In 1787, on July 4, consistent with the nationwide custom, Philadelphia celebrated the Declaration of Independence with bell ringing, marching with fife and drums, the salute of guns, and speeches. It was Wednesday, and the constitutional delegates had taken the day off. That “The Grand Convention may form a constitution for an eternal Republic!” was the toast of the day. The Pennsylvania Herald declared, “With zeal and confidence we expect from the Federal Convention a system of government adequate to the security and preservation of those rights which were promulgated by the ever memorable Declaration of Independence.” Because it was conducted in secret, however, the public was unaware that the delegates to the Constitutional Convention were on the verge of failure. Without fair representation, there would be no new constitution. This dilemma was finally solved by allowing all states, big or small, two senators.*
In 1787, the Committee of Style and Arrangements, elected by the Constitutional Congress, proceeded to codify what had started out on May 28 as a list of fifteen resolutions presented four months earlier by Edmund Randolph. Twenty-three resolutions for the Constitution emerged from their debate. Rearranging them for orderly reading, Gouverneur Morris of Pennsylvania put them together as the Constitution. It contained seven articles with short subsections and a preamble that starts with the sovereigns under God, “We the People.”**
On September 17, 1787, in Philadelphia, members of the Constitutional Convention signed a draft of the Constitution. Subject to ratification by nine or more states, America would become a representative republic. The unalienable rights of man as sovereign under God over government are to be guarded by separations of power among the three branches of the central and state governments. Constitutional separations of power also help to protect against infringement by hierarchical authoritarians or a misled citizen majority (such as occurs in a pure democracy).
Washington, as president of the convention, transmitted the proposed Constitution to the people’s representatives, who were then still operating under the Articles of Confederation. Referring to man’s sinful nature and the dangers of collusion of government officials for personal power, Washington wrote: “The great powers to be vested in General Government of the Union and the impropriety of delegating such extensive trust to one body of men is evident: hence results the necessity of a different organization.”***
The ninth state, New Hampshire, ratified the Constitution at its state convention on July 21, 1788. When Congress was informed, it set March 4, 1789, to be the start for the new government. On April 30, 1789, George Washington took the oath of office and became the first president of the United States. Another anxious year passed before that government became fully operational. Fourteen years after the God-honoring Declaration of Independence was ratified, the benefits of separation from authoritarian elites became apparent.
Charles Pinkney, who at the outset of the convention doubted the success of the undertaking, was amazed at the final result: “Nothing less than that superintending hand of Providence, that so miraculously carried us through the war, could have brought it [the Constitution] about so complete, upon the whole.”****
In 1791, on July 19, three years following the signing of the Constitution, and having come through a severe personal depression because of continuing chaos in the states, George Washington wrote in a letter to Catherine Macaulay Graham: “The United States enjoys a scene of prosperity and tranquility under the new government, that could hardly have been hoped for.”*****
*Catherine Drinker Bowen, Miracle at Philadelphia: The Story of the Constitutional Convention (Boston: Little, Brown, 1966), 139.
***William L. Hickey, The Constitution of the United States of America (Philadelphia: Nabu Press, 1851), 188.
****Hamilton Albert Long, The American Ideal of 1776 (Philadelphia: Heritage Books, Inc., 1963), 205-206.
*****Harry Atwood, The Constitution Explained, 4th ed. (Merrimac, MA: Destiny Publishers, 1992) 5.
~ D. Norris