour some of the gravy juices into a stew pot

·         4.) Add minced shallots and the juice of an orange to the stew pot and heat[2]

·         5.) Serve the sauce in a beautiful rococo stoneware sauceboat

Figure 4. A little after Paca's time, a gentleman demonstrates the joy that a sauceboat (albeit a slightly less elegant version)  could bring.  A convalescing man happily eating a meal, assisted by his grinning servant, coloured etching by J. Sneyd, 1804, after J. Gillray.   © Wellcome Library, London

[1] Stanley South (1967). The Paca House: A Historical Archaeological Study. Alexandria, Va., Contract Archaeology.
[2] The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. Online at

Friday, 12 September 2014

William Paca's "Sleeve Buttons"

Dusty, dog-eared reports that seem to sit unloved on office bookcases can bring to light a wealth of fascinating information; the William Paca cuff-link is a good case in point. Though this artefact has been known to us for some time, and even exhibited, it is revealing to revisit it and deepen our understanding of William Paca and late-eighteenth-century Annapolitan society as a whole. This brass cuff-link (or sleeve button as they were called in the 18th century) was recovered from the archaeological excavations of the William Paca garden in the 1960s. From pottery fragments in the same archaeological layer, we can date this sleeve button to the time when William Paca lived in Prince George’s Street meaning that this sleeve button was almost certainly worn by William Paca himself. Although the design has lost its clarity over the centuries, we can still make out the image of a running fox and the word “tallio”. This gives the sleeve button a novelty appearance and shows that during his free time, William Paca was a keen foxhunter (as well as a snappy dresser) . William Paca was not the only colonial to own such a cufflink. The same design was incredibly popular in eighteenth century America and identical sleeve buttons have also been found at Williamsburg and Ferry Farm, George Washington’s childhood home.[1] The use of accessories to express a love of a particular sport is still practiced by many Americans today. Think of the modern baseball cap. Originally an essential and purely practical element of the outfit, the baseball cap (like Paca’s cufflink) now carries various baseball related designs intended to mark the user out as an enthusiast. The men of the 18th century would have used their sleeve buttons to show that they were a fan of foxhunting much in the same way.

Figure 1:  Brass ‘tallio’ cufflink. The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. Museum Purchase.

Hunting in Colonial America

The motif and lettering gives us a clear indication that the owner enjoyed foxhunting. “Tallio”,  a quaint misspelling of Tally-Ho, demonstrates that the vernacular of the British hunting gentry was easily transferred to America where the sport continued to be practiced. The British citizens of colonial America wished to continue the leisurely pursuits of their homeland.

Who participated in American foxhunts? In Britain, hunting was a marker of high society. Due to the Game Laws Act of 1671 which ruled that one’s land had to be worth upwards of £100 per annum to participate, hunting in Britain was restricted to the landed gentry.[2] The right to foxhunt was less restricted in colonial America. However, only the Anglo-American landed elite would have had enough leisure time and have owned enough hounds and horses to be able to run their own pack. Though slaves and servants did not hunt the foxes on horseback, they still participated in the sport as huntsmen who controlled the hounds.[3] 

American fox-hunting in the colonial period did not generally consist of organized clubs. Instead, men would hunt in informal packs.[4] An exception to this was the Gloucester Fox-hunting Club, probably the first formally organized club of this kind in America. Formed in 1766 in a Philadelphia Coffee house, this club was full of important men such as Benjamin Chase who each paid a subscription fee of £5 for the maintenance of foxhound kennels.[5] William Paca himself probably hunted in private, informal packs with men of his station, perhaps on their plantations. His interest in hunting is clear from his sleeve button. It is also known that he had a keen interest in horse sports as he was a member of the Maryland Jockey Club.[6] Its members in 1783 included other Annapolitan elites such as Charles Carroll of Carrollton.[7] Charles Carroll was known for his love of foxhunting; perhaps the two neighbors and signers spent a few afternoons hunting together.

Many of William Paca’s contemporaries expressed in writing their fondness for the sport. George Washington in particular records diligently in his diary the pleasant and sometimes frustrating hours he spent indulging his hobby. In September of 1768 he laments that he “Went fox hunting in the Neck. Started and run a fox or foxes three hours and then lost”.[8] John Adams, at a Sons of Liberty meeting in 1769 records in his diary that they watched a Mimickry of “The Hunting of the Bitch Fox” indicating that it was an accepted part of the culture of the Anglo-American elite.[9]

Figure 2: Fairfax Fox-hunting with Washington. Engraver Henry Bryan Hall (after Felix F.O.C. Darcey). in: Irving, W. (1855) The Life of George Washington.

Maryland: The home of American fox-hunting?

