|The Constitution of the United States, signed today, 1787.|
It creates the system whereby the President and Commander-in-Chief of U.S. military forces is elected along with a House and Senate. The Commander-in-Chief's budget must be initiated by the House and senior appointments and treaties must be approved by the Senate.
In 1787 The war with Britain had officially ended four years before, in 1783. But the new American government was not functioning. The United States was vulnerable to another British invasion. Yes, the Second Continental Congress had created the Articles of Confederation to outline the rights of the federal government.
But Americans were reluctant to get rid of a tyrant in London only to succumb to a new one in America. As a result:
- Not one state was paying all of its federal taxes.
- The Federal Government had no way to force collection.
- Pirates were attacking American ships with impunity.
- Troops were deserting and states felt defenseless.
Congress technically had the authority to wage war, regulate currency, and conduct foreign policy, but it had no way to force the states to supply money or troops. So James Madison and other leaders convened the Constitutional Convention to get the states to create a unified central government. In May 1787, the 55 delegates spent four months in a hot summer in Philadelphia, fighting off bloodthirsty bugs. The average age of the delegates was just 42, but overall they were highly educated. The delegates included:
• Benjamin Franklin, who at 81 had to be carried around Philadelphia in a sedan chair because he could no longer walk.
• Alexander Hamilton, who was lax in attendance but afterward emerged as the principal author of the Federalist Papers, famous essays arguing why the Constitution should be ratified.
• James Madison, who showed up every single day, took detailed notes on all the proceedings, and argued tirelessly for a strong central government. Madison was small, 5'6" and 120 pounds, but he became known as the best informed person at the convention and became known as "the Father of the Constitution."
• Governor Morris, a charming man with a peg leg, who did more than flirt with other mens' wives, gave 173 speeches and wrote the Constitution's Preamble.
• George Washington, who was immediately elected president of the Convention and rarely spoke throughout the convention.
The resulting document was not just a revision of the Articles of Confederation. It became a new document, a Constitution of the United States. The delegates eventually came to an agreement on the essential purposes of government, a system of checks and balances, the division of powers between federal and state governments, rules for interstate trade, war-making powers and representation according to population.
(John Tepper Marlin, Ph.D., is Chief Economist of the Warrior Family Foundation. His summary of the Convention is abbreviated and adapted from Garrison Keillor's comments on the day in The Writer's Almanac.)