approximately 220 years ago, our founders presented to the citizens of our infant nation perhaps the greatest man-written document ever created. that's right, it was in 1787 that our ancestors read, for the first time, the united states constitution.
this document has been a rallying thought for people around the world in want of liberty and self-government. it has also been a sore in the thumb of many who are indebted to us and who wish us ill. much the same as our flag, eh?
our educational system (or socialist indoctrination process, as my hubby calls it) is in such a poor state that our children - and several of the past generations' children - have no clue as to what the document actually says. cripes, they think we live in a democracy for pete's sake!
well, while i am no constitutional scholar, i can read and i have fairly good comprehension. and besides, i believe justice scalia when he says that it means what it says and it's just not that difficult. so this is my attempt to start a discussion pertaining to where we are and where the document give us permission to be...
"The simplicity and depth of the words the Founders used in writing our Constitution should never be taken lightly or changed to fit the whims of an uninformed mob rule mentality or activist jurists. It however is not our defining document, The Declaration of Independence is and the Constitution just set down the rules and limits of governance."
goat is precisely right and it amazes me the number of people who try to discount the doi and say that it isn't what defines us. and while it isn't the "law of the land", it is the basis for the law of the land. further, if i'm not mistaken, when a legal decision is made, all supporting documentation for the law or contract is taken in to consideration.
in the case of the constitution, that would have to include the declaration of independence, the federalist papers, the anti-federalist papers and, perhaps, even the articles of confederation. so a i embark on this first lesson i will use all of these to support and contrast.
i'm starting with the proceedings of the constitutional convention and will (through additional parts) get through the writing of all of the amendments. i truly hope to get people thinking and talking.
on 25 may 1787 george washington was elected president of the constitutional convention in philadelphia. after the failures of the previous six years of governance under the articles of confederation, washington held out little hope that THIS convention would turn out anything of consequence. 36-year old james madison, hoped differently.
after receiving a letter from george washington, where washington had written "Wisdom and good examples are necessary at this time to rescue the political machine from the impending storm." james madison put forth the notion of a strong central government stating: "Let it be tried then, whether any middle ground can be taken which will at once support a due supremacy of the national authority," furthering that state power would be maintained only when "subordinately useful." madison sought to establish a government in this mold.
in 1786 james madison and john tyler, both of virginia, made a proposal that the continental congress be giving authority over the the regulation of commerce throughout the confederation. in september 1786 several states attended a convention in annapolis, md to discuss commercial problems. at the end of this convention, james madison and alexander hamilton (new york) wrote a report on the convention and calling for delegates from all of the states to participate in a convention set upon "revising" the articles of confederation. a decree from congress (although the decree was not favorably viewed by most citizens) made the proposal a reality.
74 delegates were named to the convention; 55 attended. there were delegates from every state except for rhode island; she refused to send any as the leaders of that state viewed the convention as a conspiracy to overthrow established government. i should point out that rhode island was led by men who were in support of paper currency, low taxes and a popularly elected government - funny how things change, isn't it??
anyhow, although several "leaders" of the young country were not present - patrick henry refused to attend saying that he "smelt a rat" - the convention started with the 55 men who were there, including giants such as george washington, benjamin franklin, george mason and james wilson. the proceedings were understated at times and quite vocal at other times, but in the end they were the beginning of this great experiment we call the united states of america.
put forth in this convention were three basic plans: the virginia plan; the new jersey plan; the hamilton plan. the descriptions i offer to you of each, here, come from the patriot post's historical documents resources:
The Virginia Plan
On Tuesday morning, May 29, Edmund Randolph, the tall, 34-year- old governor of Virginia, opened the debate with a long speech decrying the evils that had befallen the country under the Articles of Confederation and stressing the need for creating a strong national government. Randolph then outlined a broad plan that he and his Virginia compatriots had, through long sessions at the Indian Queen tavern, put together in the days preceding the convention. James Madison had such a plan on his mind for years. The proposed government had three branches--legislative, executive, and judicial--each branch structured to check the other. Highly centralized, the government would have veto power over laws enacted by state legislatures. The plan, Randolph confessed, "meant a strong consolidated union in which the idea of states should be nearly annihilated." This was, indeed, the rat so offensive to Patrick Henry.
The introduction of the so-called Virginia Plan at the beginning of the convention was a tactical coup. The Virginians had forced the debate into their own frame of reference and in their own terms.
For 10 days the members of the convention discussed the sweeping and, to many delegates, startling Virginia resolutions. The critical issue, described succinctly by Gouverneur Morris on May 30, was the distinction between a federation and a national government, the "former being a mere compact resting on the good faith of the parties; the latter having a compleat and compulsive operation." Morris favored the latter, a "supreme power" capable of exercising necessary authority not merely a shadow government, fragmented and hopelessly ineffective.
The New Jersey Plan
This nationalist position revolted many delegates who cringed at the vision of a central government swallowing state sovereignty. On June 13 delegates from smaller states rallied around proposals offered by New Jersey delegate William Paterson. Railing against efforts to throw the states into "hotchpot," Paterson proposed a "union of the States merely federal." The "New Jersey resolutions" called only for a revision of the articles to enable the Congress more easily to raise revenues and regulate commerce. It also provided that acts of Congress and ratified treaties be "the supreme law of the States."
For 3 days the convention debated Paterson's plan, finally voting for rejection. With the defeat of the New Jersey resolutions, the convention was moving toward creation of a new government, much to the dismay of many small-state delegates. The nationalists, led by Madison, appeared to have the proceedings in their grip. In addition, they were able to persuade the members that any new constitution should be ratified through conventions of the people and not by the Congress and the state legislatures- -another tactical coup. Madison and his allies believed that the constitution they had in mind would likely be scuttled in the legislatures, where many state political leaders stood to lose power. The nationalists wanted to bring the issue before "the people," where ratification was more likely.
