By Roz Rogoff
Constitution DayUploaded: Sep 15, 2011
The Constitution of the United States was signed by 39 Founding Fathers on September 17, 1789. In 2004 Constitution Day was made a national holiday to celebrate the adoption of the U. S. Constitution as the law of the land. Public schools are required to teach about the Constitution on Constitution Day, but since it falls on Saturday this year, Constitution Day is celebrated on Friday, September 16th.
There's a lot of mythology that surrounds the Founding Fathers, the Revolutionary War, and the adoption of the Constitution. The Constitution was not the first governing document of the fledgling United States. The Articles of Confederation, ratified by the Continental Congress in 1781, united the 13 Colonies into 13 States in the United States of America.
Butthe Articles of Confederation were weak and gave too much power to the States and too little to the Federal Government. George Washington called the Articles of Confederation, "little more than a shadow without substance."
Alexander Hamilton is credited with being the force behind the Constitution. Hamilton was a Federalist, who believed in a strong central government. The Constitution replaced the Articles of Confederation in 1789.
The Constitution breaks the Federal Government into three branches: Executive (President), Legislative (Congress), and Judicial (Courts). Each branch has control over a portion of power, but each one also oversees the powers of the others. These are often referred to as the "checks and balance" of the Constitution.
The purpose of this division of power was to prevent any one person, such as a King or dictator, or a group, such as a church or an army, from taking control of the government. So the control of all three branches should never be taken over by one political party, one religion, or one media mogul.
The Bill of Rights, which consists of the first 10 Amendments added to the Constitution in 1791, provides more protections from the Government enforcing a state religion or limiting free speech or access to news and information.
Dr. Joel Andrews, in an article on "American Jews" in the Sons of the American Revolution (SAR) Magazine, describes the Revolutionary War in part based on his own family's history.
"In the years preceding the Revolution the majority of American Jews were Whigs, supporting independence from England. . . . However, as was true with the Colonial population in general, there were a few Jewish Loyalists (or Tories), who maintained their allegiance to England's King George III. Several families, like my own, the Franks of New York and Philadelphia, were unfortunately, split between patriots and Tories."
Dr. Andrews is a resident of Concord, Massachusetts and conducts walking tours of Concord and Lexington. He wrote a neat little book about Revolutionary Boston, Concord and Lexington.
I contacted Dr. Andrews three years ago when I was researching the possibility that Revolutionary War hero, Benjamin Nones might be an ancestor of mine. Andrews is a descendant of Revolutionary War heroes Benjamin Nones and Haym Salomon, the man who probably saved the early United States from becoming a dictatorship.
In 1781 the Continental Congress was deep in debt and could not pay the soldiers fighting the War. Haym Salomon traded "bills of exchange from France, Holland, and Spain to raise hard currency for both French and American troops. . . In this role he became indispensable to the new Superintendent of Finance for the Continental Congress, Robert Morris" (Andrews, 2009).
Thomas Jefferson, in his posthumously published "Notes on the State of Virginia," confirms the bail out of the Continental Congress in 1781, which came within six votes of forming a Dictatorship. Here's an excerpt of Jefferson's recollections.
"In December, 1776, our circumstances being much distressed, it was proposed in the House of Delegates to create a dictator, invested with every power legislative, executive, and judiciary, civil and military, of life and of death, over our persons and over our properties; and in June, 1781, * again under calamity, the same proposition was repeated, and wanted a few votes only of being passed. (Jefferson, 1853, p. 136)
"* The delegates were then sitting at Staunton, and had voted that 40 of their number should make a house. There were between 40 and 50 present when the motion for the dictator was made, and it was rejected by a majority of 6 only" (Ibid).
The Constitution wasn't an easy document to produce, and it isn't always an easy document to interpret, but we are lucky to have one with so much thought and history behind it. So celebrate Constitution Day with a toast to the heroes of our past and preserve what they really fought for and not the mythologies that surround it.