Studying The Federalist Papers was the last thing Mary E Webster expected to do. As an adult, she first heard about them in 1988. And, at the time, she thought she hated history. However, she'd always enjoyed political discussions. She started watching C-SPAN in 1994, which led to a desire to know the original meaning of the provisions in the United States Constitution. She picked up The Federalist Papers. Strictly for her own information, she spent one month, using her interpreting, studying, and writing skills, rewriting Paper Number 1 until she fully understood it. She found the discussion so riveting that she began studying Number 2.
25 Years of Life Experiences
Over the years, Mary has had some unusual jobs. Several helped hone the specific skills she used to "translate" the Federalist Papers. In the 1970s, she wrote several novels, three of which were published by Thomas Bourgey (1980, 1982, 1984). In 1980, she began studying American Sign Language (ASL), which led to her entering the ASL interpreting program at St. Paul College in 1988 and graduating with honors in 1989. Interpreting was an essential skill for translating The Federalist Papers.
After a 20-year break, Mary returned to the University of Iowa, College of Business, finishing her senior year on the dean's list. As she continued at the UI, studying for her MBA in finance, she worked as a freelance ASL interpreter and a writer for Media Research. At Media Research, she summarized the three daily major networks' (ABC, NBC, CBS) newscasts and emailed them to Washington, D.C., before the following morning.
The Federalist Papers
On that day in 1994 when she picked up The Federalist Papers, Mary had no thoughts of publishing a translation. She was already working on a fourth novel and a nonfiction book about clinical depression. But the authors' keen insight into human nature made the discussions timeless. She suspected that if the Papers were more accessible, many people would find them as fascinating as she.
After nearly five years of study, her translation, The Federalist Papers: In Modern Language was published in 1999. She added new Paper titles and paragraph subtitles, an index referencing Paper and paragraph numbers, and a copy of the United States Constitution indexed to the Papers.
In 2008, her 10th-grade reading-level translation of the Papers, The Federalist Papers: Modern English Edition Two, was published.
In 2010, The United States Constitution: Annotated with The Federalist Papers in Modern English was published, making it easy for anyone to become a Constitutional scholar.
"Spiritual" and Actual Descendant of Founding Fathers
Mary offers a unique view of the Constitution because the Federalist Papers are the only opinions of the Constitution that she has read or studied. During a radio interview, author Glen Gordon, What Would They Say?, was also a guest. (They had never met before.) After listening to Mary's opinion of a Constitutional issue, he called her "a spiritual descendant of the Founding Fathers."
Studying her country's roots made Mary curious about her own roots, especially when she learned that Noah Webster probably wrote his dictionary so that people could understand the United States Constitution. Noah and Daniel Webster's 3rd great-grandfather is Mary's 8th great-grandfather (John Webster, the 5th governor of Connecticut), making them 4th cousins 5 times removed. Through her 3rd great-grandmother, Mary is also the 8th great-granddaughter of Dr. Samuel Fuller and 9th great-granddaughter of John Alden and Myles Standish (all signers of the Mayflower Compact).
Iowa City Native at Home in Oregon
In 2000, Mary moved to the Oregon countryside and a few years later to the Oregon coast. The Federalist Papers captivate her as much today as they did when she began her study in 1994. As counterpoints to her continuing study, Mary creates patchwork and quilted wall hangings, paintings, crafting, and polymer clay canes.
Mary is available for radio and Skype interviews and will travel for speaking engagements. As a speaker, Mary tailors her remarks to Constitutional issues the audience is curious about.
Nearly 30 Years of Study
by Mary E. Webster
Twenty years ago, December, 1994, I was living in my hometown of Iowa City when I picked up The Federalist Papers for the first time. At the time, my life was broken. I had lost nearly everything and everybody that was important to me. This is a story that I've never fully told, but I decided that on this 20th anniversary, it was time to tell it. This is the story about how The Federalist Papers helped save my life and my sanity.
This story is in response to a reporter's question. On July 4, 1998, the first newspaper article about my translation of The Federalist Papers was published in Marysville, Washington. The reporter asked: How have you supported yourself while working on this book? I gave a vague answer but, in my head, I thought, "If this book actually gets published, the answer to your question will be a whole other story in itself." In fact, I was within months of signing with a publisher and my first translation would be published within a year. I didn't tell the reporter how I supported myself to save my credibility and, more importantly, because I doubted anyone cared. I kept my story from all but my closest friends. Yet it was my dire situation in 1994 that led to my picking up the Papers.
The story starts in 1992. I was in the MBA program at the University of Iowa, studying finance, and getting A's. By the summer of 1992, however, I was totally debilitated with depression.* I'd suffered from the illness for most of my life, but medication, cognitive therapy, a couple of great psychiatrists and psychologists had kept my brain and body functioning at nearly 100% for a decade. (In 1990, I took the GMAT, the test to get into an MBA program, and my score was in the top 7% of all GMAT scores.)
By the summer of 1992, however, depression had taken over every part of my life. I had no desire to eat, so I forced myself to eat a bowl of cereal every morning and a TV dinner every evening. I got little sleep--and no sleep in my bed, which felt like torture when I laid down on it. The little bit of sleep I got was on the living room floor, listening to videos of "Star Trek: Next Generation" play on the television. (I'd watched them so often that I could follow the story with my eyes closed.)
