On this day in 1787, 55 state delegates met in Philadelphia for the Constitutional Convention. Unlike past conventions, this meeting would historically alter the government’s new role in the 4 year old country. During the fight for independence, the states had united together to overthrow the tyrannical, oppressive crown. Now that the war was over and victory secured, the question remained: what power do the states have? While congress was the central power in negotiating foreign affairs, regulating currency, and declaring wars, most of the power was severely limited and contingent upon the states.
A year previously, five states met in Annapolis, Maryland to discuss how to handle the states’ rights versus federal government issue. Many political leaders of the day, such as Alexander Hamilton, argued for a stronger federal government to unite the states for better control. Anti-federalists, such as Patrick Henry and George Mason, were concerned that a strong federal government would take away rights they had just fought so hard to achieve.
On May 25, 1787, the 13 states met in Philadelphia’s Pennsylvania State House, known more famously as “Independence Hall.” A little over ten years before, many of the same delegates had gathered there to sign the Declaration of Independence. Before, they had gathered to make the weighted decision to sign away their lives in pursuit of freedom and liberty. Now, they gathered once more to make an even greater decision; now that this new country was theirs, how would it be run? Designing a new government would not only have consequences for their daily lives, but also for those of many generations to come.
After three long summer months of tedious debate, the delegates arrived at a decision which would impact the present and the future. Instead of giving the power to one sole entity, which might result in a tyrannical government, similar to that which they had just escaped, they wisely placed checks and balances on certain branches of government so that no branch was exclusively powerful. As to the representation question, the Connecticut Compromise proposed a bicameral legislature which involved proportional representation based on state population in the House of Representatives and equal representation in the Senate.
It would take nearly two years for all the states to ratify the Constitution. On March 4, 1789 the United States of America was officially governed by the U.S Constitution. Today it continues to be the oldest written national constitution still in operation. But unlike a static set of laws, the Constitution can be amended to better suit and serve the American people. However, it was by design that any changes enacted would be challenging, if not cumbersome thus discouraging the manufacture of new laws based upon the whims of the day. Yet still, the laws binding our country together work because they flex with the ebbs and flows of the changing tides, yet they are strong enough to withstand 241 years of our marvelous history.
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