The Trust’s Teacher Institute: The Men Who Invented the Constitution

David Stewart at TI“There are, every now and then, rooms where it all happens,” said David Stewart. “If we have a sacred space in this country, that’s it. That’s the room to see.”

Stewart, author of The Summer of 1787: The Men Who Invented the Constitution, was referring to the room in the Pennsylvania state house where delegates in 1776 debated and signed the Declaration of Independence and then, again, where delegates in 1787 debated and signed the Constitution of the United States. Today, it’s Independence Hall.

During Friday’s morning session at the American Battlefield Trust’s Teacher Institute, Stewart treated us to a book talk called “Inventing America: The Constitutional Convention of 1787.”

“It matters who’s there, who’s in the room,” Stewart said. “The personalities were fascinating.”

Here are a few of my takeaways from Stewart’s talk, as I tried to listen and take notes: 

Madison’s notes are the best source of what happened.

“The debate happened at such a sophisticated level. Most of them [the delegates] had participated in creating their state constitutions.” As a result, they had sophisticated understandings about government, and about what worked and didn’t and why.

“How do you have a strong government, but still have control? How do the people have control?”

“I didn’t understand how important slavery was to the convention. It’s something we didn’t talk about [when I was growing up].” It’s something that’s generally been overlooked by many modern historians.

“It’s a remarkable story. Not necessarily a heroic one.”

“The Articles of Confederation set up a very weak government. It’s hard to appreciate just how weak it was.”

“It was not a sure thing that America was not going to survive at all.”

“It was a long summer. They met for four months. It gets hot. They didn’t have very forgiving clothes.”

“They met in secret. You could speak freely if you knew it was going to be confidential. But that meant they kept the windows sealed and the doors locked.”

*     *     *

Stewart focused on “six all-stars who really made it happen, who were terribly important.”

George Washington

“We have to start with the big guy. He was president of the convention. The indispensible man. There’s no other term. No one would have come. It never would have been written. No one would have signed it afterward if he hadn’t supported it.”

“He was almost entirely silent” but “He let people know what he wanted.”

“Everyone knew he was going to be the first president. He said to those people: ‘I trust you. Do the best you can. I’ll try to make it work.’ There is no more powerful message to get people to behave well.”

Ben Franklin

At 81, he was old enough to be Washington’s father, old enough to be Madison’s grandfather. He didn’t make it to every session.

“He was a wonderful, conciliatory force.”

“Everyone loved to be around him because he was funny. That always works. He would lower the temperature. He would crack jokes. He acted as an essential glue.”

The so-called Connecticut Compromise—state representation in the upper house and population representation in the lower house—was really Franklin’s idea.

James Madison

“He was the consistent voice of reason at the convention.”

“He is often called the Father of the Constitution. I quarrel with that. The final constitution didn’t look much like he wanted it to.”

“He doesn’t change the conversation. He’s just this guy—short, kind of annoying. He’s just there. He doesn’t move the needle.”

“Another measure is the committees. The committees are where the work really happened. Until the last couple of weeks, he didn’t appear on any committees.”

He’s terribly important with the Virginia plan and in the run-up to the convention, though.

John Rutledge

“He was called ‘The most imperious man in America.’”

He was “a steadfast supporter of slavery, an effective proponent for it.”

“He was important, and we ignore that at our risk.”

“After he speaks, the conversation changes.”

“Nobody was on more committees: he was on five. Nobody chaired more: he chaired three.”

Because of his advocacy, delegates entrenched slavery in the Constitution.

James Wilson

A delegate from Pennsylvania, an immigrant from Scotland, “a lawyer, a fine lawyer,” “about as unlovable as John Rutledge”

“Having an argument with Wilson was like being occupied by a foreign country”

He introduced “resolutions that make us cringe—but the nature of compromise is that they’re compromises.”

A central question of the convention: were slaves people or were they property. Wilson came up with the idea of counting them as 3/5 of a human being. “It makes us cringe today—and it should—but it got them past it.”

