Doug Robinson: Raised on the US Constitution, Utah woman now helping other countries write their own

Published: Monday, Oct. 21 2013 6:25 p.m. MDT

Lorianne Toler, who made a startling discovery of an earlier draft of the U.S. Constitution, poses in the Utah State Capitol building, where she spent a lot of time as a young girl.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

When you meet Lorianne Updike Toler for the first time, you're surprised by what you find. She's blond, trim, green-eyed, ivory-skinned, smiling — and young. This woman should be worn out. You expect gray hair and wrinkles; instead, you get a Clinique ad.

This can't be the woman who completed — take a deep breath — nine internships and a degree at BYU by the time she was 20, served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, graduated magna cum laude from BYU law school, founded and almost singlehandedly started a first-of-its kind online searchable library of source materials for the Constitution, completed a master's program at Oxford, shook up academia with the rediscovery of a lost draft of the Constitution, started a doctoral program at the University of Pennsylvania, married and had a baby, wrote a book, moved back and forth between London, New York and Philadelphia, started a consulting firm in London and undertook a consulting job in Libya. And she did much of this while she was in and out of a wheelchair.

Toler is only 33; her resume reads like 63.

“From a young age, I had a dream to be a constitutional lawyer, start a broad-based nonprofit on the Constitution and help write constitutions,” she says. “I just thought I’d be old and gray when I did the last two.”

Only recently has she slowed her pace, taking an eight-year leave of absence from her doctoral studies to tend her infant son.

“I also wanted to have a large family and the family life everyone dreams of, but the Lord had other plans, and I would do a lot of that other stuff before motherhood,” she says.

Toler was in Salt Lake City recently to promote her book, “The Other Side of Charity — The Art of Receiving Gracefully,” which has its genesis in her own illness and the charity this independent, intelligent woman had to learn to accept. But to understand that part of her story, you’d have to understand the other parts.

Toler’s professional raison d’etre is the Constitution and the Founding Fathers. While other girls were playing with dolls, she was reading about James Madison and the Federalist Papers. No, really. All of which is how she found herself in the Pennsylvania Historical Society searching boxes of documents — there are 21 million of them there — in 2009 as part of her master’s research.

She was examining what most experts consider to be the first draft of the Constitution when she noticed three upside down paragraphs on the last page of the document, beginning with “We The People” and written in the hand of James Wilson. Toler was mystified until she examined other Wilson documents and found what she considered the rest of the draft, titled “The Continuation of the Scheme.”

“This was the kind of moment historians dream about,” she told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “This was national scripture, a piece of our Constitution’s history. It was difficult to keep my hands from trembling.” She recalled that as other researchers realized what was happening, a hush fell over the room. “One of them said the hair on her arms stood on end,” she says.

Toler believes the document to be the true first draft of the Constitution. The historical society had only two on file. The so-called first draft, making three in all, had been overlooked since it was identified in 1911 by Yale historian Max Farrand. No one knows how "The Continuation of the Scheme" had been separated from the other drafts.

"To me, this is proof that James Wilson by himself actually wrote the Constitution,” Toler says. “That would make him like Jefferson authoring the Declaration of Independence.”

Historically, James Madison has been considered the father of the Constitution, but Toler notes, “Not one draft is in James Madison’s hand.”

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