Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Debt, Supremacy, Oaths and Ratification

Article VI of the Constitution, called "Debt, Supremacy and Oaths", is mostly an administrative, rather than structural, section.  Put simply, the first paragraph declares that all debts and contracts entered into by the Confederation shall also be valid with the newly-formed United States, ensuring those countries and other entities to which the former Confederation owed money and other obligations would have their conditions met.

The second paragraph declares that the Constitution, along with any amendments or treaties made under its auspices, shall be the supreme law of the land, not to be overruled by any state or local law, and that all judges and justices must defer to the Constitution at all times.

Finally, the third paragraph obliges all elected officials "...shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution..." and that no religious test of  any sort shall be administered or required for anyone to hold elected office or position of public trust.

Article VII sets forth the conditions for ratification - nine of the states must ratify it in order for the Constitution to take effect, and essentially, for the United States to in fact exist as a new nation.  On September 17, 1787, the Constitutional Convention concluded with the signing of the document by the delegates, and the ratification process was set in motion.  Almost immediately, The Federalist Papers began to appear, authored by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and this blog's namesake, James Madison.  By December of 1787, three states had ratified the Constitution already (DE, PA, NJ) and by early February, 1788, three more (GA, CT, MA - and Massachusetts by an extremely narrow margin! ).  In April and May, MD and SC added their approval and NH's vote in June made the required nine states to ratify.  VA and NY, both in excruciatingly tight votes, came on board in June and July.  NC voted to ratify over a year later, in November of 1789 and RI, by a margin of two votes, weighed in the next year, in May of 1790.  Finally, in January, 1781, VT made it unanimous.

We had a nation, all the states were on board (to one degree of enthusiasm or another), and George Washington had been installed as the first president.  So, the job was now finished and everyone was happy, right?  Not so fast - the Bill of Rights was far from a done deal.

Up next - the Amendments to the Constitution...

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Happy Birthday To Me...and Us!

I'm here in Philadelphia on July 3rd - almost perfect timing!  But it's a good time to split the difference and wish America a Happy Birthday tomorrow (July 4th) and this blog a Happy Birthday yesterday (July 2nd).  The purist in me still maintains that our country's "real" birthday is September 17 (the date the Constitution was adopted and sent to the states for ratification).  Still, the Fourth of July is as good a date to celebrate as any.  I'd encourage all of you to read the Declaration of Independence today, just to remind yourself what it says and why it was written.  Here's a link for you if you don't have your own copy handy:

I know this is a blog primarily about the Constitution, but the Declaration was the first serious "shot across the bow" at the British and helped give the colonists the rallying point (not to mention some good talking points!) for the Revolution.  It really didn't establish anything in terms of a new government, but was simply what it says - a declaration "That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States".  Think back to the immortal words Jefferson wrote:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal..

...they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed...

And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

Excuse me, it just gives me shivers, reading such brilliant work...

So, this Independence Day (not merely "The Fourth of July"), think back to what the Founders were going through - their thoughts and feelings and the way they lived.  Then think ahead to the government they established a very tough eleven years later with the Constitution.  It's easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day nonsense we all too often see from our government at all levels.  Still, show me a better, longer lasting and more durable system.  Enjoy it and celebrate it today!