“We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” — Preamble to the Constitution of the United States of America, 1787
By 1786, defects in the post-Revolutionary War Articles of Confederation were apparent, such as the lack of central authority over foreign and domestic commerce. Congress endorsed a plan to draft a new constitution, and on May 25, 1787, the Constitutional Convention convened at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. On September 17, 1787, after three months of debate moderated by convention president George Washington, the new U.S. Constitution, which created a strong federal government with an intricate system of checks and balances, was signed by 38 of the 41 delegates present at the conclusion of the convention. As dictated by Article VII, the document would not become binding until it was ratified by nine of the 13 states.
Beginning on December 7, five states — Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, and Connecticut — ratified it in quick succession. However, other states, especially Massachusetts, opposed the document, as it failed to reserve undelegated powers to the states and lacked constitutional protection of basic political rights, such as freedom of speech, religion, and the press. In February 1788, a compromise was reached under which Massachusetts and other states would agree to ratify the document with the assurance that amendments would be immediately proposed. The Constitution was thus narrowly ratified in Massachusetts, followed by Maryland and South Carolina. On June 21, 1788, New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify the document, and it was subsequently agreed that government under the U.S. Constitution would begin on March 4, 1789. In June, Virginia ratified the Constitution, followed by New York in July.
On September 25, 1789, the first Congress of the United States adopted 12 amendments to the U.S. Constitution--the Bill of Rights--and sent them to the states for ratification. Ten of these amendments were ratified in 1791. In November 1789, North Carolina became the 12th state to ratify the U.S. Constitution. Rhode Island, which opposed federal control of currency and was critical of compromise on the issue of slavery, resisted ratifying the Constitution until the U.S. government threatened to sever commercial relations with the state. On May 29, 1790, Rhode Island voted by two votes to ratify the document, and the last of the original 13 colonies joined the United States. Today the U.S. Constitution is the oldest written constitution in operation in the world.
Under America's first governing document, the Articles of Confederation, the national government was weak and states operated like independent countries. At the 1787 convention, delegates devised a plan for a stronger federal government with three branches--executive, legislative and judicial--along with a system of checks and balances to ensure no single branch would have too much power. The Bill of Rights — 10 amendments guaranteeing basic individual protections such as freedom of speech and religion, the right to bear arms, and the rights of the states — became part of the Constitution in 1791. To date, there have been a total of 27 constitutional amendments.
America's first constitution, the Articles of Confederation, was ratified in 1781, a time when the nation was a loose confederation of states, each operating like independent countries. The national government was comprised of a single legislature, the Congress of the Confederation; there was no president or judicial branch. The Articles of Confederation gave Congress the power to govern foreign affairs, conduct war and regulate currency; however, in reality these powers were sharply limited because Congress had no authority to enforce its requests to the states for money or troops.
Soon after America won its independence from Great Britain with its 1783 victory in the American Revolution, it became increasingly evident that the young republic needed a stronger central government in order to remain stable. In 1786, Alexander Hamilton (1757-1804), a lawyer and politician from New York, called for a constitutional convention to discuss the matter. The Confederation Congress, which in February 1787 endorsed the idea, invited all 13 states to send delegates to a meeting in Philadelphia.
On May 25, 1787, the Constitutional Convention opened in Philadelphia at the Pennsylvania State House, now known as Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence had been adopted 11 years earlier. There were 55 delegates in attendance, representing all 13 states except Rhode Island, which refused to send representatives because it did not want a powerful central government interfering in its economic business. George Washington, who'd become a national hero after leading the Continental Army to victory during the American Revolution, was selected as president of the convention by unanimous vote.
The delegates (who also became known as the "Framers" of the Constitution) were a well-educated group that included merchants, farmers, bankers and lawyers. Many had served in the Continental Army, colonial legislatures or the Continental Congress (known as the Congress of the Confederation as of 1781). In terms of religious affiliation, most were Protestants. Eight delegates were signers of the Declaration of Independence, while six had signed the Articles of Confederation
At age 81, Pennsylvania's Benjamin Franklin (1706-90) was the oldest delegate, while the majority of the delegates were in their 30s and 40s. Political leaders not in attendance at the convention included Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) and John Adams (1735-1826), who were serving as U.S. ambassadors in Europe. John Jay (1745-1829), Samuel Adams (1722-1803) and John Hancock (1737-93) were also absent from the convention. Virginia's Patrick Henry (1736-99) was chosen to be a delegate but refused to attend the convention because he didn't want to give the central government more power, fearing it would endanger the rights of states and individuals.
