Happy Constitution Day!

On Constitution Day, I’d like to highlight two UofL contributions to the celebration of our singular charter.

First, I want to direct folks to the videos by UofL law professors Sam Marcosson and Luke Milliken (with Dean Jim Chen) on the law school Constitution Day page, here.

Second I’d like to point out a recent study by McConnell Center director and political scientist Gary Gregg which highlighted important creators of our Constitution who have been neglected by history. UofL's Gregg and political scientist Mark David Hall polled more than 100 historians, political scientists and law professors to find those “who played a major role in the nation’s founding but who have been unjustly neglected by history.” The results will be detailed in a future book, but Dr. Gregg released the data in a September 15 UofL press release to give us a C-Day taste: .

The top-ten “forgotten founders” are, in order.

1. James Wilson (PA)
2. George Mason (VA)
3. Gouverneur Morris (NY)
4. John Jay (NY)
5. Roger Sherman (CN)
6. John Marshall (VA)
7. John Dickinson (PA)
8. Thomas Paine (World)
9. Patrick Henry (VA)
10. John Witherspoon (NJ)

Like any top-ten list there are quibbles and questions, but that is what makes these things fun. One thing I noticed was that three U.S. Supreme Court justices are on the list, but only one, Marshall, really made an impact as a judge. Wilson’s role is as an intellectual and Jay, though he is the answer to the trivia question “who was the first chief justice,” really made his impact as a politician and diplomat.

My big question is why is John Marshall number six? Was there an Obscurity-to-Significance matrix such that Marshall's great importance was muted by his relative non-obscurity? That might explain him falling behind the somewhat important but hugely unknown Roger Sherman, who falls fifth in the list of important American Shermans, behind John Sherman, Sherman Minton, Bobby Sherman and Mister Peabody’s boy Sherman.

Also when did Thomas Paine and Patrick Henry become so forgotten? Did the nuns at St. Basil’s beat their names into my schoolboy noggin for no good reason (figuratively, of course). Or is perhaps are the scholars suggesting that beyond the common-sense give-me-liberty stereotypes, the essential nature of Paine and Henry are unknown.

No top-ten list critique would be complete without the “who’s missing” list. For my “Freebird” nominees, I include Charles Pinckney of SC and Dr. Benjamin Rush of PA. For better or worse, it's hard to imagine the constitutional convention without Pinckney and if a political revolution needs corresponding revolution in ideas, then Rush’s innovative thinking about areas as diverse as infectious medicine and prison reform reflect it.

I’ve looked through the UofL library catalog to put together a reading list of scholarship of the ten BFFs (best forgotten founders) and have noticed a few things. First, the rakish Gouverneur Morris is certainly been un-forgotten this century, with 4 new books since 2000. Second, Sherman is really, really obscure, with nothing published in the last quarter-century. Third, John Marshall forgotten? Really? Ever? Not in legal publishing, with every decade producing a spate of books about the man who made the Constitution in his own image. I include only one title in the list, an intellectual comparison of Marshall and Jefferson’s concept of the new republic:

  • Mark David Hall, The political and legal philosophy of James Wilson, 1742-1798 (Columbia : University of Missouri Press, c1997).
  • Jeff Broadwater, George Mason, forgotten founder (Chapel Hill : University of North Carolina Press, c2006).
  • James J. Kirschke, Gouverneur Morris : author, statesman, and man of the world (New York : Thomas Dunne Books, 2005).
  • Melanie Randolph Miller, Envoy to the terror : Gouverneur Morris & the French Revolution (Dulles, Va. : Potomac Books, c2005.
  • Richard Brookhiser, Gentleman revolutionary : Gouverneur Morris, the rake who wrote the Constitution (New York : Free Press, c2003).
  • William Howard Adams, Gouverneur Morris : an independent life (New Haven : Yale University Press, c2003).
  • Frank W. Brecher, Securing American independence : John Jay and the French alliance (Westport, Conn. : Praeger, 2003).
  • James F. Simon, What kind of nation : Thomas Jefferson, John Marshall, and the epic struggle to create a United States (New York : Simon & Schuster, c2002.
  • Milton E. Flower, John Dickinson, conservative revolutionary (Charlottesville : University Press of Virginia, 1983).
  • Craig Nelson, Thomas Paine : enlightenment, revolution, and the birth of modern nations (New York : Viking, 2006).
  • Eric Foner, Tom Paine and revolutionary America (Publisher: New York : Oxford University Press, 2005).
  • Harlow Giles Unger, America’s second revolution : how George Washington defeated Patrick Henry and saved the nation (Hoboken, N.J. : John Wiley & Sons, c2007).
  • Jeffry H. Morrison, John Witherspoon and the founding of the American republic (Notre Dame, Ind. : University of Notre Dame Press, c2005).

A shocking lapse

I have two words for you, sir: William Tecumseh. Also, which John Sherman are you referring to? W.S.'s bother, "The Ohio Icicle"? Or John "Vermin" Sherman, the world famous boulderer?


I'm sorry, Mr. Campbell, I'm unaware of this William Tecum-something you speak of. I dimly remember Senator Sherman of Ohio having a wayward brother who was engaged in some unspeakable acts during The War Between The States, but that is really something we don't speak of much around here. Now, pass me another of those wonderful mint juleps...