Pillars of the Republic:
Essays on the Declaration of Independence, U. S. Constitution & Bill of Rights
Michael L. Chadwick
Boise, Idaho: Liberty Park USA Publishing Company
P. O. Box 16184. Boise, Idaho 83715
Copyright © 2007 by Michael L. Chadwick. All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2007 of Electronic Texts by Michael L. Chadwick. All rights reserved. No part of this electronic text may be reproduced, distributed, stored in electronic databases, personal computers, search engine databases, web sites or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods without the prior written permission of the publisher. Electronic fingerprints have been placed in the text to prevent copyright violations.
Table of Contents
I: Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence
II. Our Charter of Liberty: A Brief Look at the U. S. Constitution
III. The Bill of Rights
I: Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence
"I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man." These memorable words, written by the author of the Declaration of Independence, stand as a monument to his sterling character, his dedication to the elimination of tyranny and his devotion to the establishment of individual freedom.
"The principles of Jefferson," Abraham Lincoln declared, "are the definitions and axioms of (a) free society. . . . All honor to Jefferson–. . ., who in the concrete pressure of a struggle for national independence . . . had the coolness, forecaste, and sagacity to introduce into a . . . revolutionary document, an abstract truth, applicable to all men and all times, and so embalm it there that today and in all coming days it shall be a rebuke and a stumbling-block to the very harbingers of reappearing tyranny and oppression."
The truth Lincoln was referring to was the doctrine of natural rights, which maintains that mankind is endowed with certain unalienable rights bestowed by their Creator. The prominent historian, Henry Steele Commager, called Thomas Jefferson "the central figure in American history. . . ." And truly he was. Jefferson joined such remarkable men as George Washington, John Adams, James Madison and a host of other statesmen in laying the foundation of the American Republic–the first free nation in modern history.
Thomas Jefferson was born on April 13, 1743, on his father's estate on the Rivanna River in Albemarle County, Virginia. He was the third child of Peter Jefferson and Jane Randolph. The Randolph's were among Virginia's most prominent families. His father was a self-made man who became a respected surveyor, a landowner, a colonel in the militia, and a stalwart leader in the State of Virginia.
During his early life Tom's parents made him familiar with the tenets of the Church of England. The Holy Bible and Shakespeare were read on a regular basis in the Jefferson home. As the young boy grew he developed a love for reading. He was also known for his "encyclopedic curiosity." One account records: "When he discovered a neighbor or a stranger doing something he did not understand, he asked questions and observed the proceedings until his curiosity was fully gratified, and then usually made notes of his observations in a memorandum book. His inquisitiveness was proverbial in the neighborhood, and (one) woman . . . remarked that she 'never knew anyone to ask so many questions as Thomas Jefferson."'
He was only five years old when his parents sent him to a private English boarding school. When he turned nine he came under the tutelage of the Reverend William Douglas, an Anglican minister from Scotland. Within five years Tom could read Latin, Greek and French. Shortly thereafter, he added Spanish, Italian and Anglo-Saxon to his reading skills.
When he was fourteen tragedy struck in the Jefferson family, as his father died unexpectedly of an unknown disease. Tom inherited the estate at Shadwell. Instead of staying there, he continued his schooling in classical education. This had been a specific request of Tom's father, which was outlined in his will.
In 1758 Tom enrolled in the Fredericksville Parish of Albemarle County under the instruction of Reverend James Maury–a classical scholar. He boarded at the school and usually returned home on the weekends.
Tom was a typical boy in a lot of ways. He went swimming in the river, hunted in the forests and raced horses with his friends. His best friend was Dabney Carr, a fellow classmate from school. One mid-winter day, a number of the boys prodded Dabney and Tom to enter a horse race. Tom realized that his slower pony had little chance of winning the race. So he cleverly suggested that the event be held on February 30th. The boys at the school anxiously awaited the race. Not until February 29th–the last day of the month–did they realize that Tom had tricked them.
When Tom turned seventeen he left Shadwell to attend the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. Like a number of other colleges in the colonies, William and Mary had been established "to the end that the Church of Virginia may be furnished with a seminary for ministers of the gospel, and that the youth may be piously educated in good letters and manners, and that the Christian faith may be propagated amongst the Western Indians, to the glory of the Almighty." Williamsburg was the capitol of the colony and the center of culture. It was stocked with rich stores which were furnished with the best provisions money could buy. Women strolled down the Duke of Gloucester Street in the fashions of the day. Men in bright colored knee breeches and coats with elegant cased swords and London's best beaver hats dotted the landscape of the town. Heated political discussions were a daily occurrence at the popular Raleigh Tavern.
While young Tom was undoubtedly impressed with colonial Williamsburg, the residents of the town could not escape noticing him. Although he was young, Tom was 6' 2" tall and had rusty, red hair. In addition, his unusual desire to learn and his accomplishments quickly set him apart from others. The following description was given by a prominent historian: "He was a fresh, bright, healthy-looking youth, with large feet and hands, red hair, freckled skin, . . . hazel-gray eyes, prominent cheekbones, and a heavy chin. His form 'was as straight as a gunbarrel, sinewy and alert,' and he cultivated his strength 'by familiarity with saddle, gun, canoe, and minuet.' He early showed perfect self-reliance, and had a strong taste for mathematics and mechanics."
Tom, who was never one to waste time, dove into his studies with zeal and energy. He often spent fifteen hours a day reading and attending classes. John Page, a close friend and classmate, who later became a Congressman and Governor of Virginia, noted that Jefferson would often leave his best friends to be with his books.
Williamsburg had one of the largest bookstores in Virginia. Jefferson, with his passion for books, must have visited the store often. He was known for buying them with great zeal. Although a dedicated student, there were times when Tom pulled away from his studies long enough to attend a weekend dance in the Apollo Room of the Raleigh Tavern, a concert, a play, a horse race or shooting matches.
While at William and Mary one of his philosophy professors, named Doctor William Small, took a liking to Tom and introduced him to George Wythe, a prominent attorney, and to Francis . Fauquier, then the Royal Governor. Professor Small, Wythe and Fauquier frequently met for philosophical discussions over dinner and they soon invited young Jefferson. "At these dinners," Jefferson recalled later in life, "I have heard more good sense, more rational and philosophical conversations, than in all my life besides." It was indeed an honor for Jefferson to be invited into such distinguished company.
In later life Jefferson wrote the following tribute to Doctor Small, the man who had lifted him into the intellectual world: "It was my good fortune and that probably fixed the destinies of my life, that Doctor William Small of Scotland was then Professor of Mathematics, a man profound in most of the useful branches of science, with a happy talent of communication, correct and gentlemanly manners, and an enlarged and liberal mind. He, most happily for me, became soon attached to me, and made me his daily companion when not engaged in the school; and from his conversation I got my first views of the expansion of science, and of the system of things in which we are placed. Fortunately, the philosophical chair became vacant soon after my arrival at college, and he was appointed to fill it per interim: and he was the first who ever gave, in that college, regular lectures in Ethics, Rhetoric and Belles-Lettres."
After completing two years of course work at William and Mary, young Tom graduated. However, instead of returning home, he elected to remain in Williamsburg and study law under George Wythe. For five years Jefferson was privately tutored in the law by this leading attorney of the colony. Since there was no organized law school at Williamsburg, students had to prepare for becoming a lawyer under the guidance of a current practitioner. The law students attended sessions of the court, prepared legal briefs, and studied various legal documents. Prior to practicing law, the students were required to appear before a special board of examiners. If they passed the exam, the students were issued a license to practice law,
In addition to law, Jefferson, the perpetual student, studied languages, physics, agriculture, mathematics, philosophy, chemistry, botany, politics, history and literature. He called this "a time of life when I was bold in the pursuit of knowledge, never fearing to follow truth and reason to whatever results they led." Unbeknown to the young scholar, the foundation was being laid for a bright career as one of America's foremost statesmen.
George Wythe, who later became a member of the Continental Congress and a signer of the Declaration of Independence, had a great influence on Jefferson's life during this period. Jefferson wrote a stirring tribute to Wythe, a man whom he often called his second father.
"No man ever left behind him a character more venerated than G(eorge) Wythe. His virtue was of the purest tint; his integrity flexible, and his justice exact; of warm patriotism, and, devoted as he was to liberty, and the natural and equal rights of man, he might truly be called the Cato of his country, without the avarice of the Roman; for a more disinterested person never lived. Temperance and regularity in all his habits gave him general good health, and his unaffected modesty and suavity of manners endeared him to every one.
"He was of easy elocution, his language chaste, methodical in the arrangement of his matter, learned and logical in the use of it, and of great urbanity in debate. Not quick of apprehension, but with a little time profound in penetration, and sound in conclusion. In his philosophy he was firm, and neither troubling, nor perhaps trusting, any one with his religious creed, he left to the world the conclusion that religion must be good which could produce a life of such exemplary virtue.
"His stature was of the middle size, well formed and proportioned and the features of his face manly, comely and engaging. Such was George Wythe, the honor of his own, and the model of future times."
Wythe's devotion to liberty and the natural rights of man, no doubt, had a profound effect upon the intellectual development of Jefferson. Little did Wythe know that he was tutoring the future author of the Declaration of Independence and the third President of the United States.
Some years later Jefferson wrote, "Mr. Wythe continued to be my faithful and beloved mentor in youth, and my most affectionate friend through life."
Jefferson's intellectual development was also shaped by another famous American, Patrick Henry. The two men's paths first crossed just after Christmas of 1759 when Jefferson was riding horseback across Virginia to Williamsburg. He stayed at Dandridge's Inn in Hanover. Henry lived nearby. Jefferson became attached to the out-going Patrick, and was especially attracted to his devotion to freedom and his unsurpassed power as a public speaker. The two men became friends, and Henry, who entered law the same year Jefferson entered William and Mary, shared an apartment with Tom whenever he came to Williamsburg to appear in court. Although in later years their political differences would drive a wedge between them, the two men forged a friendship which left a unique impression on Jefferson.
While studying law under Wythe, Jefferson occasionally slipped away to attend sessions of the Virginia House of Burgesses and to listen to Henry. His fiery orations held Jefferson spellbound. Tom was present on May 29, 1765, when Henry introduced a series of resolutions attacking the infamous Stamp Act. As Henry rose to his feet and defended the resolutions with his famous, "If this be treason, make the most of it" speech, Jefferson soaked up every word.
"I attended the debate, . . .," Jefferson wrote later, "at the door of the lobby of the House of Burgesses, and heard the splendid display of Mr. Henry's talents as a popular orator. They were great indeed; such as I have never heard from any other man. He appeared to me to speak as Homer wrote." (Homer, who was a Greek epic poet who lived around 850 BC, is thought to have written the Iliad and the Odyssey. The frequent reference to Greek and Roman characters demonstrate Jefferson's familiarity with classical literature.)
Jefferson went on to say that he had never hard anything like the spirited words of Patrick Henry. To Jefferson, the talented orator was "truly a great man."
May 29, 1765 was not only a turning point in the historical development of the colonies, but a most significant day in the life of the future author of the Declaration of Independence. As Jefferson stood in the crowded room, enthralled by Henry's impassioned speech, a sense of duty swelled within his soul and moved him to enthusiastically enter the great battle to preserve and promote the natural rights of man.
Although many of Virginia's delegates who heard the resolutions for the first time that day thought they were too controversial for presentation to the British Crown, the publication of them led other colonies to pass similar resolutions and led to the formation of the Stamp Act Congress in New York. These resolutions literally ignited the colonies and the flames of fiery resistance to British oppression spread throughout America.
During the summer of 1766, Jefferson prepared for his forthcoming law exam. The young Virginian was only twenty-three years old and at a crossroads. Where would his future lead? What occupation should he pursue? Nearly five decades later he wrote to his grandson, Thomas Jefferson Randolph, these memorable words: "When I recollect that at 14. years of age, the whole care & direction of myself was thrown on myself entirely without a relation or friend qualified to advise or guide me, and recollect the various sorts of bad company with which I associated from time to time, I am astonished I did not turn off with some of them & become as worthless to society as they were. I had the good fortune to become acquainted very early with some characters of very high standing, and to feel the incessant wish that I could ever become what they were. Under temptations & difficulties, I would ask myself what would Dr. Small, Mr. Wythe, Peyton Randolph (his mother's cousin) do in this situation? What course in it will insure me their approbation? I am certain that this mode of deciding on my conduct, tended more to its correctness than any reasoning powers I possessed. Knowing the even & dignified line they pursued, I could never doubt for a moment which of two courses would be in character for them. Whereas seeking the same object through a process of moral reason", & with the jaundiced eye of youth, I should often have erred. From the circumstances of my position I was often thrown into the society of horseracers, cardplayers, foxhunters, scientific & professional men, and of dignified men; and many a time have I asked myself, in the . . . moment of the death of a fox, the victory of a favorite horse, the issue of a question eloquently argued at the bar or in the great council of the nation, well, which of these kinds of reputations should I prefer? That of a horse jockey? a foxhunter? an Orator? or the honest advocate of my country's rights? Be assured my dear Jefferson, that these little returns into ourselves, this self-catechizing habit, is not trifling, nor useless, but leads to the prudent selection & steady pursuit of what is right."
Shortly he would enter the legal profession, but in a few years he would elect, thanks to the God of Heaven, to become an honest champion of his"country's rights.
Early in 1767 Jefferson went before the General Court of Virginia for his bar examination. No doubt, his examiners must have been surprised at the vast knowledge of young Jefferson. Many young men spent less than six months studying for the exam, however, Jefferson had spent five years. No American ever entered the legal profession so prepared.
For the next seven years Jefferson practiced law in Williamsburg, handling such cases as the "trespassing of cattle on a neighbor's field, destruction of fences, robbery committed by a clerk, wills, administration of estates, . . . quarrels between goodwives, . . . (and) assault and battery."
Throughout his lifetime, Jefferson frequently encouraged people to study law. His letters were full of counsel on this subject. One letter offers valuable insight, not only into the study of law, but into the nature of Jefferson himself.
"Before you enter on the study of the law a sufficient ground-work must be laid. For this purpose an acquaintance with the Latin and French languages is absolutely necessary. . . . Mathematics and Natural philosophy are so useful in the most familiar occurrences of life, and are so peculiarly engaging & delightful as would induce every person to wish an acquaintance with them. Besides this, the faculties of the mind, like the members of the body, are strengthened & improved by exercise. Mathematical reasonings & deductions are therefore a fine preparation for investigating the abstruse speculations of the law. . . .
"This foundation being laid, you may enter regularly on the study of the Law, taking with it such of it's kindred sciences as will contribute to eminence in it's attainment. The principal of these are Physics, Ethics, Religion, Natural law, Belles lettres, Criticism, Rhetoric and Oratory. The carrying on several studies at a time is attended with advantage. Variety relieves the mind, as well as the eye, palled with too long attention to a single subject. . . . Again, a great inequality is observable in the vigor of the mind at different periods of the day. Its powers at these periods should therefore be attended to. . . . I should recommend the following distribution of your time.
"Till VIII o'clock in the morning employ yourself in Physical studies, Ethics, Religion, natural and sectarian, and Natural law. . . .
"From VIII. to XII. read law. The general course of this reading may be formed on the following grounds. Ld. Coke has given us the first view of the whole body of law worthy now of being studied. . . . Coke's Institutes are a perfect Digest of the law as it stood in his day. After this, new laws were added by the legislature, and new developments of the old laws by the Judges, until they had become so voluminous as to require a new Digest. This was ably executed by Matthew Bacon, altho' unfortunately under an Alphabetical instead of Analytical arrangement of matter. The same process of new laws & new decisions on the old laws going on, called at length for the same operation again, and produced the inimitable Commentaries of Blackstone. . . .
"In reading the Reporters (reports of contemporary cases), enter in a Common-place book every case of value, condensed into the narrowest compass possible which will admit of presenting distinctly the principles or the case. This operation is doubly useful, inasmuch as it obliges the student to seek out the pith of the case, and habituates him to a condensation of thought, and to an acquisition of the most valuable of all talents, that of never using two words where one will do. It fixes the case too more indelibly in the mind.
"From XII to I, read Politics . . . Locke on Government, Sidney on Government, Priestley's First Principles of Government, Review of Montesquieu's Spirit of Laws. . . . The Federalist. . . .
"In the Afternoon read History. . . .
"From Dark to Bedtime–Belles Lettres; Criticism; Rhetoric; Oratory. . . ."
In 1770 Jefferson began visiting the estate of a fellow attorney named John Wayles. However, he never went there to discuss legal matters. Wayles had a beautiful daughter named Martha. It took two years for Jefferson to finally ask her to marry him. They were married on New Year's Day in 1772.
Tom had already started his political career before his marriage. At the age of twenty-five, Jefferson was elected to serve Albemarle County in the Virginia House of Burgesses. Politicians who lived in this era were usually renowned for their oratorical skills. But Jefferson rarely spoke in a public gathering. As one historian noted: "Words never came easily to Jefferson, or in great abundance. His voice, pleasant and modulated in ordinary conversation, 'sank in his throat,' if raised higher, and became husky.' He was clearly a business lawyer, an office lawyer, whose clear, precise, meticulous presentation of facts fitted him particularly for appearing before a court of appeals like the General Court, rather than for moving and emotionally convincing a jury of twelve men good and true."
Jefferson was known for his personal integrity, his forthrightness, and his astute legal mind. His neighbors elected him to serve in the colonial legislature from 1769 until he became a delegate to the Constitution Congress in 1775.
It seems very appropriate that the very first legislative act of the future author of the Declaration of Independence was an attempt to allow slave owners to legally free their slaves. No wonder Abraham Lincoln revered Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson described his labors and the attitudes that prevailed in the Virginia House of Burgesses as follows:
"In 1769, I became a member of the legislature by the choice of the county in which I live, & continued in that until it was closed by the revolution. I made one effort in that body for the permission of the emancipation of slaves, which was rejected: and indeed, during the regal government, nothing liberal could expect success. Our minds were circumscribed within narrow limits by an habitual belief that it was our duty to be subordinate to the mother country in all matters of government, to direct all our labors in subservience to her interests, and even to observe a bigoted intolerance for all religions but hers. The difficulties with our representatives were of habit and despair, not of reflection & conviction. Experience soon proved that they could bring their minds to rights on the first summons of their attention. But the king's council, which acted as another house of legislature, held their places at will & were in most humble obedience to that will: the Governor too, who had a negative on our laws held by the same tenure, & with still greater devotedness to it: and last of all the Royal negative closed the last door to every hope of amelioration."
However, times were changing, The belief that it was the duty of the colonies to be subordinate to the mother country was destined to change forever in a few years. And Thomas Jefferson was destined to be a leader in this great revolutionary change.
By now the Townshend duties and various other British Acts which were oppressive to the colonists were raising the ire of many people like Patrick Henry and Samuel Adams. The relationship between the colonies and England were steadily growing worse, and several members of the Virginia legislature felt an urgency for the colonists to unite behind a common banner and launch forth on a common course. During the early months of 1773 Jefferson and several of his colleagues initiated an effort which resulted in the eventual formation of the First Continental Congress. Jefferson wrote: "Mr. (Patrick) Henry, Richard Henry Lee, Francis L. Lee, (Dabney) Carr, and myself agreed to meet in the evening, in a private room of the Raleigh, to consult on the state of things. There may have been a member or two more whom I do not recollect, "We were all sensible that the most urgent of all measures was that of coming to an understanding with all the other colonies, to consider the British claims as a common cause to all, and to produce a unity of action; and, for this purpose, that a committee of correspondence in each colony would be the best instrument for intercommunication; and that their first measure would probably be to propose a meeting of deputies from every colony, at some central mace, who should be charged with the direction of the measures which should be taken by all."
Jefferson and his colleagues drafted the resolutions and submitted them to the legislature. They were unanimously accepted. Lord Dunmore, the Royal Governor, upon reading the resolutions, promptly dissolved the assembly. However, the assembly simply moved to the Apollo Room at the Raleigh Tavern to continue their work.
It had been a frequent procedure for the Royal Governor to disband the assembly whenever they proposed measures which he disliked. This action only strengthened the resolve of Jefferson and his colleagues.
In May of 1774 Jefferson and a number of the legislators proposed a day of fasting and prayer throughout Virginia "to implore Heaven to avert from us the evils of civil war, to inspire us with firmness in support of our rights, and to turn the hearts of the King and Parliament to moderation and justice."
The fasting and prayer was approved, with the following result:
"The Governor dissolved us, as usual. We retired to the Apollo, as before, agreed to an association, and instructed the committee of correspondence to propose to the corresponding committees of the other colonies to appoint deputies to meet in Congress at such place, annually, as should be convenient, to direct from time to time the measures required by the general interest; and we declared that an attack on any one colony should be considered as an attack on the whole. . . . We returned home, and in our several counties invited the clergy to meet assemblies of the people on the 1st. of June, to perform the ceremonies of the day, & to address to them discourses suited to the occasion. The people met generally, with anxiety & alarm in their countenances, and the effect of the day thro' the whole colony was like a shock of electricity, arousing every man & placing him erect & solidly on his center.
"We further recommended to the several counties to elect deputies to meet at Williamsburg the 1st of August ensuing, to consider the state of the colony, and particularly to appoint delegates to a general Congress, should that measure be acceded to by the committees of correspondence generally. It was acceded to; Philadelphia was appointed for the place, and the 5th of September for the time of the meeting."
While the appointment of delegates to a general congress was an important step toward independence; it was highly significant that one of the most important parts of the resolutions passed in the Raleigh Tavern stated, "that an attack on any one colony should be considered as an attack on the whole." The colonies were solidifying their union against Great Britain.
On June 26, 1774, the freeholders of Albemarle County adopted a series of resolutions written by Jefferson. The young attorney wrote:
"Resolved, that the inhabitants of the several states of British America are subject to the laws which they adopted at their first settlement, and to such others as have been since made by their respective legislatures, duly constituted and appointed with their own consent; that no other legislature whatever many rightfully exercise authority over them, and that these privileges they hold as the common rights of mankind, confirmed by the political constitutions they have respectively assumed, and also by several charters of compact from the crown.
"Resolved, that these their natural and legal rights have in frequent instances been invaded by the parliament of Great Britain, and particularly that they were so by an act lately passed to take away the trade of the inhabitants of the town of Boston, in the province of Massachusetts Bay, that all such assumptions of unlawful power are dangerous to the rights of the British empire in general, and should be considered as its common cause, and that we will ever be ready to join-with our fellow subjects, in every part of the same, in exerting all those rightful powers, which God has given us, for the re-establishing and guaranteeing such their constitutional rights, when, where, and by whomsoever invaded.
"It is the opinion of this meeting, that the most eligible means of effecting these purposes will be to put an immediate stop to all imports from Great Britain (cotton, coarse cotton, striped dual–heavy wool, medicines, gunpowder, lead, books and printed papers, the necessary tools and implements for the handycraft arts and manufactures expected for a limited time) and to all exports thereto after the 1st day of October, which shall be in the year of our Lord, 1775; and immediately to discontinue all commercial intercourse with every part of the British empire which shall not in like manner break off their commerce with Great Britain.
