Over the past two weeks, my reading included the gospel according to Matthew. As you know, this is a treasure of wisdom as the teachings of the Savior are clearly and beautifully expressed. My regular reading also included the latest edition of Human Events to which I subscribe. Upon reading several articles in this weekly newspaper and being sickened by the overt disgust which many of our leaders have for our Constitution and the principles of liberty espoused by our Founding Fathers, I found myself reflecting on Matthew 23:37 which was fresh on my mind. Christ had just issued a stinging rebuke and labeled the Pharisees "whited sepulchres" and then, seeming to reflect back over hundreds of years of turbulent, rebellious history declared, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem ... how oft would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!"
Our good friend, Ron Mann, has penned a marvelous description of the preparatory process the Founders went through, under the guidance of Providence, to bring forth a land of liberty. As you read these words, mostly testimonies of the Founders themselves, you can feel the powerful direction of the Almighty in establishing the American nation. After witnessing what is happening today to our nation, one can almost hear a similar exclamation of long ago ... 0 America, America... how oft would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!
by Ronald M. Mann
How sad that many of the consequential events in history have been lost to the consciousness of the American people. This disrespect of our priceless heritage has resulted in forfeiting of it to the dustbins of history rather than transferring it to our children. Two hundred and thirteen years ago, May 25th, 1787, The Grand Convention, as it was referred then, was begun in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Eleven years earlier Thomas Jefferson had written in the Declaration of Independence:
"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, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness. To secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness." (Declaration of Independence) Although we celebrate the release of this great document of July 4th as the birth certificate of our nation, in reality it was only a "promise", contingent upon the winning of the War for Independence and the successful organization of a government to implement it. During this critical time period John Adams wrote to John Penn:
"It has been the will of Heaven that we should be thrown into existence at a period when the greatest philosophers and lawgivers of antiquity would have wished to live. A period when a coincidence of circumstances without example, has afforded to thirteen Colonies', at once, an opportunity of beginning government anew from the foundation, and building as they choose. How few of the human race have ever had any opportunity of choosing a system of government for themselves and their children! How few have ever had any thing more of choice in government than in climate! These colonies have now their election; and it is much wished that I may not prove to be like a prize in the hands of a man who has no heart to improve it." (Works of John Adams, 1776, 4:203) John Jay had also observed during that time period:
"The Americans are the first people who Heaven has favored with an opportunity of deliberating upon, and choosing the forms of Government under which they should live. All other constitutions have derived their existence from violence or accidental circumstances, and are therefore probably more distant from perfection." (Correspondence & Public Papery, Vol. 1, Page 16 1)
Developing Experienced Constitution Writers
Just prior to the completion of the Declaration of Independence, the Second Continental Congress passed a resolution that John Adams said was: " . . . the most important resolution that ever was in America. " The resolution would ultimately have a tremendous influence on our national constitution, it stated: "...that it be recommended to the respective assemblies and Conventions of the United Colonies, where no government sufficient to the exigencies of their affairs has been hitherto established, to adopt such Government as shall in the opinion of the Representatives of the People best conduce to the happiness and safety of their constituents in particular, the Armies in general." (Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774-1789, Paul H. Smith, editor, Library of Congress, Washington, 1978, p 677.)
From 1776 through 178 1, many states took this resolution seriously and wrote their state constitutions. In this process a cadre of experienced constitution writers was developed that was not equaled anywhere on earth. Many of the ideas and articles written in the states' constitutions were added to the federal constitution. In almost all these state constitutions, they acknowledged God and His importance in the affairs of men and upheld natural law, that is, man had certain inalienable rights that didn't come from kings or governments but had their origins with Providence.
First Attempt Necessary but Disastrous
On November 15, 1777, the Continental Congress finally voted on the Articles of Confederation - our first national constitution. However, because Maryland refused to sign it - they objected to the western land claims of several of the states - and since it required unanimous consent it could not go into effect. On March 1, 1781 - six years after the War of Independence started. the states finally agreed to the Maryland position and the Articles of Confederation officially went into effect. Inherent in the Articles of Confederation were the seeds of its own destruction. It nearly cost us the war and severely impacted the management of the war efforts. Moreover, its impact after the war was devastating and magnified the problems of adjustment. Under the Articles of Confederation Congress had no power to levy taxes, no independent executive or judicial branch and virtually no power to enforce its will. Amendments to the Articles could only occur by unanimous consent of all the states. Washington understood these weaknesses better than most and as a result wrote his "Circular Letters."
