Right after the colonists won the War for Independence, they sat down to write some rules, the Articles of the Confederation. These articles reflected a general suspicion of strong central authority. For example, the first article established our (somewhat cumbersome) title, The United States of America, and the second article reads:
“Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not by this Confederation expressly delegated to the United States, in Congress assembled.”
(I wonder if the Confederates of the Civil War South ever looked at this wistfully or bitterly.) After we established a name for ourselves, the most unifying statement in the entire document is:
“The said States hereby severally enter into a firm league of friendship with each other, for their common defense, the security of their liberties, and their mutual and general welfare, binding themselves to assist each other, against all force offered to, or attacks made upon them, or any of them, on account of religion, sovereignty, trade, or any other pretense whatever.”
Other than that, the states act independently, with the assembled Congress assigned the task of final arbitrator in disputes among the states, first authority in foreign relations and the sole body allowed to declare war (although, even there, Article 6 has an exception).
Honestly, I find it amazing that the whole thing did not fall apart–especially given the incredibly low success rates of other revolutions to establish free societies. The period of American history between the war and the establishment of the Constitution bears more scrutiny for most Americans. Regardless, there is a great dissatisfaction with the situation coming from some prominent Americans, including Alexander Hamilton and b. So, in the sweltering summer of 1787, the first American government conspiracy was afoot! As delegates gathered in Philadelphia behind closed doors and locked windows achieving sauna-like secrecy, the future of our capital, our three branches of government and other important details were loudly hammered out with much debate. Slavery was tabled for another time. And, the inclusion of a Bill of Rights was tabled for a very short time–getting a unanimous vote on the final draft was only achieved with a promise that the first amendments would be the first ten we have today, also known as the Bill of Rights (a promise that was kept!).
If you can, head down to the Archives and see the original and in the same hall see other important documents historically establishing our freedoms, such as Colorado’s ratification of the 19th Amendment for women’s suffrage. Otherwise, check out the website at the National Archives and take a look at their Constitution Day events and especially their Charters of Freedom page. Also, the regular series “Inside the Vaults” features some handwritten and printed documents from the era, pertaining to the Constitution’s history; please, view it below (other videos in the series are also available profiling various sources from vaults inside the Archives):
So, Happy Constitution Day!! Take a look at it, buy a copy, do something you can do because you have the right to do it . . you know petition the government, state your opinion on government policy, write an article or a blog, say a prayer or don’t (the First Amendment is pretty cool)!