Sept 17, 2019
By Michael Kapic
Today marks the 232nd birthday of the creation of the Constitution and its release to the states (and the Confederation Congress) seeking the required ¾, or nine states approval. The white, male, landed, wealthy, and networked founders remanded their work to a convention of states per Article VII to be by the people for approval or disapproval of their reformed national government.
To help with the complexities of the document and the political arguments for a strong versus weak national government, three authors for each side of the vote wrote in the country’s newspapers. They carried the Federalist (for) and anti-Federalist (against) articles as each explained the intent of various Articles and clauses, the perceived good and bad.
The people of the ninth state, New Hampshire, approved the reform in nine months on June 21, 1788. People of all the states in convention approved of the reformed Articles of Confederation, now known as the United States Constitution, the last being Rhode Island on May 29, 1790.
This simple, concise document of approximately 4400-words has proved to be one the world’s greatest documents, after the Ten Commandments of course. The first words of the preamble, “we the people”, identifies where Constitutional power is to lay. The states had established a national government for the people as defined by seven articles or instructions.
This newly designed foundation was much stronger and wiser than the weak and ill-prepared Articles of Confederation. It is to be the rule of law for the land and further reinforces the Declaration of Independence’s statement that, “…governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…” Meaning that We the People, as individuals within the republic, are positioned in the hierarchy of power equal to a monarch while the maximum level of our limited government resides at the parliamentary level, a step below. Our representative constitutional republic has succeeded where other versions have failed.
Since before America’s founding in July 1776, British/Americans struggled with the British Crown and Parliamentary edicts regarding religion, taxes, liberties, and control of markets. In an effort to maintain something better than second-class citizenship, liberty, and loyalty, they met in convention to settle larger than life problems. These included security & safety, poor economic conditions, war, taxes, and basic rights. As time passed from the 1600s and into succeeding centuries, the convention process became second nature to America.
The Articles of Confederation were ratified in 1781 and proved from the beginning to be ineffective and weak. Among the foibles were a single body Congress, no judiciary, no executive to enforce laws, no authority to tax, and thirteen individual ‘country’s.’ Congress had accepted the cost of the War debt but couldn’t pay its creditors or its Veterans wages. Bankruptcy lay on the horizon.
States began calls to strengthen Congress and give it more power, but there was no authority as the states were enjoying their autonomy and independence. They didn’t have send taxes to Congress if they didn’t want to.
Finally, after the Annapolis convention in September of 1786 and calls from the Virginia and New Jersey legislatures in November of 1786, fifty-five commissioners met in convention in May of 1787. Four months later, on September 17, 1787 they released the document that would save and then change America.
Debating, negotiating and reforming the Articles of Confederation into the Constitution in 1787 took four long months of angst, frustration and patience. When the Founders finally came to Article V, they were nervous and anxious about Congress having the capability of amending the document. But they had every confidence in the states and people doing it because, after all, the method had been used by the people and their colonies/states for some 160 years.
Of course, we’ve had some rough times and made some mistakes. What person or organization or nation hasn’t? But we learned and corrected as we evolved. That’s what republicans do. Even if they belong to the Democrat Party. The Founders, in their wisdom conceived a method by which the people’s representatives, either Congress or state, could revise the document and therefore reform the government.
The first method for revising the Constitution began September 25, 230 years ago with the First Congress producing the Bill of Rights. Congress has since attempted 11,660 amendment proposals to the Constitution of which 33 successfully made it to the states for approval but only twenty-seven were ratified either in state convention or legislature.
Unfortunately, over the centuries, decades, and years, federal institutions have abused our document, particularly two of the more important clauses (welfare and commerce) to exploit taxing & spending and then national regulatory control. For example, politicians have allowed our debt and deficit crisis to continue with no end in sight as there are no constraints, so far, in the Constitution. Do you think Congress might propose an amendment to restrain their own taxing and spending? I don’t think so either.
However, the United States of America has had unbelievable problems to overcome in the past with wars, recessions, depressions, corruption, and scandals. We have had to solve our slavery problem, our poverty problem, a Civil War, World Wars, prohibition, water resources, anti-trust, bankruptcy threats, and we always figured out a way to get through.
When the problem was larger than life itself and Congress or the President couldn’t solve it, we called for a convention to come together. Through brainstorming, they searched for a solution that we could all agree on while utilizing the established method used prior to and post-Constitution. The last was held in September 2017 in Phoenix Arizona.
Primary sources: Timothy Dake, Rob Natelson, Russell Caplan, Thelma Jennings, Robert G. Gunderson, Tara Ross, Rodney Dodsworth.