Colonial Maryland had a special association with fox-hunting and it is apparent that its residents had a particular fondness for the sport. Maryland, like other the other prominent hunting colonies, Virginia and Delaware, was free from a puritanical influence which condemned sport.[10] Foxhunting could therefore flourish free from any moral condemnation. It was in Maryland that the sport first came to America. An English settler to Queen Anne’s County brought his pack of foxhounds and held the first fox-hunt on record in America around 1650.[11] It was also in Maryland in 1730, on the Eastern Shore that a few tobacco planters, talking wistfully of the red foxes of ‘merrie England’, decided to import eight red foxes from Liverpool to hunt in place of Maryland’s native gray.[12]

An apocryphal tale of Charles Carroll of Carrollton demonstrates the distinct sense of pride that Marylanders had in their sport. The story goes that Charles Carroll claimed that “fox-hunting was the grandest sport ever invented by man and [was] sanctioned by an all-wise providence”.[13] In response, Light-Horse Harry Lee commented that “tis hell if your nag is slow and your hounds poor”.[14] Charles Carroll immediately responded, with an unabashed sense of state pride, “I refer to fox-hunting in Maryland, sir”.[15]

Fox-hunting held a special place in the heart of Marylanders in the colonial period, so much so that it altered the lawmaking process. The 1765 Dog Bill which imposed a tax on owning more than two necessary dogs faced so much outcry and opposition that it was later amended to include the exception that

the keeping of Fox Hounds for destroying of Foxes is usefull and Necessary and that therefore they should be Allowed to be kept Tax free.[16]

Considering all this, one can imagine William Paca riding out on his prize horse, wearing his Tallio sleeve buttons and spending an enjoyable afternoon hunting.


Black, J. (2005) A Subject for Taste. Hambledon and London.

The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. Museum Purchase [] Last Accessed: 09/04/2014

Culver, F. (1922) Blooded Horses of Colonial Days: Classic horse matches made in America before the Revolution. Kessinger Publishing.

Fine, N. (2010) “Tally-ho Back”Foxhunting in North America and the MFHA. Centennial View. MFHA Foundation.

Founders.archives (2014a). Washington Papers. Online [] Last accessed: 09/04/2014
Founders.archives (2014b). Adams Papers. Online [] Last accessed: 09/04/2014

Schemmer, C. (2011). Scanning pieces of past. Online 
[] Last accessed: 09/04/2014

Hiss, H. (1897) The Beginnings of Fox-hunting in America. Outing Magazine.

Maryland State Archives (2014). Proceedings and Acts of the General Assembly, 1766-1768 vol. 61. Online [] Last accessed: 09/04/2014

Stewart, S. (1971) A Historical Survey of Foxhunting in the United States, 1650-1970. Ma Thesis. Denton, Texas.

South, S. (1969) The Paca House: A Historical Archaeology Study. Contract Archaeology Inc, Alexandria, Va.

[1] Schemmer 2011
[2] Black 2005, 72
[3] Stewart 1971, 47
[4] Stewart 1971, 38
[5] Stewart 1971, 45
[6] Culver 1922, 70
[7] Culver 1922, 70
[8] Founders.archives 2014a
[9] Founders.archives 2014b
[10] Stewart 1971, 40
[11] Hiss 1897, 13
[12] Fine 2010, 3
[13] Hiss 1897, 160
[14] Hiss 1897, 160
[15] Hiss 1897, 160
[16] Maryland State Archives 2014

Thursday, 21 August 2014

The rocky road to the American Constitution

William Paca spent the better part of fifteen years in his Annapolis house before selling it in 1780 and moving to the Eastern Shore. During his time here he famously signed the Declaration of Independence and established his political career as a leading patriot. His time in the William Paca House was also his time in the political mainstream of the revolutionary movement. It wasn’t until the 1780s, however, when the debates around the Constitution arose that Paca and his good friend Samuel Chase broke away from the majority opinion. In what is perhaps the most intriguing part of his political career, Paca became a vocal Anti-Federalist. Let us explore the rocky road to the American Constitution and the continuation of Paca’s political life beyond Prince George Street.

It is easy now, two hundred or so years on, to see the American Constitution as the natural progression of American independence and a unifying bastion of the promotion of liberty and equality. Back in the 1780s, however, this was certainly not the case. Much like the path to independence, the ratification of the American Constitution was a long, drawn-out process immersed in quarrels and disagreement. 

Conflict was no longer aimed at an antagonistic empire overseas, seeking to impose top down control on American citizens. It became an internal struggle between individuals and groups with different ideas on what representation means and what independent America is meant to look like in practice. Rather than concord, the final product illuminates the very productivity of discord and political debate.

Depiction of the Boston Tea Party of 1773, Copy of lithograph by Sarony & Major, 1846. This media is available in the holdings of the National Archives and Records Administration, cataloged under the ARC Identifier (National Archives Identifier) 532892.

Shortly after the 1774 Boston Port Act, which called for the complete blocking of the port, seventy-eight men gathered in Annapolis to declare that Boston was now “suffering in the common cause of America.”[1] Annapolis then joined the boycott of goods to and from Britain, with an appointed committee including Charles Carroll of Carrollton, William Paca and Samuel Chase. On August 2, 1776 all of the aforementioned attended the Constitutional Congress in Philadelphia to sign what we now refer to as the Declaration of Independence (although this name is not used in the document at all!).