"It is the opinion of this meeting, that we immediately cease to import all commodities from every part of the world which are subjected by the British parliament to the payment of duties in America.
"It is the opinion of this meeting that these measures should be pursued until a repeal be obtained of the act blocking up the harbour of Boston, of the acts prohibiting or restraining internal manufactures in America, of the acts imposing on any commodities duties to be paid in America, and of the acts laying restrictions on the American trade; and that on such repeal it will be reasonable to grant to our brethren of Great Britain such privileges in commerce as may amply compensate their fraternal assistance, past and future."
Jefferson was immediately elected by his county to attend the Williamsburg Convention to select delegates to the Continental Congress, Upon receiving his new assignment, he began drafting a set of instructions for the delegates when they met in Philadelphia. On his way to Williamsburg he became ill and had to forward the instructions to his colleagues at the Convention. The paper was not accepted by the colony's delegates because they thought it was too forward. In these instructions Jefferson set forth the grievances which necessitated the creation of the Congress. It also contained a warning that unless the grievances were rectified by King George III, the colonies would relinquish allegiance to England. Jefferson wrote:
"Resolved that it be an instruction to the said deputies when assembled in General Congress with the deputies from the other states of British America to propose to the said Congress that an humble and dutiful address by presented to his majesty begging leave to lay before him as chief magistrate of the British empire the united complaints of his majesty's subjects in America; complaints which are excited by many unwarrantable encroachments and usurpations, attempted to be made by the legislature of one part of the empire, upon those rights which God and the laws have given equally and independently to all. To represent to his majesty that these his states have often individually made humble application to his imperial throne, to obtain thro' it's intervention some redress of their injured rights; to none of which was ever an answer condescended. Humbly to hope that their joint address, penned in the language of truth, and divested of those expressions of servility which would persuade his majesty that we are asking favors and not rights shall obtain from his majesty a more respectful acceptance. And this his majesty will think we have reason to expect when he reflects that he is no more than the chief officer of the people, appointed by the laws, and circumscribed with definite powers, to assist in working the great machine of government erected for their use, and consequently to their superintendence. And in order that these our rights, as well as the invasions of them, may be laid more fully before his majesty, to take a view of them from the origin and first settlement of these countries.
"To remind him that our ancestors, before their emigration to America, were the free inhabitants of the British dominions in Europe, and possessed a right, which nature has given all men, of departing from the country in which chance, not choice has placed them, of going in quest of new habitations, and of there establishing new societies, under such laws and regulations as to them shall seem most likely to promote public happiness. That their Saxon ancestors had under this universal law, in like manner, left their native wilds and woods in the North of Europe, had possessed themselves of the island of Britain then less charged with inhabitants, and had established there that system of laws which has so long been the glory and protection of that country. Nor was ever any claim of superiority or dependence asserted over them by that mother country from which they had migrated: and were such a claim made it is believed his majesty's subjects in Great Britain have too firm a feeling of the rights derived to them from their ancestors to bow down the sovereignty of their state before such visionary pretensions. And it is thought that no circumstance has occurred to distinguish materially the British from the Saxon emigration. America was conquered, and her settlements made and firmly established, at the expense of individuals, and not of the British public. Their own blood was spilt in acquiring lands for their settlement, their own fortunes expended in making that settlement effectual. For themselves they fought, for themselves they conquered. and for themselves alone they have right to hold. No shilling was ever issued from the public treasures of his majesty or his ancestors for their assistance' till of very late times, after the colonies had become established on a firm and permanent footing. . . .
"That settlements having been thus effected in the wilds of America, the emigrants thought proper to adopt that system of laws under which they have hitherto lived in the mother country and to continue their union with her by submitting themselves to the same common sovereign, who was thereby made the central link connecting the several parts of the empire thus newly multiplied.
"But that not long were they permitted, however far they thought themselves removed from the hand of oppression, to hold undisturbed the rights thus acquired at the hazard of their lives and loss of their fortunes. A family of princes (the Stuarts) was then on the British throne, whose treasonable crimes against their people brought on them afterwards the exertion of those sacred and sovereign rights of punishment, reserved in the hands of the people for cases of extreme necessity. and judged by the constitution unsafe to be delegated to any other judicature. While every day brought forth some new and unjustifiable exertion of power over their subjects on that side the water, it was not to be expected that those here, much less able at that time to oppose the designs of despotism, should be exempted from injury. Accordingly that country (British North America)...was by these princes at several times parted out and distributed among the favorites and followers of their fortunes; and by an assumed right of the crown alone were erected into distinct and independent governments: a measure which it is believed his majesty's prudence and understanding would prevent him for imitating at this day; as not exercise of such power of dividing and dismembering a country has ever occurred in his majesty's realm of England. . . .
"That thus have we hastened thro' the reigns which preceded his majesty's, during which the violation of our rights were less alarming, because repeated at more distant intervals, than that rapid and bold succession of injuries which is likely to distinguish the present from all other periods of American story. Scarcely have our minds been able to emerge from the astonishment into which one stroke of parliamentary thunder has involved us, before another more heavy and more alarming is fallen on us. Single acts of tyranny may be ascribed to the accidental opinion of a day; but a series of oppressions, begun at a distinguished period, and pursued unalterably thro' everychange of ministers, too plainly prove a deliberate, systematical plan of reducing us to slavery. . . .
". . . Not only the principles of common sense, but the common feelings of human nature must be surrendered up, before his majesty's subjects here can be persuaded to believe that they hold their political existence at the will of a British parliament. Shall these governments be dissolved, their property annihilated, and their people reduced to a state of nature, at the imperious breath of a body of men whom they never saw, in whom they never confided, and over whom they have no powers of punishment or removal, let their crimes against the American public be ever so great? Can any one reason be assigned why 160,000 electors in the island of Great Britain should give law to four millions in the states of America, every individual of whom is equal to every individual of them in virtue, in understanding, and in bodily strength? Were this to be admitted, instead of being a free people, as we have hit'nerto supposed, and mean to continue, ourselves, we should suddenly be found the slaves, not of one, but of 160,000 tyrants, distinguished too from all others by this singular circumstance that they are removed from the teach of fear, the only restraining motive which may hold the hand of a tyrant. . . .
"But your majesty or your Governors have carried this power beyond every limit known or provided for by the laws. After dissolving one house of representatives, they have refused to call another, so that for a great length of time the legislature provided by the laws had been out of existence. From the nature of things, every society must at all times possess within itself the sovereign powers of legislation. The feelings of human nature revolt against the supposition of a state so situated as that it may not in any emergency provide against dangers which perhaps threaten immediate ruin. While those bodies are in existence to whom the people have delegated the powers of legislation, they alone possess and may exercise those powers. But when they are dissolved by the lopping off one or more of their branches, the power reverts to the people, who may use it to unlimited extent, either assembling together in person, sending deputies, or in any other way they may think proper. We forbear to trace consequences further; the dangers are conspicuous with which this practice is replete. . . .
"That, in order to inforce the arbitrary measures before complained of. his majesty has from time to time sent among us large bodies of armed forces, not made up of the people here, nor raised by the authority of our laws. Did his majesty possess such a right as this, it might swallow up all other rights whenever he should think proper. But his majesty has no right to land a single armed man on our shores; and those whom he sends here are liable to our laws for the suppression and punishment of Riots, Routs, and unlawful assemblies, or are hostile bodies invading us in defiance of law. . . . To render these proceedings still more criminal against our laws, instead of subjecting the military to the civil power, his majesty has expressly made the civil power subordinate to the military. But can his majesty thus put down all law under his feet? Can he erect a power superior to that which erected himself? He has done it indeed by force; but let him remember that force cannot give right.
"That these are our grievances which we have thus laid before his majesty with that freedom of language and sentiment which becomes a free people, claiming their rights as derived from the laws of nature, and not as the gift of their chief magistrate. Let those flatter. who fear: it is not an American art To give praise where it is not due, might be well from the venal, but would ill beseem those who are asserting the rights of human nature. They know, and will therefore say, that kings are the servants, not the proprietors of the people. Open your breast Sire, to liberal and expanded thought. Let not the name of George the third be a blot in the page of history. You are surrounded by British counsellors, but remember that they are parties. You have no ministers for American affairs, because you have none taken from among us, nor amenable to the laws on which they are to give you advice. It behoves you therefore to think and to act for yourself and your people. The great principles of right and wrong are legible to every reader: to pursue them requires not the aid of many counsellors. The whole art of government consists in the art of being honest. Only aim to do your duty, and mankind will give you credit where you fail. No longer persevere in sacrificing the rights of one part of the empire to the inordinate desires of another but deal out to all equal and impartial right. . . . This, Sire, is the advice of your great American council, on the observance of which may perhaps depend your felicity and future fame, and the preservation of that harmony which alone can continue both to Great Britain and America the reciprocal advantages of their connection. It is neither our wish nor our interest to separate from her. We are willing on our part to sacrifice every thing which reason can ask to the restoration of that tranquility for which all must wish. On their part let them be ready to establish union on a generous plan. Let them name their terms, but let them be just. Accept of every commercial preference it is in our power to give for such things as we can raise for their use, or they make for ours. But let them not think to exclude us from going to other markets, to dispose of those commodities which they cannot use, nor to supply those wants which they cannot supply. Still less let it be proposed that our properties within our own territories shall be taxed or regulated by any power on earth but our own. The God who gave us life, gave us liberty at the same time: the land of force may destroy, but cannot disjoin them. This Sire, is our last, our determined resolution: and that you will be pleased to interpose with that efficacy which your earnest endeavors may insure to procure redress of these our great grievances, to quiet the minds of your subjects in British America against any apprehensions of future encroachment, to establish fraternal love and harmony thro' the whole empire, and that may continue to the latest ages of time, is the fervent prayer of all British America."
In these instructions to the delegates who were to meet in the Virginia Convention at Williamsburg, Jefferson outlined the future legal justification for the revolution and independence. He believed that the land of America did not belong to the King of England, but to the colonists themselves. This legal assumption was based upon the right of conquest.
Jefferson's profound legal analysis of the right of conquest helped lay the ground work for the establishment of the doctrine of self-government. To Jefferson, the principle of self-government was classified among the natural rights of mankind. Since America belonged to the colonists, they should govern it.
Even though the Virginia Convention prepared more moderate instructions for the delegates to Philadelphia, a number of them were so impressed with Jefferson's paper that they printed it as a pamphlet entitled, "A Summary View of the Rights of British America." The pamphlet quickly circulated among the colonists and "Mr. Jefferson's Bill of Rights" was reprinted several times. As the fame of the pamphlet spread, it was not only circulated in America but in Great Britain.
The Treatise Jefferson wrote, "procured me the honor of having my name inserted in a long list of proscriptions (and) enrolled in a bill of attainder commenced in one of the houses of Parliament." (A bill of attainder is a legislative bill making certain crimes punishable by forfeiture of property or loss of civil rights.)
On September 4, 1774 the Continental Congress assembled at Philadelphia under the leadership of Peyton Randolph of Virginia. It adjourned in October as the colonies began girding their loins for the battle with England.
Back in Virginia the counties set up Committees of Safety and Jefferson was appointed a delegate to a second convention in Virginia. The convention met in Richmond on March 20, 1775. It was at this historic gathering that Patrick Henry gave his famous speech which ended with the words, "Give me liberty or give me death."
A resolution to arm passed by a majority vote of the delegates and a plan of defense was adopted.
Shortly thereafter Jefferson was appointed a delegate to the Continental Congress. He then took up the pen in the defense of the American cause.
Lord North, the British Prime Minister, had offered to exempt any colony from taxation if that colony made voluntary contributions for the defense of the British Empire. Parliament would determine if the contributions were sufficient. Jefferson wrote a scorching letter to Lord North reminding him that Americans did not owe any allegiance to Parliament, but only to the King, He brazenly called upon England for complete redress of grievances or war.
As his writings circulated among the colonies, Jefferson's popularity steadily grew. John Adams, a Congressman from Massachusetts, noted: "Mr. Jefferson came into Congress in June 1775, and brought with 'him a reputation for literature, science, and a happy talent of composition. Writings of his were handed about, remarkably for the peculiar felicity of expression."
When Jefferson arrived in Philadelphia in the summer of 1775 he had already earned the respect of his fellow delegates in the Continental Congress. "When he ferried across the Potomac on his way to the Continental Congress, he crossed his Rubicor.. . . ," Dumas Malone, a prominent historian, wrote. "He did not at that time abandon local responsibilities but he appeared unmistakably as an American, as a champion of rights which were confined by no boundary line. T'ne merger of his private life with public pursuits was still incomplete, but there could be no turning back, and from this date onward his story becomes an integral part of the history of the Republic."
Five days after he arrived in Philadelphia, Jefferson was appointed to a committee charged to write a "Declaration of the Causes of Taking Up Arms." He wrote the following paragraphs:
". . . We are reduced to the alternative of choosing an unconditional Submission to the tyranny of irritated Ministers, or resistance by Force. The latter is our choice. We have counted the cost of this contest, and find nothing so dreadful as voluntary Slavery. Honour, Justice, and Humanity, forbid us tamely to surrender that Freedom which we received from our gallant Ancestors, and which our innocent Posterity have a right to receive from us. We cannot endure the infamy and guilt of resigning succeeding Generations to that wretchedness which inevitably awaits them, if we basely entail hereditary Bondage upon them.
"Our cause is just. Our union is perfect. Our internal Resources are great, and, if necessary, foreign Assistance is undoubtedly attainable. We gratefully acknow'ledge, as signal Instances of Divine Favour towards us, that his Providence would permit us to be called into this severe Controversy, until we were grown up to our present strength, had been previously exercised in war-like Operation, and possessed of the means of defending ourselves. With hearts fortified with these animating Reflections, we most solemnly, before God and the World, declare, that, exerting the utmost Energy of those Powers, which our beneficient Creator hath graciously bestowed upon us, the Arms we have been compelled by our Enemies to assume, we will, in defiance of every Hazard, with unabating Firmness and Perseverance, employ for the preservation of our Liberties; being with one Mind resolved to die Freemen' rather than to live Slaves.
"Lest this Declaration should disquiet the Minds of our Friends and Fellow-Subjects in any part of the Empire, we assure them that we mean not to dissolve that Union which we sincerely wish to see restored. Necessity has not yet driven us into that desperate Measure, or induced us to excite any other Nation to War against them. We have not raised Armies with ambitious Designs of separating from Great-Britain, and establishing Independent States. We fight not for Glory or for Conquest. We exhibit to Mankind the remarkable Spectacle of a People attacked by unprovoked Enemies, without any imputation or even suspicion of Offence. They boast of their Privileges and Civilization, and yet proffer no milder Conditions than Servitude or Death.
"In our own native land, in defence of the Freedom that is our Birthright, and which we ever enjoyed till the late Violation of it, for the protection of our Property, acquired solely by the honest Industry of our fore-fathers and ourselves, against Violence actually offered, we have taken up Arms. We shall lay them down when Hostilities shall cease on the part of the Aggressors, and all danger of their being renewed shall be removed, and not before.
"With an humble Confidence in the Mercies of the supreme and impartial Judge and Ruler of the Universe, we most devoutly implore his Divine Goodness to protect us happily thorough this great Conflict, to dispose our Adversaries to reconciliation on reasonable Terms, and thereby to relieve the Empire from the Calamities of civil War."
The Declaration was read throughout the marketplaces of the colonies. The stage was not set for one of the most profound revolutions in the history of the world.
Soon after Congress adjourned in August of 1775, tragedy struck the Jefferson home. His one-and-a-half year old daughter, Jane Randolph, died. The unexpected death brought grief and heartache to the Jeffersons. A few weeks later, Jefferson was reappointed a delegate to Congress. He left his saddened wife and three-year-old daughter to respectfully set out once again for Philadelphia.
At this time his wife's health was not good. This greatly worried Jefferson and detracted him from business in Congress. Several weeks went by and he had not received any communication from Monticello.
Just before the opening of the 1776 session of Congress, Jefferson obtained permission to travel home to check on his wife's condition. He was grateful to find that Martha was in good health. They spent the winter together. However, as the British America crisis deepened, Jefferson's sense of duty drove him back to Philadelphia.
Another tragedy struck as he was preparing to leave. On March 31, 1776, his mother, who was 57, died. The stress of her death took its toll on Jefferson, and for the next five weeks he suffered severe migraine headaches.
By May Jefferson was able to return to Philadelphia and begin his labors in Congress. He seemed to be unaware of the momentous mission which lay just ahead.
In just a few weeks Congress would call upon Jefferson to "speak the sentiments of America" and history would be altered forever. However, Jefferson almost missed his rendevouz with destiny. A majority of the delegates in the Continental Congress had already received instructions to vote for independence by May and he had been absent from a number of important meetings on this vital subject.
In addition, once Jefferson reached Philadelphia he learned that Virginia would shortly be forming a new government since the Royal Governor had fled in the face of rising hostilities. Jefferson wanted to participate in the drafting of the Virginia Constitution. So he requested to return to Williamsburg. Jefferson felt that the framing of the Virginia Constitution was more important than the work of the Continental Congress.
Luckily for America and the world, Jefferson did not receive an invitation to join the Virginia convention which drafted its new constitution. A much greater task lay ahead.
Jefferson did prepare a draft of a proposed constitution and sent it to Williamsburg for consideration by the convention. However, it arrived too late to have any impact on the development of Virginia's constitution.
On June 7, 1776, Richard Henry Lee, a fellow delegate from Virginia, introduced a resolution in Congress calling for the total separation of the colonies from England. It read: "These United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is and ought to be, totally dissolved.
"That it is expedient forthwith to take the most effectual measures for forming foreign Alliances.
"That a plan of confederation be prepared and transmitted to the respective Colonies for their consideration and appropriation."
The motion was seconded by George Wythe, Jefferson's law tutor, and John Adams. Debate was scheduled for the next day. Jefferson kept notes of these historic debates: "It appearing in the course of these debates that the colonies of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and South Carolina were not yet matured for falling from the present stem, but that they were fast advancing to that state, it was thought most prudent to wait awhile for them, and to postpone the final decision to July 1st; but, that this might occasion as little delay as possible, a committee was appointed to prepare a Declaration of Independence. The committee were John Adams, Dr. Franklin, Roger Sherman, Robert R. Livingston, and myself."
The committee's first course of action was to appoint one of their members to draft a document for consideration by the full Congress. Since Benjamin Franklin was confined to his house due to an illness, the assignment seemed likely to fall upon John Adams or Thomas Jefferson. Both of these men were widely acclaimed writers. However, the significant assignment fell upon the young Virginian.
When Jefferson accepted the challenge to write a draft of the Declaration of Independence he stepped onto the stage of the world and left a legacy unparalleled in history,
The actual drafting of the declaration was completed in a rented, second-floor suite in a building on the corner of Seventh and Market Streets in Philadelphia. The actual document was penned upon a portable writing desk, which Jefferson had designed. Writing on foolscap paper, he labored each evening from six o'clock until midnight for seventeen days. He crated and redrafted each sentence and paragraph to give the words power and rhetorical symmetry.
People throughout the land have deemed it providential that Thomas Jefferson was given the task of drafting the Declaration of Independence. And so it was. As George Washington noted: "When I contemplate the interposition of Providence, as it was visibly manifested, in guiding us through the Revolution, in preparing us for the reception of a general government, and in conciliating the goodwill of the People of American towards one another after its' adoption, I feel myself oppressed and almost overwhelmed with a sense of the divine munificence."
No other man in America was as well equipped to write the charter giving birth to the United States of America as Thomas Jefferson. His whole life seems to have been spent preparing him for this momentous task.
After submitting his draft to Benjamin Franklin and John Adams, the two men made a few very minor changes and the committee submitted it to Congress on Friday, June 28, 1776. The draft was tabled until the delegates could vote on Richard Henry Lee's resolution of independence. The vote was scheduled for July 2, 1776. The resolution was approved.
With the decision already made to separate from England, members of Congress next turned to a discussion of Jefferson's Declaration of Independence. He sat nervously in his chair for three days as members of Congress attempted to improve upon the language Jefferson had so carefully penned.
Benjamin Franklin, who was sitting next to Jefferson, could not help but notice the tension which filled the young Virginian. The veritable old sage of Philadelphia, no doubt, offered a few words of comfort.
John Adams became the spokesman for the drafting committee and defended the Declaration with eloquent speeches. Jefferson later wrote that Adams, "supported the Declaration with zeal and ability, fighting fearlessly for every word of it " According to Jefferson Adams "was the pillar of (the Declaration's) support on the floor of the Congress, its ablest advocate and defender against the multifarious assaults against it."
It should be remembered that not everyone in the Continental Congress favored separation from England. And those loyalists were the chief antagonists against the Declaration.
The revised Declaration was approved on the afternoon of July 4, 1776. Its language had been changed slightly; a bold denunciation of the Negro slave trade was eliminated "in complaisance to South Carolina and Georgia, who had never attempted to restrain the importation of slaves, and who, on the contrary, still wished to continue it. Our northern brethren also, I believe, felt a little tender under those censures; for though their people have very few slaves themselves, yet they had been pretty considerable carriers of them to others." The abolition of slavery would be left to another great statesman–Abraham Lincoln, He would take up where Jefferson left off.
All in all, the members of Congress made relatively few changes in the original draft. After the debate ended and the delegates accepted the Declaration, John Hancock signed the parchment in large letters so King George III could read them without his glasses. Charles Thomson, who was secretary of the Congress, attested the document. .
With a stroke of a pen, the United States of America was born amidst trial and adversity. An engrossed parchment copy of the Declaration was later prepared and the delegates placed their signatures upon it on August 2, 1776.
Over the weekend news of the Declaration of Independence spread like a prairie fire driven by a fierce wind. Printed copies were off the press on July 8, 1776. "A great crowd of people," gathered at the Pennsylvania State House (later renamed Independence Hall, in memory of the drafting of the Declaration of Independence).
An appointed reader rose to his feet and the crowd suddenly became quiet as the immortal words, "When, in the course of human events," fell from his lips and were heralded across the courtyard and symbolically across the entire world.
The crowd listened attentively as the entire Declaration was read for the first time in public. John Adams recorded that after the last sentence was read: "Three cheers rended the (sky). The battlions paraded on the common and gave us the Feu de joy, notwithstanding the scarcity of powder. The bells rang all day and almost all night. Even the chimes chimed away."
The purpose of the Declaration of Independence is set forth in the first paragraph–an eloquent statement which many consider to be Jefferson's best writing: "When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands, which have connected them with another, and to assume, among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station, to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the Opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation."
The Declaration not only declared Independence, but announced to the world the reasons why Americans were asserting their independence. In other words, it was a formal, legal document written to justify the action which the Continental Congress had taken on July 2, 1776, when it passed Richard Henry Lee's resolution of independence.