“Another issue was how to choose the president. He came up with the Electoral College. It broke down almost immediately, which required the twelfth amendment to get it to at least work badly.”

Gouverneur Morris

“Morris is fun. He loved to party. He was a New Yorker there as a Pennsylvania delegate.” Lost a leg in a carriage accident. Extremely rich.

Didn’t worry about making friends much.

Did a couple wonderful things.

“Morris objected to the pro-slavery elements. he gave what’s become known as the first abolitionist speech.”

He’s the one who actually wrote the Constitution. “He writes the constitution in two days. He simplifies and clarifies.”

“There needs to be a statue to him somewhere.”


“John Adams would’ve made a difference if he had been in the room. I’m not sure about Jefferson. He tended to be quiet, and it was a room full of noisy people.”

McCook and the Czar

100 years ago last night, Czar Nicholas II and his family were killed by the Bolsheviks near Ekaterinburg, Russia. This was the end of the Romanov Dynasty, which had ruled Russia since 1613.

The US representative to Nicholas II’s coronation in 1896 was Alexander McCook, former US Army Major General and corps commander at Perryville, Stones River, and Chickamauga.


Alexander McD. McCook

All Star President of the New York Mutuals Captain Jack Wildey–Part 2

Currier & Ives lithograph of baseball at New York’s Elysian Fields

When the 11th New York got back to Washington and took stock of their situation, it did not look good: almost seventy men had been sent to Richmond as prisoners and as many as 177 were lost to action. At least thirty-five had been killed outright with more to soon die of their wounds. On August 12, 1861, the remaining members of the regiment were sent back to New York City to disband in preparation to reorganize, obtain equipment and recruit replacements.[1]With Captain Wildey’s fame preceding him, he rode home with his mates.

“Boss” Tweed of Tammany Hall

Although most of New York’s firefighters who fought for the Union supported Lincoln’s cause, they were, for the most part, Democrats. New York Mayor Fernando Wood was a notorious Confederate sympathizer and in order to get and retain loyalty in the city, Lincoln’s future Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (a Democrat before 1862) was tasked to make deals with whomever he could. This included Tammany Hall and William Magear “Boss” Tweed. Basically, the deal was this–toss some support to Lincoln in exchange for a couple of lucrative government contracts.[2]

In New York’s 1861 fall elections, Tweed needed people to run in some specifically designed “fusion” tickets that united Tammany Democrats with Lincoln Republicans. Tweed designed the race so that his candidates were entered in weak areas, assuring a win for Tammany Hall. Included in the fusion ticket sweep of offices was John Wildey, a candidate for City Coroner. Although the office of Coroner seems like an odd choice for a former Union army infantry captain, it must be pointed out that being a coroner in New York City at the time was a political endeavor, not a medical one. Coroners were paid by the dead body, and few questions were asked about how the body came to be dead. If the remaining family members chose to have their loved one buried by a Tammany-owned funeral home, the coroner got an even bigger kickback. Wildey owed his political career to Tweed, so it is likely that he was a willing participant in the corrupt coroner process. The New York Times 1889 obituary of Wildey states with a trace of irony: “He died in poverty. He had made plenty of money, but long ago lost the last of his fortune.”[3]He did not make that fortune as a fireman, a Civil War veteran, or in baseball.

And just what did Tammany politics have to do with baseball? William L. Riordan quotes George Washington Plunkett in his book Plunkett of Tammany Hall:

I hear a young feller that’s proud of his voice… I ask him to join our Glee   Club. He comes up and sings, and he’s a follower of Plunkitt for life. Another young feller gains a reputation as a baseball player in a vacant lot. I bring him into our baseball club. That fixes him. You’ll find him working for my ticket at the polls next election. I rope them all in by givin’ them opportunities to show off themselves off. I don’t trouble them with political arguments.”[4]

John Wildey’s Coroner’s Office found employment for many players in the New York Mutuals. Within a few years, Tammany Hall was contributing generously to the upkeep of New York’s most successful “amateur ” team. In 1862, many of the Mutuals players were on salary, although not in a way that could quickly be traced back to the team itself.

