Make Up Your Own Mind On This One..........

John A. Quayle blueoval57 at VERIZON.NET
Sat Oct 6 23:35:18 MDT 2007


Our Dysfunctional Republic
By Neal Ross

Oct 4, 2007 | Part IV

The American Revolution and the Constitution

With the Declaration on the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms 
having been written, and the Declaration of Independence formally 
signed, America was now formally at war with Britain. Those who 
signed these documents, and who took up arms to fight against the 
crown were considered treasonous by the English. Nevertheless, they 
firmly believed in their cause, stating in the final paragraph of the 
Declaration of Independence, "...we mutually pledge to each other our 
Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor".

Although the American Revolution was already underway, it was not as 
widely supported as you may have thought. There were still loyalists, 
those who wished to remain loyal subjects under English rule. The 
loyalists disagreed with the idea of American independence. Loyalists 
were numerous and included small farmers as well as large landowners, 
royal officeholders, and members of the professions. They were to be 
found in varying strength in every colony. There were also those who 
were neutral, having not taken either side in regards to the issue of 
independence. A notable division was between Benjamin Franklin, who 
supported the fight for independence, and his son William Franklin 
who was loyal to the crown.

The Revolutionary war began with the 'shot heard around the world', 
and, depending upon whether you consider it to have ended when 
General Cornwallis surrendered or when the Treaty of Paris was 
signed, the American Revolution lasted between 7 to 8 years.

It was not an easy battle, this fight for our nations independence. 
George Washington lost many of his first battles and the outcome was 
never certain. Fortunately, with increasing military skill, and aid 
from our allies, the colonies defeated the British, and in 1781, 
General Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown. In 1783, the Treaty of 
Paris was signed, formally ending the War. America was now officially 
a free and independent nation.

The colonial patriots knew, that if they were successful in winning 
the fight for their independence, that they would need some form of 
government to hold the colonies together. Therefore on July 12, 1776, 
just eight days after signing the Declaration of Independence, 
drafted the Articles of Confederation, a constitutional agreement 
made between the 13 states. However, it wasn't until after many 
years, and just as many revisions, that they were formally adopted.

The Articles of Confederation, which contained 13 Articles, did such 
things as establish the name of our country, The United States of 
America, explained the rights of the individual states and the amount 
of power they were entitled to. It also bound them together for the 
common defense, gave people the right to freely move between one 
state and another, established the ability to extradite fugitives. It 
also allocated on vote in the Congress to each state, while members 
of Congress were appointed by state legislatures. It limited the 
power of the central government to conduct foreign relations and 
declaring war. Finally it made Congress the final court for disputes 
among states.

The Articles of Confederation severely limited the powers of the 
central government. For instance, they could not raise revenue for 
their operations. There was no executive branch to enforce the laws 
and no judicial branch to interpret them. There was only a Congress, 
and a President of the Continental Congress, whose job was similar to 
the Speaker of the House today, the most notable of these being John Hancock.

The Congress realized that the Articles of Confederation were weak 
and needed revision, therefore on February 21, 1787 Congress 
resolved: "It is expedient that on the second Monday in May next a 
Convention of delegates who shall have been appointed by the several 
States be held at Philadelphia for the sole and express purpose of 
revising the Articles of Confederation."

James Madison had for years been studying history and political 
theory, hoping to find a solution to the problems that faced America. 
Madison knew that the government and the states were on the brink of 
economic disaster, the Congress was running on a depleted treasury 
and paper money was flooding the country, causing extraordinary 
inflation. Many were being thrown into jail for failure to pay debts 
and farms were being confiscated and sold for the taxes owed. 
Madison, and many others understood that something had to be done if 
the country were to survive.

In September of 1786, commissioners from 5 states met in the 
Annapolis Convention. Their desire was to discuss how to adjust the 
Articles of Confederation so as to remedy to problems the country 
faced. They eventually invited representatives from all the states to 
Philadelphia to discuss improvements to the Articles of Confederation.

Of the seventy four delegates invited, fifty five attended, Rhode 
Island had decided not to send any delegates. They thought that the 
Philadelphia convention was an attempt to overthrow the existing government.

Many others felt the same way, including Patrick Henry, who claimed 
he 'smelled a rat'. He suspected that Madison had plans to create a 
powerful central government which would subvert the powers and 
authority of the states.

The first plan to be introduced at the Constitutional Convention was 
the Virginia Plan. On May 29, the governor of Virginia, Edmund 
Randolph opened the debate and outlined a broad plan that would 
create a government with three branches, executive, legislative, and 
judicial. Each branch had the power to keep the others in check, the 
basic framework of our current form of government today. However, 
under Randolph's plan, the federal government had the ability to veto 
legislation created by the states. The rat that Patrick Henry had 
smelled was now exposed.

Many of the smaller states were revolted by the plan for a strong 
central government. On June 13, delegates from the smaller states 
proposed the New Jersey Plan, a plan to merely modify the existing 
Articles of Confederation. This plan, although it showed the great 
division between ideas for a new form of government, was quickly voted down.

On June 18, Alexander Hamilton offered up his own proposal. Hamilton 
went so far as to call the British government 'the best in the 
world'. This did not go over well with many of the members of the 
convention. Hamilton's plan proposed an executive to serve for life 
during good behavior. This executive would have veto power over all 
laws. It would also include a Senate which had the power to pass all 
laws whatsoever. Hamilton's plan was defeated as well.

On June 29 the smaller states lost their first battle. The convention 
approved a resolution that established population as the basis for 
representation in the House of Representatives. This, of course, 
favored the larger states. On a following proposal which gave the 
smaller states equal representation, the vote ended in a tie. The 
friction at this point was palpable, as one delegate thought that the 
convention 'was on the verge of dissolution, scarce held together by 
the strength of an hair.'

