Saturday, September 17, 2011

Happy Birthday U.S. Constitution!

It's a very special day for lovers of freedom in the most exceptional country on earth!


From the National Archives:
On September 17, 1787, a majority of the delegates to the Constitutional Convention approved the documents over which they had labored since May. After a farewell banquet, delegates swiftly returned to their homes to organize support, most for but some against the proposed charter. Before the Constitution could become the law of the land, it would have to withstand public scrutiny and debate. The document was "laid before the United States in Congress assembled" on September 20. For 2 days, September 26 and 27, Congress debated whether to censure the delegates to the Constitutional Convention for exceeding their authority by creating a new form of government instead of simply revising the Articles of Confederation. They decided to drop the matter. Instead, on September 28, Congress directed the state legislatures to call ratification conventions in each state. Article VII stipulated that nine states had to ratify the Constitution for it to go into effect. \
It took 10 months for the first nine states to approve the Constitution. The first state to ratify was Delaware, on December 7, 1787, by a unanimous vote, 30 - 0. The featured document is an endorsed ratification of the federal Constitution by the Delaware convention. The names of the state deputies are listed, probably in the hand of a clerk. The signature of the President of Delaware's convention, Thomas Collins, attests to the validity of the document, which also carries the state seal in its left margin. Delaware's speediness thwarted Pennsylvania's attempt to be first to ratify in the hope of securing the seat of the National Government in Pennsylvania.

The first real test for ratification occurred in Massachusetts, where the fully recorded debates reveal that the recommendation for a bill of rights proved to be a remedy for the logjam in the ratifying convention. New Hampshire became the ninth state to approve the Constitution in June, but the key States of Virginia and New York were locked in bitter debates. Their failure to ratify would reduce the new union by two large, populated, wealthy states, and would geographically splinter it. The Federalists prevailed, however, and Virginia and New York narrowly approved the Constitution. When a bill of rights was proposed in Congress in 1789, North Carolina ratified the Constitution. Finally, Rhode Island, which had rejected the Constitution in March 1788 by popular referendum, called a ratifying convention in 1790 as specified by the Constitutional Convention. Faced with threatened treatment as a foreign government, it ratified the Constitution by the narrowest margin (two votes) on May 29, 1790.
Rhode Island's narrow two vote margin in favor of ratification may have been just a foretaste of the close elections in the years to come!

A Personal Story

Hillsdale College is sponsoring a daylong seminar on the U.S. Constitution, but I'd rather tell a personal story.

In 1988 when I worked in the Reagan White House I was leaving the Old Executive Office Building on September 17th and just happened to notice Chief Justice Warren Burger of the U.S. Supreme Court waiting on a Washington street for his car. The Chief Justice was a big backer of celebrations honoring the U.S. Constituion and it turns out his birthday is on the same day. I walked past and wished him a "Happy Birthday." It so happens that the 17th is my birthday as well and I was pleased to be in such good company as the Chief Justice and the Constitution!

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