The NY Mutuals–John Wildey in the center

In 1865, the National Association of Base Ball Players (NABBP) met for the first time since the Civil War. Clubs gathered from ten states to elect New York Coroner/Civil War hero John Wildey as their national president.[5]Baseball was facing two huge problems at the time: whether or not the amateur, volunteer teams should become professional, and gambling. The Mutuals were not known for their honesty in baseball. Players had been receiving money for their efforts for several years in one way or another, and cheating on a game in which large bets were placed was not unknown. When there was cheating to be done, the Mutuals could be counted on to cheat in grand style. They were avid bettors and sore losers.[6]

The first generally considered “thrown” game was the contest between the Mutuals and the Eckford Club of Brooklyn on September 28, 1865. During the first four innings, the Mutuals played like the favorites they were. Gamblers moved through the crowds, making and collecting bets. In the fifth inning, things on the field changed dramatically–the Eckfords scored eleven runs! Games could be high scoring in the days when fielders, for example, had no baseball gloves and catchers were getting battered by trying to bare-handedly catch pitched balls, but it was the suspicious way that the runs were suddenly accumulated. Experienced Mutuals catcher William Wansley had missed two catches, had six passed balls and four wild throws one after the other.[7]

Daniel E. Ginsberg, in The Fix Is In: A History of Baseball Gambling and Game- Fixing Scandals, describes how catcher Wansley talked two more Mutuals players–Ed Duffy and Tom Devyr–into helping him throw the game against the Eckfords. Certain gamblers were informed of this new “condition,” and the fix was now a going concern. After the game, President Wildey facetiously chastised Wansley with “willful and designed inattention” as he played and, with the confession of Devyr, all three players were suspended from baseball.[8]In this way the Mutuals-Eckfords match officially became the first rigged game in the history of the sport. This was not some obscure contest. It involved the top teams in the largest city in the nation. New York was considered the cradle of baseball, and the majority of the amateur teams were in the New York metro area. This game had been thrown on the “biggest baseball stage in the country.”[9]Do not think for a moment that Wildey was not involved from the beginning.

City Coroner and former Captain John “Jack” Wildey had one more contribution to make to baseball, although this one was more honorable. He championed the return of Duffy, Wansley, and Devyr and by 1870 all three were back on the diamond. On November 30, 1870, Wildey was again elected President of the NABBP by a vote of 18-8. The organization also voted by a 2-1 margin to become professional. Wildey was completely in favor of this move. After all, the Mutuals had been illegally professional for years. His response to those who were loath to abandon their original amateur status was:

We are perfectly willing to adopt such a rule, but I fear, ladies and   gentlemen, if we did, the players wouldn’t observe it. It seems to me that the days are over when baseball is purely a game for amateurs.[10]

Four years before Wildey’s death, a history of the New York City fire departments concluded their biographical sketch of him with:

Everyone knows of Jack Wildey of ‘Black Horse Guard’ fame. He was always a great admirer of athletic sports of all kinds, and, although sixty-two years old, he would astonish some of the present generation should they try their strength against him.[11]

Captain John Wildey, of New York City’s Engine Company Number 11, of Tammany Hall, of the New York Mutuals, and of the 11th New York Fire Zouaves died in 1889. His obituary, although short, does not fail to mention that, “… in the Battle of First Bull Run he contributed by his bravery to saving the colors of the Sixty-ninth Regiment from capture by the rebels….”[12]

That, and baseball.


[1]”Reports from Alexandria,” August 31, 1861: The New York Times.

[2]Kenneth D. Ackerman, Boss Tweed, (New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2007), 27.

[3]”John Wildey Died in Poverty,” Obituary, June 1, 1889, The New York Times.

[4]William R. Riordan, Plunkett of Tammany Hall: A Series of Very Plain Talks (New York” E. P. Dutton & Co., 1963) 25-26.

