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  • History Lesson – The 1787 Constitutional Convention

    by Founder on December 21, 2008

    in Voice of the People

    When Patrick Henry declared “Give me liberty or give me death!”, he was not alone in his feelings of uneasiness about any sort of national government that could some day take away the powers of the states.

    The Constitutional Convention was called to ratify the Articles of Confederation because it did not properly lay out all the rules and regulations necessary for the states to co-exist with each other especially with regards to trade and commerce.

    Twelve of the thirteen states sent at least two delegates to the Convention in Philadelphia. In all, 55 delegates ranging in age from 26-81 – the oldest being Ben Franklin – met regularly over the course of the summer. They would meet for 5 or 6 hours a day, most times 6 days a week. Not everyone attended the meetings all the time but most were there, most of the time.

    George Washington was elected by the delegates to oversee the meetings and be President of the Constitutional Convention. Washington didn’t really want to return to public office but felt compelled to do so because he saw the need for a stronger central government to help things run smoother for the 13 states and to oversee the expansion to the west and the creation of new states.

    Among those present, James Madison stepped up as the unofficial architect of the Constitution and Gouverneur Morris as the chief draftsman (he became the primary writer of the Constitution). In these many meetings it is said that there were many heated discussions on just how the Constitution should be worded. Many compromises were made and eventually these delegates – our founding fathers – came up with the most important document in our short history.

    Originally the Convention was called to ratify the Articles of Confederation – to grease the wheels so to speak, of the states – so they may co-exist better through trade and commerce. But it soon became clear to those involved that they had to scrap the Articles and start with a fresh document that would guide the course of this new nation.

    There were so many areas of contention that it would have been impossible to get all 13 states to unanimously agree on all of the parts of the Constitution – so they smartly decided that instead of all 13 states having to vote in agreeance – that they would only require 9 of the 13 to agree! This sped up the process of decision making and paved the way for the final version of the Constitution.

    They all decided that there should be some high form of national government but they all also agreed that they wanted it to keep power from being concentrated in any single branch. They did not want to give the type of power a King may have – since this was what they revolted from. They agreed to establish three separate branches of government – each with their own checks and balances – not only within the government itself but also between the Federal government and the states themselves.

    A bone of contention and the chief reason Patrick Henry did not attend – was how the power would be spread among the states – which states would get what powers? And if certain states would have more power over another?

    In the Continental Congress each state had one vote. One state equaled one vote regardless of its size. But Congress asked states to contribute taxes based on their size and population. At the Convention the smaller states wanted this method to remain but the larger states – who were required to pay more taxes – wanted more voting power. The compromise that was made created the two parts of Congress – two Senators from each state – and a House of Representatives whose number of members were elected based on the population of the state.

    One issue that could not be resolved by compromise was the issue of slavery. The only thing they could decide on was putting the decision off until 1808 – 20 years later. Yet it would take a bloody civil war many years later to make it illegal for one person to claim ownership over another.

    Now comes the Bill of Rights. Besides all the other issues that came up concerning the relationship between the states and the Federal government, there was great concern over having a Federal government that would limit the rights of the individuals. Therefore the final document did not get approved until a listing of individual rights was added – the Bill of Rights which added a series of Amendments to the Constitution protecting individual liberties.

    The Convention approved the new Constitution of the United States on September 17, 1787. This was just a short 11 years after they declared their independence from the British – things were falling into place. 39 of the 55 delegates signed the Constitution and submitted it to Congress which then offered it to the state legislatures for their ratification – the wheels of a true democracy were now officially turning.

    There were many disagreements among the states but just as they do today – those that were in favor of the new Constitution rallied for its acceptance through brochures and speeches to educate the public. In New York, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay promoted the Constitution by writing a series of papers called the “Federalist Papers”. Delaware was the first to ratify the Constitution – with a unanimous vote in December of 1787 and New Hampshire became the 9th state to approve thereby officially ratifying the Constitution in June 0f 1788.

    The Constitution went into effect in 1789 and George Washington became our first President under this new form of government.

    It is important to know this information and teach it to the young people of this great country. If you want to know where you are as a government – it is most important to know and understand where you came from and how it came to be. Stand up today and support the Constitution. Make your voice heard today!

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