Jefferson and his colleagues realized that they needed a theory of government which provided a legal basis for the rebellion, made it acceptable, and made it even praiseworthy. And this philosophy, based upon the doctrine of natural law, affirmed the right of the people to rebel against tyrants and to establish their own government. This philosophy was strikingly outlined in the second paragraph of the Declaration:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, That all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness."
The unalienable rights referred to by Jefferson, originated in the concept of natural law. It is impossible to truly understand the basic tenets of the Declaration of Independence without a thorough grasp of this doctrine.
The doctrine of natural law was clearly outlined in the writings of Sir William Blackstone, the renowned English jurist. In his celebrated Commentaries on the Laws of England (1765-1769), Blackstone stated:
"Man, considered as a creature, must necessarily be subject to the laws of his creator, for he is entirely a dependent being. . . . And consequently, as man depends absolutely upon his maker for everything, it is necessary that he should in all points conform to his maker's will.
"This will of his maker is called the law of nature. For as God, when he created matter, and endued it with a principle of mobility, established certain rules for the perpetual direction of that motion, so, when he created man, and endued him with freewill to conduct himself in all parts of life, he laid down certain immutable laws of human nature, whereby that freewill is in some degree regulated and restrained, and gave him also the faculty of reason to discover the purport of those laws.
"This law of nature, being coeval with mankind and dictated by God himself, is of course superior in obligation to any other. It is binding over all the globe in all countries, and at all times: no human laws are of any validity, if contrary to this; and such of them as are valid derive all their force, and all their authority, mediately and immediately, from this original."
The writings of Blackstone, and a host of others, on natural law, inspired the colonists to strike out for freedom in a most dramatic manner. It is only fitting that the tenets of this philosophy were eloquently stated in America's premier founding document.
Jefferson, in referring to the natural rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in the Declaration was simply echoing a commonly accepted truism of his age.
After affirming this doctrine, the Declaration then states the conditions where the people have the right to change the government. It states:
"Prudence, indeed, will dictate, that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath strewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms, to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses & usurpations pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty to throw off such government and to provide new guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these colonies, and such is now the necessity, which constrains them to alter their former systems of government. The history of the present king of great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states. To prove this let facts be submitted to a candid world."
We now come to the list of oppressive measures committed by King George III:
"He has refused his assent to laws the most wholesome and necessary for public good,
"He has forbidden his governors to pass laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation until his assent should be obtained, and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them,
"He has refused to pass other laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of representation in the legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
"He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable and distant from the depository of their public records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with this measures.
"He has dissolved representative houses repeatedly for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
"He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the legislative powers incapable of annihilation have returned to the people at large for their exercise; the state remaining in the meantime exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without and convulsions within.
"He has endeavored to prevent the population of these states; for that purpose obstructing the laws for naturalization of foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither & raising the conditions of new appropriations of lands.
"He has obstructed the administration of Justice by refusing to assent to laws for establishing judiciary powers. "He has made judges dependent on his will alone for the tenure of their offices and the amount and payment of their salaries.
"He has erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.
"He has kept among us in times of peace standing armies, without the consent of our legislatures.
"He has affected to render the military independent of & superior to the civil power.
"He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution and unacknowledged by our laws, giving his assent to their acts of pretended legislation;
"for quartering large bodies of troops among us;
"for protecting them by a mock trial from punishment for any murders, which they should commit on the inhabitants of these states.
"for cutting off our trade with all parts of the world;
"for imposing taxes on us without our consent;
"for depriving us in many cases of the benefits of trial by jury;
"for transporting us beyond seas to be tried for pretended offences;
"for abolishing the free system of English laws in a neighboring province, establishing therein an arbitrary government, and enlarging its boundaries, so as to render it at once an example & fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these colonies, for taking away our charters, abolishing our most valuable laws and altering fundamentally the forms of our governments.
"for suspending our own legislatures and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
"He has abdicated government here by declaring us out of his protection and waging war against us.
"He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns & destroyed the lives of our people.
"He is at this time transporting large armies of foreign mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of cruelty and perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages and totally unworthy the head of a civilized nation.
"He has constrained our fellow citizens taken captive on the high: seas to bear arms against their country, to become the executioners of their friends and brethren or to fall themselves by their hands.
"He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers the merciless indian savages, whose known rule of warfare is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions."
These were the facts which Jefferson chose to submit to the world and to posterity. The acts listed in the Declaration proved that the King was deliberately establishing "an absolute tyranny" over the colonies. The King's bad deeds are listed one after another to demonstrate to the world that the American cause was not only right, but it was the cause favored by the Almighty God. How could an objective world deny that the colonies were justified in rebelling against such a ruthless and oppressive tyrant?
Nevertheless, the colonies had not rushed into open rebellion all at once. They had tried to reason with the King, Parliament and the Royal Governors, all to no avail. Jefferson wrote:
"In every state of these oppressions we have petitioned for redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A prince whose character is thus marked by every act, which may define a tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
"Nor have we been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice magnanimity and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections & correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice & consanguinity. We must therefore acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, enemies in war, in peace friends."
Jefferson and his colleagues had presented their case in a most convincing manner. Having announced that the natural rights of man were fully operative in the colonies, the colonists really had only one choice. And that was to rebel against England and set up individual colonial governments based on natural rights. Through the Declaration Jefferson announced:
"We therefore the representatives of the united States of America in general Congress assembled appealing to the supreme judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions do in the name and by authority of the good people of these colonies solemnly publish and declare
"That these united colonies are and of right ought to be free and independent States; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the british Crown, and that all political connection between them and the state of great Britain is & ought to be totally dissolved; and that as free & independent states they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts & things, which independent states may of right do. And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes & our sacred honor."
John Adams, who later became the second U.S. President, wrote his famous wife, Abigail, two letters immediately after the Declaration was drafted. These emotionally charged letters demonstrate how important the Declaration was to colonial leaders. They also showed how the colonists viewed the cause they were pursuing in 1776:
"Yesterday the greatest question was decided which ever was debated in America, and a greater, perhaps, never was nor will be decided among men. A resolution was passed without one dissenting colony, 'that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, and as such they have, and of right ought to have, full power to make war, conclude peace, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which other States may rightfully do.' You will see in a few days a Declaration setting forth the causes which have impelled us to this mighty revolution, and the reasons which will justify it in the sight of God and man. A plan of confederation will be taken up in a few days.
"When I look back to the year 1761, and recollect the argument concerning writs of assistance in the superior court, which I have hitherto considered as the commencement of this controversy between Great Britain and America, and run through the whole period from that time to this, and recollect the series of political events, the chain of causes and effects, I am surprised at the suddenness as well as greatness of this revolution. Britain has been filled with folly, and America with wisdom. At least, this is my judgment. Time must determine.
"It is the will of Heaven that the two countries should be sundered forever. It may be the will of Heaven that America shall suffer calamities still more wasting, and distress yet more dreadful. If this is to be the case, it will have this good effect at least. It will inspire us with many virtues which we have not and correct many errors, follies, and vices which threaten to disturb, dishonor and destroy us. The furnace of affliction produces refinement, in States as well as individuals. And the new governments we are assuming in every part will require a purification from our vices, and an augmentation of our virtues, or they will be no blessings. The people will have unbounded power, and the people are extremely addicted to corruption and venality, as well as the great. But I must submit all my hopes and fears to an overruling Providence, in which, unfashionable as the faith may be, I firmly believe."
In the second letter Adams wrote:
"The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epocha in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty, It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward, forevermore.
"You will think me transported with enthusiasm, but I am not. I am well aware of the toil, and blood, and treasure, that it will cost us to maintain this declaration, and support and defend these States. Yet, through all the gloom, I can see the rays of ravishing light and glory. I can see that the end is more than worth all the means, and that posterity will triumph in that day's transaction, even although we should rue it, which I trust in God we shall not."
Shortly after the Declaration was signed, Samuel Adams, the great Revolutionary patriot, wrote to John Pitts: "You were informed by the last Post that Congress had declared the thirteen united Colonies free (and) independent States–It must be allowed by the impartial world that this Declaration has not been made rashly. . . ."
Five days later Adams declared to R.H. Lee: "Our Declaration of Independence has given Vigor to the Spirits of the people. Had this decisive Measure been taken Nine Months ago, it is my opinion that Canada would at this time have been in our hands. . . ."
Another son of Massachusetts, Tristram Dalton, wrote on July 19, 1776: "The die is cast. All is at stake. The way is made plain. No one can now doubt on which side it is his duty to act. . . . We are not to fear what man or a multitude can do. We have put on the harness, and I trust it will not be put off until we see our land a land of security and freedom–the wonder of the other hemisphere–the asylum of all who point for deliverance from bondage."
John Page, a Virginian, wrote to Thomas Jefferson on July 20, 1776: "I am highly pleased with your Declaration. God preserve the United States–We know the Race is not to the swift nor the Battle to the strong–Do you now think an Angel rides in the whirlwind (and) directs this Storm?" Benjamin Kent wrote from Boston on August 4, 1176 to Samuel Adams: "It is God's doing (–) the bringing about this truly astonishing and unparallel'd union (–) the Declaration of Independence–(!)."
On the day the Declaration of Independence was adopted, the Continental Congress ordered: "That copies of the declaration be (printed and) sent to the several (colonial) assemblies, conventions (and) committees or councils of safety and to the several commanding officers of the continental troops. . . ."
Copies of the Declaration reached New Brunswick, Connecticut on July 9, 1776, and were proclaimed to the people. Dr. Jacob Dunhan provides us with an interesting account of its reception: "When the Declaration of Independence was brought to New Brunswick, I was a boy about nine years old. There was great excitement in the town over the news, most of the people rejoicing that we were free and independent, but a few looking very sour over it. . . . The Declaration was brought by an express rider, who was at once furnished with a fresh horse, and dispatched on his way to New York, The County Committee and the Town Committee were immediately convened, and it was decided that the Declaration should be read in the public street (Albany Street), in front of the White Hall tavern, that the reader should be Colonel John Neilson, and that the members of the two committees should exert themselves to secure the attendance of as many as possible of the staunch friends of independence, so as to overawe any disaffected Tories, and resent any interruption of the meeting that they might attempt. Although these Tories were not numerous, they were, most of them, men of wealth and influence, and were very active. Accordingly, at the time appointed (I cannot now recall the hour, if, indeed, my grandfather stated it), the Whigs assembled in great force, wearing an air of great determination. A stage was improvised in front of the White Hall tavern, and from it Colonel Neilson, surrounded by the other members of the committee, read the Declaration with grave deliberation and emphasis. At the close of the reading there was prolonged cheering. A few Tories were present; but although they sneered, and looked their dissatisfaction in other ways, they were prudent enough not to make any demonstration."
A letter written by Major Barber to Mr, Caldwell on July 17, 1776 tells us how the Declaration was received by Colonel Dayton's New Jersey command who were at Fort Stanwix:
"After the Declaration had been read, cannons fired, and huzzas given, the battalion was formed in a circle with three barrels of grog in the center, The Colonel took a cup and drank to the toast–'God bless the United States of America.' The other officers followed, drinking the same toast, as did afterwards the battalion, accompanied by loud hurrahs, shouting, and other signals of approbation."
On August 7, 1776, in Bridgetown, New Jersey, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of New Jersey and the Treason Ordinance were publicly read and approved. The Committee of Inspection for Cumberland County, New Jersey declared at that time:
"Gentlemen of the Committee, Officers of the Militia, and Gentlemen spectators: From what has now been read, you see the long wished for, but much dreaded period has arrived, in which the connexion between Great Britain and America is totally dissolved, and these Colonies declared Free and Independent States. As this is an event of the greatest importance, it must afford satisfaction to every intelligent person to reflect, that it was brought about by unavoidable necessity on our part, and has been conducted with prudence and moderation becoming the wisest and best of men. With the Independency of the American States a new era in politicks has commenced. Every consideration respecting the propriety or impropriety of a separation from Britain, is now entirely out of the question; and we have now no more to do with the King and people of England, than we have' with the King and people of France or Spain. No people under Heaven were ever favoured with a fairer opportunity of laying a sure foundation for future grandeur and happiness than we. The plan of Government established in most States and Kingdoms of the world, has been the effect of chance or necessity; ours of sober reason and cool deliberation. Our future happiness or misery, therefore, as a people, will depend entirely upon ourselves. If, actuated by principles of virtue and genuine patriotism, we make the welfare of our country the sole aim of all our actions; if we intrust none but persons of abilities and integrity with the management of our publick affairs; if we carefully guard against corruption and undue influence in the several departments of Government; if we are steady and zealous in putting the laws in strict execution;–the spirit and principles of our new Constitution, which we have just now heard read, may be preserved for a long time. But if faction and party spirit, the destruction of popular Governments, take place, anarchy and confusion will soon ensue, and we shall either fall an easy prey to a foreign enemy, or some factious and aspiring demagogue, possessed of popular talents and shining qualities–a Julius Caesar or an Oliver Cromwell-will spring up among ourselves, who, taking advantage of our political animosities, will lay violent hands on the Government, and sacrifice the liberties of his country to his own ambitious and domineering humour. God grant that neither of these may ever be the unhappy fate of this or any of the United States. To prevent which, while we are striving to defend ourselves against the unjust encroachments of a foreign and unnatural enemy, let us not neglect to keep a strict and jealous eye over our own internal police and Constitution. Let the fate of Greece, Rome, Carthage, and Great Britain, warn us of our danger; and the loss of liberty in all those States, for want of timely guarding against the introduction of tyranny and usurpation, be a standing admonition to us, to avoid the rock on which they have all been shipwrecked. Let us, as good citizens and sincere lovers of our country, exert ourselves in the defence of our State and in support of our new Constitution; but while we strive to vindicate the glorious cause of liberty on the one hand, let us, on the other hand, carefully guard against running into the contrary extreme of disorder and licentiousness. In our present situation, engaged in a bloody and dangerous war with the power of Great Britain, for the defence of our lives, our liberties, our property, and everything that is dear and valuable, every member of this State who enjoys the benefits of its civil government, is absolutely bound, by the immutable law of self-preservation, the laws of God and of society, to assist in protecting and defending it. This is so plain and self-evident a proposition, that I am pursuaded every person here make it the rule of his conduct on all occasions; and consequently, in a time of such imminent danger, will be extremely careful, at our ensuing election, not to intrust any one with the management of our publick affairs who has not, by his vigilance and activity in the cause of liberty, proved himself to be a true friend to his country. The success, gentlemen, of our present glorious struggle wholly depends upon this single circumstance. For though the situation and extent of the United States of America and our numberless internal resources, are sufficient to enable us to bid defiance to all Europe, yet should we be so careless about our own safety as to intrust the affairs of our State, while the bayonet is pointed at our breasts, to persons whose conduct discovers them to be enemies to their country, or whose religious principles will not suffer them to lift a hand for our defence, our ruin will inevitably follow. As it is impossible for any one possessed of the spirit of a man, who is a friend to the United States, and whose conscience does not furnish him with an excuse to stand by, an idle spectator, while his country is struggling and bleeding in her own necessary defence, all such inactive persons ought therefore to be shunned as enemies or despised as cowards. And as I have reason to believe that many who plead conscience as an excuse are sincere in their pretensions, and as every man's conscience ought to be free from compulsion, this single consideration should restrain us from forcing such into any of the departments of Government. For to put such persons, at this time, in places of publick trust, is actually to deprive them of liberty of conscience; for we thereby compel them either to betray the trust reposed in them, or to act contrary to the dictates of their own consciences; a dilemma in which, act as they will, their conduct must be criminal. Besides, if we consulted only our own safety, it is plain, that to intrust the affairs of our Government, at this juncture, to such people, is as dangerous as to intrust the management of a ship in a violent storm to an infant or an idiot. As a friend to my country and a lover of liberty, I thought it my duty to address you on this occasion; and having now, as a faithful member of society, discharged my duty. I shall leave you to the exercise of your own judgment, and conclude with a request, that you would conduct yourself this day in such a manner as to convince the publick that your abhorrence of the cruel and bloody Nero of Britain, and his despicable minions of tyranny and oppression, arises, not from the mere impulse of blind passion and prejudice, but from sober reason and reflection; and while we rejoice in being formally emancipated from our haughty and imperious task-masters, let us remember that the final termination of this grand event is not likely to be brought about without shedding the blood of many of our dear friends and countrymen."
In a letter to General George Washington, John Hancock requested him to have the Declaration "proclaimed at the Head of the Army in the Way, you shall think most proper."
Washington, who was in New York City at the time, issued the following order on July 9, 1776:
"(S) The Hon. the Continental Congress, impelled by the dictates of duty, policy and necessity, having been pleased to dissolve the Connection which subsisted between this Country, and Great Britain, and to declare the United Colonies of North America, free and independent STATES. The several brigades are to be drawn up this evening on their respective Parades, at six O'clock, when the Declaration of Congress, strewing the grounds & reasons of this measure; is to be read with an audible voice. The General hopes this important Event will serve as a free incentive to every officer, and solider, to act with Fidelity and Courage, as knowing that now the peace and safety of his Country depends (under God) solely on the success of our arms: And that he is now in the service of a State, possessed of sufficient power to reward his merit, and advance him to the highest Honors of a free Country. The Brigade Majors are to receive, at the Adjutant Generals Office, several of the Declarations to be delivered to the Brigadier Generals, and the Colonels of regiments."
According to Washington's orders, the "brigades were formed in hollow squares on their respective parades. One of these brigades was encamped on the 'Commons,' where the New York City Hall now stands. Washington was within the square, on horseback, and the Declaration was read in a clear voice by one of his aids.
Washington, in a letter to Congress dated July 10, 1776, described the scene as follows: "Agreeable to the request of Congress, I caused the Declaration to be proclaimed before all the Army under my immediate Command, and have the pleasure to inform them' that the measure seemed to have their hearty assent; the Expressions and behaviour both of the Officers and men testifying their warmest approbation of it(.)"
In East Greenwich, Rhode Island it was reported that:
"The Kentish guards (in East Greenwich), commanded by Col. Richard Fry, appeared in their uniforms about 12 o'clock; they drew up on the parade before the State House when the Declaration . . . was read; likewise a resolve of the Assembly concurring with the same; which was announced by a discharge of thirteen cannons at Fort Daniel; next the guards fired thirteen volleys; this was followed by three huzzas from a numerous body of inhabitants; . . ."
Another interesting account of the Declaration's reception in Boston is found in a July 21, 1776 letter from Abigail Adams to her husband, John.
"(Ad) Last Thursday, after hearing a very good sermon, I went with the multitude into King Street to hear the Proclamation for Independence read and proclaimed. Some field-pieces with the train were brought there. The troops appeared under arms, and all the inhabitants assembled there (the small-pox prevented many thousands from the country), when Colonel Crafts read from the balcony of the State House the proclamation. Great attention was given to every word. As soon as he ended, the cry from the balcony was, 'God save our American States,' and then three cheers rent the air. The bells rang, the privateers fired, the forts and batteries, the cannon discharged, the platoons followed, and every face appeared joyful. Mr. Bowdoin then gave a sentiment, 'Stability and perpetuity to American Independence.' After dinner, the King's Arms were taken down from the State House, and every vestige of him from every place in which it appeared, and burnt in King Street. Thus ends royal authority in this State. And all the people shall say Amen."
As the Declaration of Independence was declared throughout the colonies the bells of freedom, could be heard ringing loudly. And they could be heard ringing each year thereafter.
The Declaration of Independence is one of the most profound documents ever written. As John Quincy Adams wrote in 1821: "It was the first solemn declaration by a nation of the only legitimate foundation of civil government. It was the corner stone of a. new fabric, destined to cover the surface of the globe. It demolished at a stroke the lawfulness of all governments founded upon conquest. It swept away all the rubbish of accumulated centuries of servitude. It announced in practical form to the world the transcendent truth of the unalienable sovereignty of the people. It proved that the social compact was no figment of the imagination; but a real, solid, and sacred bond of the social union."
In the future President's mind, the Declaration, "stands, and must forever stand, alone, a beacon on the summit of the mountain, to which all the inhabitants of the earth may turn their eyes for a genial and saving light till time shall be lost in eternity, and this globe itself dissolve. . . . It stands forever, a light of admonition to the rulers of men, a light of salvation and redemption to the oppressed . . . (delineating) the boundaries of their respective rights and duties, founded in the laws of nature, and, of nature's God," And so it does'
The immortal words of Jefferson inspired the early patriots to noble deeds of heroism. And it can move us in a similar fashion as we seek to promote the principles of freedom at home and abroad.
II. Our Charter of Liberty:
A Brief Look at the U. S. Constitution
"I always consider the settlement of America with reverence and wonder," John Adams declared, "as the opening of a grand scene and the emancipation of the slavish part of mankind all over the earth." And so it was! A political and economic revolution was wrought in America that changed the course of history.
After a stunning victory in the Revolutionary War, the path was cleared for statesmen of the highest order to convene in Philadelphia to draft a charter designed to secure the blessings of liberty to themselves and their posterity' As Thomas Jefferson wrote: "The example of changing a Constitution, by assembling the wise men of the State, instead of assembling armies, will be worth as much to the world as the former examples we had given them. The Constitution, too, which was the result of our deliberations is unquestionably the wisest ever presented to men."
Jefferson was not alone in his praise for the Constitution. John Adams wrote, ''If not the greatest exertion of human understanding, (the Constitution is) the greatest single effort of national deliberation that the world has ever seen. . . .'' On the occasion of the Constitution's centennial celebration, former Prime Minister William Gladstone of England stated: "I have always regarded that Constitution as the most remarkable work known to men in modern times to have been produced by the human intellect.
The Constitution stands supreme in America, ruling our rulers and receiving their oath bound allegiance. It rises majestically above the Congress, the Supreme Court and the President. It is truly the "supreme law of the land."
On September 17, 1987, the United States celebrated the 200th Anniversary of the signing of the Constitution. The Bicentennial celebration provided the American people with a unique opportunity to reflect upon those principles which have so nobly governed the nation and served as a beacon for oppressed people everywhere.
In light of this recent anniversary, it is appropriate to ask: "How familiar are the American people with the formation and principles of our Constitution?" Dr. Richard B. Morris, professor of history emeritus at Columbia University, answered this question when he appeared before the Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution on September 17, 1981. "Granted the Constitution's central place in American political life," he testified, "it is hardly disputable that the public's understanding of the Constitution is at a low ebb, and that young people completing high school take with them an abysmal sum of ignorance about the constitutional system of this nation. . . ." Dr. Morris went on to stay that, "We are not . . effectively teaching the Constitution in our schools."
Morris' statements are confirmed by recent studies by the National Assessment of Education Progress, which indicate that a tide of political illiteracy is sweeping the nation, threatening to further undermine a true understanding of the Constitution.
