for Constitution Day
September 17, 2020

Celebrating the Document that Changed the World
Power Rests With The People, NOT The Government

by Jeff Dunetz, September 17, 2020

Generally, revolutions are followed by counter-revolution. The Russian revolution which was led by capitalists against the Tzar was quickly followed by a takeover by the communists who established a strong-arming dictatorship. The French Revolution to overthrow the monarchy and create a republic was followed by the dictatorship of Napoleon, even here in the United States, a revolution designed to move away from the despotic government of the British was followed by a counter-revolution. But unlike the French and Russians, rather than going back to a different form of the same tyranny they just uprooted, the American counter-revolution was an adjustment meant to guarantee the freedoms earned in its fight against the British. Every year on September 17th we celebrate Constitution Day and the counter-revolution called the United States Constitution.

On September 17, 1787, the delegates to the Constitutional Convention met in secret for the last time to sign the document they had created. The Convention was formed to revise the “Articles of Confederation.” The “articles” created a federal government so weak it was ineffectual. The nascent American government had problems creating taxes to pay off debts from the revolution, or maintaining a capable military, back its own paper currency, moderate debates between individual states, or create/execute a foreign policy for the country (each state had its own money and foreign policy).

Instead of revising the Articles, the Constitutional convention overthrew the existing United States government and created a system which when followed by its leaders is unmatched in its fairness and protection of liberty.

The Philadelphia Convention took place from May 25 to September 17, 1787. Although the Convention was purportedly intended only to revise the Articles of Confederation, from the start the intention of many of its proponents, chief among them James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, wanted to create a new government rather than “fix” the existing one.

The delegates elected George Washington to preside over the convention.

In late July, the convention appointed a Committee of Detail to draft a document based on the agreements that had been reached. After another month of discussion and refinement, a second committee was named, the Committee of Style and Arrangement, headed by Gouverneur Morris (Gouverneur was his first name, not his position). The committee which included Alexander Hamilton, William Samuel Johnson, Rufus King, and James Madison, produced the final version, which was submitted for signing on September 17. Morris is credited now, as then, as the chief draftsman of the final document, including the stirring preamble.

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.

Not all the delegates were pleased with the results; some left before the ceremony, and three of those remaining refused to sign: Edmund Randolph, George Mason of Virginia, and Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts. Mason demanded a Bill of Rights if he was to support the Constitution. The Bill of Rights was finally added and is considered the final compromise of the Convention – several states specifically asked for these amendments when ratifying the Constitution, and others confirmed the Constitution with the understanding that a bill of rights would soon follow.

This new Constitution was not a document that established a federal government, it was one that limited the federal government. It did not grant rights, the Declaration of Independence had already determined that our rights came from God. The purpose of this document was to ensure that the federal government would never be in a position to take away those God-given rights.

Of the 39 who did sign, probably no one was completely satisfied. The views of the signers were ably summed up by Benjamin Franklin, who urged his fellow delegates to sign the Constitution with these words.

“There are several parts of this Constitution which I do not at present approve, but I am not sure I shall never approve them. … I doubt too whether any other Convention we can obtain, may be able to make a better Constitution. … It therefore astonishes me, Sir, to find this system approaching so near to perfection as it does; and I think it will astonish our enemies…”

After the document was signed Franklin exited the hall, and a woman shouted, “Well, Doctor, what have we got—a republic or a monarchy?” Franklin’s famous reply was, “A republic if you can keep it.”

In an era where countries were ruled by monarchs and oligarchies, the most important words of the Constitution are at the very beginning. The first three words, written supersize script: “We the People.” In this new system, the power doesn’t rest with the government, but with the citizens.

Indeed as Ben Franklin said, it is astonishing how close to perfection our constitution really is. It is regrettable that many of the people in our government ignore the Constitution, based on their actions it is hard to believe that they have ever read this banner of freedom and liberty.

But we can: (click on the following links to read transcripts of the constitution from the National Archives, as it was originally written and its amendments.)

The Constitution of the United States
The Bill of Rights
Amendments 11-27