After a long, hot summer of debates and deliberations, the Constitutional Convention concluded its work. George Washington had been elected as the presiding officer; eighty-one-year-old Benjamin Franklin had offered his sage advice with pithy comments. James Madison, who arrived with The Virginia Plan, is remembered as “the father of the Constitution.”
The delegates were men of knowledge, political experience, relatively young, and well educated. They were planters, lawyers, merchants, and men of independent wealth. They believed that men were self-interested and loved power; therefore, government had to have restraints to bridle ambitions.
The Convention had been called for the purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation.
The decision was soon made to replace the ineffective Articles of Confederation with a federal system that could regulate interstate commerce, establish a monetary system, and have the necessary powers to govern. Our Constitution provides for a separation of powers into three separate and independent branches: legislative, executive, and judicial. Checks were placed on each branch to balance power. The people would elect members of the House of Representatives for two-year terms. Each state would have two senators. The president was and still is elected by the electoral college. The Supreme Court justices and all other federal judges are appointed by the president for life and approved by the Senate.
The preamble states the purposes of the Constitution: “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.”
For the Constitution to go into effect, three quarters of the states had to ratify it in state conventions. Several states were not in favor of accepting it. The Anti-Federalists opposed ratification and argued it gave too much power to the national government and there was no Bill of Rights. The Federalists argued the Constitution was necessary.
The Framers created a republic, a representative democracy. They believed government should be limited and based on the consent of the governed. They compromised on issues when necessary. They forged a new government that was written in broad, flexible terms and only amended twenty-seven times. Many of these broadened voting rights. The government has been changed by actions of the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government, custom and usage, political parties, interest groups, and the media.
Our Constitution is the oldest in the world and has been used as a model for many others. It has served us well since its ratification in 1788.
Claudette Brown is a member of Daughters of the American Revolution and on the group’s Constitution Week Committee. She is a retired government teacher at Nacogdoches High School.