Of the seventeen-year-olds surveyed on constitutional issues relating to separation of powers by NAEP in 1976, only 74 percent could identify Congress as part of the legislative branch; only 71 percent realized that the President is part of the executive branch; only 35 percent knew that the Cabinet was a part of the executive branch; and only 65 percent placed the Supreme Court in the judicial branch.
Concerning judicial review, only 62 percent of the seventeen-year-olds realized that the Supreme Court has the power to declare acts of Congress unconstitutional. Twelve percent of this same group were unaware that the Senate is a part of Congress. Nearly 50 percent of those surveyed believed that the President could appoint people to Congress. Forty-two percent did not realize that each State has two Senators in the U.S Senate and that the number of Congressmen in the U.S. House of Representatives varies with its State's population. Less than 50 percent understood that the Senate ratifies Presidential appointments and only 35 percent realized that the Senate must give its advice and consent to each treaty.
Political illiteracy about the Constitution is not just rampant among the youth; there is evidence that adults also a basic understanding of our charter of liberty. Peter F. Nardulli, of the Institute of Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois, Urbana, concluded after a review of civic cultural studies that a nation wide survey would, no doubt, reveal that "most people know very little about the Constitution" and very little about anything other than the most basic tenets of our constitutional system."
Professor Nardulli noted that: "While most could undoubtedly identify the three branches of government and the two-tiered nature of federalism, few people would know what powers are allocated to which branches or levels of government. Fewer yet would know or understand the constraints both legal and political–on the various government entities the highly complex nature of the interrelationship among them."
There is a demonstratable need to reverse the tide of political illiteracy in America concerning the Constitution and our republican form of government.
Thomas Jefferson once wrote that, "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization' it expects what never was and never will be." The Constitution is a great document, but it is not self-executing. It has to be upheld and adhered to by each generation of men and women in America. And we cannot implement the provisions of the Constitution unless we have a thorough understanding of them. Therefore, it is vital that we become more familiar with the Constitution and the Framers.
But before we examine the provisions of the Constitution, let us briefly look at the noble men who drafted our charter of liberty. In terms of leadership, experience and professional training, the 55 delegates who participated in drafting the Constitution represented a cross-section of the most prominent men in America, Two were college presidents (William S. Johnson and Abraham Baldwin). Three were, or had been, college professors (George Wythe, James Wilson and William C. Houston). Four had studied law in England. Thirty-one were members of the legal profession and several were judges. Nine had been born in foreign countries and knew the oppressive nature of European governments. Twenty-eight had served in Congress, while a majority of the rest had served in State legislatures. Nineteen or more had served in the military. seventeen as officers, and four on George Washington's staff.
One of the distinctive qualities of the convention was the youthfulness of its members. The average age was approximately 41. Five members (including Charles Pinckney) were under 30. One (Alexander Hamilton) was 32. Three (James Madison, Gouverneur Morris, and Edmund Randolph) were within a year of being 35. Three members (George Washington, John Dickinson, and George Wythe) were 55. There were only four members over 60. Benjamin Franklin, 81, was the oldest member.
The majority of the delegates were members of churches. There were 15 Episcopalians, 10 Presbyterians, nine Congregationalists, three Quakers, two Catholics, one Methodist, and one Huguenot. The religious preference of 14 delegates was unknown. All the delegates were known to believe in God.
Concerning the convention which drafted the Constitution, Dr. Samuel Eliot Morison of Harvard University wrote: "Practically every American who had useful ideas on political science was there except John Adams and Thomas Jefferson (who were) on foreign missions, and John Jay, (who was) busy with the foreign relations of the Confederation. Jefferson contributed indirectly by shipping to (James)–Madison and (George) Wythe from Paris sets of Polybius and other ancient publicists, who discoursed on the theory of 'mixed government' on which the Constitution was based. The political literature of Greece and Rome was a positive and quickening influence on the Constitution debates "
Concerning the political ingenuity of this special assemblage of "wise men", Norman Cousins, editor of Saturday Review, noted: "It has often been asked how it was that within a short span of time on the east coast of the North American continent there should have sprung up such a rare array of genius–men who seemed in virtual command of historical experience and who combined moral imagination with a flair for leadership."
Dr. Richard B. Morris, past president of the American Historical Association, once stated: "Surely the appearance at the birth of the nation of a constellation of statesmen of first-rate abilities prompts the query as to why such a cluster of leadership talents has never appeared again in the American skies "
And the prominent historian, Henry Steele Commager, has written: "Who can doubt that in the last quarter of the eighteenth century it was the New World . . . that provided the most impressive spectacle of leadership, rather than the nations of the Old World? Who can doubt, for example, that in the crisis of 1774-1783, the American colonies and states enjoyed far more competent leadership than the British Empire?
"The situation is too familiar to rehearse. In the last quarter of the century the new United States–a nation . . . without a single major city, and wholly lacking in those institutions of organized society or civilizations so familiar in Europe–boasted a galaxy of leaders who were quite literally incomparable: Franklin, Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, John Adams, Samuel Adams, John Jay, James Wilson, George Mason, Benjamin Rush, James Madison, and a dozen others scarcely less distinguished,
"What explains this remarkable outpouring of political leadership, this fertility in the production of statesmen–a fertility unmatched since that day?"
Many consider that the Framers of the Constitution were raised up by Providence to break the chains of English tyranny and to throw off the shackles of established religion. Truly it was a choice lot of men who assembled in Philadelphia during the summer of 1787 to fashion a new national government.
Major William Pierce, a delegate to the convention from Georgia, penned a brief description of each of his fellow representatives. These priceless sketches provide a rare glimpse of the men who fashioned our Constitution.
Major William Pierce (1740-1789), a delegate from Georgia:
"My own character I shall not attempt to draw, but leave those who may choose to-speculate on it, to consider it in any light that their fancy or imagination may deplict. I am conscious of having discharged my duty as a Soldier through the course of the late revolution with honor and propriety; and my services in Congress and the Convention were bestowed with the best intention towards the interest of Georgia; and towards the general welfare of the Confederacy. I possess ambition, and it was that, and the flattering opinion which some of my Friends had of me, that gave me a seat in the wisest Council in the World, and furnished me with an opportunity of giving these short Sketches of the Characters who composed it."
Baldwin, Abraham (1754-1807): a delegate from Georgia.
"Mr, Baldwin is a Gentleman of superior abilities, and joins in a public debate with great art and eloquence. Having laid the foundation of a compleat classical education at Harvard College, he pursues every other study with ease. He is well acquainted with Books and Characters, and has an accommodating turn of mind, which enables him to gain the confidence of Men, and to understand them. He is a pratising Attorney in Georgia, and has been twice a Member of Congress."
Bassett, Richard (1745-1815): a delegate from Delaware.
"Mr. Bassett is a religious enthusiast, lately turned Methodist, and serves his Country because it is the will of the people that he should do so. He is a Man of plain sense, and has modesty enough to hold his Tongue. He is a Gentlemanly Man, and is in high estimation among the Methodists."
Bedford, Gunning (1745-1812): a delegate from Delaware.
"Mr. Bedford was educated for the Bar, and in his profession, I am told, has merit He is a bold and nervous Speaker, and has a very commanding and striking manner;–but he is warm and impetuous in his temper, and precipitate in his judgment."
Blair, John (1732-1800): a delegate from Virginia.
"Mr. Blair is one of the most respectable Men in Virginia, both on account of his Family as well as fortune. He is one of the Judges of the Supreme Court in Virginia, and acknowledged to have a very extensive knowledge of the Laws. Mr, Blair is . . . no Orator, but (has) good sense, and most excellent principles. . . ."
Blount, William (1744-1800): a delegate from North Carolina,
"Mr. Blount is a character strongly marked for integrity and honor. He has been twice a Member of Congress, and in that office discharged his duty with ability and faithfulness. (He) is plain, honest and sincere."
Brearly, David (1745-1790): a delegate from New Jersey.
"Mr. Brearly is a man of good. . . . He is a Judge of the Supreme Court of New Jersey and is very much in the esteem of the people. As an Orator he has little to boast of, but as a Man he has every virtue to recommend him."
Broom, Jacob (1752-1810): a delegate from Delaware.
"Mr. Broom is a plain good Man. . . . He is silent in public, but cheerful and conversable in private."
Butler, Pierce (1744-1822): a delegate from South Carolina.
"Mr. Butler is a character much respected for the many excellent virtues which he possesses. . . . He is a Gentleman of fortune, and takes rank among the first in South Carolina. He has been appointed to Congress, and is now a Member of the Legislature of South Carolina. Mr. Butler . . . (is) an Irishman by birth."
Carroll, Daniel (1730-1796): a delegate from Maryland.
"Mr. Carroll is a Man of large fortune, and influence in his State. He possesses plain good sense, and is in the full confidence of his Countrymen."
Clymer, George (1139-1813): a delegate from Pennsylvania.
"Mr. Clymer is a Lawyer of some abilities;–he is a respectable Man, and much esteemed."
Davie, William Richardson (1745-1820): a delegate from North Carolina.
"Mr. Davie is a Lawyer of some eminence in his State. He is said to have a good classical education, and is a Gentleman of considerable literary talents. He was silent in the Convention, but his opinion is always respected."
Dayton, Jonathan (1760-1824): a delegate from New Jersey,
"Capt. Dayton is a young Gentleman of talents, with an ambition to exert them. He possesses a good education and reading; he speaks well, and seems desirous of improving himself in Oratory. . . , There is an honest rectitude about him that makes a valuable Member of Society, and secures to him the esteem of all good Men. He . . , served with me as a Brother Aid to General Sullivan in the Western expedition of 1779."
Dickinson, John (1732-1808?: a delegate from Delaware.
"Mr. Dickinson has been famed through all America, for his Farmers Letters; he is a Scholar, and said to be a Man of very extensive information. When I saw him in the Convention I was induced to pay the greatest attention to him whenever he spoke. I had often heard that he was a great Orator, but I found him an indifferent Speaker. He is, however, a good writer and will ever be considered one of the most important characters in the United States. He . . . was bred a Quaker." Ellsworth, Oliver (1745-1807): a delegate from Connecticut.
"Mr. Ellsworth is a judge of the Supreme Court in Connecticut;–he is a Gentleman of a clear, deep, and copious understanding; eloquent, and connected in public debate; and always attentive to his duty. He is very happy in a reply, and choice in selecting suc'n parts of his adversary's arguments as he finds makes the strongest impressions;–in order to take off the 'force of them, so as to admit the power of his own. Mr. Ellsworth . . . (is) a Man much respected for his integrity, and venerated for his abilities."
Few, William (1748-1828): a delegate from Georgia.
"Mr. Few possesses a strong natural genius, and from application has acquired some knowledge of legal matters;–he practices at the bar of Georgia, and speaks tolerably well in the Legislature. He has been twice a Member of Congress, and served in that capacity with fidelity to his State, and honor to himself."
Fitzsimmons, Thomas (1741-1811): a delegate from Pennsylvania.
"Mr. Fitzsimmons is a Merchant of considerable talents, and speaks very well I am told, in the Legislature of Pennsylvania."
Franklin, Benjamin (1708-1790): a delegate from Pennsylvania.
"Dr. Franklin is well known to be the greatest philosopher of the present age;–all the operation of nature he seems to understand–the very heavens obey him, and the Clouds yield up their Lightning to be imprisoned in his rod. , . . He is a most extraordinary Man, and tells a story in a style more engaging than anything I ever heard. Let his Biographer finish his character. He is 82 years old, and possesses an activity of mind equal to a youth of 25 years of age."
Gerry, Elbridge (1744-1814): a delegate from Massachusetts.
"Mr. Gerry's character is marked for integrity and perserverance. He is a hesitating and laborous speaker;–possesses a great degree of confidence and goes extensively into all subjects that he speaks on, without respect to elegance or flower of diction. He is connected and sometimes clear in his arguments, conceives well, and cherishes as his first virtue, a love for his country. Mr. Gerry is very much of a Gentleman in his principles and manner;-he has been engaged in the mercantile line and is a Man of property."
Gilman, Nicholas (1755-1814): a delegate from New Hampshire.
"Mr. Gilman is modest, gentle, and sensible.... There is something respectable and worthy in the Man.''
Gorham, Nathaniel (1738-1796): a delegate from Massachusetts.
"Mr. Gorham is a Merchant in Boston, high in reputation, and much in the esteem of his Country-men. He is a Man of very good sense . . . He is eloquent and easy in public debate.. . . He has been President of Congress and three years a Member of that Body. Mr. Gorham . . has an agreeable and pleasant manner."
Hamilton, Alexander (1747-1804): a delegate from New York,
"Colo. Hamilton is deservedly celebrated for his talents. He is a practitioner of the Law, and reputed to be a finished Scholar. To a clear and strong judgment he unites the ornaments of fancy, and whilst he is able, convincing and engaging in his eloquence, the Heart and Head sympathize in approving him. . . (He) is rather a convincing Speaker, than a blazing Orator, Colo, Hamilton . . , enquires into every part of his subject with the searchings of philosophy, and when he comes forward he comes highly charged with interesting matter, there is no skimming over the surface of a subject with him, he must sink to the bottom to see what foundation it rests on. . . . He is of small stature, and lean. His manners are tinctured with stiffness, and sometimes with a degree of vanity. . . ."
Houston, William (c. 1744-1833): a delegate from Georgia.
"Mr. Houston is an Attorney at Law, and has been a Member of Congress for the State of Georgia, He is a Gentleman of family, and was educated in England, His Person is striking. . . . Mr. Houston is . . . of an amiable and sweet temper, and of good and honorable principles."
Houstoun, William C. (1745-1788): a delegate from New Jersey."
No sketch of Mr. Houstoun was made by Mr. Pierce, but we know from other sources that he was a teacher of mathematics and law. He was born in North Carolina and educated at the College of New Jersey. He was active in the Committee of Safety, the Annapolis Convention and other colonial gatherings. Mr. Houstoun was primarily interested in business deals.
Ingersoll, Jared (1749-1822): a delegate from Pennsylvania.
"Mr. Ingersoll is a very able Attorney, and possesses a clear legal understanding. He is well educated in the Classics, and is a Man of very extensive reading. Mr. Ingersoll speaks well, and comprehends his subject fully. There is a modesty in his character that keeps him back."
Jenifer, Daniel of St. Thomas (1723-1790): a delegate from Maryland.
"Mr. Jenifer is a Gentleman of fortune in Maryland;–he is always in good humour, and never fails to make his company pleased with him. He sits silent in the Senate, and seems to be conscious that he is no politician.. . . Mr, Jenifer . . . once served as an Aide de Camp to Major Genl. Lee."
Johnson, William Samuel (1727-1819): a delegate from Connecticut.
"Dr. Johnson is a character much celebrated for his legal knowledge; he is said to be one of the first classics in America, and certainly possesses a very strong and enlightened understanding. "As an Orator in my opinion . . he is eloquent and clear;–always abounding with information and instruction. He was once employed as an Agent for the State of Connecticut to state her claims to certain landed territory before the British House of Commons; this Office was discharged with so much dignity, and made such an ingenious display of his powers, that he laid the foundation of a reputation which will probably last much longer than his own life. Dr. Johnson . . . possesses the manners of a Gentleman, and engages the hearts of Men by the sweetness of his temper, and that affectionate style of address with which he accosts his acquaintaince."
King, Rufus (1775-1827): a delegate from Massachusetts.
"Mr. King is a Man much distinguished for his eloquence and great parliamentary talents. He was educated in Massachusetts, and is said to have good classical as well as legal knowledge. He has served for three years in the Congress of the United States with great and deserved applause, and is at this time high in the confidence and approbation of his Country-men. This Gentleman is . . . about five feet ten inches high, well formed, an handsome face, with strong expressive Eye, and a sweet high toned voice. In his public speaking there is something peculiarly strong and rich in his expression, clear and convincing in his arguments, rapid and irresistible at times in his eloquence. . . His action is natural, swimming) and graceful, but there is a rudeness of manner sometimes accompanying it. But take him tout en semble, he may with propriety be ranked among the Luminaries of the present Age,"
Langdon, John (1741-18191: a delegate from New Hampshire.
"Mr. Langdon is a Man of considerable fortune, possesses a liberal mind, and a good plain understanding. . "
Lansing, John (1745-1829): a delegate from New York.
"Mr. Lansing is a practicing Attorney at Albany, and Mayor of that Corporation. He has a hesitation in his speech, that will prevent his being an Orator of any eminence. . , , He is however a Man of good sense, plain in his manners, and sincere in his friendships,"
Livingston, William (1723-1790): a delegate from New Jersey.
"Governor Livingston is confessedly a Man of first rate talents, but he appears to me rather to indulge a positiveness of wit, than a strength of thinking. He is however equal to anything, from the extensiveness of his education and genius. His writings teem with satyr and a neatness of style He is remarkably healthy."
Madison, James (1751-1836): a delegate from Virginia.
"Mr. Madison is a character who has long been in public life; and what is very remarkable every Person seems to acknowledge his greatness He blends together the profound politician, with the Scholar. In the management of every great question he evidently took the lead in the Convention, and tho' he cannot be called an Orator, he is a most agreeable, eloquent, and convincing Speaker. From a spirit of industry and application which he possesses in a most eminent degree, he always comes forward the best informed Man of any point in debate. The affairs of the United States, he perhaps, has the most correct knowledge of, of any Man in the Union. He has been twice a Member of Congress, and was always thought one of the ablest Members that ever sat in the Council. Mr. Madison is . . , a Gentleman of great modesty,–with a remarkable sweet temper. He is easy and unreserved among acquaintance, and has a most agreeable style of conversation."
Martin, Alexander (1740 1807): a delegate from North Carolina .
"Mr. Martin was lately Governor of North Carolina, which office he filled with credit. He is a Man of sense, and undoubtedly a good politician, but he is not formed to shine in public debate, being no Speaker. Mr. Martin was once a Colonel in the American Army. . . ."
Martin Luther (1748-1826): a delegate from Maryland.
"Mr. Martin was educated for the Bar, and is Attorney general for the State of Maryland, This Gentleman possesses a good deal of information. . . "
Mason, George (1725-1792): a delegate from Virginia.
"Mr. Mason is a Gentleman of remarkable strong powers, and possesses clear and copious understanding. He is able and convincing in debate, steady and firm in his principles, and undoubtedly one of the best politicians in America. Mr. Mason ... (has) a fine strong constitution," McClurg, James (c. 1746-1823): a delegate from Virginia.
"Mr. McClurg is a learned physician, but having never appeared before in public life his character as a politician is not sufficiently known, . . . It is certain that he has a foundation of learning, on which, if he pleases, he may erect a character of high renown. The Doctor is . , a Gentleman of great respectability, and a fair and unblemished character."
McHenry, James (1753-1816): a delegate from Maryland.
"Mr. McHenry was bred a physician, but he afterwards turned Soldier and acted as Aid to Genl Washington and the Marquis de la Fayette, He is . . . a very respectable young Gentleman, and he deserves the honor which his Country has bestowed on him."
Mercer, John Francis (1759-1821): a delegate from Maryland.
No sketch was made of Mr, Mercer by Major Pierce, but from other references we know he was born into one of the leading land owning families in America. He was educated at William and Mary and studied law under Thomas Jefferson. He fought under Lee and La Fayette. He opposed strong central government.
Mifflin, Thomas (1744-1800): a delegate from Pennsylvania. "General Mifflin is well known for the activity of his mind, and the brillancy of his parts. He is well informed and a graceful Speaker. The General is . . . a very handsome man.
Morris, Gouverneur (1752-1816): a delegate from Pennsylvania.
Mr. Gouverneur Morris is one of those Genius's in whom every species of talents combine to render him conspicuous and flourishing in public debate:–He winds through all the mazes of rhetoric, and throws around him such a glare that he charms, captivates, and leads away the senses of all who hear him. With an infinite stretch of fancy he brings to view things when he is engaged in deep argumentation, that render all the labor of reasoning easy and pleasing.... He has gone through a very extensive course of reading, and is acquainted with all the sciences. No Man has more wit.–nor can any one engage the attention more than Mr. Morris, He was bred to the Law, but I am told he disliked the profession, and turned merchant. He is engaged in some great mercantile matters with his namesake Mr. Robt. Morris. This Gentleman ... has been unfortunate in losing one of his Legs, and getting all the flesh taken off his right arm by a scald, when a youth,"
Morris, Robert (1734-1806): a delegate from Pennsylvania.
"Robert Morris is a merchant of great eminence and wealth; an able Financier, and a worthy Patriot. He has an understanding equal to any public object, and possesses an energy of mind that few Men can boast of. Although he is not learned, yet he is as great as those who are' I am told that when he speaks in the Assembly of Pennsylvania, that he bears down all before him. What could have been his reason for not speaking in the Convention I know not–but he never once spoke on any point."
Patterson, William (1745-1806): a delegate from New Jersey.
"Mr. Patterson is one of those kind of Men whose powers break in upon you, and create wonder and astonishment. He is a Man of great modesty. . . . (He) is a Classic, a Lawyer, and an Orator;-and of a disposition so favorable to his advancement that every one seemed ready to exalt him with their praises. He is very happy in the choice of time and manner of engaging in debate, and never speaks but when he understands his subject well, This Gentleman is . . . of a very . . . (small) stature."
Pinckney, Charles (1747-1824): a delegate from South Carolina.
"Mr. Charles Pinckney is a young Gentleman of the most promising talents. He is in possession of a very great variety of knowledge Government, Law, History and Philosophy are his favorite studies, but he is intimately acquainted with every species of polite learning, and has a spirit of application and industry beyond most Men He speaks with great neatness and perspicuity, and treats every subject as fully, without running into prolixity, as it requires. He has been a Member of Congress, and served in that Body with ability and eclat."
Pinckney, Charles Cotesworth (1746-1825): a delegate from South Carolina.
"Mr. Chs. Cotesworth Pinckney is a Gentleman of Family and fortune in his own State. He has received the advantage of a liberal education, and possesses a very extensive degree of legal knowledge. When warm in a debate he sometimes speaks well,–but he is generally considered an indifferent Orator. Mr. Pinckney was an Officer of high rank in the American army, and served with great reputation through the War."
Randolph, Edmund (1753-1813): a delegate from Virginia.
"Mr. Randolph is Governor of Virginia,–a young Gentleman in whom unite all the accomplishments of the Scholar, and the Statesman, He came forward with the postulate, or first principles, on which the Convention acted, and he supported them with a force of eloquence and reasoning that did him great honor. He has a most harmonious voice, a fine person and striking manner."
Read, George (1733-1798): a delegate from Delaware.
"Mr. Read is a Lawyer and a Judge:–his legal abilities are said to be very great, but his powers of Oratory are fatiguing and tiresome. . , . He is a very good 'Man, and bears an amiable character with those who know him. Mr. Read is . . . of a . . . (small) stature, and a weak constitution."