Reporters and other visitors were barred from the convention sessions, which were held in secret to avoid outside pressures. However, Virginia's James Madison (1751-1836) kept a detailed account of what transpired behind closed doors. (In 1837, Madison's widow Dolly sold some of his papers, including his notes from the convention debates, to the federal government for $30,000.)
The delegates had been tasked by Congress with amending the Articles of Confederation; however, they soon began deliberating proposals for an entirely new form of government. After intensive debate, which continued throughout the summer of 1787 and at times threatened to derail the proceedings, they developed a plan that established three branches of national government — executive, legislative and judicial. A system of checks and balances was put into place so that no single branch would have too much authority. The specific powers and responsibilities of each branch were also laid out.
Among the more contentious issues was the question of state representation in the national legislature. Delegates from larger states wanted population to determine how many representatives a state could send to Congress, while small states called for equal representation. The issue was resolved by the Connecticut Compromise, which proposed a bicameral legislature with proportional representation of the states in the lower house (House of Representatives) and equal representation in the upper house (Senate).
Another controversial topic was slavery. Although some northern states had already started to outlaw the practice and the Continental Congress had passed the Northwest Ordinance forbidding slavery in the Northwest Territory, they went along with the southern states' insistence that slavery was an issue for individual states to decide and should be kept out of the Constitution. Many northern delegates believed that without agreeing to this, the South wouldn't join the Union. For the purposes of taxation and determining how many representatives a state could send to Congress, it was decided that slaves would be counted as three-fifths of a person. Additionally, it was agreed that Congress wouldn't be allowed to prohibit the slave trade before 1808, and states were required to return fugitive slaves to their owners.
By September 1787, the convention's five-member Committee of Style (Hamilton, Madison, William Samuel Johnson of Connecticut, Gouverneur Morris of New York, Rufus King of Massachusetts) had drafted the final text of the Constitution, which consisted of some 4,200 words. On September 17, George Washington was the first to sign the document. Of the 55 delegates, a total of 39 signed; some had already left Philadelphia, and three — George Mason (1725-92) and Edmund Randolph (1753-1813) of Virginia, and Elbridge Gerry (1744-1813) of Massachusetts — refused to approve the document. In order for the Constitution to become law, it then had to be ratified by nine of the 13 states.
James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, with assistance from John Jay, wrote a series of essays to persuade people to ratify the Constitution. The 85 essays, known collectively as "The Federalist" (or "The Federalist Papers"), detailed how the new government would work, and were published under the pseudonym Publius (Latin for "public") in newspapers across the states starting in the fall of 1787. (People who supported the Constitution became known as Federalists, while those opposed it because they thought it gave too much power to the national government were called Anti-Federalists.)
Beginning on December 7, 1787, five states — Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia and Connecticut — ratified the Constitution in quick succession. However, other states, especially Massachusetts, opposed the document, as it failed to reserve undelegated powers to the states and lacked constitutional protection of basic political rights, such as freedom of speech, religion and the press. In February 1788, a compromise was reached under which Massachusetts and other states would agree to ratify the document with the assurance that amendments would be immediately proposed. The Constitution was thus narrowly ratified in Massachusetts, followed by Maryland and South Carolina. On June 21, 1788, New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify the document, and it was subsequently agreed that government under the U.S. Constitution would begin on March 4, 1789. George Washington was inaugurated as America's first president on April 30, 1789. In June of that same year, Virginia ratified the Constitution, and New York followed in July. On February 2, 1790, the U.S. Supreme Court held its first session, marking the date when the government was fully operative.
Rhode Island, the last holdout of the original 13 states, finally ratified the Constitution on May 29, 1790.
In 1789, Madison, then a member of the newly established U.S. House of Representatives, introduced 19 amendments to the Constitution. On September 25, 1789, Congress adopted 12 of the amendments and sent them to the states for ratification. Ten of these amendments, known collectively as the Bill of Rights, were ratified and became part of the Constitution on December 10, 1791. The Bill of Rights guarantees individuals certain basic protections as citizens, including freedom of speech, religion and the press; the right to bear and keep arms; the right to peaceably assemble; protection from unreasonable search and seizure; and the right to a speedy, public trial by an impartial jury, and powers not specifically (enumerated) to the federal government would be reverted (delegated) to the people and the states by the 9th and 10th amendments.. For his contributions to the drafting of the Constitution, as well as its ratification, Madison became known as "Father of the Constitution.”