[5]William J. Ryczek, When Johnny Comes Sliding Home: The Post-Civil War Baseball Boom, 1865-1870, (Jefferson, North Carolina and London, McFarland & Company, Inc., 1998), 247.

[6]Ryczek, 75.

[7]Philip H. Dixon, “The First Fixed Game: Mutuals of New York vs. Eckfords of Brooklyn,” Inventing Baseball: The 100 Greatest Games of the 19th Century, (SABR, 2013); 46,47.4


[9]Mark Souder, “Captain John Wildey, Tammany Hall, and the Rise of Professional Baseball,” [online version available through].


[11]Frank Kernan, Reminiscences of the Old Fire Laddies and Volunteer Fire Departments of New York and Brooklyn, Together with a Complete History of the Paid Departments of Both Cities, (New York: M. Crane, 1885), 474. [online version available through].

[12]Obituary, “John Wildey Died in Poverty,” June 1, 1889, The New York Times.

Home Run Derby Star Captain “Jack” Wildey–Part 1

When John Hay and George Nicolay drove their rented buggy over to Camp Lincoln to say hello to their friend Colonel Elmer Ellsworth, they found him wearing his “blouzy red shirt” and enjoying that New York favorite: Base Ball. Most New York firefighters played the game, and among those involved was Ellsworth’s aide-de-camp, Captain John “Jack” Wildey.

Baseball found on the Shiloh Battlefield

Wildey played ball before he became a Fire Zouave. He played for the New York Mutuals, named for his own Mutual Hook and Ladder Company Number 1. The Mutuals were formed in 1857 and played amateur ball at the Hoboken Grounds, their home grounds. Many firefighters and city employees played in a variety of New York teams, but the Mutuals were reckoned the best. It was perfectly normal for a handmade ball, a bit larger and softer than today’s baseball, to be found in the knapsack of an 11th New York Fire Zouave.

Captain Wildey was the person with Colonel Ellsworth the night before he was shot in Alexandria. Colonel Ellsworth asked Captain Wildey to come to his tent after 1:00 AM to help him dress for his first mission as a commanding officer.  Ellsworth had laid his uniform out on the camp bed. Ellsworth stood quietly as if thinking over his choices, and then said to Captain Wildey, “I was thinking in what clothes I shall die.” Wildey laughed and tried to cheer him up with a few joking words, but Ellsworth just shook his head, saying nothing for a moment. Then, smiling, he went to his trunk and opened it.  He withdrew an entirely new uniform, tagged and packaged from the tailor.  “If I am to be shot tomorrow, and I have a presentment that my blood is immediately required by the country–it is in this suit that I shall die.” Wildey helped him put on the new uniform, and within moments Ellsworth was his normal confident self.  Wildey wound the red silk officers’ sash around Ellsworth’s narrow waist.  And as discussed, this was the uniform in which Ellsworth died early on the morning of May 24.

Unit cohesion was difficult after losing Ellsworth, but leaders like (acting) Lt. Col. Noah Farnham, Major Charles Loeser, and Capt. Jack Wildey kept the Fire Zouaves together long enough to make it to the battleground of First Bull Run. The reputation of “Ellsworth’s Zouaves” was initially tarnished by regular Army officers testifying before the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War. It remained thus until recently, as historians such as Lesley J. Gordon (A Broken Regiment: The 16th Connecticut’s Civil War and “I Never was a Coward” pamphlet), and Harry Smeltzer (Bull Runnings blog) have gone back to primary sources to look for another, truer, interpretation. Ellsworth said before he went to New York City that he wanted the New York firemen because they were men who could go into a fight immediately. This would prove especially true for Captain Jack Wildey.

