Founding Fathers Foster Discourse at Six O'Clock Series

Posted on 9/15/21 9:11 AM

For 15 years, Gwendolyn Torges has created something uniquely special at IUP. Unlike many other universities that recognize the federally mandated recognition of the US Constitution with uninspired library displays, Torges decided to use the platform of the Six O’Clock Series to bring the founders of our country to life. 

Year after year, students and university employees have watched and interacted with our founding fathers in real time.  With help from professors turned players, Torges leads a panel discussion with Alexander Hamilton, Ben Franklin, James Madison, and Charles Pinckney. Donning full regalia and sitting side-by-side at tables dressed with quills, ink, candles, stemware, and kerosene lamps, the Constitution’s writers return for one evening each year to discuss the document that created our country. The floor then opens for students to speak directly to the panel and ask questions.

Associate professor and Political Science Department Chairperson David Chambers takes on a new life as Benjamin Franklin. Chambers says, “I’ve been at IUP for 35 years, and I’ve been playing Ben Franklin for 15 of those 35 years. I do this because, first, it’s a great deal of fun to inhabit another character, but I also believe it is very important. I am distressed at the lack of understanding of the Constitution, and if we can do even some small part in making it more accessible to the student population, then we have been successful.”

Steven F. Jackson, also a professor in the Political Science Department, becomes Alexander Hamilton. Jackson says, “I’ve been playing Alexander Hamilton for about 12 years now. It has been an interesting opportunity. Obviously, I enjoy playing Hamilton, and did so before there was a musical about me (Hamilton).  It is always fun to interact with Joe Mannard from the History Department who plays Madison because there is a lot of history between us, so we get to play off each other.”

The Political Science Department does not support the event alone. Joseph Mannard, associate professor in the History Department, adopts the role of James Madison. Now he considers himself an “unofficial member” of the Political Science Department. Mannard says, “I’ve been doing this since 2008. At that point, it was Gwen and Ben Franklin, but she decided he [Franklin] needed help. I enjoy it. It’s a group that I really enjoy being with, admire, and find myself learning things when I talk to them.”

Mac Fiddner, professor emeritus of the Political Science Department, has also been part of the yearly gathering.  Fiddner, who plays Charles Pinckney, says, “I’ve been doing this for 10 years or so. I enjoy the camaraderie that is shared here at the table—also, seeing students again! We thought, the consensus opinion, that the questions tonight were probably the best we’ve ever had. It seemed a smaller group of participants, but they seemed a lot more intense and interested, more engaged.”

Indeed, Monday’s event was lively, with students asking a range of questions from “If you weren’t a politician, what would your occupation be?” to “What are your thoughts on career politicians?” and “What was your intention for the length of time for Supreme Court members?”  These questions were answered from the perspective of how the founders would have answered, considering the time in which they lived and the historical evidence about their characters. At one point, Torges, who led the panel, was questioned by James Madison by which right she had to ask such questions, being a woman. Franklin retorted that from his experience, women had as much to say on any given topic as men. This response garnered applause from the audience. 

IUP can look forward to more candid discussions with the founders of the Constitution, as Torges has no plan in retiring the event. Torges remarks, “What keeps me going is it’s an exciting opportunity to get people to take a moment and reflect on this document that creates our government. Not from the sense that it is a perfect document or even a great document, but from the sense that it is the document that sets up our government. And, before we can truly hold leaders accountable, before we can criticize and remake, we need to know what’s here. So, I get a lot of satisfaction from students attending these events. I thought the questions tonight were quite good and thoughtful. I see myself doing this again in the future.”