September 17 marks the 234th anniversary of the U.S. Constitution. After its approval by the delegates of the Constitutional Convention, the Constitution was sent to the 13 states for ratification; 3/4ths of the states were needed for ratification. Delaware was the first state to ratify it on December 7, 1787, with all its 30 delegates at its state ratifying convention approving it, and on June 21, 1788, New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify the Constitution making it the law of the land.
Background to the Convention:
The United States became an independent nation on July 4, 1776. The Continental Congress approved of the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union-our nation’s first constitution. It was ratified by the states in March of 1781. The Articles of Confederation had many weaknesses which included:
It had no means to enforce its laws
It was authorized to conduct foreign policy including making treaties conduct war, receive, and send ambassadors but it had no way of enforcing any of it actions
States could impose its own tariffs.
It did not have a steady stream of revenue and could not pay down its debts or pay its bills.
Congress rarely had a quorum, and any changes in the Articles needed all states to concur.
A number of people realized that the Articles was defective. An early attempt to address the issue took place at the Annapolis Convention held in September 1786. Delegates from five states attended which wasn’t enough for a quorum. However, the delegates proposed that a full convention be held. Congress asked the states to send delegates to a convention in Philadelphia. Twelve states agreed to send delegates to Philadelphian. On May 25, the Constitutional Convention began.
The delegates were made up of the most qualified America had to offer. All together there were 55 delegates that participated in the convention. They included George Washington, the “Indispensable Man” who served as of the president of the convention, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, who became known as the “Father of the Constitution,” Roger Sherman, Edmund Randolph, and George Mason.
There was much debate and compromise between states with large populations vs. states with small populations including how the chief executive was to be chosen, how the senate would be chosen, and counting slaves in the census. Today, there are many that believe that the delegates considered blacks to be less that human, hence counting five blacks as three men. States with large slave populations wanted to count slaves as full people which would have given slave states more members in the House of Representatives. Free states and states with small slave populations objected which resulted in the 3/5ths compromise which was repealed when the 14th Amendment was passed.
There were times when the convention almost dissolved, but by mid-September the debates were over and on September 17th, 39 delegates signed the constitution. The Constitution was sent to the 13 states for ratification in which 3/4ths of the states were needed for ratification. Delaware was the first state to ratify it on December 7, 1787, with all its 30 delegates at its state ratifying convention approving it. and on June 21, 1788, New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify the Constitution making it the law of the land.
Comments on the U.S. Constitution:
“The Adoption of the Constitution will demonstrate as visibly the finger of Providence as any possible event in the course of human affairs can ever designate it.” George Washington
“I regard it [the Constitution] as the work of the purest patriots and wisest statemen that ever existed, aided by the smiles oof a benignant Providence…It almost appears as a Divine interposition in our behalf.” Daniel Webster
“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” John Adams
Recommended reading: Miracle at Philadelphia: The Story of the Constitutional Convention by Catherine Drinker Bowen.
A Worthy Company by M. E. Bradford