Constitutional Day

Today was Constitutional Day.   Our U. S. Constitution was signed on this date, September 17, 1787.

The link lists 10 interesting facts about the Constitution.  In recent years, I read one book on the Constitutional Convention in Philadephia in the summer of 1787 and another on the long difficult political battle for ratification.

There were three members of the Constitutional Convention who refused to sign and some were absent. Several of the members were absent for long periods during the summer.  The delegates were men with considerable business and government responsibilities and at times needed to ride horseback several days home and back.

The Constitutional Convention was closed to the press and public.  James Madison took some notes and members wrote many letters to people which have survived.  From these sources we know a lot about what took place.

The reasons for forming the Constitutional convention were rather mundane, the complex and differing rules among the states for conducting business.  Leaders like Washington wanted to make it easier to move products between jurisdictions.

A recent book, The Summer of 1787, concluded the really big issue discussed over that long hot summer was not lofty ideals.  It was slavery. Slavery had to be continued to keep the South in the deal.

According to the records, religion was only brought up once during the entire summer.  A motion to open each session with a prayer was voted down.

That should have decided the issue of prayers at government meetings, but it didn’t.

19 Responses

  1. JB

    The simple factoid of their voting down prayer before sessions tells me all I need to know about this being a “Christian nation” “because the founders made it so.”

      1. JB

        What is the reference to the British Magna Charta at the top of the painting? Seems out of place if you’re trying to connect religion and the American government.

        1. entech

          The stained glass window in the picture was supposed to commemorate the part played by the church in getting the Magna Carta signed.

          The Magna Carta played some part in the colonisation as British law was used as a model for the legal systems of some of the early colonies.

          As you indicate irrelevant to the writing of the constitution.

        2. Henry

          JB:“What is the reference to the British Magna Charta at the top of the painting?”

          The British Magna Carta is the British law the American colonialists embraced, and that law which they claim their British rulers broke.

      2. entech

        Henry what does “Right.” mean in this context.

        Constitution signed 1787.
        Declaration of Independence signed 1776.
        Writing on picture the prayer in the first congress 1774.

        The first continental congress was called to seek repeal of British acts of Parliament. In the words of John Adams defending their rights as Englishmen. That the repeal was not forthcoming was the lead up to Declaration of Independence. No congress as it existed to frame the constitution was legal at that time, if anything prior to the declaration of independence these men were in open rebellion, traitors perhaps.

        None of this should be taken as meaning I am not in full support, I have said before one of my shames as an Englishman is how long it took for me to realise how totally justified and necessary Independence was.

        Your constitution does not mention anything about God or Democracy, I thank the commenter David for leading me find the difference between a republic and a democracy.

  2. David

    I don’t think the ideas or ideals behind the U.S. Constitution were mundane. The document in many ways reveals the reasons for its existence. The states were having more issues than just trading effectively. The whole notion of whether this was a nation or a collection of nations was at issue. Many of the provisions stem from the failure of the Articles of Confederation: The ability to lay taxes, the ability to have a standing army, an executive with authority to act on behalf of the nation militarily. A judiciary to address concerns between individuals but probably more importantly between the states. Also there are provisions such as the privileges and immunity provision which requires states to recognize the laws of each other state. The matter was decided to have a nation. That meant that other states could impose their will to some small extent upon another state. This was a compromise as the states did not view themselves as a collective but they realized in order to survive they needed a military to protect it and a unified voice to act on behalf of the country ending divisions among the states with regard to foreign policy. Trade was undoubtedly a concern but I hardly think that it was the primary concern.

    Slavery was a hot topic – not because the nation was founded on this evil and it was the backbone of the Constitution. Rather the states were giving up some of their sovereignty and so compromises had to be made. The hardest compromise came with regard to slavery – probably because it was a peculiarly evil institution.

    I agree that there were probably not that many lofty ideals in the Constitution itself. It was more a reaction to the failed confederation of states government. It doesn’t mean that it wasn’t clever. Having a strong executive branch – something sorely lacking in the Articles – is not a particularly lofty ideal. That said, the U.S. went from a confederation of states to a republic with a strong executive. It’s not surprising that Democracy was not mentioned particularly because the U.S. is not a democracy in the plain meaning of the word. I think what is interesting is that when the South seceded they formed a similar confederation plagued with the same problems experienced under the Articles of Confederation. This fundamental error was in no small part a reason the South was defeated in the Civil War. A weak executive, states acting unilaterally in military efforts, issues with currency and general disagreement among the states.

