To Make A People Secure

Bobby J. Demott

Behind the Stars and Stripes stands a living document which guarantees the freedoms that the flag represents.

When the colonists declared themselves free from England on July 4, 1776, they had only a few general rules to govern their own affairs. The Declaration of Independence was a severance of America from the Mother Country. Removing the ties of the parent country left a void on the American scene. Each colony had become a state, governing itself as would a nation, printing its own currency and even putting tariffs upon goods coming in from other states.

The first effort at bringing the thirteen states into a single unit was the creation of the Articles of Confederation which were written by John Dickinson in 1776 and passed by the Continental Congress on November 15, 1777. Upon the ratification by the Thirteen Original States, the new guide for government took effect on March 1, 1781.

The Continental Congress then became the "Congress of Confederation." The Articles gave Congress the power to control national and international affairs, to coin money, to limit the size of the standing armies of the states, and to control the alliances made by the states among themselves. The power to tax was still the province of the states, and the Confederation received funds only by requesting them from the states. This left Washington and his armies in a very weak position during the Revolution, for each state contributed only what it desired. The soldiers talked frequently of mutiny because they received only a fraction of their authorized pay.

Congress had very little authority in controlling the actions of the several states and saw that the Confederation could not deal effectively with foreign powers who still looked upon each states as a sovereign power in itself. Representatives of the states of Maryland and Virginia met at Mount Vernon on March 24–26, 1785, to try to solve some of the problems experienced by the individual states. This led to a second meeting on September 11–14, 1786, at Annapolis, Maryland, to which five states sent representatives. This group sent a message to the Congress which resulted, on February 21, 1787, in a call for a meeting of delegates from the states to convene on May 25, 1787, in Philadelphia for the purpose of rewriting the Articles of Confederation. The delegates soon decided that writing a new document would be easier than revising the Articles.

Delegates from each state were careful not to allow power to be shifted to other states at the expense of their own. For example, delegates from states with small populations did not want the members of Congress to be elected in proportion to the population of the state, and delegates from the populous states insisted that the Congress be made up of persons representing a definite number of people.

The deadlock was broken by the genius of two delegates from Connecticut, Oliver Ellsworth and Roger Sherman, the latter being the only person to sign the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Association, the Articles of Confederation and the Federal Constitution. These two delegates proposed what has come to be known as "The Great Compromise." In this, the Congress would be made up of two bodies, the House of Representatives, one whose members would be elected on the basis of population, one representative for every 30,000 people. The other body, the Senate, would be made up of two persons from each state, regardless of the population or geographical size.

The original Constitution consisted of seven articles the first related to the Legislative Branch, the second to the Executive Branch, the third to the Judicial Branch, the fourth to the relations among the states. Articles five, six, and seven related to methods of amending, the supremacy of United States law, and ratification.

Fifty-five delegates took part in the meetings in Philadelphia. The Constitution was approved in Convention on September 17, 1787, and 39 of the delegates placed their signatures thereon. The delegates described their efforts as Novus ordo seclorum, meaning "the new order of the ages." This quotation is from the writings of Virgil, composed nearly 20 centuries earlier. The words are engraved on $1 bills now in use.

Many of the delegates to the convention, as well as other people, campaigned heavily for ratification. This was done by speeches, but more memorable were the newspaper articles and brochures, some printed under fictitious names, such as "A Landholder" and "Publius." The new Constitution was effective when the ninth state ratified it on June 21, 1788.

Sixty-five men were appointed by the states to the Federal Convention, 39 signed the document, 10 never attended, and 16 attended at least a part of the convention but did not sign the document.

With only examples of unsuitable forms of government in European countries to guide them, the men who formed the Constitution did remarkably well, for they produced a balanced structure of power between equality, justice and liberty. As a rule and guide for human conduct, the Constitution is second only to the book of one’s religion.