Washington Pleads with Americans to Rise to the Expectation of Providence
On June 8, 1783, just three months before the formal peace treaty was signed, ending the War for Independence, General George Washington wrote a Circular Letter to all the governors of the states. He had given eight years of his life in the cause of our liberty and now had laid down the sword and picked up the pen to express his observations of the war and his concerns relative to the future of the United States. He had given this subject considerable thought and had written: "...But before I carry this resolution into effect, I think it a duty incumbent on me, to make this my last official communication, to congratulate you on the 21orious events which Heaven has been pleased to produce in our favor, to offer my sentiments respecting some important subjects which appear to me, to be intimately connected with the tranquillity of the United States, ...and to give my final blessing to that Country, in whose service I have spent the prime of my life, for whose sake I have consumed so many anxious days and watch-full nights, and whose happiness being extremely dear to me, will always constitute no inconsiderable part of my own.
"When we consider the magnitude of the prize we contended for, the doubtful nature of the contest, and the favorable manner in which it has terminated, we shall find the greatest possible reason for gratitude and rejoicing; this is a theme that will afford infinite delight to every benevolent and liberal mind, whether the event in contemplation be considered as the source of present enjoyment or the parent of future happiness; and we shall have equal occasion to felicitate ourselves on the lot which Providence has assigned us, whether we view it in a natural, a political or moral point of light."
"The Citizens of America, placed in the most enviable condition, as the sole Lords and Proprietors of a vast Tract of Continent, comprehending all the various soils and climates of the World, and abounding with all the necessaries and conveniences of life, are now by the late satisfactory pacification, acknowledged to be possessed of absolute freedom and Independency. They are, from this period, to be considered as the Actors on a most conspicuous Theatre, which seems to be peculiarly designated by Providence for the display of human Greatness and felicity. Here, they are not only surrounded with every thing which can contribute to the completion of private and domestic enjoyment, but Heaven has crowned all its other blessings, by giving a fairer opportunity for political happiness, than any other Nation has ever been favored with .... At this auspicious period, the United States came into existence as a Nation, and if their Citizens shouldn't be completely free and happy, the fault will be entirely their own.
Will Freedom Be a Blessing or a Curse?
"... but notwithstanding the cup of blessing is thus reached out to us, notwithstanding happiness is ours, if we have a disposition to seize the occasion and make it our own; yet, it appears to me there is an option still left to the United States of America, that it is in their choice, and depends upon their choice, and depends upon their conduct, whether they will be respectable and prosperous, or contemptible and miserable as a Nation. . . For, according to the system of Policy the States shall adopt at this moment, they will stand or fall, and by confirmation or lapse, it is yet to be decided, whether the Revolution must ultimately be considered as a blessing or a curse: a blessing or a curse, not to the present age alone, for with our fate will the destiny of unborn Millions be involved." (Writings of George Washington, Vol.26, pp. 483-487)
Shortly after sending his circular letter, Washington submitted his resignation to the congress and returned to his beloved Mount Vernon. Precisely as Washington had warned, between 1783 - 1787 the threads - Articles of Confederation - began to unravel. A series of crisis nearly resulted in our demise. A meaningful union of the colonies seemed almost impossible. Colonist leaders began to say so publicly: "The idea of an uncompounded republic, on an average, one thousand miles in length and eight hundred in breath, and containing . . .millions of white inhabitants all reduced to same stands . . . of laws, is in itself an absurdity. And contrary to the whole experience of mankind." (O'Neill, Charles, Morning Times, Garden City, New York, Permabooks, Simon and Schuster, Inc., 1952, p 8)
The Need for a Miracle
Union unlikely? Highly! After all, the states were equal and sovereign, nine of them had separate navies, New Jersey had its own custom service and Virginia had recently ratified a treaty with England. It would truly require a miracle to bring these disparate colonies together. To complicate matters further the British, French and Spanish and other nations expected the fledgling nation to falter and crash and were prepared to take advantage of the situation.