To date, there have been thousands of proposed amendments to the Constitution. However, only 17 amendments have been ratified in addition to the Bill of Rights because the process isn't easy — after a proposed amendment makes it through Congress, it must be ratified by three-fourths of the states. The most recent amendment to the Constitution, Article XXVII, which deals with congressional pay raises, was proposed in 1789 and ratified in 1992.
In the 225 years since the Constitution was created, America has stretched across an entire continent and its population and economy have expanded more than the document's framers likely ever could have envisioned. Through all the changes, the Constitution has endured and adapted.
The framers knew it wasn't a perfect document. However, as Benjamin Franklin said on the closing day of the convention in 1787:
"I agree to this Constitution with all its faults, if they are such, because I think a central government is necessary for us. I doubt too whether any other Convention we can obtain may be able to make a better Constitution."
About a year ago, Taymour Karim, 31-year-old doctor in Syria was abducted and tortured for his protest against the government in Damascus.
His captors beat him so hard that they knocked out two of his teeth and broke three of his ribs, yet he refused to give up the names of his friends.
Despite his efforts, his computer had already told the men beating him everything they wanted to know.
“They knew everything about me,” he told Bloomberg. “The people I talked to, the plans, the dates, the stories of other people, every movement, every word I said through Skype. They even knew the password of my Skype account... my computer was arrested before me.”
To many Americans, Karim’s tragedy seems like an awful story of abuse in far off country, but this week, we learned that the United States government isn’t much different.
The NSA now has access to records of every call made on Verizon cell phones in America, and is separately authorized by the Patriot Act to conduct wiretaps.
We recently learned that the NSA is pulling our personal information, photos, and emails from the servers of popular websites like Google, Facebook, and YouTube, and that they’re tracking our credit card purchases as well.
While we don’t yet know what the Obama administration plans to do with the details of who we’re calling, how long we’re speaking to them, and where we’re calling from, that’s beside the point.
The real issue at stake is the growing chasm between the powers we granted to government in our Constitution, and the powers government has seized to create an administrate state that governs by rules and not our organic laws.
Law professor Jonathan Turley writes in the Washington Post of the administrative state, which he calls “the fourth branch of government.” He notes that, “in 2007, Congress enacted 138 public laws, while federal agencies finalized 2,926 rules, including 61 major regulations.” In this context, it is irrelevant who resides in the White House or holds the House speaker’s gavel. America is not a nation of laws, but of rules. Only a renewed cultural will to true reform, coupled with political leadership, can correct that.
As James Madison wrote in Federalist No. 51:
“But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.”
Madison warned us of the masterminds and administrators when he wrote in Federalist No. 10:
“From this view of the subject it may be concluded that a pure democracy, by which I mean a society consisting of a small number of citizens, who assemble and administer the government in person, can admit of no cure for the mischiefs of faction. A common passion or interest will, in almost every case, be felt by a majority of the whole; a communication and concert result from the form of government itself; and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party or an obnoxious individual. Hence it is that such democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths. Theoretic politicians, who have patronized this species of government, have erroneously supposed that by reducing mankind to a perfect equality in their political rights, they would, at the same time, be perfectly equalized and assimilated in their possessions, their opinions, and their passions.”
Civil liberties were at the core of the American founding, and the recognition of these liberties in our Constitution and Bill of Rights is supposed to separate us from the totalitarian dictatorships of the world. But these liberties are quickly eroding, and all Americans, regardless of their political leanings, should be deeply concerned about the gross abuses of power we’ve seen from both Democrat and Republican administrations in the past 100 years of progressivism.
Even politicians as different in their views as Vice President Al Gore and U.S. Senator Ted Cruz agree: the government has infringed too far on our personal lives and liberties, and it’s time to take a stand.
A thousand paper cuts can be as deadly as a single gunshot, and our civil liberties are bleeding out from the sheer volume of direct attacks by the Obama administration. Whether it’s the IRS auditing grandmothers who have worked with the Tea Party, or the EPA targeting conservative groups, or the Justice Department harassing reporters, or even HHS extorting funds from health insurance providers, every day we learn about a different department violating our rights.
What’s scariest of all is that each of these scandals continued for months or even years before they came to light.
It’s fair to wonder exactly how many other federal agencies are abusing power, targeting the administration’s foes, and invading our privacy under the cover of darkness. In fact, at this point, all areas of government deserve a healthy degree of suspicion.