“Ellsworth’s Zouaves”

July 21, 2861 is the date that the Battle of First Bull Run was fought. There is much to the battle, but the Fire Zouaves were only involved in the afternoon attempt to defend Union batteries on Henry House Hill. Control of the field around Henry House Hill changed hands several times, but ultimately the South held sway. There was some small fighting in which the guns changed hands a couple of times, but because the horses that had pulled them lay dead in their traces, it was impossible for anyone to remove the captured pieces from the field.  Finally, by 3:15 PM, after just over an hour of combat, the Confederate forces easily took possession of the Union guns and the 11th New York, among others was dispersed in retreat. The 11th did not “run like little girls or scared rabbits,” but they did not stay in retreat either. Many of them looked around the battlefield, identified another unit that was still fighting, and rushed to join in. Wildey joined in with the men of the 69th New York, who were having a bad time of it. Their leader, Colonel Michael Corcoran was taken prisoner and the Henry House Hill batteries had been taken. Still, they fought on. During this last encounter with the Confederates, the beautiful green flag that was held so proudly over Irish heads was taken. Who got it back?

Wildey and the B’hoys help take back the colors

At the fight at Bull Run, when the flag of the glorious Sixty-ninth Regiment  was wrested from them by a superior force of the enemy, Jack Wildey rushed forward at the head of his brave men, and after a bloody contest, in which he killed two men,–one a rebel officer, whose sword he took from him as a trophy,–recaptured the flag, and after marching four miles he restored it to the gallant corps from whom it had been taken.

New York Herald, July 27, 1861

Nevertheless, the Federal troops had been demoralizingly routed and, to make things worse, many ninety-day northern militia enlistments were about to expire. Some heroes were immediately needed. As Wildey’s fame spread northward he became a hero, especially in New York. The gallant Captain Wildey was called home to New York City, ostensibly to recruit more soldiers. However, Tammany Hall leader William Magear “Boss” Tweed had other ideas. He needed Wildey to represent Tammany in an upcoming city election.

To be continued . . .

The Trust’s Teacher Institute: Rethinking George Washington with Phill Greenwalt

Phill @ TIWhen he takes to the front of the room for his talk at the American Battlefield Trust’s Teacher Institute, Phill Greenwalt introduces himself as the co-founder of Emerging Revolutionary War and as the acting chief of interpretation at Morristown National Historic Site. “If I say anything you like, I’m that guy,” he says, pointing to his Morristown title; then he points to his ERW title. “If I mess up, I’m that guy,” he chuckles.

It’s Phill’s self-proclaimed tongue-in-cheek mission to see how many times he can work Morristown into any conversation while he’s at the Teacher Institute. “Washington spent more time in Morristown during the war than anywhere. It’s where America survived,” Phill points out. “I say that within a stone’s throw of Valley Forge, which says it was the place where the war was won.”

Phill is here to talk about rethinking George Washington. Teachers can explore what their students think they know versus what they don’t know. Washington offers a great study in mythology versus reality. 

“Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of public happiness,” Washington said in his first annual address to Congress in January 1789.

Phill starts by outlining four stages of Washington’s life, which each offer discreet teaching opportunities:

  • Young George
  • General George
  • President George
  • Memory

Phill's TI CrowdThe life of young Washington offers themes of loss, extended family relationships, becoming a gentleman, career ambitions, education. The men in his family typically die before they’re 50. “Fortunately, behind every good man is a strong woman,” Phill says, pointing to the sometimes-turbulent relationship between Washington and his mother. “They have the same personality,” which included stubbornness and purposefulness.

“Washington nearly joined the navy,” Phill offers as an example, “but was steered away from it by his mother, who didn’t want him to live a middling existence.” Washington was also turned down for marriage twice; one of those women told him it was because his prospects didn’t seem bright enough.

Washington only had a fifth-grade education, but he had intelligence and wisdom earned through experience. Coupled with his determination and his physical stature, Washington set himself on a path for success.

“He was between 6’2” and 6’4”, depending on what convenience store he’s leaving,” Phill joked. “That made him six-to-eight inches taller than the average person.”

He also had luck on his side. “‘It’s better to be lucky than good’ could have been his motto from his French & Indian War experience,” Phill said. After all, Washington ended up inadvertently touching off a fight at Fort Necessity that escalated into the French & Indian War.