The genesis of the Constitution Convention itself (Grand Convention) was a series of commercial disputes between Virginia and Maryland over the use of the Potomac River. A conference was held in late March of 1785 in Alexander, Virginia, however because of disagreements it was moved to Mount Vernon. The presence of Washington made the difference and the conference ended on a high note. Its success led to a convention in Annapolis, Maryland on September II - 14, which expanded the scope of the Alexander meeting. For lack of a quorum the meeting ended up in private discussions and a resolution written and forwarded to all the states and the congress. In the resolution they requested a convention be held: to devise such further provisions as shall appear to them necessary to render the constitution of the Federal Government adequate to the exigencies of the Union" (Documentary History of the Constitution of the United States of America, Vol. 1, Washington Department of State, 1894, p.5)
At first the Continental Congress was reticent to agree to any such convention. After more civil unrest and commercial disputes between the states, they agreed to endorse the Constitutional Convention scheduled in May of 1787.
A Gathering of Greatness Hitherto Unknown
Although scheduled to start on 14 May 1787, the lack of a quorum precluded it. During this nine day period those present met and discussed concepts that would eventually be discussed during the convention. "...just before there were enough to form a quorum, Washington, standing self-collected in the midst of them his countenance more-than usually-so eyes seeming to look into futurity, said: 'It is too probable that no plan we propose will be adopted. Perhaps another dreadful conflict is to be sustained. If, to please the people, we offer what we ourselves disapprove, how can we afterward defend our work? Let us raise a standard to which the wise and honest can repair; the event is in the hands of God."' (History of the Formation of the Constitution of the United States of America, George Bancroft, page 8, 1882)
By May 25th enough delegates had arrived for the convention to begin.
"It was a most fortunate thing for America," says a recent writer, "that the Revolutionary age, with its hardships, its trials, and its mistakes, had formed a body of statesmen capable of framing for it a durable constitution. The leading persons in the convention which formed the constitution had been actors either in civil or military life in the scenes of the Revolution." (Life and Times of George Washington, Vol. 4, page 1554, 1903)
George Washington was immediately elected as the President. The quality of the representatives sent by the states reflected some of the greatest scholars and minds of the time. "The American system was devised by the ablest group of men who ever appeared at the same time in the same country throughout the history of the world. Just as former times produced masterpieces in science and commercial organization, so the architects of the American plan of self-disciplined liberty produced a masterpiece of free government." (The Constitution of the U.S. of America and Bulwark of Liberty, Everett P. Wilson, pp. 59-60)
The Magnitude of America's Divinely Appointed
Mission Nearly Overwhelmed the Founders
They were not simply a group of agrarian farmers, but men with vision and an understanding of the proper role of government. James Wilson, a delegate from Pennsylvania wrote of that event: "When I consider the amazing extent of the country, and immense population which is to fill it, the influence which the government we are to form will have, not only on the present generation of our people, and their multiplied posterity, but on the whole globe, I am lost in the magnitude of the object. We are laying the foundation of a building in which millions are interested, and which is to last for ages. In laying, one stone amiss we may injure the superstructure; and what will be the consequence if the cornerstone should be loosely placed." (The Constitution of the United States of America, Vol. 11, pg. 54, George Bancroft, 1882)
Another delegate, George Mason wrote home:
"The Revolt from Great Brita-in, and the Formations of our new Government at that time, were nothing compared with the great Business now before us. There was then a certain Degree of Enthusiasm, which inspired and supported the Mind; but to view, thro the calm sedate Medium of Reason, the Influence which the Establishments now proposed may have upon the Happiness or Misery of Millions yet unborn, is an Object of such Magnitude, as absorbs, and in a Manner- suspends the Operations of the human Understanding. (The Papers of George Mason, Vol. 111, 1787-1792, Robert A. Turland Editor, The University of No. Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 1970, pp. 892-893)
Benjamin Franklin wrote in 1788 about this great event:
"I must own I have so much Faith in the general Government of the world by Providence, that I can hardly conceive a transaction of such momentous Importance to the Welfare of Millions now existing, and to exist in the Posterity of a great Nation, should be suffered to pass without being in some degree influenced, guided, and governed by that omnipotent, omnipresent, and beneficent Ruler, in whom all inferior Spirits live, and move, and have their Being." (Works of Benjamin Franklin, 1788, Vol. 5, page 162)
Such was the feeling and sentiment of those great men who had entered Independence Hall to form a new government - a government that could fulfill the promise of the Declaration of Independence. They almost unanimously recognized Providence's hand in the event and were not reticent to say so.
We thank Ron Mann for his research. Some of you may remember Ron served in the Reagan White House and was the executive director of the National Bicentennial Commission on the Constitution. He will share some more of his research with us concerning the Declaration of Independence in our July letter and concerning the Constitutional Convention in our September letter. Current donors will receive each of these letters.
Summer months are always busy. Thank you for remembering NCCS in your financial plans.