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

Wilson died in disgrace, suffering from malaria and creditors.

There are other reasons Toler considers her discovery significant: “To me, it shows that Wilson is working by himself. In this first draft, he begins and stops. He jots things on another piece of paper. This hesitation demonstrates Wilson is not working in a group. And he is all we see from this rocky start to the Constitution's first working draft. Not that he is an original author. But he goes beyond the limits of the Convention's Virginia Plan structure in pulling details from the Pinckney Plan, the Patterson Plan, the Articles of Confederation and the Massachusetts Constitution. He is the mastermind organizing the information and creates a few things that are uniquely his. He becomes enormously important.”

There was some debate in academia about Toler’s conclusions, although some of those who initially challenged her have come around. It is worth noting that the draft Toler rediscovered has been moved to a more secure vault with Wilson's other drafts and Committee of Detail documents. The document is identified with other drafts in an article Toler co-authored in the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's own academic journal.

“Although I don't speak for the Historical Society (or other academics), it seems as if the issue is now resolved,” she concludes.

Anyone who knew Toler in her formative years won’t be surprised by her passion and energy for such matters. She was a precocious and driven child. Her preschool teacher told Toler’s mother she was the first 5-year-old student body president she ever met. A self-described geek — how else would you describe a gangly, freckled, academic teen who read a 700-page book on the Constitution when she was 11, just for fun? — Toler was home-schooled for two years in junior high, as were her siblings. Her mother’s curriculum was heavy on history and the Founding Fathers.

John and Lauri Updike made politics a frequent topic of conversation around the house. John was a hospital executive and Lauri a lobbyist for Eagle Forum. When the Legislature was in session, Toler did her homework in the gallery of the state Capitol while her mother worked.

“I loved it,” she says. “I was like an intern. When Mom needed a bill or needed us to keep her awake or take notes, I would help her. I paid attention to the things happening on the floor. I made a game out of memorizing all the representatives' names.” When she was in her early teens, Toler met constitutional experts through her mother’s contacts and attended their lectures at BYU.

When she entered Timpview High, Toler hit the ground running. She was a dynamo of homework, extracurricular activities, reading, clubs, exercise and piano practice. She was doing this on three hours of sleep until her parents intervened and insisted on five.

Toler took four AP classes each year and graduated a year early, even after skipping a grade. She entered BYU at the age of 17. “I probably could have graduated in two years,” she says. “I just had a lot of dreams.”

While in high school, she entered a speech contest for the Freedom Festival. She wound up speaking on the same program as Gov. Mike Leavitt and BYU President Jeffrey R. Holland in the Marriott Center. “It gave me an opportunity to do my own research on the Founding Fathers,” she says. “And I fell in love with it. I got to know the Founders. I was really inspired by them.”

She graduated from BYU in three years with a degree in public relations. After serving a mission in Sydney, Australia, she completed a law degree at BYU. She served an internship with a law firm in Washington, D.C.

“I intended to work for a big law firm,” she says. “I thought I’d do appellate law. That was my big plan.”

It never happened. Other things diverted her attention and then fate intervened. After serving her internship in Washington, during her third year of law school, an old illness flared up again.

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