On June 18 Alexander Hamilton presented his own ideal plan of government. Erudite and polished, the speech, nevertheless, failed to win a following. It went too far. Calling the British government "the best in the world," Hamilton proposed a model strikingly similar an executive to serve during good behavior or life with veto power over all laws; a senate with members serving during good behavior; the legislature to have power to pass "all laws whatsoever." Hamilton later wrote to Washington that the people were now willing to accept "something not very remote from that which they have lately quitted." What the people had "lately quitted," of course, was monarchy. Some members of the convention fully expected the country to turn in this direction. Hugh Williamson of North Carolina, a wealthy physician, declared that it was "pretty certain . . . that we should at some time or other have a king." Newspaper accounts appeared in the summer of 1787 alleging that a plot was under way to invite the second son of George III, Frederick, Duke of York, the secular bishop of Osnaburgh in Prussia, to become "king of the United States."
Strongly militating against any serious attempt to establish monarchy was the enmity so prevalent in the revolutionary period toward royalty and the privileged classes. Some state constitutions had even prohibited titles of nobility. In the same year as the Philadelphia convention, Royall Tyler, a revolutionary war veteran, in his play The Contract, gave his own jaundiced view of the upper classes:
Exult each patriot heart! this night is shewn
A piece, which we may fairly call our own;
Where the proud titles of "My Lord!" "Your Grace!"
To humble Mr. and plain Sir give place.
Most delegates were well aware that there were too many Royall Tylers in the country, with too many memories of British rule and too many ties to a recent bloody war, to accept a king. As the debate moved into the specifics of the new government, Alexander Hamilton and others of his persuasion would have to accept something less.
throughout the summer arguments were made and orators orated. it appeared at times that no one would prevail with even a modicum of happiness. washington was sad he was a part of it. franklin called for prayer after prayer that the "Father of lights . . . illuminate our understandings." and when, on 29 june 1787, the decision to establish state population as the basis for representation in the house of representatives all hell broke loose. perhaps the mood of the moment of the small states is best summed up by the words of luther martin (delegate from maryland) "The States have a right to an equality of representation. This is secured to us by our present articles of confederation; we are in possession of this privilege."
there was more compromise to come, but finally, on 06 august of that same year came the first draft of our beloved constitution. it was the article-by-article basis from which the final draft would come just a short five weeks later. but the controversy was not yet over.
after much haggling about slavery, regulation of commerce, regulation of navigation and the like, on 31 august 1787 george mason wrote to his son that he "would sooner chop off his right hand than put it to the Constitution as it now stands." further worrying about the lack of a personal "bill of rights" included in the constitution, mason called for a new convention to reconsider the whole notion of the formation of a new government. he was voted down.
several more revisions, debates and compromises later, the document written, primarily, by governor morris the constitution was turned back over to the convention for a final round. mason (joined by edmund randolph and elbridge gerry) called for amendments once again - soundly rebuffed, the vote on 15 september 1787 resulted in the return of an "aye" vote from every state in attendance. by 4pm on 17 september 1787, all members of the convention had dutifully set their hand to the document.
the matter was done - well sort of.
this when the fun really started. the process of ratification. i should note, that alexander hamilton thought there was a better than average chance that the document would NOT be ratified.
just 12 days after the convention ended, pennsylvania called for a ratifying convention for the state. in the previous weeks, the writings of the federalists and anti-federalists of that state were reprinted in newspapers far and wide. on the 29th, short by two of the count required to make a quorum for the ratify convention, a mob of citizens supporting the federalist viewpoint dragged two anti-federalist members from their homes and forced them to stay at the convention until the votes had been cast. hows that for a participating citizenry?!?
throughout the fall the battle waged - in every state - with the anti-federalists denouncing the proposed government and the federalists defending. by and large the federalists were much more organized than the anti-federalists, even so, the af's made their presence - and their dissatisfaction - well known.
it is at this time, in response to a series of essays by "cato", alexander hamilton and john jay wrote their 85 essays now known as the "federalist papers." thomas jefferson later called this group of essays the "best commentary on the principles of government ever written."
by 09 january 1788 only five of the require nine states had ratified the constitution - delaware, pennsylvania, new jersey, georgia, and connecticut. the outcome in massachusetts, new york and virginia were pivotal and uncertain. only after the state federalists agreed to recommend a list of amendments to be a "bill of rights" did massachusetts ratify the proposed document. the recommendation was a huge victory for the anti-federalists and soon after six other states made similar recommendations
after ratification failed in new hampshire and then rhode island (10 to 1 against the ratification) all eyes turned to the ratification convention in maryland. on 28 april 1788, with a vote of 63 to 11 the maryland convention accepted the tenets of the constitution. in july of that same year new hampshire reconvened and ratified the constitution and the ratification in south carolina made it nine.
over the course of the next two months, new york and virginia ratified the document and a congressionally appointed committee was busy "putting the said constitution to work." it is important to note that in most states, the margin for ratification was extremely close. hamilton deduced that the majority of the PEOPLE in the country were probably opposed to the constitution and it was only the promise of a "bill of rights" that had ensured the federalists' victory
yes, that's right people, the constitution of the united states of america became the law of the land BEFORE the first ten amendments to the constitution had even been written. we'll cover those later, but the limits of the government weren't delineated and excepted by a majority of states until 15 december 1791!
tomorrow, we'll begin to review the actual document. any comments thus far?