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Monday
Feb042013

This Week's Trivia--Find The Founder

Information for this week's trivia question all comes from a 2005 book by Walter Stahr whose recent biography of Seward was so good that, as is often the case, I decided to seek out other books he's written.

We're looking for a founding father here, admittedly not in the ranks of Washington, Jefferson, and Adams but an important founder (as much overlooked) founder nonetheless.  The book is entitled _______ _________, Founding Father.  Fill in the blank and you've got the answer.  Ring in whenever you choose; I'll try to think up five options for a multiple choice at the very end.

He was ten years older than his wife Sarah Livingston, but he lived in retirement nearly three decades after she passed away.  She rightly deserves the title of founding mother because, unlike some wives, she braved the Atlantic and accompanied him when he left on a mission for our country in October, 1779.   In fact, they nearly didn't make it to Europe; their ship was buffeted by an Atlantic storm, and they were forced onto the island of Martinique where they boarded another ship for a calm passage.

That mission, involving a dreary year and a half in Spain, accomplished very little, but this founder was on hand for negotiating the peace treaty with Britain to end the revolutionary war.  He doesn't get as much credit as Adams or Jefferson, but in fact (according to Stahr), he may well deserve more.

That was by no means his first or his last service to the country.  Prior to that, he had spent a year as President of the Continental Congress, during which time he learned how virtually impossible it was to get anything done without a strong central government.


No wonder, he led the effort to pass the Constitution, not only in his native state of New York, but as a Federalist Paper writer (albeit not as many as Hamilton or Madison).

While never Secretary of State, he in fact filled that role but in the title of Secretary for Foreign Affairs when the Articles of Confederation were in effect.  Stahr credits him with avoiding renewal of war with England.

If you don't have it yet, this clue should give it away.  As a founder, he is best known as our First

Supreme Court Chief Justice, but in that role, he didn't decide many cases.  Rather, he and the other justices spent most of their time riding to circuit courts (over rough terrain).

He left that job when President Washington sent him back to London to negotiate another treaty (highly controversial back home) with England.  Jeffersonians hated it, but it may well have kept us out of war once again.

Although a Federalist, he was not an enemy of Jefferson.  In fact, as Governor of New York, he refused Alexander Hamilton's request to change the way electors were chosen for the Presidency in 1800.  After the Federalists had lost in a spring popular vote, Hamilton wanted the Legislature to choose a new slate of electors.  He said no.

Lest we think he was good in every way, let's not forget that while more religious than most of the founders, he was in a sense, a religious bigot; he was very anti-Catholic.  The fact that his ancestors were French Huguenots (Protestants) may well have had something to do with that, but he can hardly be forgiven for unsuccessfully trying to stuff anti-Catholic clauses into the New York Constitution when he wrote that.

Was this founder?

A--John Jay

B--Gouverneur Morris

C--George Clinton

D--Robert Livingston, or

E--William Livingston

That's John Jay.  William Livingston was his father in law.  Robert Livingston was his best friend in his youth but a bitter political enemy later on.  Walter Isaacson, biographer of Franklin and Steve Jobs, comments, "This wonderful book should restore Jay's place in the pantheon of our greatest Founding Fathers." 

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