A historic moment in the study of the Constitution and the Founding Fathers may be taking place right under our noses. Lorianne Updike Toler, a recent graduate of Brigham Young University, has thrown the historical community a curveball that apparently nobody is sure how to read. While conducting research at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Mrs. Toler made a discovery that if proved accurate, could throw a wrench into the workings of early American historiography. Buried deep in the archives, Toler found what she believes is an original draft of the Constitution that was written by none other than James Wilson. From the Mormon Times:
"This makes James Wilson very much equal to Thomas Jefferson as a drafter of the Constitution," she said. "It means to truly understand the Constitution, we need to study James Wilson a whole lot more."
Toler said she was puzzled when she noticed, while examining what scholars consider to be the first draft of the Constitution, that there were three upside down paragraphs on the back of the document. The hurriedly composed paragraphs, beginning with the familiar words "We The People," were written in Wilson's hand.
Later, as Toler was digging through a box of legal papers at the historical society, she stumbled upon a document that appeared to pick up where Wilson's scribbled notes left off.
Toler was overwhelmed.
"To find something that is so important to the development of our country -- it was almost a sacred moment for me," Toler said, of finding the draft in November. "The founding documents, to me, are American scripture, and I had found one of the first chapters."
Toler first fell in love with the Founding Fathers as a home-schooled teenager. Her mother was an active lobbyist at the Utah Legislature, so Toler learned about democracy while doing her homework in the Senate gallery. As a law student at BYU, she founded the Constitutional Sources Project, a nonprofit devoted to making primary historical papers available online.
Only about 25 percent of the 21 million artifacts at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania are cataloged. According to Historical Society records,the society's records, the page Toler believes is a third draft of the Constitution has been filed away in a box marked simply "James Wilson: Volume Two" since at least 1970. Toler suspects the document has been in that box since it was first transcribed by Yale scholar Max Farrand in 1911.
"It was just sitting there, forgotten," Toler said.
According to Farrand's writings, in 1911, he connected the three-paragraph introduction on the back of Wilson's first draft to a document titled "The Continuation of the Scheme," Toler said. The paper Toler found is also called "The Continuation of the Scheme."
She doesn't believe it's a coincidence.What are the implications of such a discovery (assuming the discovery is legit)? Difficult to say. But I can't wait to look over what Wilson may have written in these documents!
Not everyone, however, is as excited.
"I'm pretty skeptical," said Andrew Shankman, an associate professor of history at Rutgers University in New Jersey, shortly after examining the paper. "It doesn't appear to fit with the known drafts of the Constitution."
Specifically, he said, the numbering system between the three-paragraph fragment and "The Continuation of the Scheme" don't seem to match up, he said. The style is less formal than Wilson's other drafts.
Toler acknowledged the inconsistent style between drafts but attributed the differences to a "more relaxed, scatterbrained" Wilson, she said.
"This is significant because James Wilson was always polished in front of others," Toler said. "To me, the way these documents were written demonstrates that he worked alone on this project for some time. These are his raw thoughts."