This will be a short story about why we need our Constitution. Here is the rest of the story: When the thirteen colonies declared their independence and separated from England, they needed some sort of government to keep them united and help them to work together. They looked to the Continental Congress for orders and advice, but after the war was over, the different states paid less and less attention to the Continental Congress.
It looked as if the Union was going to break up and each state form a separate nation. Hoping to solve the problem and save the Union, the people again decided to send men to a meeting in Philadelphia. When they got together, they could talk things over and see what could be done. This meeting was held at the old State House in Philadelphia. The meeting was called the Federal Convention. It met about the middle of May, 1787, and was in session four months, until the middle of September. Each state sent its greatest and wisest men to the meeting. There was George Washington, who had come from his home in Virginia. He was made president, or chairman, of the Convention. There was Benjamin Franklin from Pennsylvania. He was one of the oldest members at that time at 81 years old. But he was of sound mind and his head full of wisdom and common sense. Two other men who attended the meeting were Alexander Hamilton from New York and James Madison from Virginia.
Alexander Hamilton was born in the English West Indies in 1757, and when the Convention met he was 30 years old. As a boy he was fond of study and gave promise of growing up to be a brilliant man. He was quite interested in government at a young age. At 15 years old he was sent to New York City, where he became a student in King's College, which is now Columbia University. Though he was only 18 years old when the war with England began, he formed a company, drilled it, and for a time led it in battle. Hamilton's ability was soon noticed by Washington, who transfered him to his own headquarters. During all of the war, Hamilton was Washington's most trusted assistant, taking care of secret papers and copying and sending out to the different officers. After the war, Hamilton settled in New York City and became one of the great lawyers in New York; he also began to take a keen interest in politics. Hamilton admired George Washington. He wanted to see the United States turn into a kingdom with George Washington sitting on the throne.
Next is James Madison. Next to Washington, Madison was Hamilton's closest friend in the Federal Convention, six years older than Hamilton, graduate of Princeton, and one of the most important men at the Convention. There were three reasons why he was important.
First, he knew more about government than anyone else there. He knew how governments were made and how they worked. Second, he went to the Convention with a definite plan of government already written out. He knew what was needed to hold the states and prevent the Union from breaking up. Third, he kept the most careful record of what went on in the Convention. Each day he took his seat where he could see and hear everything that went on. For these three reasons, this quiet little man was known as the "Father of the Constitution," that is, the man who had most do with making government what it is today. Twenty-one years after the Convention finished its work, he became the fourth President of the United States.
How did the Convention work? At the time, no one knew except the men in the building, and they kept secret what was said and done there. For the most part, most people trusted the men in the building. Day after day passed and weeks grew into months. Even the newspaper reporters could not find out. But most of the people were certain that the able men in the Convention would make a good, strong government; others shook their heads in doubt. But all good things come to those that wait and at last, on the 17th of September, the work was finished, and the people waited anxious hear what had been done. All that the members had to show for their four months of work was a paper which they had written. It was not a long paper either, not longer than twelve or fifteen pages, but it proved to be the most important paper, with the exception of the Declaration of Independence, that was ever written in the United States. It was the complete plan for the government that we have already seen working in Washington but on a smaller scale. It was the Constitution of the United States of America.
The first sentence of the Constitution reads, "We the States...do establish this Constitution for the United States of America." That is a remarkable sentence. It means that the people of the United States make their own government, that they govern themselves. What part does our Vice President not understand about We the People?
When the Convention ended its work, all the members returned home to explain what they had done and urge the people to approve the Constitution. They carried copies of the Constitution with them and distributed them amongst the people. The new plan of government would not be carried out until the people of at least nine states had agreed to it. It was not an executive order signed into effect. "We the States...We the People..." We had not elected a King or President yet!
At that time, most people met in the evenings at a tavern, town store, or inn. Members of the Convention stopped in at night, and word went around that there was a man from Philadelphia who had been working on a new plan of government and could tell the people what it was about. The men of the Convention explained this to each state of people. They told them the Federal Convention voted that the head of the government was to be the President.
What was the President to be like? Was he a king? He would not be a king. Kings were born to hold their office for life whether the people like it or not. The President was to be chosen by the people and would serve for only four years. He might then be reelected if the people wanted him as President for another four years.
The old Continental Congress was then made into a new Congress. It would be made up into the Senate and a House of Representatives. This Congress would make the laws. There would be a Supreme Court to settle laws. If the people approved the Constitution, an election would be held in November to choose the President and the members of Congress. The President would appoint the judges who made up the courts.
Find out next week: would nine states approve the Constitution? And hear the rest of the story!
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