In the era of the paternalistic surveillance state — where government gives itself permission to invade your privacy because it think it knows what is “best” for you — blind indifference is possibly the most dangerous threat to our freedoms.
Conservatives were roundly mocked for suggesting that ObamaCare authorized death panels, but after HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius spoke to Congress about choosing “when someone lives and someone dies,” it’s entirely reasonable to question whether placing so much power in a bureaucrat’s hands is such a wise idea.
We need to start viewing an attack by the government on one set of Americans as an attack on all Americans. When the IRS audits Tea Party organizations, or judges authorize the NSA to spy on all Verizon customers, we are all victims. The government could just as easily have chosen one of us to harass.
And with no end in sight to the rise of the powerful federal agencies, particularly with ObamaCare giving the bureaucracy even further control over health care decisions, there’s no reason to believe government will decide on its own to start upholding our civil liberties.
Upholding the Constitution is not a partisan issue, but rather an American issue, and if we don’t start standing up for our rights, there’s going to be no one left when the surveillance state comes for us.
Mark Levin in his 2012 bestseller “Ameritopia: The Unmaking of America”, wrote:
“In Liberty and Tyranny, I described the nature of individual liberty and the civil society in a constitutional republic, including the essential principles of America’s societal and political order. I also discussed the growing tyranny of government — statism, as I broadly labeled it — which threatens our liberty, the character of our country, and our way of life. At the time I warned that if we do not come to grips with the significance of this transformation, we will be devoured by it.
The symptoms of the tyranny that threatens liberty and republicanism have been acknowledged throughout time, including by iconic Americans. For example, Supreme Court associate justice Joseph Story, among America’s most prominent legal thinkers, explained in 1829, “governments are not always overthrown by direct and open assaults. They are not always battered down by the arms of conquerors, or the successful daring of usurpers. There is often concealed the dry rot, which eats into the vitals, when all is fair and stately on the outside. And to republics this has been the most common fatal disease. The continual drippings of corruption may wear away the solid rock…”
During the three years since the publication of Liberty and Tyranny, and despite growing alarm by an increasingly alert segment of the public, too many of our fellow citizens remain oblivious to the perilousness of their surroundings, not realizing or accepting the precariousness of their liberty and the civil society in the face of the federal government’s dramatic, albeit predictable, engorgement of power, This is the grave reality of our day.”
Levin was prophetic.
Levin noted in Ameritopia that the architects of what he correctly calls a “post-Constitutional America” are “too numerous to list” He focuses on President Woodrow Wilson, the progressive hero of the early twentieth century who was himself a liberal academic as professor and author before becoming president of Princeton. Levin notes of Wilson, who used his presidency to vastly increase the power of the federal government, that he “proved the insight of Madison’s fear — that is, without the Constitution’s limits on the federal government’s authority, an election could empower a temporary majority or faction to fundamentally alter the governmental structure in ways that threaten the individual’s liberty and rights.”
Other nations have attempted to emulate our Declaration of Independence, Revolution, and Constitution and failed. Most notably were the French Revolution (1789-1799) and the Russian Revolution of 1917-18. Both the French and Russian Revolutions began in the streets and escalated into a bloody civil war between the classes. Both issued declarations of rights based on what the government would give the people. Both failed because they did not recognize that rights were unalienable and emanated from God, not from government. Neither recognized that it was the role of government to protect those rights from the infringements of government not to define and modify those rights.
President Obama said in an interview prior to his election in 2008 that the Constitution was a document of “negative rights.” He said the Constitution did not go far enough in enumerating rights the people should have. In a sense he was right. Yes the Constitution does define the powers the federal government has — specifically in Article I, Section. But Obama neglected to mention that those powers not so enumerated belong to the people — not the government.
Our Founding Fathers did not trust big government. One of the main reasons that the Constitution was developed as it was and one of the main reasons the States agreed to confer authority on this new federal government while retaining most of their authority was to promote and secure liberty, private property rights, trade, commerce, a stable law, a transparent law, equal justice under the law and yes to secure the nation from foreign threats. But then they made certain that not only would they divide power within the federal government, not only would they enumerate powers, specific powers to certain branches of the federal government they would make it clear that the people under the Ninth Amendment, and the states under the Tenth Amendment, that their sovereignty would be preserved and all the other amendments in the Bill of Rights are intended to insure that the individual is protected. Otherwise the Constitution would not have been ratified by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, by the Commonwealth of Virginia by the State of New York. Three of the big states that objected most and were concerned most about the centralization of power in the federal government. This is our history.