Phill points out that, throughout his military career, Washington keeps learning from his mistakes. “He’s not perfect,” Phill says. “He tries a lot of different things. He fails at a lot of them, but he keeps trying.” Washington ends up losing more battles than he wins, yet he finds himself on the winning side of two major conflicts.

“Washington claimed he didn’t want the military role, but he showed up at the Continental Congress wearing his military uniform,” Phill points out. “Actions speak louder than words.”

His leadership style was “to keep himself above the fray.” When a cabal worked against him behind the scenes during the Valley Forge winter, for instance, Washington refused to take them on. After the war, when a group of angry officers threatened to march the army on the capital, Washington deflated the situation with a calming influence.

“When he stepped to the podium to address the group,” Phill said, “he stopped and put on his glasses. He said, ‘Not only have I gone gray in the service of my country, I’ve also gone blind.’ That alone right there put an end to it.”

Phill says Washington also knew how to get the best out of the people he was with. “Washington knows he’s not going to be the smartest guy in the room, but he knows enough to surround himself with good people,” he says. “First-rate people surround themselves with other first-rate people. Second-rate people surround themselves with third-rate people.”

He urges the teachers in the room to take the time with their students to understand how Washington went “from man to marble.” Exploring the processes of remembrance and deification—“peeling back the marble,” he calls it—can offer some great learning opportunities.

“Washington’s surviving papers show us what he wanted us to see,” Phill says. “He was thinking ahead.” Washington maintained a very careful public persona, even going so far as to tell people to burn private correspondence. His wife, Martha, burned all their letters, believing that what was said between a husband and wife should stay between them.

And while much speculation has surrounded the Washingtons’ relationship, Phill again reminds us that actions speak louder than words. “She travels some of the worst roads in some of the worst weather to be with George during quiet times in the war, during winter encampments,” Phill says. “So there had to be something there between them for her to go through all that.”

Wrong Washington's birthplaceEven if you think you know Washington, new research continues to shed more light on him. He ended with some news about recent work at George Washington Birthplace, an NPS site where Phill once worked. “New research suggests he was not born at the site where the Birthplace has said it was for years,” Phill admits. “The building we’ve thought was the birthplace might’ve been a pantry or large outdoor storage building of some sort. The actual birthplace is somewhere else on the site!”

The Trust’s Teacher Institute: Where’s “Waldo”

I’m not normally one for taking selfies, but I got to spend time with a lot of cool people and see a lot of cool stuff at the American Battlefield Trust’s Teacher Institute in Philadelphia this week, so I want to share some of those meetings and interactions. Everyone heads home today–although I’ll have more dispatches to share once I have the time to get my notes written up!–but I thought this would be a fun way to close out the conference. It feels a little like “Where’s Waldo” to pop up in photo to photo, though.

I’ll start with a pair of my ECW colleagues and good friends, Dan Davis and Phill Greenwalt as the three of us shared lunch at City Tavern:

Here’s the owner of City Tavern, the multiple-Emmy Award winning host of A Taste of History, celebrity Chef Walter Staib. Chef was a gracious host who provided a great historic atmosphere and a delicious lunch, including the best chicken pot pie I’ve ever eaten in my life!

On Saturday night, one of the Civil War community’s greatest military historians, Carol Reardon, presented the keynote address. Carol is so down-to-earth and friendly.

Phill Greenwalt took a selfie with the Baron von Steuben statue at Valley Forge, so I felt like I had to, too. There’s a new tour stop, parking area, and small plaza (complete with pergola and benches) to help visitors enjoy the spot and appreciate von Steuben’s immense contributions to the Continental Army.Finally, I took a selfie with some of the folks on my bus on Saturday. It was such a treat exploring Philadelphia with a busload of teachers (who are usually the ones chaperoning the busloads of students!). I was so amazed by the enthusiasm they have for their profession and for the kids they teach.