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Guest column/If it weren’t for our fathers, where would we be?

June 16, 2012
By R.W. PHILLIPS , The Herald-Star

This weekend we give honor and thank our fathers, living and passed, and the generations of fathers before them and the endless sacrifices they made for our families.

I think of my own late father, Clete Phillips, a stubborn Welshman who grew up in Salineville. He always regretted having to give up playing shortstop on the Steubenville baseball team at 14 to look for work in Cleveland. Good with his hands, he fixed all things, often working two jobs. I also think of my wife Mary's late father, Steve Palinkas in Euclid. He was Hungarian and just as stubborn a hard worker. He worked odd jobs during the war and thanked FDR every day for the WPA. He nursed his old pick-up to deliver coal or collect whatever he could to turn-in or trade for food, which along with his abundant garden, fed his five children. And he shared his love of gardening, which has been a lifelong pleasure for my Mary, our children and their children.

As we look back, let's reflect on our Founding Fathers and where we'd be today had they not stood tall and often sacrificed themselves and all they had to free their United Colonies from British oppression.

There are about several hundred patriots whom history considers our Founding Fathers. We mostly remember John Adams, Samuel Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, John Hancock, John Jay, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and George Washington.

It may surprise some to know Arthur St. Clair is considered a Founding Father, because he served in the Revolutionary War from 1774 to 1783, as major general and, as the president of the 1787 Congress which convened the Constitutional Convention. This led to the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights we know today. Oh yes, while much of his territorial governor duties were focused on Ohio some years later, he also established Belmont County and named St. Clairsville its county seat.

Generally speaking, those considered as Founding Fathers are included in the groups who signed the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Then there were the members of the first United States Congress who passed the Bill of Rights, the U. S. presidents of the Confederated Congress before the Constitution and the governors who held the colonies together during the war. Last, but not least there were the cabinet members of the first constitutionally authorized presidencies of George Washington and John Adams, who were faced with the awesome challenge of implementing so much new constitutional law.

And let us not forget the military leaders who inspired America's Continental Army and Navy to victory over the British. These include the 30 major generals and 19 brigadier generals of the Army and our 12 Naval officers.

At the Constitutional Convention, chaired so efficiently by George Washington, founder James Wilson of Pennsylvania is said to have brilliantly addressed the delegates assembled on salient constitutional points no less than 165 times.

Also, founder James Madison of New York took on the challenge of authoring a Bill of Rights as demanded by so many constitutional delegates.

Still others had talents which enabled them to make a unique impact: Daniel Webster, Paul Revere, Ethan Allen, Nathan Hale, Patrick Henry and, most of all, Thomas Paine. A journalist, Paine's 1776 pamphlet, "Common Sense," advocated colonial America's independence from the kingdom of Great Britain.

Viewed as a seditionist work by the king and the British loyalists, the pamphlet made Paine a wanted man.

But Common Sense was still the best-selling work in both countries during the war - nearly a million copies sold. Paine's "Common Sense" was powerful in its simplicity. The 48-page pamphlet was easily read by everyone, foregoing lofty philosophy and Latin references. Washington often read passages of "Common Sense" to his faltering troops as reminders of why they were fighting. John Adams once said, "Without the pen of the author of 'Common Sense,' the sword of Washington would have been raised in vain."

Arthur St. Clair's destiny as a Founding Father really began many years before 1774 when our founders first stood tall for American freedom. Upon retiring in 1762 after five years service as a British lieutenant fighting against the French in Canada, St. Clair settled in Western Pennsylvania with his family. The British persuaded him to re-enlist as their forward observer, with the rank of captain and commandant of their British Forts.

Soon after, the British decided to discourage the Pennsylvania settlers by not protecting them from Indian attacks. When they removed all British troops from the forts, St. Clair was left to fend for himself. But then he learned that the continuing Indian attacks were being instigated by British Lord Dunmore, the governor of Virginia.

St. Clair began teaching the Pennsylvania settlers to defend themselves, with the full support of Gov. William Penn. Eventually in 1774, at a colonist protest meeting about the British, the now outspoken St. Clair took on a leadership role and joined in the drafting and signing of protest documents. It was not long before President Hancock recruited him as a Continental Army colonel. It was during the next quarter century that most of America's Founding Fathers also made their marks on history.

(Phillips, a resident of St. Clairsville, is an Ohio Valley historian.)

 
 

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