View of detail of Signers of the Declaration of Independence, reproduction of the 1936 Faulner mural by Romanian Artist, Gabriel Prundeanu, under commission of Stan Faryna. Location: Bucharest, Romania. Source:, user: stan.faryna

Not without struggle, but certainly with an overwhelming majority united in pursuit of independence, the declaration was an “us” against “them” campaign, which was easier to argue, pursue and conceptualise.

Once independent, the 1770s saw a wave of individual state constitutions produced by local legislative bodies. Maryland’s own asserted that the legislative, executive and judicial powers of government ought to be forever separate and distinct from one another.[2] Maryland’s constitution was accompanied by a Bill of Rights, which was longer and more thorough than that of any other states attempting a similar document.[3]

So far so good? Not exactly.

The nature of each independent state constitution posed questions about the meaning of representation. What remained unclear was the purpose or role played by a constitution in each of these states. Was the constitution another statute confirmed by a congress of representatives? Was it a judicial statute – a law? If it was a law, and it ordered that judicial and legislative powers are separate, why was it always issued by a legislative power, therefore inherently contradicting its own principles? Was the constitution binding universally and permanently or was it, like the English common law, a document intending to evolve and be moulded by the times and people?

It was amongst these questions that Maryland underwent a “constitutional crisis”[4] illuminated by a series of discourses surrounding a paper money bill approved by Congress, but shut down by the house of senators. These public arguments were between men like William Paca and Samuel Chase, who defended the integrity of congress arguing against the constitution, and men like Charles Carroll of Carrollton, who asserted the integrity of the house of senate. It only took twelve years of independence, therefore, for Paca, Chase and Carroll to join opposing political camps. Once no longer united by a common enemy, Americans began to realise that they had very different ideas of what America should look like.

John Vanderlyn (1775–1852)James Madison,  The White House Historical Collection. Public domain.

A national constitution, the child of Madison, Jefferson (who is out of the country at that particular time) and the like, was not the natural progression from independence. For many it was unfair and controversial.

These debates were not confined to Maryland. Philadelphia and Virginia, too, experienced the fervent public debate. On 18 October 1787, in what is amongst the Teaching American History’s collection of the 50 Most Influential documents of American history, an anti-federalist under the pseudonym Brutus addressed the Citizens of the State of New York. He declared that “when the people once part with power, they can seldom or never resume it again but by force.”[5] This, for him, was what a national constitution demanded – that the people part with power.

Page of the first printing of the Federalist Papers, 1788. Authors: Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay. Source.

In fact, on 28 November, 1787, a Maryland farmer published a letter in the Maryland Gazette demanding that the constitution be given over to the people to be discussed. This was not because of his personal principle. It was because he noticed that “in very different parts of the continent, the very same objections have been made, and the very same alterations proposed by different writers, who [he] verily believe[s], know nothing of each other.”[6]

The constitution proposed at the Philadelphia convention was national, but it was also nationally disputed. Each side claimed to be the correct interpreter of the ideological underpinnings of the constitution. Each side would call upon Classical authorities, canon law, theological writing, the English dissenters of the 17th century and the pillars of the Enlightenment (Locke, Hume, Montesquieu etc.). 

Fundamentally, however, what the constitutional debates revealed was that the two sides which formed around them relied on different ideas of ‘representation’ and ‘constitution’. America’s founding fathers of 1774 wanted independence. Less than two decades later, they realised that what they wanted were different independencies. 

Written by OUIIP intern, Mirela Ivanova

To find out more about the Constitutional Debates in Maryland, and the path to the ratification of the American constitution come along to Mirela's talk “Laws without their consent: Paca and the Constitutional Debate” on Thursday, 21st August at 99 Main Street.  The talk will be preceded by a wine reception at 5.30pm.

Bailyn, B. The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution (Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1992)
Haw, J., Beirne, F.F., Beirne, R.R. and Jett, R.S.  Stormy Patriot: the Life of Samuel Chase (Baltimore: Maryland Historical Society,1980)
McWilliams, J.W.  Annapolis: City on the Severn ( Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011)
Papenfuse, E.C. ‘With what dose of Liberty? Maryland’s Role in the Movement for a Bill of Rights’ (Paper to the University of Maryland given February, 1988)
Rakove J. N. The Annotated U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence (Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2009)
Wood,G. The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787 (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1975)
Yazawa, M.  Representative Government and the Revolution: the Maryland Constitutional Crisis of 1787 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1975

[1] J.W. McWilliams, Annapolis: City on the Severn ( Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011) pp.87
[2] G.Wood, The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787 (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1975) pp.150
[3] E.C. Papenfuse, ‘With what dose of Liberty? Maryland’s Role in the Movement for a Bill of Rights’ (Paper to the University of Maryland given February, 1988)
[4] M. Yazawa, Representative Government and the Revolution: the Maryland Constitutional Crisis of 1787 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1975) 
[5] Brutus I to the Citizens of the State of New York, 18 October 1787 (, last accessed August, 2014)
[6] Maryland Farmer to the Citizens of the State of Maryland, 28 November, 1787, ( , last accessed August, 2014)