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
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
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
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...)
Comments on my writing? Contact me at: <mailto:bonsai at syix.com>bonsai at syix.com
My other articles may be found at:
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