    With regard to God – not a real surprise. I don’t know which branch of government He would be disposed to be in charge. This is more of a technical document describing how the states would interact. I think there is a great deal of confusion among many between the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence. The Constitution is the least philosophical of the documents – more of a nuts and bolts type of horse trading. Thus we see balancing of powers between the branches of government and the between the states. The Declaration is the most philosophical of the documents. Thus, you see the dreaded (by atheists at least) mention of God as a cornerstone of the source of our inalienable rights. The Bill of Rights is essentially the enumeration of the rights sourced from God. It ties into the Declaration in part. Where the Declaration discusses “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” the Bill of Rights secures due process to be deprived of “life, liberty or property.” Perhaps they saw property and the pursuit of happiness as one and the same – j/k. My long point is that one wouldn’t expect the Constitution or its discussion to involve much in the way of religion – other than with regard to slavery – as there were few issues with the way it was being addressed in the various states.

    1. David

      I may have conflated the description of the privileges and immunity clause with the full faith and credit clause – albeit related.

    2. David 3:36 “Thus, you see the dreaded (by atheists) mention of God as a cornerstone of the source of our inalienable rights. The Bill of Rights is essentially the enumeration of the rights sourced from God.”

      Where does it say all that? I missed it. Is it in the document, or, did you make it up?

      1. David

        The Declaration states that a people can disband their political bands to assume “the Powers of the Earth, the separate and equal Station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them.”

        It goes on to state most famously: “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights . . .”

        Again toward the end the Declaration states: “-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.”

        Didn’t make any of that up. God is mentioned in the preamble, the first paragraph and the closing sentence. More to the point the inalienable rights come from our creator. I think it a fool’s errand to try and convince oneself that this does not refer to God, but have at it if you will. Also in the preamble it makes reference to the separate and equal station of man which God’s laws entitle them. I didn’t write it, but I did read it.

    3. Wolfy32

      I like your description. I take the inalienable rights of humanity as a neat way of saying, that any living being with intelligence is entitled to rights simply by being. Whether we, from primordial oooze or an alien being launching random bacteria into space hoping life happens, or something else, How life comes to be is irrelevent if a being is living and sentient it is entitled to rights.

      It was a bold statement stating that everyone is entitled to liberty, freedom, and the pursuit of their dreams.. Happiness is fleeting, I interpret that to mean dreams. And I don’t know that it was a declaration from God, other than to state from an authority everyone could understand.. Because who is this newly formed government to tell us what rights we have and don’t have… Well, no one can really question if it’s from God.

      Either way, it was a bold statement. One that to this day we still haven’t been able to achieve.

      1. Wolfy32 5:28 “Well, no one can really question if it’s from God.”

        The problem is, the Constitution does not say our rights came from “God”. Christians have inserted that word for their own purposes. Of course, there is no evidence they came from a “creator” either. As you say, it’s a great philisophical idea to say people should have these rights just by being.

        But, to use the capital “G”(od) is a real propaganda stretch when the people who wrote and signed the document did not use it.

        1. David

          The Constitution does not say this, but the Declaration of Independence does. A point that I’m pretty sure I made clear. More to the point the Constitution does not address individual rights. The Bill of Rights does and in some ways mirrors the Declaration. My point is that one would not expect the invocation of God in the Constitution when one is discussing whether Delaware should be able to tax imports from New Jersey. It’s just not that kind of document.

          If you are simply saying that people get confused between the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution – I agree.

          Of course

          1. David 2:50 “My point is that one would not expect the invocation of God in the Constitution when one is discussing whether Delaware should be able to tax import from New Jersey.”

            But, in an earlier post, you said clearly the Constitution says God gave us these rights. I looked and it does not say God gave us these rights. When people say the Constitution says God gave us rights, they are making it up.

            It can be your, or anyone’s, opinion they meant God gave us rights, but it this is not what it says. We can all have a gazillion opinions on what the authors meant. They were all, so far as I can tell, heavy drinkers and through a party at the end where, records show, a volumenous quantity of alcholol was consumered. They voted down the motion to pray. Some historians say that period of U. S. history was the most secular in our entire national life. So, in my opinion, they tossed in the phrase “creator” to help with the politics of ratification, but they did not mean rights were given by God.

          2. David

            Jon, I respect you but I think you need to look at my earlier post in that I reference the Declaration of Independence as having mentioned God/Creator – not the constitution. In fact I was saying it was not surprising that it was omitted in the Constitution.

            Well, I sort of expected an argument that Creator does not equal God. I think that’s the only reasonable reading of the Declaration of Independence. Also, there would be no need to mention God for political purposes or out of populism. The states, save New York, gave the delegates the authority to agree to the Declaration – twelve votes with one abstention.

            Also to your point that the Constitution does not say the rights are God given – I agree. I don’t think people are “making it up” when they assert the Constitution mentions God. I think they are simply confusing it with the Declaration of Independence.

      2. David

        I agree that the idea of inalienable rights is important regardless of its source. I don’t think the founders were a bunch of atheists who were trying to trick the Crown or the public by invoking God. I think they actually believed in the notion/philosophy that rights came from God.

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