Our Constitution Is Beacon Light Of Human Liberty
Today is the 153rd anniversary of signing of the Constitution of the United States. On this day in `1787, some thirty odd members of the Constitutional Convention, sitting in Philadelphia, affixed their signatures to the document with which few, if any of them were satisfied, but which they believed was the best upon which the majority could agree.
Even George Washington, who presided over the meeting, was dubious as to whether the constitution would be adopted by the thirteen states; and even if adopted, he had little faith in its permanence.
How much better the makers of the constitution wrought then they themselves anticipated!
Today there exists not an instrument of government anywhere which is more strongly entrenched in the affections of the people; nor is there one which gives so much promise of enduring in a world in flux and revolution.
The document was born out of a great national crisis.
The thirteen colonies successfully had won their political independence from Great Britain, but they had failed utterly to achieve national unity. On the contrary, the drift was steadily toward disunion, civil war and anarchy.
The Articles of Confederation made what national government there was both feeble, incompetent and futile.
A few of the more far sighted among the leaders — Washington, Madison, Hamilton and Franklin, among others — saw the imperative necessity for action if the country were to be saved, and thus it was that the governors of twelve states were prevailed upon to appoint delegates to consider revision of the Articles of Confederation.
That was their instructions.
But happily for us the delegates voted to disregard these instructions and drew up an entirely new constitution for the United States.
Nor is it fair to those who wrote the constitution to say that their prevailing temper was conservative — that the aim they had in view was not only to secure the unity of the country, but to assure the security of property as well.
Perhaps the frankest statement as to this prevailing view came from Roger Sherman, who said:
The people should have as little to do as may be with the government.
Thus it was that when the constitution was completed some twenty delegates refused to sign it and it was denounced by such famed patriots as Patrick Henry and old Sam Adams as “a rich man’s document.”
This fear of the dangers of “mob government” or too much control by the “masses” is evident to even the casual student of the work of the convention.
The president was not to be chosen by the people, neither were the senators. To select the former an electoral college was set up, which theoretically was to be composed of the best men in each state who in turn would meet and choose with deliberation and care the man best suited to be president. Of course, it only worked that way in the first two elections. But senators continued to be named by the state legislatures until after the turn of the present century.
The president’s power was curbed by provisions that all treaties should be subject to the test of a two thirds vote of the senate, while all appointments were made subject to senate confirmation.
The president, however, could put a check on both houses of congress through the veto power, while wide but deliberately vague authority was given to a powerful judiciary appointed for life.
Moreover, in the original draft there was no Bill of Rights, no protection for freedom of speech, the practice of religion and the press.
It was Thomas Jefferson who refused to give his support to the constitution unless a pledge were given that the Bill of Rights would be incorporated as soon as possible after the new government was established, which was done.
The constitution has proved its worth through the years. It has provided security for property, but also has safeguarded human rights. Today it is the beacon light of freedom in a world over much of which has spread the darkness of totalitarianism.
It is the hope of Democracy in a world where despots sneer at popular government as decadent and hopeless.
As we ourselves sustain and support the constitution we shall prove these despots to be liars and frauds; and thus hasten the day when the ideals of liberty which it enshrines shall once more become the common heritage of humanity.
Fresno Bee Republican (Fresno, California) Sep 17, 1940