My day began at the Brooklyn Bridge Marriott. After a bowl of oatmeal I met up with my friend Anthony Napoli of the Gilder-Lehrman Institute and we walked a few blocks to our meeting at the Brooklyn Historical Society . I then led a seminar on the U.S. Constitution for twenty teachers from the Catholic Archdiocese of New York.
After a few technical difficulties with the LCD projector and laptop, I gave two 90 minute lectures on the Constitution. The first lecture focused on the 1780s and the political, economic, and moral crises that led to the gathering of the Constitutional Convention. I still find Gordon Wood’s analysis in The Creation of the American Republic to be the most convincing. As a result, the lecture focused a lot on republicanism, political virtue, and the framers’s fear of democracy. The second lecture explored Federalist 10, the “political psychology” (to borrow a term from Daniel Walker Howe) of the Federalists, and the ways in which such psychology was manifested in the Constitution. I ended this lecture with a discussion of whether or not we can call the Constitution a counter-revolutionary document, especially as it relates to the more democratic spirit of the Declaration of Independence. All of the teachers read Woody Holton’s excellent Unruly Americans and we had some fruitful discussion related to Holton’s interpretation of the Constitution.
I left Brooklyn around noon and after a brief stint at my parents’ house in New Jersey I headed to Rutgers-New Brunswick to give a lecture to a gathering of the New Jersey Studies Academic Alliance (NJSAA). I have been following the activities of the NJSAA for several years, but it was finally nice to put some names with faces. It was a star-studded crowd of New Jersey history scholars, including Marc Mappen of the New Jersey Historical Commission, Maxine Lurie from Seton Hall, and Peter Wacker from Rutgers. I was also thrilled that Alan Lucibello, my high school Advanced Placement U.S. history teacher, introduced me and my talk. I spoke for about forty-five minutes on Philip Vickers Fithian’s attempts to reconcile his Enlightenment ambition for self-improvement with his deep and abiding love for his Cohansey River home. Thanks to Bonita Craft Grant of Rutgers Special Collections for hosting me.
I got to Mechanicsburg around 9:40, just in time to unpack and see Danny Gokey get voted off of American Idol!