I couldn't read books, my favorite escape through the years, because I couldn't remember what I read. My memory problems meant I had trouble following new television shows and, even, carrying on a conversation. I would forget what I was going to say halfway through a sentence.
While all this was hard, I didn't completely break down until one afternoon when I attempted to write down my feelings. I was only able to write a couple of words and, emotionally, the very act of writing was intolerable. Not being able to write was devastating. My sickness had taken over every aspect of my life.
Fortunately, I had a great psychiatrist who had been working with me for nearly a decade. And some new antidepressants were available. Using a combination of medications and all the tools I had learned over the years to combat the illness of depression, I slowly got a bit better. However, I had no way to support myself.
Not being able to write was psychologically devastating. However, not being able to support myself was worse. This was when I seriously considered killing myself. I believed I was a worthless person because I couldn't work and pay my own way through life.
I knew my death would cause my mother horrible pain. So I confronted my belief that I was worthless because I couldn't support myself. I confronted this belief like I'd confronted so many irrational thoughts over the years. I looked at the unvarnished truth about what I was thinking--I wanted to kill myself because I was incapable of earning money. I wanted to kill myself because of money. I forced myself to consider this thought from every angle, proving to myself that it was irrational.
I realized that pride was keeping me from applying for disability. As a young adult, Atlas Shrugged was my favorite book. I was proud of being a strong and capable woman who had broken a couple of glass ceilings in the 1970s. Now I asked myself, what would God want me to do?
That afternoon I decided that I had to do whatever it took to stay alive. I had to ask for help, patiently wait for the medications to work, and lean on God when I couldn't stand by myself.
I applied for disability. My first application was denied because I had always been able to work and support myself! But after a hearing, I got disability--less than $700 a month. This became my monetary support as I translated The Federalist Papers.
My recovery was slow. My friends abandoned me during the worst part of my illness. And the only family member who stood with me was my mother, who was incredibly supportive.
By September, 1993, I was a bit better. In fact, my psychiatrist joked that after all I had been through, nothing worse could happen. I immediately balked, feeling a bit superstitious about such a statement. Unfortunately, my psychiatrist was wrong. My mother died after a brief illness in January, 1994.
During all of my illness, my three brothers had nothing to do with me. And after mom's funeral, one of them told me that "there was something wrong with you since you were born." No one came to my defense. That was the end of my relationship with my two older brothers. And my younger brother liked alcohol more than anything or anyone. My circle of family of friends was reduced to one friend in Washington state, my psychiatrist, and my psychologist.
During the summer of 1994, my imminent death seemed inevitable. I started putting my things in order, deciding which niece should get which of my possessions. But I also treated myself to cable TV, which I had never had before. And I discovered C-SPAN. I became addicted to watching it. I began to worry more about my country than myself! This led to my picking up The Federalist Papers in December, 1994. I wanted to know what the Constitution meant to the people who ratified it--the people who agreed to this contract.
If I had never gotten sick, I would not have picked up The Federalist Papers. When I was in the MBA program, I fully intended to teach and write about finance. I would have been too busy to get C-SPAN and worry about our country. And, even if I had picked them up, I wouldn't have needed to "translate" them. Before this episode of depression, I would have been able to just read them. However, because of my illness, when I read paragraph 1 of Paper number 1, I didn't have the foggiest idea what it said.
In December, 1994, I was 2 1/2 years into my recovery and I decided that figuring out what the first sentence said would be a great brain exercise. I only could concentrate for maybe 15 minutes at a time, but over the course of a couple of days, I looked up words and slowly rewrote the first sentence until it made sense. Then I went on to the second sentence.
This was a slow process. It took me a month to fully understand the first Paper. Then I started in on the second Paper. I wasn't "translating" the Papers for publication, I was doing it as a mental exercise, and for my own information.
I was surprised by the content of the Papers. With the exception of textbooks, I very rarely read non-fiction. But I can only describe The Federalist Papers as a riveting discussion about the psychology of human behavior. They make the meaning of every clause in the Constitution absolutely clear. More importantly, they use examples to show why each is needed to preserve liberty and freedom.
As I worked, I was replacing the dark thoughts spawned by depression with the brilliance of our Founding Fathers. And I realized that I was in a unique situation. My only asset was time. No matter how slowly I worked, I could eventually finish translating the book. And other people didn't have this luxury. Perhaps I could publish the translation so that people that I didn't even know could enjoy what I had discovered.
This was the biggest breakthrough in living with my illness. I actually could imagine the friends I would gain, at some point in the future, because of my hard work on the Papers.
On December 12, 1995, I moved to Washington state, lived in my 5th-wheel trailer, and continued my work on the Papers. My first translation was published in 1999. And in 2000, I moved to the Oregon coast.
I still struggle with depression. I've never fully recovered. But I've made some wonderful friends who have helped me build a permanent home. They don't judge me for what I am unable to do; they appreciate what I can do.
Reading and writing can still be difficult. So, I sometimes go periods of time without writing about the Papers and how they relate to current events. But I feel blessed whenever I am able to write and share what I have found.
I've never thought of killing myself again. In fact, as I worked on the last Papers for my first translation, I actually worried about dying before my work was done. I was—and am—convinced that the information needed to set our beloved country back on the right course is contained within The Federalist Papers. Just as they saved my life and my sanity.
* "Depression" the illness is different than "depression" the feeling, just like having a "cold" is different than feeling "cold". This article discusses some of the symptoms I had with depression.