Rutledge, John (1739-1800): a delegate from South Carolina.
"Mr. Rutledge is one of those characters who was highly mounted at the commencement of the late revolution;–his reputation in the first Congress gave him a distinguished rank among the American Worthies, He was bred to the Law, and now acts as one of the Chancellors of South Carolina. This gentleman is much famed in his own State as an Orator. . . . He is undoubtedly a man of abilities, and a Gentleman of distinction and fortune. Mr. Rutledge was once Governor of South Carolina."
Sherman, Roger (1721-1793): a delegate from Connecticut.
"Mr. Sherman , . in his train of thinking there is something regular, deep and comprehensive; (which) deserves infinite praise-no Man has a better Heart or a clearer Head. If he cannot embellish he can furnish thoughts that are wise and useful. He is an able politician, and extremely artful in accomplishing any particular object; it is remarked that he seldom fails. I am told he sits on the Bench in Connecticut, and is very correct in the discharge of his judicial functions. In the early part of his life he was a Shoe-maker;–but despising the lowness of his condition, he turned Almanac maker, and so progressed upwards to a Judge. He has been several years a Member of Congress, and discharged the duties of Office with honor and credit to himself, and advantage to the State he represented.
Spaight, Richard Dobbs (1758-1803): a delegate from North Carolina.
"Mr. Spaight is a worthy Man, of some abilities, and fortune (he) is able to discharge a public trust that his Country may repose in him.
Strong, Caleb (1745-1819): a delegate from Massachusetts.
"Mr. Strong is a lawyer of some eminence,–he has received a liberal education, and has good connections to recommend him . . . This Gentleman is . . . greatly in the esteem of his Colleagues. Washington, George (1732-1799): a delegate from Virginia.
"General Washington is well known as the Commander in Chief of the late American Army. Having conducted these states to independence and peace, he now appears to assist in framing a Government to make the People happy. Like Gus tavus Vasa, he may be said to be the deliverer of his Country;–like Peter the Great he appears as the politician and the Statesman; like Cincinnatus he returned to his farm perfectly contented with being only a plain Citizen, after enjoying the highest honor of the Confederacy,-and now only seeks the approbation of his Country-men by being virtuous and useful. The General was conducted to the Chair as President of the Convention by the unanimous voice of its Members.
Williamson, Hugh (1735-1819): a delegate from North Carolina
"Mr. Williamson is a Gentleman of education and talents. He enters freely into public debate from his close attention to most subjects.... There is a great degree of good humour and pleasantry in his character; and in his manners there is a strong trait of the Gentleman.
Wilson, James (1742-1798): a delegate from Pennsylvania.
"Mr. Wilson ranks among the foremost in legal and political knowledge. He has joined to a fine genius all that can set him off and show him to advantage. He is well acquainted with Man, and understands all the passions that influence him. Government seems to have been his peculiar Study, all the political institutions of the World he knows in detail and can trace the causes and effects of every revolution from the earliest stages of the Greecian commonwealth down to the present time. No man is more clear, copious, and comprehensive than Mr. Wilson, . . He draws the attention not by the charm of his eloquence, but by the force of his reasoning.
Wythe, George (1726-1806): a delegate from Virginia,
"Mr. Wythe is the famous Professor of Law at the University of William and Mary. He is confessedly one of the most learned legal Characters of the present age. From his close attention to the study of general learning he has acquired a complete knowledge of the dead languages and all the sciences He is remarked for his exemplary life, and universally esteemed for his good principles. No Man it is said understands the history of Government better than Mr. Wythe,–nor any one who understands the fluctuating conditions to which all societies are liable better than he does, . . . He is a neat and pleasing Speaker, and a most correct and able Writer.
Yates, Robert 1724-1796): a delegate from New York.
"Mr. Yates is said to be an able Judge. He is a man of great legal abilities, but not distinguished as an Orator. He . . . enjoys a great share of health."
As Pierce's sketches of the Framers demonstrate, the delegates to the constitutional convention were a diverse and talented group, But perhaps the greatest tribute ever written of the Framers was penned by James Madison, the leading figure at the Convention. He stated; "Whatever may be the judgment pronounced on the competency of the architects of the Constitution' or whatever may be the destiny of the edifice prepared by them, I feel it a duty to express my profound and solemn conviction, derived from my intimate opportunity of observing and appreciating the views of the Convention, collectively and individually, that there never was an assembly of men more pure in their motives, or more exclusively or anxiously devoted to the object committed to them, than were the members of the Federal Convention of 1787, to the object of devising and proposing a constitutional system which should best supply the defects of that which it was to replace, and best secure the permanent liberty and happiness of their country."
The Convention was scheduled to begin on May 14, 1787, in Philadelphia. However, not enough delegates had arrived by that date to form a quorum so it did not officially convene until Friday, May 25, 1787. On that day George Washington was unanimously elected president and the delegates adopted a set of rules to guide their deliberations.
From the beginning of the Convention it became obvious that the Virginia delegates planned to do more than merely revise the Articles of Confederation. On Tuesday, May 29th, Governor Edmund Randolph of Virginia introduced "Fifteen Resolves," which had been drafted for the most part by James Madison, another Virginia delegate. The Plan called for the establishment of a new national government. These Fifteen Resolves, often referred to as the Virginia Plan, subsequently formed the basic agenda for the Convention. This Plan called for a national Congress, an executive branch and a Federal court system.
Shortly after the Virginia Plan was introduced William Patterson introduced the New Jersey Plan. This Plan proposed that the delegates set aside the Virginia Resolves and return to revising the Articles of Confederation. The smaller States were fearful that they would loose their sovereignty under a new national government. A vigorous debate ensued. While the Convention was comparing the two plans, Alexander Hamilton introduced another plan calling for the establishment of a monarchial form of government patterned after the British government.
James Madison, who kept a detailed history of the proceedings of the Convention, noted that Hamilton's plan was "supported by none." The delegates never even discussed or voted upon it. However, Hamilton's plan did serve one useful purpose. It positioned the Virginia Plan more to the center of the political spectrum, with the New Jersey Plan on the left and Hamilton's plan on the right.
On June 19th Madison made a moving speech encouraging the delegates to come up with a ''Constitution for the Ages." He expressed his firm belief that only the Virginia Plan would suffice to correct the deficiencies of government under the Articles of Confederation, Immediately afterwards, the New Jersey Plan was voted down and Hamilton's Plan was quietly set aside.
Before the Convention was over, the delegates reached a consensus on every major issue. However' debate over apportionment of representation was a very touchy issue, and nearly caused the Convention to break up before its work was complete. The problem developed between the smaller and larger States. The smaller States desired for each State to have a simple vote in the national legislature. The larger States felt that this was unfair because it would give a citizen from Georgia 16 times more representation than a citizen from Virginia. The smaller States argued that if representation was based upon population, a citizen of Virginia would have 16 times more representation than a citizen of Georgia.
It was during this great debate over representation that Benjamin Franklin made his famous plea for prayer. On June 28th he said:
"In the beginning of the contest with Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayers in this room for divine protection. Our prayers, sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a superintending Providence in our favor. To that kind Providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now forgotten that powerful Friend? Or do we imagine that we no longer need (His) assistance?
"I have lived, sir, a long time; and the longer I live the more convincing proofs I see of this truth–that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid? We have been assured, sir, in the sacred writings, that 'except the Lord build the house they labor in vain that build it.' I firmly believe this and I also believe that without His concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel; we shall be divided by our little partial, local interests, our projects will be confounded and we ourselves shall become a reproach and a byword down to future ages. And, what is worse, mankind may hereafter, from this unfortunate instance, despair of establishing government by human wisdom and leave it to chance, war, or conquest.
"I, therefore, beg leave to move:
"That hereafter prayers, imploring the assistance of Heaven and its blessing on our deliberations, be held in this assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of the clergy of this city be requested to officiate in that service,"
Finally, a compromise was suggested by Roger Sherman of Connecticut, where each State was given equal representation in the Senate, and proportional representation in the House of Representatives.
In addition to lengthy debate over representation, the delegates cast over 60 ballots in deciding the mode of selection of the President.
Although the Virginia Plan formed the basis for discussion during the three month period, an examination of the debates reveals that the delegates genuinely debated each aspect of the Plan before they finally adopted it. By July 26th the principle issues were agreed upon and a Committee on Detail was appointed to put the Constitution into draft form. The next few weeks were spent refining various clauses. On September 8th the amended draft was turned over to a special Committee on Style. Gouverneur Morris, the peg-legged lawyer from Pennsylvania, put the Constitution into its final form.
On Monday, September 17, 1787, forty-one out of the original fifty-five delegates met in the East Room of Independence Hall for a formal signing ceremony. Just prior to the signing of the historic document, Benjamin Franklin arose with a speech in his hand. At eighty-one he was in the twilight of his career. Being too feeble to deliver his own speech, he handed it to James Wilson, who read it for him.
"Mr President," the legendary Franklin wrote, "I confess that there are several parts of this constitution which I do not at present approve, but I am not sure I shall never approve them; for having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged by better information or fuller consideration, to change opinions even on important subjects, which I once though right, but found to be otherwise It is therefore that the older I grow, the more apt I am to doubt my own judgment, and to pay more respect to the judgment of others.
"Most men indeed, as well as most sects in religion, think themselves in possession of all truth, and that wherever others differ from them it is so far error, . .
"In these sentiments, Sir, I agree to this Constitution with all its faults, if they are such; because I think a general government necessary for us, and there is no form of government but what may be a blessing to the people if well administered, and believe farther that this is likely to be well administered for a course of years, and can only end in despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic government, being incapable of any other.
"I doubt too whether any other convention we can obtain may be able to make a better constitution. For when you assemble a number of men to have the advantage of their joint wisdom, you inevitably assemble with those men, all their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinion, their local interests, and their selfish views. From such an assembly can a perfect production be expected? It therefore astonishes me' Sir, to find this system approaching so near to perfection as it does; and 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.
"Thus I consent, Sir, to this constitution because I expect no better, and because I am not sure, that it is not the best. The opinions I have had of its errors, I sacrifice to the public good. . . . "Much of the strength and efficiency of any government in procuring and securing happiness to the people, depends on opinion, on the general opinion of the goodness of the government, as well as of the wisdom and integrity of its governors. I hope therefore that for our own sakes as a part of the people, and for the sake of posterity, we shall act heartily and unanimously in recommending this constitution (if approved by Congress and confirmed by the conventions) wherever our influence may extend, and turn our future thoughts and endeavors to the means of having it well administered, "On the whole, Sir, I cannot help expressing a wish that every member of the convention who may still have objections to it, would with me, on this occasion doubt a little of his own infallibility, and to make manifest our unanimity, put his name to this instrument,"
Shortly after the delegates heard Franklin's speech, all but three, Randolph, Mason, and Gerry, signed the Constitution. Just before adjournment, as the last delegates were affixing their signatures to the historic piece of parchment, Franklin looked toward the president's chair which had a sun on it. He remarked to General Washington and the delegates near him: "Sir, for four months I have been observing that picture painted on the high arch of your chair, More than anyone in this chamber I have gazed at carvings and paintings of artists of all lands, In the galleries and salons of England and France I have seen innumerable attempts of artists to depict that greatest of planets, the sun. Artists have always found it difficult to distinguish a rising from a setting sun' I have often, in the course of these sessions and vicissitudes of my hopes and fears as to its issue, looked at that-sun behind the president of this convention without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting. But now at length I have the happiness to know that it is a rising sun and not a setting sun."
Franklin was referring, of course, to the new Republic. He felt that the future of the Republic was bright indeed, now that this Constitution had been drafted.
Franklin's confidence in the new Constitution was shared by others. In fact, several of the delegates felt that the drafting of the Constitution was a miracle. In a letter to Marquis de La Fayette, on February 7, 1788, George Washington wrote: "It appears to me, then, little short of a miracle, that the delegates from so many different states (which states you know are also different from each other, in their manners, circumstances, and prejudices) should unite in forming a system of national government."
James Madison wrote to Thomas Jefferson in France on December 9, 1787, telling him that it was "impossible to consider the degree of concord which ultimately prevailed (in the convention) as less than a miracle,"
A short time later Madison again acknowledged the hand of God in the drafting of the Constitution. Writing in The Federalist Papers he said;
"The real wonder is that so many difficulties (at the constitutional convention) should have been surmounted) and surmounted with a unanimity almost as unprecedented as it must have been unexpected, It is impossible for any man of candor to reflect on this circumstance without partaking of the astonishment. It is impossible for the man of pious reflection not to perceive in it (the drafting of the Constitution) a finger of that Almighty hand which has been so frequently and signally extended to our relief in the critical stages of the revolution."
The Constitution is undoubtedly the wisest plan of government ever presented to men. The decisions arrived at so painfully and prudently during those sixteen-and-a-half weeks in Philadelphia shaped a system that would not only govern the United States, but would have an effect upon the entire world as one nation after another used the Constitution as a model for the development of their own governments.
The task facing the Founding Fathers was not to construct a system of government from the foundation up. There were already in existence thirteen foundation stones in the form of republican State governments. It was the design of those favoring a new national government to erect a structure upon those independent governments. They wanted the national government to be supreme in its domain and the State governments to be pre-eminent in theirs. This balancing of governmental powers was designed to "form a more perfect Union."
The Constitution consists of a Preamble and seven articles. The Preamble is an introduction to the document. It outlines in eloquent language the reasons for the establishment of the charter.
"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."
While the Preamble is not a grant of power, it does candidly and firmly establish who are the sovereign rulers of this nation–the people. The Founding Fathers faithfully adhered to this principle throughout the Constitution, and created a limited government of delegated powers, the people retaining all others unto themselves.
The Framers carefully outlined the powers of the new government in each of the seven formal articles that followed the Preamble. Let us now look at each of the Articles and briefly discuss their more important sections.
Article I of the Constitution outlines the powers of the legislative branch. Section I of this Article states that "All legislative Power herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives."
The Framers designed a unique blend of representation by having the House of Representatives elected every two years whereas the Senators were originally "chosen by (the) Legislature" of each State for six year terms. This method allowed the people to be represented in the nation's capitol through the House of Representatives and for the States to be represented through the Senate. The appointment of Senators was also designed as a check on the power of the national government and to allow the States indirect participation in the Federal legislative process. The ratification of the Seventeenth Amendment in 1913 eliminated this important check on the national government and provided for the direct election of the Senators.
Also in this Article, under Section 7, the Framers dealt with the problem of raising revenues for the new government. The big question was, "Who is responsible for raising revenue?" Or in other words, "Who is responsible for levying taxes?" Americans had already felt the tyranny that can develop over taxes. An earlier Declaration by the Stamp-Act Congress issued on October 19, 1765 summed up their beliefs on the subject. ". . . it is inseparably essential to the freedom of a people and the undoubted right of Englishmen that no taxes be imposed on them but with their own consent, given personally or by their representatives. . . ." As a result of their experiences with England over taxes, the Framers carefully entrusted the raising of revenue through taxes to the representatives directly elected by a vote of the people. Section 7 provides that: "All bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills."
Section 8, Clause I, of Article I, is one of the most controversial clauses of the Constitution. It reads: "The Congress shall have Power to lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts, and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defense and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States. . , ."
It is from this clause that most of the debate over whether the national government has limited or unlimited power has developed. Does this clause grant unlimited power to the Federal government? James Madison answered this question in The Federalist Papers when he wrote: "The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce; with which last the power of taxation will, for the most part, be connected. The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the States."
In another Federalist Paper the scholar-statesman from Virginia wrote: "It has been urged and echoed that the power 'to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises, to pay the debts, and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States,' amounts to an unlimited commission to exercise every power which may be alleged to be necessary for the common defense or general welfare. No stronger proof could be given of the distress under which these writers labor for objections, than their-stooping to such a misconstruction.
"Had no other enumeration or definition of the powers of the Congress been found in the Constitution than the general expressions just cited, the authors of the objection might have had some calor for it; though it would have been difficult to find a reason for so awkward a form of describing an authority to legislate in all possible cases, A power to destroy the freedom of the press, the trial by jury, or even to regulate the course of descents, or the forms of conveyances, must be very singularly expressed by the terms 'to raise money for the general welfare,'
"But what color can the objection have when a specification of the objects alluded to by these general terms immediately follows and is not even separated by a longer pause than a semicolon? If the different parts of the same instrument ought to be so expounded as to give meaning to every part which will bear it, shall one part of the same sentence be excluded altogether from a share in the meaning; and shall the more doubtful and indefinite terms be retained in their full extent, and the clear and precise expressions be denied any significance whatsoever? For what purpose could the enumeration of particular powers be inserted, if these and all others were meant to be included in the preceding general power?
"Nothing is more natural nor common than first to use a general phrase, and then to explain and qualify it by a recital of particulars But the idea of an enumeration of particulars which neither explain nor qualify the general meaning, and can have no other effect than to confound and mislead, is an absurdity; which, as we are reduced to the dilemma of charging either on the authors of the objection or on the authors of the Constitution, we must take the liberty of supposing had not its origin with the latter."
It is clear from a study of the debates at the Federal Convention, The Federalist Papers and the writings of the principal architects of the Constitution that they established a limited national government with carefully defined powers.
Some of the limited powers granted to Congress include: borrowing money on the credit of the United States; regulating commerce with foreign nations and the states; establishment of uniform rules of naturalization and uniform bankruptcy laws, punishment of counterfeiting the securities and current coin of the United States; establishment of post offices; securement of copyrights for writers and inventors; constituting of tribunals inferior to the supreme court; defining and punishment of piracies and felonies committed on the high seas along with offenses against the law of nations; declaring war; raising and supporting armies; providing and maintaining of a navy; making rules for the government and regulation of land and naval forces; calling forth the militia to suppress insurrectipus, repelling invasions and executing the laws of the Union; providing for organizing, arming and disciplining the militia and governing those employed in the service of the United States; exercising exclusive legislation over the District of Columbia; and for making all laws which are necessary to implement the powers vested by the Constitution in the national government.
That the Founders intended the national government to be energetic, yet limited, is attested by another statement of James Madison in The Federalist Papers. He said, "The number of individuals employed under the Constitution of the United States will be much smaller than the number employed under the particular States."
The Framers also constructed some restraints on the States in Article I, under Section 10, Clause I, in order to make the Union function more orderly and smoothly. It reads: "No State shall enter into any Treaty, Alliance, or Confederation; grant Letters of Morque and Reprisal; coin Money; emit Bills of Credit; make any Thing but gold and silver Coin as Tender in Payment of debts; pass any Bill of Attainder, ex post facto Law, or Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts, or grant any Title of Nobility."
Obviously, if each State acted independently in these areas there would have been little or no stability. The State governments had to relinquish certain sovereign powers in order for the nation to function smoothly. The provision restraining the States from passing any laws "impairing the obligation of contracts," aptly illustrates the code of honor ascribed to by the Framers and their desire that contracts once made should be fulfilled.
Article II of the Constitution outlines the powers of the executive branch. During the convention there had been a lot of discussion about this branch of the government. Some of the delegates wanted one chief executive, others wanted three presidents to share the powers. The delegates also debated whether the executive or executives should be elected directly by the people or appointed by the senate. Finally, they decided that: "The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America," and that he would be selected by a sound and stable process known as the electoral college, which would allow the citizens of America to elect their executive through their own elected representatives.
Clause 2, Section I, requires that: "Each State shall appoint, in such manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector." The term "elector" means a citizen who has been selected to participate with other specially designated citizens in the choosing of the President and Vice-president. The vote of a State consists of one vote for each of its two Senators and one vote for each of its Representatives. These electors are the electoral college.
At the beginning of the electoral college a number of States allowed their legislatures to select their electors. Some were chosen by district. Presently, they are chosen by a ballot of the whole people. The ballot contains the names of the party candidates for president and vice-president. The electors are then expected (though not obligated by the Constitution) to vote for the party candidates.
When George Washington was first elected in 1788 there were a total of sixty-nine electoral votes cast, that being the number of Senators and Representatives at that time. Today there are 535 electoral votes cast for our presidential elections.
The electoral system, modified slightly by the Twelfth Amendment, has served the nation well, by giving us a stability that was not present in many republics of the past or that is present in many democracies of today.
The Framers carefully defined the role of the chief executive in Sections 2 and 3 of Article II. Section 2 states that: "The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, when called into the actual Service of the United States; he may require the Opinion, in writing, of a principal Officer in each of the executive Departments, upon any Subject relating to the duties of their respective Offices, and he shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.
"He shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the Supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law . . ."
Again, the Framers' experiences with England kept in their minds the need to define the executive's powers, and further, to keep them in balance with the legislative branches by imposing checks. As you see, they did this by requiring certain appointments be approved by the Senate; by requiring treaties to be ratified by this same body; and by requiring the Senate to give its "Advice and Consent" to the president's appointment of diplomatic representatives.
Then in Section 3 of Article II the Framers constructed an equal check on the legislative department, by giving the President limited legislative duties. It states that the President "shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient. . .; (and) he shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed, . . ." Besides being authorized to give a State of the Union address where he points out the needs of the Union, he can recommend legislation, and even veto bills of Congress However, Congress is given power to override the President's veto.
Article III of the Constitution defines the powers of the judicial branch of government.
The Framers realized the need to establish a Federal judicial system that could interpret the law and settle disputes among the States and the nation's citizenry.
The Constitution states that: "The judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish. The Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good behavior, . . ."
The Supreme Court has original jurisdiction, which means they can adjudicate matters directly without going through lower courts, in only two cases: (1) "Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls;" and (2) "those in which a State shall be a party." In all other cases, the Supreme Court has only appellate jurisdiction, which means they can adjudicate disputes only on appeal from inferior courts. In exercising appellate jurisdiction the Supreme Court is subject to "such Exceptions, and under such Regulations as the Congress shall make."
Concerning the judicial branch of government, Alexander Hamilton, writing in The Federalist Papers, said: "The complete independence of the courts of justice is peculiarly essential in a limited Constitution. By a limited Constitution, I understand one which contains certain specified exceptions to the legislative authority; such, for instance, as that it shall pass no bills of attainder, no ex post facto laws, and the like. Limitations of this Kind can be preserved in practice nor other way than through the medium of courts of justice, whose duty it must be to declare all acts contrary to the manifest tenor of the Constitution void. Without this, all the reservations of particular rights or privileges would amount to nothing."
The division of governmental powers into three separate departments at the national level is one of the most ingenious aspects of the Constitution. All three branches are prohibited from delegating their powers to each other, yet, in a miraculous manner, they are bound into an efficient operating unit.
As J. Reuben Clark, Jr., former Under-Secretary of State and Ambassador to Mexico, said: "It is this union of independence and dependence of these branches–legislative, executive and judicial–and of the governmental functions possessed by each of them, that constitute the marvelous genius of this unrivaled document. The framers had no direct guide in this work, no historical governmental precedent upon which to rely. As I see it, it was here that the divine inspiration came. It was truly a miracle."
