April 20, 2009 – Just as the first chapter in the Book of Genesis says, “In the beginning…” I suppose any discussion of the Constitution should start at the beginning as well. The question then arises, when exactly was the beginning? Was the beginning when the Constitution was drafted, or when it was agreed upon by the delegates? Possibly it was when it was ratified by the states, or maybe it was when George Washington was sworn in as our first President? I would venture to guess that most people assume the beginning means when it was ratified by the states. Unfortunately, they would be wrong.
The beginning goes back eleven years prior to the time the words ‘We the people…’ were ever written upon a piece of parchment. The true beginning occurred just about the same time the Declaration of Independence was written.
I say that because to understand the Constitution, you must not only understand it’s meaning, but why it was written as well. The Constitution was written to replace the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union.
The Articles of Confederation was an attempt by the states to set up some system of government that bonded the states together into one single entity, yet still leave the states as free and independent sovereignties. They also set guidelines as to how the states would deal with each other, as well as how they would work together to defend the whole, newly named, United States.
Remember when you were a kid, you and your friends would get together and form a club? You always came up with a set or rules, established specifically for your club alone. Well, that is similar to what the Articles of Confederation were, a simple set of rules that established a simple system of government, while imposing rules upon the independent states.
This first attempt at a written Constitution was done during the early stages of the War for Independence. As the states were fighting to defend their liberty, it is logical to presume that they were not very likely to up and just create a system of government that held as much power and authority over them as the one they were currently fighting.
Even so, during the drafting of the Articles of Confederation, there was a group of reformers, commonly known as “federalists” who felt that the proposed Articles did not give the proposed government enough power to perform its’ intended duties.
The opposition, the “anti-Federalists”, felt that these limitations were essential to preserve the sovereignty of the states, and the liberty of the people. Also, the larger states opposed the Articles as well because they were expected to contribute more to the defense of the Union, but as each state held only one vote in Congress, they only had the same amount of representation as the smaller states.
Nevertheless, the Articles were written, and on November 17, 1777, deliberations began with the following being the overall sentiment, “Permit us, then, earnestly to recommend these articles to the immediate and dispassionate attention of the legislatures of the respective states. Let them be candidly reviewed under a sense of the difficulty of combining in one general system the various sentiments and interests of a continent divided into so many sovereign and independent communities, under a conviction of the absolute necessity of uniting all our councils and all our strength, to maintain and defend our common liberties…” Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789
Since the states were at war, they felt they needed some form of government, so the Articles of Confederation established the de facto system, “the United States in Congress assembled” until they were ratified in 1781, at which point the new government was known as “Congress of the Confederation.”
The United States now had its own system of government, and would soon win the war, gaining their independence. Why then the need for a new Constitution? That question will be answered in Chapter 2.
Live your life in such a way that when your feet hit the floor in the morning, Satan shudders and says “OH SHIT!!…. HE’S AWAKE!!”
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