Friday, August 21, 2015

Constitutionally First

The 4th of March passes quietly and without fanfare in most, if not all, of the lives of the citizens of these re-United States. 

However, the day is of much greater import than the 4th of July and should be celebrated accordingly. On the 4th of March in 1789, the Congress of the United States met for the first time operating under the precepts of the Constitution of the United States.

In June of 1776, the band of rebels, traitors, and opportunists calling themselves the Second Continental Congress appointed committees to draft two critical documents. One committee wrote the Declaration of Independence. The other was tasked with formulating a constitution that would unite the rebel alliance governments of the 13 British colonies on the American continent declared as independent states by the work of the former committee, into a confederation that would cooperate in government, not just for the struggle against the British crown, but in perpetuity

A draft of the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union was finally completed in the summer of 1777, approved by the Second Continental Congress in November of that year, and submitted to the states for ratification. While the states wrangled and dithered over ratification, the approved draft served as the de facto constitution. The last state, Maryland, to ratify the Articles of Confederation, did so on March 1, 1781.

The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union proved to be a weak and relatively ineffective constitution as far as the central governance of the new nation was concerned. As luck would have it, British bungling, and the arrival of a French army and fleet to aid the American rebels in 1781, outweighed the dysfunction of the rebel government. 

And, luckily, the British occupied and governed a significant portion of the colonies throughout the Revolution. 

But, once the United States were truly on their own to govern the entire lash-up, the inherent weaknesses of the Confederation government became glaringly obvious. In short, the operation of the central government was completely at the mercy of the sovereignty of the states in all but a relatively few, and minor, matters over which the Articles of Confederation gave it power. It was as if, using today's re-United States as example, the states had all of the federal government's powers of taxation and appropriation exclusively, and the federal government had no power to compel the states' compliance in any matters.

The Confederacy was so dysfunctional (as would be the Southern Confederacy in the next century) that even ratification of the 1783 Treaty of Paris, ending conflict between the United States and Great Britain and granting the United States everything for which they had fought, languished for months because the Confederacy could not compel enough state representatives to attend a congressional session.

A Constitutional Convention was convened in Philadelphia to draft a new, more federally strong constitution. Thirty-eight of forty-one delegates to the convention signed and approved the new constitution on September 17, 1787, and it was sent to the states for ratification.  Article VII of the new constitution required 9 of the 13 states' ratification for it to become effective. The ninth state to ratify, New Hampshire, did so on June 21, 1788, and the new constitution designated March 4th of the next year as the date on which the First Congress of the United States would convene under the Constitution of the United States.

The 4th of March is a day to reflect on the fact that the endurance of the Constitution of the United States is no mere accident. The original Constitution, with appropriate amendments mostly strengthening the protections of the people for, and by, whom the Constitution exists, has proved a remarkable standard of government, unique at its origination and copied in whole or in part by numerous new nations since. The Constitution, in its present amended form, is, in the Colonel's not-so-humble and not-so-little experienced opinion, the single greatest and most effective government, as Lincoln said, "of the people, by the people, for the people."

All who find themselves, by election of the people, representatives of the people's will and guardians of the people's rights would do well to daily reflect on their solemn oath to "support and defend" the people's Constitution against "all enemies, foreign and domestic." 

Failure to govern according to the Constitution makes one a "domestic enemy" of the people.
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