By July, George Washington was so frustrated that he regretted having 
any agency in the proceedings. He went so far as to call the 
opponents of a strong central government 'narrow minded politicians'.

Luther Martin of Maryland, possibly one of those who Washington 
considered narrow minded responded by saying, "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."

The smaller states had become so disenchanted that they threatened to 
withdraw completely from the Convention. On July 2 they were still 
deadlocked over this issue so the subject was given to a committee of 
11 to effect a compromise. On July 5 the committee submitted it's 
report, hereafter known as the Great Compromise. The report 
recommended that in the upper house each state would get an equal 
vote and in the lower house they would be represented according to 
population. All bills regarding taxation should originate from the 
lower house.

With al the animosity, the delegates were still able to put together 
a draft and on Monday August 6, 1787, it was presented to the 
convention. It was an actual article by article model which the 
members could review and consider for their approval. It wasn't soon 
that the air of compromise quickly evaporated. Controversy soon 
erupted over the regulation of commerce, with the southern states 
complaining that they would become nothing but overseers for the 
Northern States under the proposed Constitution. On August 31, George 
Mason wearily wrote that he would "sooner chop off his right hand 
than put it to the Constitution as it now stands."

These differences were eventually worked out and on September 12 a 
draft was ordered printed. It was then reviewed for three days by the 
delegates against the previous proceedings. The final draft was 
ordered printed by Jacob Shallus on September 15.

Even with the compromise and effort, not everyone was satisfied. Some 
delegates left before the final ceremony and three refused to sign 
the document. Realizing the impending difficulty of obtaining the 
consent of the states to the new instrument of Government, they were 
anxious to obtain the unanimous support of all the delegations from 
each state. In order that the Convention might appear to be 
unanimous, Governor Morris devised the formula "Done in Convention, 
by the unanimous consent of the States present the 17th of 
September...In witness whereof we hereunto subscribed our names."

On September 17, a speech written by Ben Franklin, was delivered by 
his colleague James Wilson in which was said, "I think it will 
astonish our enemies, who are waiting with confidence to hear that 
our councils are confounded like those of the builders of Babel; and 
that our States are on the point of separation, only to meet 
hereafter for the purpose of cutting one another's throats."

Upon leaving the convention on that final day, it was asked of 
Benjamin Franklin, "Well Doctor, what have we got--a Republic or a 
Monarchy?" To which Franklin replied, "A Republic, if you can keep it."

The delegates of the Philadelphia Convention had overcome their 
disagreements and created the Constitution that we now have. Yet the 
hard part was yet to come, getting the individual states to accept 
it. Almost immediately groups rose up against it because of the 
concept of the strong central government it proposed. Chief among 
these were the Anti-Federalists.

Scores of articles flooded that newspapers arguing against the 
proposed Constitution. It seemed that after all that work, the 
Constitution might never obtain enough votes to be ratified by the 
required number of states to go into effect.
In October, Anti-Federalist Samuel Bryan published the first of his 
'Centinel' essays in which he argued against the power of the central 
government, the usurpation of state authority, and the lack of a bill 
of rights.

To counter the attacks against the Constitution, Alexander Hamilton, 
James Madison, and John Jay penned a series of articles under the 
pseudonym Publius, which later came to be known as the Federalist 
Papers. These 85 essays outlined the inherent weaknesses of the 
Articles of Confederation and the reasons for supporting the proposed 
Constitution. Thomas Jefferson later called the Federalist Papers the 
"best commentary on the principles of government ever written."

Although the Federalist Papers had done much to help garner support 
for the Constitution, the Anti-Federalists still held a powerful card 
to play, the lack of a bill of rights. In addressing the Virginia 
convention, Patrick Henry asked, "What can avail your specious, 
imaginary balances, your rope-dancing, chain-rattling, ridiculous 
ideal checks and contrivances."

The Anti-Federalist demanded a more concise Constitution, one that 
out specifically the rights of the people and the limitations of the 
government. Alexander Hamilton, on the other hand felt that a bill of 
rights was dangerous, stating, "I go further, and affirm that bills 
of rights, in the sense and in the extent in which they are contended 
for, are not only unnecessary in the proposed constitution, but would 
even be dangerous. They would contain various exceptions to powers 
which are not granted; and on this very account, would afford a 
colorable pretext to claim more than were granted. For why declare 
that things shall not be done which there is no power to do?"

The need to pacify the Anti-Federalists ended up being too great and 
even Thomas Jefferson wrote to James Madison that a bill of rights 
was,'...what the people are entitled to against every government...'. 
By the fall of 1788, Madison had become convinced that a bill of 
rights was necessary to ensure ratification of the Constitution.

With the bill of rights in place, the Constitution was finally 
ratified and on March 4, 1789 and the new formed government went into 
effect. Later James Madison wrote to Thomas Jefferson that the 
welding of these clashing interests was "a task more difficult than 
can be well conceived by those who were not concerned in the 
execution of it." Towards the end of Madison's life he penned another 
letter, one which was never sent. In it he stated that no government 
can be perfect, however, "that which is the least imperfect is 
therefore the best government.".

The Constitution, aside from various amendments, has been the basis 
of our form of government all this time. While it may not be perfect, 
it contains the essential means necessary for the people to retain 
their individual liberties, while still allowing for the central 
government to manage the affairs of the nation. All that depended 
upon us understanding the principles outlined in it and keeping a 
close eye on our government, watching for any violations or 
usurpations of power.

So, what does this Constitution actually say?

(to be continued...)

Neal Ross
Comments on my writing? Contact me at: <mailto:bonsai at>bonsai at
My other articles may be found at: 

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