Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Constitution Series Part 28: Article VII and Signatures (President, Delaware)

With the structure and powers of the government established, as well as a way to edit this Constitution, there's just one more thing to do: establish how this Constitution will be adopted by the states.

The Ratification of the Conventions of nine States, shall be sufficient for the Establishment of this Constitution between the States so ratifying the Same.
For the Constitution to take effect, nine of the states needed to ratify it (basically, two-thirds of them, rounded up). This was itself a departure from the Articles of Confederation, which required unanimous consent for even an amendment. As such, the legality of having the Constitution take effect with only the approval of nine states was controversial, though ultimately all of the original colonies ratified the Constitution within a few years anyway.

It took less than a year for the Constitution to be ratified by the requisite nine states after it was finalized in September 1787. The first Congress and President came into office in 1789, about a year before Rhode Island became the last state to ratify the Constitution on May 29, 1790. Technically, any state that did not ratify the Constitution was not a part of the United States, and by ratifying it they were admitting themselves into the Union.

Honestly, it's incredibly impressive that the states ratified the Constitution as quickly as they did. The ratification debates were heated and intense. The Federalists (pro-Constitution) and Anti-Federalists (anti-Constitution) groups debated in the ratification conventions of each state. The Federalist Papers, which inform much of what scholars and lawyers understand about the meaning of the Constitution, were written in an attempt to convince the states that the Constitution was an important improvement over the Articles of Confederation while demonstrating how the new government would protect its people from tyranny. The Papers were, in fact, an argument against the Anti-Federalists, and the fact that they're still referred to today when interpreting the Constitution is kind of an unforeseen bonus.

The way the Constitution was to be ratified was also unique. Obviously the Congress under the Articles of Confederation couldn't be trusted to ratify it; could they be trusted to ratify a document that would dissolve the very government they ran? Likewise, state legislatures couldn't be trusted to ratify the document, as the Constitution was in many ways going to reduce their power.

Rather, the Congress passed the Constitution to the states, whose legislatures passed the Constitution on to a convention of citizens meant to represent the state's people as a whole. It was in these conventions where the arguments for and against the Constitution made a difference, and it was these conventions that, one by one, ratified the Constitution.

done in Convention by the Unanimous Consent of the States present the Seventeenth Day of September in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven and of the Independance of the United States of America the Twelfth In witness whereof We have hereunto subscribed our Names,
It was thought to be very important that the signers of the Constitution present a united front as supporters of this document they created. By suggesting that the Constitution was created unanimously by the states present (the only one not represented at all was Rhode Island, the last to ratify the Constitution), it suggests that it represents the interests of every state involved.

That said, not all of the attendees of the Constitutional Convention actually signed the Constitution. Three of them (George Mason, Edmund Randolph, and Elbridge Gerry) refused to sign out of protest, and they went on to be staunch Anti-Federalists. Likewise, some delegates (including all of New York's delegates except for Alexander Hamilton) abandoned the proceedings in similar protest long before the signing. And still others simply tired of the proceedings and went home before the end.

What follows is a brief explanation of who these people were, these brilliant men who created our government.

One final note, though: notice how that final paragraph indicates both the year 1787 ("the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven," the one mention of the Christian God in the whole document!) and the fact that this was the twelfth year of our independence. For a while it seemed like we might ditch the Gregorian calendar years, instead starting our own era, beginning with the year of our independence. It didn't pan out, though we can look to the French Revolution to see how it might have gone. Spoiler: it doesn't go well, and it makes dating events during the French Revolution confusing.

Anyway, the signatures:

George Washington (President and deputy from Virginia) needs no introduction. He was the venerated Virginian veteran of the French and Indian War who went on to be the commander in chief during the Revolutionary War. Within a couple of years of signing his name to this document, he became the first President of the United States. As president of the convention, he was the first to sign his name, separate from the actual delegates from Virginia.

As President, Washington became the only President to ever lead soldier in the field, marching with them to suppress the Whiskey Rebellion. His administration oversaw the establishment of much of what the presidency became afterward, and after two terms he elected not to run for President a third time, which unofficially established a two-term limit for future Presidents. He died December 14, 1799.
George Read (Delaware) had the rare honor of signing three important documents: the original Petition to the King of the Congress in 1774, the Declaration of Independence in 1776, and the United States Constitution in 1787. Despite this, he was actually opposed to declaring independence, preferring reconciliation with the king. In fact, his vote against the Declaration created a deadlock, requiring another delegate from Delaware to rush to Philadelphia to cast the deciding vote. If not for this deadlock, we might have celebrated Independence Day on July 2 instead of July 4. That said, though he voiced his objection, once the colonies decided to declare independence he signed his name to the Declaration and continued to serve in the new government he helped to create.
Gunning Bedford, Jr. (Delaware) was a career politician and lawyer. He helped Delaware to be the first state to ratify the Constitution, and was eventually appointed as the very first justice for the newly created District Court of Delaware, a job he held until his death in 1812.
John Dickenson (Delaware) did not actually sign the Constitution. He got sick and went home, but he authorized George Read to sign his name instead. Still, he's an important guy, and his name's on the Constitution. As a matter of fact, he wrote the first draft of the Articles of Confederation, the foundation for the government that would dissolve under the Constitution. As such, no doubt he was familiar with the Articles' faults and had many ideas for improvements. He's also the only person I know of who served simultaneously as the governor of two different states (Delaware and Pennsylvania), if only for a short time.
Richard Bassett (Delaware) was a veteran of the Revolutionary War, and went on to become the most senior Senator in the very first Congress. His daughter Anne married James A. Bayard, and the Bayard family is prominent in Delaware politics to this day.
Jacob Broom (Delaware) was never a big name, neither before the Constitutional Convention nor afterward. He was known to be a big supporter of a strong, central government, though he spent the rest of his life holding smaller, local offices. He was very active but, other than his involvement in the Constitutional Convention, his activity was focused on local matters in Delaware.
Continue to Part 29: Signatures (Maryland)


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