Once the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government were outlined, the Framers began the task of developing the relationship of the States and Federal government. It was essential that the States cooperate with one another with full knowledge of their rights and recourse among one another and the Federal government. In Article IV of the Constitution, the Framers outlined the relationship of the individual States to each other and the relationship of the United States to States and Territories, This Article also guarantees to "every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government. , . ."
What is a republican form of Government? According to James Madison, a key architect of the Constitution, a republican government derives "all its powers directly or indirectly from the great body of the people" and rests "on the capacity of mankind of self-government." In republican theory and practice it is "politic as well as just that the interests and rights of every class should be duly represented and understood in the public Councils," It is also a fundamental tenet of republicanism "that men cannot be justly bound by laws in making which they have no part." A republican government is one which is "administered by persons holding their offices during pleasure, for a limited period, or during good behavior. And during the duration of their appointments" to government service "the trust should be placed not in a few, but (in) a number of hands."
The "fundamental" and "vital" principle of republican government is "lex majoris parties," or, the will of the majority, and the "majority who rule in such governments" are regarded as "the safest Guardians both of public Good and private rights." However, majority rule must always be reasonable and just, and be considerate to minority views.
Republican government, limited in nature, is designed to secure "life and liberty, with the right of acquiring and using property, and generally of pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety." Republicanism is also based on the assumption that whenever the government is "found adverse and inadequate to the purposes of its institution," the people have "an indubitable, unalienable, and indefeasible right to reform and change" it.
It is this concept of republican government that makes our form of government different from all others. It upholds the principle that the people are the sovereign rulers of the United States; it guarantees to them the right to take part in the development of laws that affect them, and certifies that they can decide who will serve as their representatives and who will not; and it stipulates that the people can make necessary changes in the government structure itself.
The provisions for amending the Constitution are found in Article V of the Constitution, The Founding Fathers realized there would be a need for judicious changes to occur in the document as the fledgling nation developed, so they wisely provided two methods for proposing amendments.
The first method requires the assent of two-thirds of each House of Congress and the ratification by three-fourths of the States. This is the method that has been consistently used since the Bill of rights. The second method allows for amendments to be proposed by a constitutional convention called by Congress upon the application of two-thirds of the States. Ratification must also be by three-fourths of the States.
The second method provides a way for the people to amend the Constitution in the face of an intransigent national government, or in other words, it provides a way to force the government to operate within constitutional bounds. Today, thirty-two of the needed thirty-four States have already passed resolutions calling for a constitutional convention to draft an amendment that will force the national government to balance its budget. If the Convention is called, it would be the first time this method has been used.
Either method can also be used to stop the three branches of government from encroaching upon one another's defined powers. George Washington, the Father of our Country, warned about the spirit of encroachment among the separate branches of the national government and of the importance of the amending process in his famous Farewell Address. He stated:
"It is important, like wise, that the habits of thinking in a free Country should inspire caution in those entrusted with its administration, to confine themselves within their respective Constitutional spheres; avoiding in the exercise of the Powers of one department to encroach upon another. The spirit of encroachment tends to consolidate the powers of all the departments in one, and thus to create whatever the form of government, a real despotism. A just estimate of that love of power, and proneness to abuse it, which predominates in the human heart is sufficient to satisfy us of the truth of this position. The necessity of reciprocal checks in the exercise of political power; by dividing and distributing it into different depositories, and constituting each the Guardian of the Public Weal against invasions by the others, has been evinced by experiments ancient and modern; some of them in our country and under our own eyes. To preserve them must be as necessary as to institute them. If in the opinion of the People, the distribution or modification of the Constitutional powers be in any particular wrong, let it be corrected by an amendment in the way the Constitution designates. But let there be no change by usurpation; for though this, in one instance, may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed. The precedent must always greatly overbalance in permanent evil any partial or transient benefit which the use can at any time yield."
In Article VI the Framers outline the way in which treaties are to be made with other nations. It states that: "the Constitution, and the Laws of the United States shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, . . ."
Obviously, the executive needed the power to make treaties with foreign nations However, the Framers also put a check on the executive power by stipulating that the Senate had to give its "Advice and Consent" to all treaties entered into by the United States. Needless to say, any Federal law or treaty which contravenes the Constitution would be void because the Constitution is superior to both. As Alexander Hamilton stated: "No legislative act, therefore, contrary to the Constitution can be valid." And ratification of a treaty is a legislative act.'
Finally, in Article VII the Framers outlined the procedure for the ratifying of the Constitution. It states: "The ratification of the conventions of nine states shall be sufficient for the establishment of this Constitution. . . ."
The Framers knew that it would not be an easy job to get nine States to ratify the Constitution. The States were independent entities with unique strengths and problems. But they had already been through the Revolutionary War together and they had a universal desire for freedom which bonded them to each other.
Shortly after the Constitution was drafted, a vigorous debate broke out between the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists. The Federalists were proponents of the new Constitution and the Anti-Federalists were opposed to the charter. The Anti-Federalists were concerned that the Constitution lacked a "Bill of Rights." During the State-ratifying Conventions the Federalists promised that a "Bill of Rights" would be added to the Constitution during the first session of Congress, This quieted the fears of the Anti-Federalists. However, a majority of the Convention drafted proposed amendments to the Constitution and submitted them along with their resolutions of ratification. The Constitution was ratified by three-fourths of the States in 1788 and went into operation on April 6, 1789 with the election of President George Washington.
The Federalists' promise to add a "Bill of Rights" was not forgotten. On September 25, 1789, twelve amendments were introduced by Congressman James Madison, the leading Federalist. Ratification of ten of the twelve amendments was completed on December 15, 1791. They are commonly referred to as the Bill of Rights.
The U. S.. Constitution is the greatest governmental charter in the world. Those who drafted it bequeathed to the American people, and the people throughout the earth, a legacy of freedom that is literally unparalleled.
One way in which Americans of all ages can re-educate themselves concerning the Constitution is to read and ponder The Federalist Papers. This classic treatise was written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay. Thomas Jefferson stated that this book was "the best commentary on the principles of government which were ever written."
The message of The Federalist Papers reads, in the words of Clinton Rossiter: "No happiness without liberty, no liberty without self-government, no self-government without constitutionalism, no constitutionalism without morality–and none of these great goods without stability and order." Another excellent volume which should be read to re-acquaint America's citizens with the Constitution is Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville. This masterful work was written after de Tocqueville, a French historian, toured America and became deeply impressed with the Framers, our Constitution and our Republic.
"The Constitution of the United States," de Tocqueville wrote, "is like one of those beautiful creations of human diligence which give their inventors glory and riches but remains sterile in other hands."
As we seek to uphold the U. S. Constitution in the tradition of the founding fathers, let us remember the words of President George Washington, spoken in his Inaugural Address: "No people can be found to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than the people of the United States. Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some token of Providential agency."
III. The Bill of Rights
"The Sacred Rights of Mankind are not to be rummaged for among old parchments or musty records," Alexander Hamilton declared. "They are written as with a sunbeam, in the whole volume of human nature, by the Hand of Divinity itself, and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power."
Nowhere are the "Sacred Rights of Mankind" more detailed than in the first Ten Amendments to the Constitution. The development of the Bill of Rights is one of the most interesting and dramatic stories in American history. It begins in Philadelphia at the Constitutional Convention of 1787.
On September 12, 1787, during a debate on trial by jury, a motion was made by Elbridge Gerry, a delegate from Massachusetts, to appoint "a committee to prepare a Bill of Rights." George Mason, a Virginia delegate, also believed that the Constitution should be "prefaced with a Bill of Rights, and he seconded a "motion made for the purpose."
Mason went on to explain that "with the aid of the State declarations, a bill might be prepared in a few hours." The motion to set up a committee was defeated, not because there wasn't a consensus attitude concerning the natural rights of mankind, but because of a difference of opinion over whether they needed to be listed individually in the Constitution.
Roger Sherman, a delegate from Connecticut, outlined the reasons why some members of the Convention did not feel a bill of rights was necessary. He explained: "The State Declarations of Rights are not repealed by this Constitution and being in force are sufficient" to protect the natural rights of the people. In other words, a number of the delegates felt that the new Federal government was not delegated any power to infringe on the rights contained in the various State constitutions or those rights retained by the people, so a bill of rights at the Federal level was unnecessary.
Shortly after the Constitution was sent to the Continental Congress another attempt was made to amend the new document by adding a bill of rights. Again, Congress rejected the motion, this time by Richard Henry Lee, and passed a resolution sanctioning the ratification procedure recommended by the delegates at the Philadelphia Convention.
This issue over a bill of rights, along with others, continued to cause friction among citizens and delegates. By the time the new Constitution was printed and distributed, two opposing groups were clearly formed. They were called Federalists and Anti-Federalists.
The Anti-Federalists strongly criticized the new Constitution, claiming it was deficient because it created a strong national government and did not contain adequate safeguards for the States and the natural rights of the people. They decried the lack of a bill of rights. The Federalists, on the other hand, claimed that a national government was necessary to preserve the Union and that a bill of rights was superfluous.
Alexander Hamilton put forth the Federalist's position when he stated: "Bills of rights are, in their origin, stipulations between kings and their subjects. Such was the Magna Charta, obtained by the barons, sword in hand, from King John. Such were the subsequent confirmations of that charter by succeeding princes. Such was the Petition of Right assented to by Charles I in the beginning of his reign. Such, also, was the Declaration of Right presented by the Lords and Commons to the Prince of Orange in 1688, and afterwards thrown into the form of an act of parliament called the Bill of Rights.
"It is evident, therefore, that according to their primitive signification, they have no application to constitutions, professedly founded upon the power of the people, and executed by their immediate representatives and servants. Here, in strictness, the people surrender nothing; and as they retain everything they have no need of particular reservations."
Hamilton went on to point out that the preamble to the Constitution states: "We the people of the United States, in order to . . . secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution of the United States of America."
"Here is a better recognition of popular rights," he continued, "than volumes of those aphorisms which make the principal figure in several of our State bills of rights, and which would sound much better in a treatise on ethics than in a constitution of government.
"I go further, and affirm that bills of rights, in the sense and to the extent in which they are contended for, are not only unnecessary . . . but would even be dangerous. They would contain various exceptions to powers 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? Why, for instance, should it be said that the liberty of the press shall not be restrained, when no power is given by which restrictions may be imposed? I will not contend that such a provision would confer a regulating power; but it is evident that it would furnish, to men disposed to usurp, a plausible presence for claiming that power. They might urge with a semblance of reason, that the Constitution ought not to be charged with the absurdity of providing against the abuse of authority which was not given, and that the provision against restraining the liberty of the press afforded a clear implication, that a power to prescribe proper regulations concerning it was intended to be vested in the national government. This may serve a specimen of the numerous handles which would be given to the doctrine of constructive powers, by the indulgence of an injudicious zeal for bills of rights."
Hamilton believed that man's freedom depended "on the general spirit of the people and of the government." He wrote: "Here, after all, . . . must we seek for the only solid basis of all our rights. . . .
"The truth is . . . that the Constitution is itself, in every rational sense, and to every rational purpose, a bill of rights," Hamilton concluded. ''It is one object of a bill of rights to declare and specify the political privileges of the citizens in the structure and administration of the government? This is done in the most ample and precise manner. . . . Is another object of a bill of rights to define certain immunities and modes of proceeding, which are relative to personal and private concerns? This . . . has also been attended to, in a variety of cases, in the same plan."
On the other side of the debate, the Anti-Federalists believed that a bill of rights was essential because it contained the fundamental principles of their political creed. An article in the Virginia Independent Chronicle briefly explains this position; 'Those rights characterize the man, essentially the true republican the citizen of this continent; their enumeration, in head of the constitution, can inspire and conserve the affection for the native country, they will be the first lesson of the young citizens.... "
The Anti-Federalists were firmly attached to the doctrine of natural rights and wanted them to be firmly stated for themselves and their posterity. Patrick Henry pointed out this veneration when he stated: "There are certain maxims by which every wise and enlightened people will regulate their conduct. There are certain political maxims which no free people ought ever to abandon–maxims of which the observance is essential to the security of happiness. . . .
"We have one, sir, that all men are by nature free and independent, and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into society, they cannot by any compact deprive or divest their posterity. We have a set of maxims of the same spirit, which must be beloved by every friend to liberty, to virtue, to mankind: our bill of rights contains those admirable maxims."
Edmund Randolph, a delegate to the Constitutional Convention who refused to sign the new Constitution because it did not contain a bill of rights, gives added insight into the Anti-Federalists' position. In reference to the Virginia Bill of Rights, he said: "In the formation of this bill of rights two objectives were contemplated: one, that the legislature should not in their acts violate any of those cannons; the other, that in all the revolutions of time, of human opinion, and of government, a perpetual standard should be erected around which the people might rally, and by a notorious record be forever admonished to be watchful, firm and virtuous.
"The corner stone being thus laid, a constitution, delegating portions of power to different organs under certain modifications, was of course to be raised upon it."
The Anti-Federalists were determined to erect a "perpetual standard" for the people to rally around. And that standard was a bill of rights. They rejected outright the arguments put forth by Hamilton and others for not including a bill of rights with the Constitution.
The Anti-Federalists believed as Thomas Jefferson did, that: "A bill of rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth, general or particular; and what no just government should refuse or rest on inference." According to the author of the Declaration of Independence, simple words "providing clearly, and without the aid of sophism, for freedom of religion, freedom of the press, protection against standing armies, restriction of monopolies, the eternal and unremitting force of the habeas corpus laws. and trials by jury in all matters of fact triable by the laws of the land, and not by the laws of nations," were needed.
As the ratification struggle continued to rage in various States, the Federalists began to realize that if the Constitution were to be adopted at all, they would have to concede on this point or suffer defeat.
In 1833, Chief Justice Marshall, who was a delegate at the Virginia Ratifying Convention of 1788, reflected on the movement to secure a federal bill of rights:
"It is universally understood, it is a part of the history of the day, that the great revolution which established the Constitution of the United States was not effected without immense opposition. Serious fears were extensively entertained that those powers which the patriot statesmen who then watched over the interests of our country, deemed essential to union, and to the attainment of those invaluable objects for which union was sought, might be exercised in a manner dangerous to liberty In almost every convention by which the Constitution was adopted amendments to guard against the abuse of power were recommended. These amendments demanded security against the apprehended encroachments of the general government. . . . In compliance with a sentiment thus generally expressed, to quiet fears thus extensively entertained, amendments were proposed by the required majority in Congress, and adopted by the States."
The first state to ratify the Constitution was Delaware, on December 7, 1787. It was soon followed by Pennsylvania. However, there was strong opposition to the Constitution in the Pennsylvania Convention. On December 12, 1781, the dissenting minority indicated their willingness to vote for ratification providing that a set of amendments were recommended. They subsequently introduced 15 propositions.
The minority's amendments were rejected by a vote of 46 to 23 and the Constitution was ratified. But this action did not quiet the dissenters or Anti-Federalists. The amendments were printed in various newspapers and distributed among the States.
The amendments proposed by the Pennsylvania Anti-Federalists were among the earliest to focus attention on the need for a bill of rights. These amendments greatly influenced other State ratifying conventions. In fact, it was this formula that eventually secured adoption of the Constitution. For without a Federalists promise to adopt a bill of rights, the State conventions would never have ratified the new charter of government. The strategy of proposing amendments proved not only successful but essential. In Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia, amendments were also recommended by the delegates.
The importance of the Virginia ratifying convention is apparent when it is realized that every specific provision in the Virginia amendments later were incorporated into the Bill of Rights by James Madison. The amendments proposed by the Virginia Convention stated:
"First, That there are certain natural rights of which men, when they form a social compact cannot deprive or divest their posterity, among which are the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring, possessing and protecting property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.
"Second. That all power is naturally vested in and consequently derived from the people; that Magistrates, therefore, are their trustees and agents and at all times amenable to them.
"Third. That Government ought to be instituted for the common benefit, protection and security of the People; and that the doctrine of non-resistance against arbitrary power and oppression is absurd, slavish, and destructive of the good and happiness of mankind.
"Fourth. That no man or set of Men are entitled to exclusive or separate (sic) public emoluments or privileges from the community, but in Consideration of public services; which not being descendible, neither ought the offices of Magistrate, Legislator or Judge, or any other public office to be hereditary.
"Fifth. That the legislative, executive, and judiciary powers of Government should be seperate (sic) and distinct, and that the members of the two first may be restrained from oppression by feeling and participating the public burdens, they should, at fixed periods be reduced to a private station, return into the mass of the people; and the vacancies be supplied by certain and regular elections; in which all or any part of the former members to be eligible or ineligible, as the rules of the Constitution of Government, and the laws shall direct.
"Sixth. That elections of representatives in the legislature ought to be free and frequent, and all men having sufficient evidence of permanent common interest with and attachment to the Community ought to have the right of suffrage; and no aid, charge, tax or fee can be set, rated, or levied upon the people without their own consent, or that of their representatives so elected, nor can they be bound by any law to which they have not in like manner assented for the public good.
"Seventh. That all power of suspending laws or the execution of laws by any authority, without the consent of the representatives of the people in the legislature is injurious to their rights, and ought not to be exercised.
"Eighth. That in all capital and criminal prosecutions, a man hath a right to demand the cause and nature of his accusation, to be confronted with the accusers and witnesses, to call for evidence and be allowed counsel in his favor, and to a fair and speedy trial by an impartial Jury of his vicinage, without whose unanimous consent he cannot be found guilty, (except in the government of the land and naval forces) nor can he be compelled to give evidence against himself.
"Ninth. That no freeman ought to be taken, imprisoned, or disseised of his freehold, liberties, privileges or franchises, or outlawed or exiled, or in any manner destroyed or deprived of his life, liberty or property but by the law of the land.
"Tenth. That every freeman restrained of his liberty is entitled to a remedy to enquire into the lawfulness thereof, and to remove the same, if unlawful, and that such remedy ought not to be denied nor delayed.
"Eleventh. That in controversies respecting property, and in suits between man and man, the ancient trial by Jury is one of the greatest Securities to the rights of the people, and ought to remain sacred and inviolable.
"Twelfth That every freeman ought to find a certain remedy by recourse to the laws for all injuries and wrongs he may receive in his person, property or character. He ought to obtain rights and justice freely without sale, compleatly (sic) and without denial, promptly and without delay, and that all establishments or regulations contravening these rights, are oppressive and unjust.
"Thirteenth, That excessive Bail ought not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted
"Fourteenth, That every freeman has a right to be secure from. all unreasonable searches and siezures (sic) of his person, his papers and his property; all-warrants, therefore, to search suspected places, or sieze (sic) any freeman, his papers or property, without information upon Oath (or affirmation of a person religiously scrupulous of taking an oath) of legal and sufficient cause, are grievous and oppressive; and all general Warrants to search suspected places, or to apprehend any suspected person, without specially naming or describing the place or person, are dangerous and ought not to be granted.
"Fifteenth, That the people have a right peaceably to assemble together to consult for the common good, or to instruct their Representatives; and that every freeman has a right to petition or apply to the legislature for redress of grievances.
"Sixteenth, That the people have a right to freedom of speech, and of writing and publishing their Sentiments; but the freedom of the press is one of the greatest bulwarks of liberty and ought not to be violated.
"Seventeenth, That the people have a right to keep and bear arms; that a well regulated Militia composed of the body of the people trained to arms is the proper, natural and safe defence of a free State. That standing armies in time of peace are dangerous to liberty, and therefore ought to be avoided, as far as the circumstances and protection of the Community will admit; and that in all cases the military should be under strict subordination to and governed by the Civil power.
"Eighteenth, That no Soldier in time of peace ought to be quartered in any house without the consent of the owner, and in time of war in such manner only as the laws direct.
"Nineteenth, That any person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms ought to be exempted upon payment of an equivalent to employ another to bear arms in his stead.
"Twentieth, That religion or the duty which we owe to our . Creator, and the manner of discharging it can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence, and therefore all men have an equal, natural and unalienable right to the free exercise of religion according to the dictates of conscience, and that no particular religious sect or society ought to be favored or established by Law in preference to others."
The number of amendments proposed by the various State ratifying conventions totaled 186. This excluded those later proposed by Rhode Island. Once the duplications were eliminated, 80 substantive proposals remained.
Eight States requested an amendment prohibiting Congress from interfering with the time and place of holding elections. Seven States advocated jury trial in civil cases, Six States voiced a desire for increased numbers of Congressional members, for a prohibition against standing armies in peaceful times, and for religious freedom. Eight States demanded that restrictions be placed upon the Federal taxing power. They also desired a declaration which stated that all powers not delegated to the Federal government were respectively reserved to the States. Five States sought a prohibition against quartering of troops and unreasonable searches and seizures. An equal number of States demanded the right to bear arms, trial of a jury of peers, freedom of speech and press, and State Control of the militia. Four States sought recognition of the right to due process of law, speedy and public trials, the right to peacefully assemble and petition the government. They also sought a curtailment of Federal judicial power and a ban on monopolies, excessive bail. unconstitutional treaties and the holding of Federal offices by members of Congress.
After the Constitution was put into operation, and the First Congress convened, James Madison, a newly elected Congressman from Virginia at the time, set about to fulfill the Federalist's promise to propose a bill of rights for ratification by the States.
Madison was desirous to allay the fears of the Anti-Federalists by proving that "those who had been friendly to the adoption of this Constitution . . . were as sincerely devoted to liberty and a Republican Government, as those who charged them with wishing the adoption of this Constitution in order to lay the foundation of an aristocracy or despotism."
The young Virginian, who later would be called the "Father of the Constitution" for his role in drafting the document, was especially desirous to pave the way for North Carolina and Rhode Island to rejoin the Union. But Madison was also opposed to any modification in the "structure & stamina" of the body of the Constitution and wanted to make sure it was protected.
Madison played a pivotal role in the adoption of the Bill of Rights. It is safe to say that without his persistent leadership it is doubtful that the amendments would have been introduced into the First Congress in their existing form. The Federalists desired no amendments and the Anti-Federalists desired more than Madison deemed wise, including several structural changes in the actual Constitution.
In addition, Madison was desirous to alleviate the need for a second constitutional convention. Just before New York ratified the Constitution on July 26, 1788, its delegates had proposed that a circular letter be sent to all the States recommending that another Convention be called to propose amendments to the Constitution. Madison and several of his colleagues had been greatly alarmed at such a proposal. Therefore, he moved quickly during the first session of the First Congress, utilizing the procedure outlined in Article V of the Constitution, the amending process, to establish a bill of rights.
The scholar-statesman realized that if he introduced a series of amendments into Congress and they were sent to the States for ratification, that the movement for a second convention would be defused and any prospect of radical changes being made in the original charter would be curtailed. On May 4, 1789, just a month after the government began operating, Madison gave notice in the House of Representatives that he intended to propose a series of amendments. On June 8, 1789, he introduced them. In a major address to members of that distinguished body he said:
"This day, Mr. Speaker, is the day assigned for taking into consideration the subject of amendments to the constitution. As I considered myself bound in honor and in duty to do what I have done on this subject, I shall proceed to bring the amendments before you as soon as possible, and advocate them until they shall be finally adopted or rejected by a constitutional majority of this House. With a view of drawing your attention to this important object, I shall move that this House do now resolve itself into a Committee of the whole on the state of the Union; by which an opportunity will be given, to bring forward some propositions, which I have strong hopes will meet with the unanimous approbation of this House, after the fullest discussion and most serious regard. I therefore move you, that the House now go into a committee on this business. . . ."
Just as Madison began his speech, Representative Jackson from Georgia said, "I am of the opinion we ought not to be in a hurry with respect to altering the Constitution. . . . Let the Constitution have a fair trial; let it be examined by experience, discover by the test what its errors are, and then talk of amending. . . . I wish the consideration of the subject postponed until the 1st of March, 1790."
Madison was not about to delay consideration or his proposed amendments for nearly a year. He continued his speech:
"The gentleman from Georgia (Mr. Jackson) is certainly right in his opposition to my motion for going into a Committee of the whole, because he is unfriendly to the object I have in contemplation; but I cannot see that the gentlemen who wish for amendments to be proposed at the present session, stand on good ground when the object to the House going into committee on this business.
"When I first hinted to the House my intention of calling their deliberations to this object, I mentioned the pressure of other important subjects, and submitted the propriety of postponing this till the more urgent business was despatched; but finding that business not despatched, when the order of the day for considering amendments arrived, I thought it a good reason for a farther delay; I moved the postponement accordingly.
"I am sorry the same reason still exists in some degree, but operates with less force, when it is considered that it is not now proposed to enter into a full and minute discussion of every part of the subject, but merely to bring it before the House, that our constituents may see we pay a proper attention to a subject they have much at heart, and if it does not give that full gratification which is to be wished, they will discover that it proceeds from the urgency of business of a very important nature. But if we continue to postpone from time to time, and refuse to let the subject come into view, it may occasion suspicions, which, though not well founded, may tend to inflame or prejudice the public mind against our decisions. They may think we are not sincere in our desire to incorporate such amendments into the constitution as will secure those rights, which they consider as not sufficiently guarded. . . .
"The applications for amendments come from a very respectable number of our constituents, and it is certainly proper for Congress to consider the subject, in order to quiet that anxiety which prevails in the public mind. Indeed, I think it would have been of advantage to the Government, if it had been practicable to have made some propositions for amendments the first business we entered upon; it would have stifled the voice of complaint, and made friends of many who doubted the merits of the constitution. Our future measures would then have been more generally agreeably supported; but the justifiable anxiety to put the Government into operation prevented that; it therefore remains for to take it up as soon as possible. . . .
"I wish then to commence the considerations at the present moment; I hold it to be my duty to unfold my ideas, and explain myself to the House in some form or other without delay. I only wish to introduce the great work, and, as I said before, I do not expect it will be decided immediately; but if some step is taken in the business, it will give reason to believe that we may come to a final result. This will inspire a reasonable hope in the adovcates for amendments, that full justice will be done to the important subject; and I have reason to believe their expectation will not be defeated. I hope the House will not decline my motion for going into a committee. . . ."
There was considerable opposition to considering the amendments then, in a committee of the whole or the entire House of Representatives, so Madison withdrew his motion, stating:
"I am sorry to be accessory to the loss of a single moment of time by the House. If I had been indulged in my motion, and we had gone into a Committee of the whole, I think we might have rose and resumed the consideration of other business before this time; that is, so far as it depended upon what I proposed to bring forward. As the mode seems not to give satisfaction, I will withdraw the motion, and move you, sir that a select committee be appointed to consider and report such amendments as are proper for Congress to propose to the Legislatures of the several States, conformably to the fifth article of the constitution.
"I will state my reasons why I think it proper to propose amendments, and state, the amendments themselves, so far as I think they ought to be proposed. If I thought I could fulfill the duty which I owe to myself and my constituents, to let the subject pass over in silence, I most certainly should not trespass upon the indulgence of this House. But I cannot do this, and am therefore compelled to beg a patient hearing to what I have to lay before you. And I do most sincerely believe, that if Congress will devote but one day to this subject, so far as to satisfy the public that we do not disregard their wishes, it will have a salutary influence on the public councils, and prepare the way for a favorable reception of our future measures. . . .
"It appears to me that this house is bound by every motive of prudence, not to let the first session pass over without proposing to the State Legislatures some things to be incorporated into the constitution, that will render it as acceptable to the whole people of the United States, as it has been found acceptable to a majority of them. . . . It will be a desirable thing to extinguish from the bosom of every member of the community, any apprehensions that there are those among his countrymen who wish to deprive them of the liberty for which they valiantly fought and honorably bled. And if there are amendments desired of such a nature as will not injure the constitution, and they can be ingrafted so as to give satisfaction to the doubting part of our fellow-citizens, the friends of the Federal Government will evince that spirit of deference and concession for which they have hitherto been distinguished.
"It cannot be a secret to the gentlemen in this House," Madison commented, "that, notwithstanding the ratification of this system of Government by eleven of the thirteen United States, in some cases unanimously, in others by large majorities; yet still there is a great number of our constituents who are dissatisfied with it, among whom are many respectable for their talents and patriotism, and respectable for the jealousy they have for their liberty, which, though mistaken in its object is laudable in its motive. There is a great body of the people falling under this description, who at present feel much inclined to join their support to the cause of Federalism, if they were satisfied on this one point. We ought not to disregard their inclination, but, on principles of amity and moderation, conform to their wishes, and expressly declare the great rights of mankind secured under this Constitution. . . ."
While Madison favored the adoption or incorporation of a set of amendments, he was opposed to a "reconsideration of the whole structure" of the government. "In this case it is necessary to proceed with caution," he remarked, "for while we feel all these inducements to go into a revisal of the Constitution, we must feel for the Constitution itself, and make that revisal a moderate one. I should be unwilling to see a door opened for a reconsideration of the whole structure the Government–for a reconsideration of the principles and the substance of the powers given; because I doubt, if such a door were opened, we should be very likely to stop at that point which would be safe to the Government itself. But I do wish to see a door opened to consider, so far as to incorporate those provisions for the security of rights, against which I believe no serious objection has been made by any class of our constituents: such as would be likely to meet with the concurrence of two-thirds of both Houses, and the approbation of three-fourths of the State Legislatures. I will not propose a single alteration which I do not wish to see take place, as intrinsically proper in itself, or proper because it is wished for by a respectable number of my fellow-citizens; and therefore I shall not propose a single alteration but is likely to meet the concurrence required by the Constitution...." "It is a fortunate thing that the objection to the Government has been made on the ground I stated; because it will be practicable, on that ground, to obviate the objection, so far as to satisfy the public mind that their liberties will be perpetual, and this without endangering any part of the Constitution, which is considered as essential to the existence of the Government by those who promoted its adoption."
When Madison addressed Congress he came prepared. This time it was not the Virginia Plan, but it was a set of specific proposals which he had in mind which would "satisfy the public mind that their liberties will be perpetual." Madison's proposals were not, as commonly misunderstood, an additional series of amendments. Madison felt it would be more appropriate to incorporate the additions into their proper place in the Constitution. "The amendments which have occurred to me," Madison explained, "proper to be recommended by Congress to the State Legislatures, are these:
"First. That there be prefixed to the Constitution a declaration, that all power is originally vested in, and consequently derived from, the people.
"That Government is instituted and ought to be exercised for the benefit of the people; which consists in the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the right of acquiring and using property, and generally of pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.
"That the people have an indubitable, unalienable, and indefeasible right to reform or change their Government, whenever it be found adverse or inadequate to the purposes of its institution.
"Secondly. That in article 1st, section 2, clause 3, these words be struck out, to wit: 'The number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty thousand, but each State shall have at least one Representative, and until such enumeration shall be made;' and that in place thereof be inserted these words, to wit: 'After the first actual enumeration, there shall be one Representative for every thirty thousand, until the number amounts to , after which the proportion shall be so regulated by Congress, that the number shall never be less than , nor more than , but each State shall, after the first enumeration, have at least two Representatives; and prior thereto.'
"Thirdly. That in article 1st, section 6, clause 1, there be added to the end of the first sentence, these words, to wit: 'But no law varying the compensation last ascertained shall operate before the next ensuing election of Representatives.'
"Fourthly. That in article 1st, section 9, between clauses 3 and 4, be inserted these clauses, to wit: The civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship, nor shall any national religion be established, nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience be in any manner, or on any pretext, infringed.
"The people shall not be deprived or abridged of their right to speak, to write, or to publish their sentiments; and the freedom of the press, as one of the great bulwarks of liberty, shall be inviolable.
"The people shall not be restrained from peaceably assembling and consulting for their common good; nor from applying to the Legislature by petitions, or remonstrances, for redress of their grievances.
"The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; a well armed and well regulated militia being the best security of a free country: but no person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms shall be compelled to render military service in person.
"No soldiers shall in time of peace be quartered in any house without the consent of the owner; nor at any time, but in a manner warranted by law.
"No person shall be subject, except in cases of impeachment, to more than one punishment or one trial for the same offence; nor shall be compelled to be a witness against himself; nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor be obliged to relinquish his property, where it may be necessary for public use, without a just compensation.
"Excessive ball shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
"The rights of the people to be secured in their persons, their houses, their papers, and their other property, from all unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated by warrants issued without probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, or not particularly describing the places to be searched, or the persons or things to be seized.
"In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, to be informed of the cause and nature of the accusation, to be confronted with his accusers, and the witnesses against him; to have a compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor; and to have the assistance of counsel for his defence.
"The exceptions here or elsewhere in the Constitution, made in favor of particular rights, shall not be so construed as to diminish the just importance of other rights retained by the people, or as to enlarge the powers delegated by the Constitution; but either as actual limitations of such powers, or as inserted merely for greater caution.
"Fifthly. That in article 1st, section 10, between clauses 1 and 2, be inserted this clause, to wit:
"No. State shall violate the equal rights of conscience, or the freedom of the press, or the trial by jury in criminal cases.
"Sixthly. That? in article 3d, section 2, be annexed to the end of clause 2d, these words, to wit:
"But no appeal to such court shall be allowed where the value in controversy shall not amount to ______________ dollars: no' shall any fact triable by jury, according to the course of common law, be otherwise re-examinable than may consist with the principles of common law.
"Seventhly. That in article 3d, section 2, the third clause be struck out, and in its place be inserted the clauses following, to wit:
"The trial of all crimes (except in cases of impeachments, and cases arising in the land or naval forces, or the militia when on actual service, in time of war or public danger) shall be by an impartial Jury of freeholders of the vicinage, with the requisite of unanimity for conviction, of the right of challenge, and other accustomed requisites; and in all crimes punishable with loss of life or member, presentment or indictment by a grand jury shall be an essential preliminary, provided that in cases of crimes committed within any county which may be in possession of an enemy, or in which a general insurrection may prevail, the trial may be law be authorized in some other county of the same State, as near as may be to the seat of the offence.
"In cases of crimes committed not within any county, the trial may by law be in such county as the laws shall have prescribed. In suits at common law, between man and man, the trial by Jury, as one of the best securities to the rights of the people, ought to remain inviolate.
"Eighthly. That immediately after article 6th, be inserted, as article 7th, the clauses following to wit:
"The power delegated by this Constitution are appropriated to the departments to which they are respectively distributed: so that the Legislative Department shall never exercise the powers vested in the Executive or Judicial, nor the Executive exercise the powers vested in the Legislative or Judicial, nor the Judicial exercise the powers vested in the Legislative or Executive Departments. "The powers not delegated by this Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States Respectively.
"Ninthly. That article 7th be numbered as article 8th."
Madison's devotion to the principle of natural rights is once again reiterated in his first proposal that "all power" resides in the people. Government is instituted "for the benefit of the people," not a select group within the perimeters of the nation. Government should consist of the "enjoyment of life and liberty, with the right of acquiring and using property." Government was established so people could pursue "happiness and safety." These basic principles form the philosophical foundations of republicanism and self-government.
It is interesting to note that Madison was not advocating a separation of church and state per se in his speech, but was opposed to a "national religion" supported by the government. Madison felt that one of the greatest "bulwarks of freedom' was free speech and a free press. Madison also stressed the right of the people "to keep and bear arms" in his speech.
Throughout the proposals Madison's concern was for maintaining the rights of the people inviolate. One proposal which he outlined called attention to his belief that the "exceptions here or elsewhere in the Constitution, made in favor of particular rights, shall not be construed as to diminish the Just importance of other rights retained by the people, or as to enlarge the powers delegated by the Constitution."
One proposal which never found its way into the amendments called for the strict adherence of the separation of powers doctrine. He reiterated in the speech that the Constitution mandated that each department exercise only those powers specifically delegated to it. In the words of Madison, the "Legislative Department shall never exercise the powers vested in the Executive or Judicial, nor the Executive exercise the powers vested in the Legislative or Judicial, nor the Judicial exercise the powers vested in the Legislative or Executive Departments."
In his lengthy speech before Congress, Madison next proceeded to discuss the effect which bills of rights could have at both the state and federal levels. "The people of many States have thought it necessary to raise barriers against power in all forms and departments of Government," Madison noted, "and I am inclined to believe, if once bills of rights are established in all the States as well as the Federal Constitution, we shall find, that, although some of them are rather unimportant, yet, upon the whole, they will have a salutary tendency. It may be said, in some instances, they do no more than state the perfect equality of mankind. This, to be sure, is an absolute truth, yet it is not absolutely necessary to be inserted at the head of a Constitution. . . .
"But, whatever may be the form which the several States have adopted in making declarations in favor of particular rights, the great object in view is to limit and qualify the powers of Government, by excepting out of the grant of power those cases in which the Government ought not to act, or to act only in a particular mode. They point these exceptions sometimes against the abuse of the Executive power, sometimes against the Legislative, and, in some cases, against the community itself; or, in other words, against the majority in favor of the minority.
"In our Government it is, perhaps, less necessary to guard against the abuse in the Executive Department than any other; because it is not the stronger branch of the system, but the weaker. It therefore must be levelled against the Legislative, for it is the most powerful, and most likely to be abused, because it is under the least control. Hence, so far as a declaration of rights can tend to prevent the exercise of undue power, it cannot be doubted but such declaration is proper. But I confess that I do conceive, that in a Government modified like this of the United States, the great danger lies rather in the abuse of the community than in the Legislative body. The prescriptions in favor of liberty ought to be levelled against the quarter where the greatest danger lies, namely, that which possesses the highest prerogative of power. But this is not found in either the Executive or Legislative departments of Government, but in the body of the people, operating by the majority against the minority.''
Madison declared in his speech that America was unique in the world in that the "people of many states had thought it necessary to raise barriers against power in all forms and departments of Government." He felt that once "bills of rights are established," they "will have a salutary tendency" upon the whole Union.
Madison stressed that the great object of the bills of rights of the people in the colonies was to "limit and qualify the powers of government." He also noted that the people needed to guard against governmental abuses first, in the legislative branch, and second, ln the executive branch, because, as Madison pointed out, in the American system the legislative branch was to be the "most powerful" and the executive department was "not the stronger branch of the system, but the weaker."–a statement which is, no doubt, a surprise to many modern students of government. Yet, Madison suggested that guarding against the abuses of the majority of the people against the minority was a greater area of concern then abuses of either the legislative or executive branches of government.
Madison next outlined some of the arguments that had been brought up against a bill of rights, and carefully analyzed them for his colleagues ln the House of Representatives. "It may be thought the: all paper barriers against the power of the community are too weak to be worthy of attention," Madison noted. "I am sensible they are not so strong as to satisfy gentlemen of every description who have seen and examined thoroughly the texture of such a defence; yet, as they have a tendency to impress some degree of respect for them, to establish the public opinion in their favor, and rouse the attention of the whole community, it may be one means to control the majority from those acts to which they might be otherwise inclined.
"It has been said, by way of objection to a bill of rights, by many respectable gentlemen out of doors, and I find opposition on the same principles likely to be made by gentlemen on this floor, that they are unnecessary articles of a Republican Government, upon the presumption that the people have those rights in their own hands, and that is the proper place for them to rest. It would be a sufficient answer to say, that this objection lies against such provisions under the State Governments, as well as under the General Government; and there are, I believe, but few gentlemen who are inclined to push their theory so far as to say that a declaration of rights in those cases is either ineffectual or improper. It has been said, that in the Federal Government they are unnecessary, because the powers are enumerated, and it follows, that all that are not granted by the Constitution are retained; that the Constitution is a bill of powers, the great residuum being the rights of the people; and, therefore, a bill of rights cannot be so necessary as if the residuum was thrown into the hands of the Government. I admit that these arguments are not entirely without foundation; but they are not conclusive to the extent which has been supposed. It is true, the powers of the General Government are circumscribed, they are directed to particular objects; but even if Government keeps within those limits, it has certain discretionary powers with respect to the means, which may admit of abuse to a certain extent, in the same manner as the powers of the State Governments under their constitutions may to an indefinite extent; because in the Constitution of the United States, there is a clause granting to Congress the power to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution all the powers vested ln the Government of the United States, or in any department or officer thereof; this enables them to fulfil every purpose for which the Government was established. . . .
"It has been objected also against a bill of rights, that, by enumerating particular exceptions to the grant of power, it would disparage those rights which were not placed in that enumeration; and it might follow by implication, that those rights which were not singled out, were intended to be assigned into the hands of the General Government, and were consequently insecure. This is one of the most plausible arguments I have ever heard urged against the admission of a bill of rights into this system; but, I conceive, that it may be guarded against. I have attempted it, as gentlemen may see by turning to the last clause of the fourth resolution...."
Madison concluded his speech by stating that, "if we can make the Constitution better in the opinion of those who are opposed to it, without weakening its frame, or abridging its usefulness in the Judgment of those who are attached to it, we act the part of wise and liberal men to make such alterations as shall produce that effect. . . ."
He also explained that he would, "advocate greater dispatch in the business of amendments, if I were not convinced of the absolute necessity there is of pursuing the organization of the Government; because I think we should obtain the confidence of our fellow-citizens, in proportion as we fortify the rights of the people against the encroachments of the Government."
Madison's enlightening speech set the tone for a thorough discussion of the proposed amendments. However, Elbrdige Gerry of Massachusetts was not enthused about having the proposals discussed in a select committee. He felt they should be considered in a Committee of the Whole.
Madison then moved that his proposals be considered as resolutions to be adopted by the House. A motion to consider them in the Committee of the Whole was agreed upon and the House of Representatives adjourned.
On July 21 the Committee of the Whole was discharged and Madison's resolutions were referred to a select committee comprised of one member from each State. Those who served on this committee were: James' Madison of Virginia, Roger Sherman of Connecticut, John Vining of Delaware, Abraham Baldwin of Georgia, Aedanus Burke of South Carolina, George Clymer of Pennsylvania, Nicholas Gilman of New Hampshire, Egbert Benson of New York, Elias Boudinot of New Jersey, George Gale of Maryland and Benjamin Goodhue of Massachusetts.
On July 28, 1788, the Select Committee, which had been considering Madison's resolutions, released its report. It was taken up by the House on August 13, after Madison had successfully diffused efforts to delay their consideration. Roger Sherman of Connecticut then moved that the amendments be made an appendage to the Constitution, rather then be incorporated into its text as Madison had originally recommended. He was adamant that the amendments not be interwoven into the Constitution. Several other Congressmen supported Sherman, insisting that to insert amendments into the body of the text would indicate that the Constitution was an imperfect document, even though it had been signed by George Washington. Although Sherman's motion was defeated at the time, Madison later yielded on this point.
Over the next five days each of Madison's proposals were debated and slightly amended. He had been careful to include only those amendments which dealt specifically with rights, and had excluded all those which would have structurally changed the Constitution. This scrutiny of the amendments by Madison was indispensable to preserving what the Framers had given America.
The members of Congress adopted the important provisions concerning self-incrimination, cruel and unusual punishments, excessive fines, double jeopardy, unreasonable searches and seizures and due process of law. Madison's provisions concerning free speech and free press were also approved. However, his amendment on freedom of religion had been changed by the Select Committee to read: "No religion shall be established by Law, nor shall the equal rights of conscience be infringed."
In the ensuing debate over the amendment in the House of Representatives, on August 15, 1789, concern was voiced that the amendment might be harmful to religion in general. Madison stated on the floor of Congress that, "Congress should not establish a religion, and enforce the legal observation of it by law, nor compel men to worship God in any manner contrary to their conscience."
Madison later stated that the amendment was drafted because "the people feared that one sect might obtain a predominance, or two combine together, and establish a religion to which they would compel others to conform."
Madison's dedication to the concept of religious liberty was well known and deeply rooted. His sponsorship of Thomas Jefferson's "Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom," which was adopted in 1786 and his authorship of the famed, "Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Establishments" in 1784 had earned him the reputation of being one of America's foremost proponents of religious liberty.
Although Madison was adamantly opposed to religious establishments at the State or Federal level, he was a skilled statesman. He realized from his lengthy battle to dis-establish the Anglican Church in Virginia, the difficulty of convincing some States to refrain from giving preferential benefits to some sects. He also realized that it was the role of the States to dis-establish the remaining five State sponsored churches. Therefore, the scholar-statesman from Virginia concentrated his efforts on preventing the Federal government from establishing a national religion and mandating that it not interfere in religious worship.
In the meantime, the Anti-Federalists were determined to insure that Congress did not overturn the state-established religions. They felt that the proposed amendment might be construed to apply to the States. Samuel B. Livermore, a representative from Puritan New Hampshire proposed that the language of the amendment be changed to read: 'Congress shall make no law touching religion, or infringing the rights of conscience."
This restrictive language insured that the amendment only applied to Congress. Elbridge Gerry, a representative from Puritan Massachusetts was a strong supporter of the new language and it passed the House. However, the House continued to debate the issue even after adoption of Livermore's amended language.
The debate led to another version of the amendment introduced by Fisher Ames, another representative from Massachusetts. The new version read: "Congress shall make no law establishing religion, or to prevent the free exercise thereof, or to infringe the rights of conscience."
On August 18, 1789, Elbridge Gerry introduced a motion to refer to the full House all the amendments proposed by the States. This would have undone all of Madison's careful deletion of needless and dangerous amendments.
Madison assembled the support of a sufficient number of his colleagues to block the strategies of the Ant-Federalists. They defeated the motion by a vote of 34 to 16. The House then resumed consideration of Madison's proposals as reported out of the Select Committee.
The Federalists were also able to block an attempt to refer to the Committee of the Whole an additional 11 proposed amendments on August 18th
By August 21, 1769, the House had adopted 11 articles, but the debate was still not over. Congressman Burke introduced an amendment prohibiting Congress from interfering with State regulation of elections. Madison, who found the amendment objectionable, stated: "I cannot agree to delay amendments now agreed upon, by entering into the consideration of propositions not likely to obtain the consent of either two-thirds of the House of three-fourths of the State legislatures."
He was willing to adopt "every amendment that was required by the States, which would not tend to destroy the principles and efficacy" of the Constitution." However, Madison believed that the purposed amendment would "destroy the principles and efficacy of the Constitution. Burke's proposal was defeated by a vote of 28 to 23.
On August 22 Congressman Tucker introduced an amendment to prohibit direct taxes unless the duties and imposts changed by the States were insufficient. This proposal was defeated 39 to 9. He also proposed an amendment to abolish lower Federal courts. This measure was also rejected.
By August 24 seventeen articles had been reported by the Select Committee adopted by the House and transmitted to the Senate for consideration. The amendments read as follows:
Article 1. "After the first enumeration, required by the First Article of the constitution, there shall`1 be one Representative for every thirty thousand, until the number shall amount to one hundred, alter which the proportion shall be so regulated by Congress, that there shall be not less than one hundred Representatives, nor less than one Representative for every forty thousand persons, until the number of Representatives shall amount to two hundred, after which the proportion shall be so regulated by Congress, that there shall not be less than two hundred Representatives, nor less than one Representative for every fifty thousand persons.
Article 2. "No law varying the compensation to the members of Congress, shall take effect, until an elect of Representatives shall have intervened.
Article 3. "Congress shall make no law establishing religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, nor shall the rights of Conscience be infringed."
Article 4. "The Freedom of Speech, and of the Press, and the right of the People peaceably to assemble, and consult for their common good, and to apply to the Government for a redress of grievances, shall not be infringed.
Article 5. "A well regulated militia, composed of the body of the People, being the best security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed, but no one religiously scrupulous of bearing arms, shall be compelled to render military service in person. Article 6. "No soldier shall, in time of peace, be quartered in any house without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law."
"The right of the People to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."
Article 8. "No person shall be subject, except in case of impeachment, to more than one trial, or one punishment for the same offence, nor shall be compelled in any criminal case, to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation."
Article 9. "In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial. to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation, to be confronted with the witnesses against him, to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defence."
Article 10. "The trial of all crimes (except in cases of impeachment, and in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia when in actual service in time of War or public danger) shalI be by an Impartial Jury of the Vicinage, with the requisite of unanimity for conviction, the right of challenge, and other accustomed (sic) requisites; and no person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise (sic) infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment by a Grand Jury; but if a crime be committed in a place in the possession of an enemy, or in which an insurrection may prevail, the indictment and trial may by law be authorized in some other place within the same State.
Article 11. "No appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States, shall be allowed where the value in controversy shall not amount to one thousand dollars, nor shall any fact, triable by a Jury according to the course of the common law, be otherwise re-examinable, than according to the rules of common law."
Article 12. "In suits at common law, the right of trial by Jury shall be preserved."
Article 13. "Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
Article 14. "No State shall infringe the right of trial by Jury in criminal cases, nor the rights of conscience, nor the freedom of speech, or of the press."
Article 15. The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."
Article 16. The powers delegated by the Constitution to the government of the United States, shall be exercised as therein appropriated, so that the Legislative shall never exercise the powers vested in the Executive or Judicial; nor the Executive the powers vested in the Legislative or Judicial; nor the Judicial the powers vested in the Legislative or Executive."
Article 17. "The powers not delegated by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it, to the States, are reserved to the States respectively."
The Senate began consideration of these proposed amendments on September 2. However, the Anti-Federalists again tried to block them through the use of delaying tactics. This time they tried to pass a motion to postpone consideration of the proposals until the next session of Congress. The motioned was defeated.
For the next week, the Senate debated each of the articles. Extensive discussion occurred over the freedom of religion clause. A proposal to delete the amendment was defeated and the article was changed to read: "Congress shall make no law establishing one religious sect or society in preference to others, or to infringe on the rights of conscience." But again, even after acceptance of the new language of the amendment, the Senate continued to debate its language. The following two modified amendments were then introduced and rejected: "Congress shall not make any law infringing the rights of conscience, or establishing any religious sect or society."
"Congress shall make no law establishing any particular domination of religion in preference to another, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, nor shall the rights of conscience be infringed. At the end of the day, the Senate adopted the following language: "Congress shall make no law establishing religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." Yet, there were still members who were not satisfied with this amendment, and they prevailed upon the leadership of the Senate to reconsider it. The Senate then proceeded to adopt another version of the amendment which read: "Congress shall make no law establishing articles of faith or a mode of worship, or prohibiting the free exercise of religion."
The reason for these numerous changes was to guarantee that the amendment agreed upon did not infringe upon the right of the States to have established religions. The final language of the Senate appears to have been designed to allow the Federal government the leeway to grant financial support to the various established churches; even though Madison and a number of his colleagues in the House opposed such a clause.
At this point the Senate adopted most of the proposed amendments, but it did combine those provisions relating to self-incrimination, double jeopardy and due process with those proposed for an indictment relating to a grand jury. The Senate also rejected Madison's amendment placing limitations on States and the statement on the doctrine of separation of powers.
On September 8 the Senate voted down a series of amendments advocated by the Anti-Federalists. And the next day, September 9, the Senate adopted the amended proposals and sent them back to the House.
On September 21, 1788 ,the House of Representatives met and gave its approval to several of the Senate's amendments while rejecting others. A House-Senate Conference was set up. James Madison, Roger Sherman of Connecticut and John Vining of Delaware were appointed to represent the House.
During this conference session, Madison rescued the freedom of religion clause. He persuaded his fellow colleagues to accept the following language which was later adopted by Congress and ratified by the States as the First Amendment: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."
On September 23, 1788, Madison made his report to the House. The conference report was adopted the next day, September 24. The following day the Senate concurred. The twelve amendments agreed to after the Senate-House Conference read as follows:
Article 1. "After the first enumeration required by the first Article of the Constitution, there shall be one Representative for every thirty thousand, until the number shall amount to one hundred, after which, the proportion shall be so regulated by Congress, that there shall be not less than one hundred Representatives, nor less than one Representative for every forty thousand persons, until the number of Representatives shall amount to two hundred, after which the proportion shall be so regulated by Congress, that there shall not be less than two hundred Representatives, nor more than one Representative. for every fifty thousand persons."
Article 2. "No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened."
Article 3. "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
Article 4. ''A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
Article 5. "No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law."
Article 6. "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause' supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."
Article 7. "No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb, nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation."
Article 8. "In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him.; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence."
Article 9. "In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of common law."
Article 10. "Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted."
Article 11. "The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."
Article 12. "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."
These articles were subsequently submitted by Congress to the States for ratification. However, only 10 of the 12 were adopted. Articles 1 and 2 were rejected. The remaining articles became operative on December 15, 1791.
The purpose of the Bill of Rights is set forth in its preamble. It reads: "The Conventions of a number of States, having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses be added; and as extending the ground of public confidence in the government, will best insure the beneficent ends of its instruction. . . ."
Madison and his colleagues keenly desired to prevent the courts from misconstruing the Constitution. By adding "restrictive clauses" through the Bill of Rights, they hoped to thwart the Federal government from exercising powers expressly prohibited.
One of the most important clauses of the Bill of Bill of Rights states: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." These sixteen words, taken from the First Amendment, have provided Americans with a state of religious freedom unparalleled in modern civilization.
The first part of this clause is referred to as the Establishment Clause, and the latter part as the Free Exercise Clause. The Establishment Clause, as outlined above, was designed merely to prohibit the establishment of a national religion. The Free Exercise Clause was designed to prohibit Congress from interfering in the free exercise of religious belief.
It is apparent that the Framers adopted the First Amendment with the clear understanding that regulation of religious matters was exclusively the domain of the States. The real object of the Amendment, as Joseph Story outlined in his authoritative Commentaries on the Constitution, was "to exclude all rivalry among Christian sects, and to prevent any national ecclesiastical establishment which should give to a hierarchy the exclusive patronage of the national government. . . ."
Does the First Amendment prohibit the Federal government from recognizing, fostering or encouraging religion in America? Thomas M. Cooley, the distinguished 19th Century American constitutional lawyer, stated that, "It never intended by the Constitution that the government should be prohibited from recognizing religion, or that religious worship should never be provided for in cases where a recognition of Divine Providence in the workings of government might seem to require it, and where it might be done without drawing any invidious distinctions between different religious beliefs, organizations or sects. . . ."
The general sentiment in America, at the time of the drafting of the First Amendment, was that religion, particularly the Judeo-Christian religion, should receive encouragement from the Federal government so long as it didn't infringe upon the freedom of worship of other sects. Many of the Framers felt it was the duty of government to foster respect for law and order. As George Washington had stated, religion and morality were universally considered the keys to political prosperity in America.
Concerning the promotion of religion in America, Thomas Cooley wrote in 1868: "But while thus careful to establish religious freedom and equality, the American Constitution contains no provisions which prohibit the authorities from such solemn recognition of a superintending Providence in public transactions and exercises as the general religious sentiment of mankind inspires, . . . No principle of Constitutional law is violated when Thanksgiving or fast days are appointed; when chaplains are designated for the Army and Navy; and when legislative sessions are opened with prayer or the reading of the Scripture, or when religious teaching is encouraged by exempting houses of religious worship from the taxation for the support of the state government. Undoubtedly the spirit of the Constitution will require, in all these cases, that care be taken to avoid discrimination in favor of any one denomination or sect; but the power to do any of these things will not be unconstitutional, simply because of being suspectible to abuse. . . ."
Thus, it is apparent that while the Federal government is prohibited from establishing a national religion, it is not prohibited from encouraging or fostering religion, particularly the Judeo-Christian religion. An examination of our early history reveals that Congress and Presidents frequently encourage religion.
On the very day that the House of Representatives adopted the final version of the First Amendment, it also adopted a resolution which stated: "That a joint committee of both Houses be directed to wait upon the President of the United States, to request that he would recommend to the people of the United States a day of public Thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts, the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity to establish a Constitutional government for their safety and happiness."
President George Washington complied with the resolution and issued a proclamation which read: "Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor.
"Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these states to the service of that great and generous Being, who is the beneficient author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation. . . ."
The tradition of issuing Thanksgiving proclamations was followed by Presidents Adams and Madison.
It is clear that the early Framers felt it appropriate to encourage and foster religion. It is also clear that the early Framers believed that no man should be compelled by the Federal government to support any religion, nor be restrained or discriminated against for his beliefs and practice of religious teachings. It is further clear that the constitution does not mandate a rigid separation of religion and State.
In addition to religious liberty, the First Amendment also states that: Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech or of the press. . . .
Madison and his colleagues realized that the foundation of a free government rests upon such rights as freedom of speech and freedom of the press. If these two great rignts are absent, a tyranny may flourish. The members of the State-ratifying conventions and the members of Congress were adamant that the Federal government be prohibited from exercising jurisdiction over speech and press. They remembered all too well the denial of these freedoms in the colonies under British rule. They believed that the States should exercise exclusive control over laws dealing with these two topics.
These two rights are statutory in nature; that is, they are subject to regulations by the States. Freedom of speech and press may be restricted in a number of areas. It is unlawful, for instance, to slander or libel another person; in another instance, a person is prohibited from yelling "fire in a crowded auditorium thereby causing the people to panic.
Freedom of the press is not absolute either. In the case of national security, the press may be prohibited from publishing certain classified data.
The Framers of the First Amendment adhered to Blackstone's definition of liberty of the press. He stated that it consisted of "laying no previous restraints upon publications, and not in freedom from censure for criminal matter when published. Every freemen has an undoubted right to lay what sentiments he pleases before the public; . . . but if he publishes what is improper, mischievous, or illegal, he must take the consequences of his own temerity."
Congress is also prohibited from making laws abridging "the right of the people to peacefully assemble."
One of the colonist's main complaints against King George III was that "assemblies have been frequently dissolved contrary to the rights of the people, when they attempted to deliberate on grievances." They also claimed that their petitions to the Crown for redress . . . (were) repeatedly treated with contempt by his Majesty's Minister of State."
Madison and his colleagues relentlessly endeavored to maintain this great right and ensure that future Americans were entitled to petition the government on any subject they desired.
Lastly, Congress is prohibited from making laws which abridge the right of the people "to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson bitterly assailed King George III for his refusal to consider the petitions of the people. He said: "In every stage of these Opressions we have Petitioned for Redress–in the most humble terms: our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people."
Madison knew that if the people were to maintain their free government, they must possess the right to petition the government for a "redress of grievances." This clause boldly reaffirms the people's right to write their government leaders, submit a formal petition, contact their representatives directly, hire a lobbyist to present their views to the government or conduct a public demonstration.
It is this right that allows the people to maintain effective control over their government. If these methods of petition were eliminated, it is easy to see how a tyranny could readily maintain itself.
The Second Amendment to the Constitution states that a well regulated Militia is "necessary to the security of a free State."
Many people often confuse the militia with the national guard units of the States. However, according to Title 10, Section 31, of the U.S. Code, the militia of each State consists of all able-bodied males at least 17 years of age and under 45 years of age who are or have (made) a declaration of intent to become citizens."
If the militia, which is separate from the national guard, is to maintain the security of the States, it is obvious that the right of the people to Keep and bear Arms, should not be infringed" by the Federal government.
Those who framed the Second Amendment realized the importance of the people's right to buy, sell and own guns. As Richard Henry Lee, author of the pamphlet, "Letter from the Federal Framer to the Republic," stated: "To preserve liberty, it is essential that the whole body of the people always possess arms, and be taught alike, especially when young, how to use them."
And Samuel Adams, the great Revolutionary War patriot declared: "The . . . Constitution shall never be construed to authorize Congress . . . to prevent the people of the United States who are peaceable citizens from keeping their own arms."
The Third Amendment states that: "No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law."
In 1765 King George attempted to quarter British troops in homes in Massachusetts in relation to enforcement of the notorious Stamp Act. The people were required to provide a place "for the soldiers to sleep and fire, candles, vinegar and salt, bedding, (and) utensils for dressing their victuals. . . . " The owners of the homes were to receive no compensation. This action so angered the people that they unequivocally refused to obey the King s order.
Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence that George III was at fault for "quartering large bodies of armed troops among Us" and of "keeping among us in times of peace standing armies without the consent or our Legislature."
This had been a major source of irritation between the colonists and the King of England. The Framers of the Third Amendment were rigidly determined to avoid a repeat of the European practice where soldiers were placed in the homes of the people. The soldiers ravished the women and young girls, destroyed furniture and abused the owners.
The language and meaning of the Amendment are clear. The Federal government is prohibited from placing a soldier in a private home during peace time. In times of war this may be done, however, Congress must pass a specific law describing the conditions.
The Fourth Amendment states that: "The Right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."
This Amendment protects not only a person from being searched, but it also protects his house, business and personal and professional papers. However, it should be pointed out that the Amendment only protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures. Reasonable searches are permitted. For example, a judicial officer may issue a search warrant providing the item desired is specifically identified. And police officers are free to search a suspected criminal when making an arrest.
The portion of this amendment protects the American people from arrest except in those cases where a warrant has been properly obtained.
The Fifth Amendment contains five important provisions. The first clause states that: "No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger. . . .
The grand jury is an old English practice. Usually they are comprised of 12 to 23 persons who are selected from the country where the alleged impropriety has occurred. A grand jury deals with serious infractions of the law such as murder, tax evasion, espionage, counterfeiting, etc. It evaluates evidence to determine it a crime has been committed. If the jury decides there is sufficient evidence to substantiate a trial, then it indicts or formally accuses the person of a crime.
If a grand jury collects the evidence and accuses the person of a crime, it is called a presentment. It the jury evaluates evidence submitted by the prosecuting attorney, it is called an indictment. Grand jury meetings are always secret. All that is necessary to bring an indictment is for a majority of the jurors to agree.
A grand jury does not determine the guilt or innocence of a person. That is left to the trial jury.
The Fifth Amendment also excludes military personnel from grand jury proceedings. That is because the military has its own court martial system.
The second clause in the amendment states that: "nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb. . . .
This section is often referred to as the "double jeopardy clause." it prevents a person from being accused twice for the same offence. For instance, a convicted robber cannot be tried again for the identical crime.
However, an individual may be tried separately for more than one offense connected with a particular crime. And a defendant may be tried in a Federal court for the same offense that he was tried in a State court if both laws have been violated and are identical, such as in kidnapping.
The third portion of the Fifth Amendment states that a person shall not be "compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself. . . ." This clause is often called the "self-incrimination clause. It guarantees that a person will not be forced to testify against himself in criminal matters. The defendant may waive this privilege.
The fourth clause of the Fifth Amendment states that a persons may not be: "deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law. . . .
Under this clause the Federal government is prohibited from depriving an individual of his life, liberty or property without due process. There are two classifications of due process. The first one is called procedural due process. This process requires a fair and impartial hearing before a judgment is made. The second type, called substantive due process, deals with the content and original purpose of the law. It challenges the wisdom of the law and decides whether a law is reasonable, fair and just.
The fifth clause of the Fifth Amendment states that private property shall not be taken for public use without just compensation.
The taking of private property for public use is known as eminent domain. The property which is taken must be for a public purpose such as a park, national forest, memorials, government buildings, roads, military posts, etc. The government is forbidden to confiscate property without paying the owner just compensation. This is the market value of the property.
The Sixth Amendment states that: "In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining Witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defence."
This Amendment established the procedures to be utilized in Federal courts in all criminal cases.
A defendant is entitled to a speedy and public trial. This means that the accused should not be made to wait for months or a year or two for trial. A public trial is defined as one in which the media and the public are invited. This amendment prohibits secret trials which are conducted in many totalitarian countries today.
The defendant is also promised an impartial jury will be present for his trial This means that people who have a direct interest in the defendant and the trial will be excluded from sitting on the jury. This safeguard is designed to ensure that the jury will be impartial and fair.
A Federal jury usually consists of 12 people and all must agree on the verdict. The trial must also take place in the area where the offense was alleged to have been committed.
The defendant must be apprised of the charges against him. He then can make an adequate preparation for his trial. The defendant or his lawyers must also be allowed to question witnesses who are testifying against him.
This amendment also guarantees that the accused will be provided with counsel. That is, if he cannot pay for his own lawyer, the court will provide one for him. The defendant may waive the right to counsel and represent himself in court.
The Seventh Amendment states that: "In Suits of common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law."
This amendment requires that jury trials be held in Federal court cases when the amount exceeds twenty dollars. Trial by jury consists of a trial by a jury of 12 people and presided over by a judge.
The requirement of a trial by jury is not applicable where a person seeks remedial protection. 'This is known as suits at equity. Suits developing out of statutory law are also exempt from the requirement. This may consist of restraints upon administrative agencies.
'l'he Eighth Amendment states that: "Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted."
Excessive bail consists of requiring a defendant to post a bond so high that he cannot raise it. Usually bail is prohibited for people charged with murder or other major crimes. Historically, excessive fines have constituted those which deprive a person of the ability to earn a living.
The Amendment also states that "cruel and unusual punishments shall not be inflicted." In 1787 the British Penalty for high treason was to have the guilty party hanged by the neck and then cut down alive, then he was disembowled while yet living. His head was cut off and his body divided into four parts for disposition by the King." English law also inflicted such penalties as flogging and cutting off of hands and ears. The Framers of the Eighth Amendment felt that such punishments should be prohibited. They also considered torture and the serving of a long prison term for a minor infraction to be cruel and unusual punishments. The death penalty was not considered cruel and unusual.
The Ninth Amendment states that: "The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."
According to the doctrine of natural law, the people possess a large body of natural rights which cannot be destroyed or annulled by any government on earth. These rights are granted by Providence unto the people on earth and are discernable in the law of nature. Among these natural rights are life, liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness.
When the Framers drafted the Constitution and formed a government they granted certain powers unto it. All other powers and rights were retained by the people.
The Ninth Amendment was drafted to remind the Federal government that the people retained all other rights not listed in the Bill of Rights. That is, the listing of some of their rights in the first eight amendments was not all conclusive,
The Tenth Amendment states that, "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."
This clause is also designed to remind the Federal government that it was a government of delegated and specifically enumerated powers. In other words, the Federal government is a limited government. All powers not delegated to it are specifically reserved to the State governments or the people.
It should be reemphasized here that the Bill of Rights was originally designed to limit the powers of the Federal government. The Anti-Federalists were worried that the Federal government would become to powerful. The Bill of Rights were never intended to apply to the States. In recent years, however, the Supreme Court has ruled that certain aspects of the Bill of Rights are applicable to the States through the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. This is known as the incorporation doctrine.
There are a number of legal scholars and jurists who feel that the Fourteenth Amendment was not intended by the Congress which drafted it, to make applicable the Bill of Rights to the States. However, the Supreme Court has ruled otherwise.
Regardless of one's views on the incorporation doctrine, it is an ingrained part of our legal system and would require a major change in the Court's position or a Constitutional Amendment to overturn it. As of today, the First Amendment and some of the other amendments are applicable to the States.
"The important fact about these ten Amendments," Charles Warren, a prominent legal historian, observed, is that "they are the essential portion of the Constitution . . . the portion without which the Constitution itself would never have been accepted by the American people." Alter the Bill of Rights was drafted and ratified, the American people became united behind this charter of liberty. Through the adoption of these amendments the principles of natural law became a clearly established part of the Constitution in the minds of the people.
Besides the "legal check which it puts into the hands of the judiciary," Thomas Jefferson and James Madison hoped that a bill of rights would "fix . . . for the people the principles of their political creed." And it did!
Freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, freedom to petition government, freedom to prohibit the quartering of soldiers in our homes, freedom to be secure in our homes against unreasonable searches and seizures, freedom from warrants except upon probable cause, freedom not to be held to answer for a capital crime unless upon a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, freedom not to be subjects for the same offense twice, freedom not to be compelled to be a witness against ourselves, freedom not to be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, freedom that our private property will not be taken for public use without just compensation, freedom to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury in our own county and State, freedom to be informed of charges against us, freedom to confront witnesses against us, freedom to have witnesses testify in our behalf, freedom to be represented by a lawyer, freedom to a jury trial if the value of the controversy exceeds twenty dollars, freedom not to have to post excessive bail, freedom not to be given excessive fines, freedom from cruel and unusual punishments, freedom to retain all those rights not listed in the first eight amendments and freedom to retain all powers of governance not delegated to the Federal government or the States. An impressive list indeed. These rights form an integral part of the American political creed just as Jefferson and Madison hoped they would. And it is up to you and I to preserve these great rights today and tomorrow.
We should always remember that tyranny is the result of ignorance and apathy. It could arise in America just as it has in other parts of the world. The greatest bulwark against tyranny in America is the Declaration of Independence, the U. S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights.