What is the Origin, Purpose and Greatness of the Constitution?
On September 17 th , we celebrate the 215 th anniversary of our Constitution; accordingly, we thought it would be appropriate to allow George Washington to remind us of its origin, purpose and greatness. He was the commander of our forces for eight years during the revolutionary war-the man most responsible for our freedom, unanimously elected as president of the constitutional convention-over saw its creation, and the first president of the United States for eight years-saw to its implementation.
Noah Webster said of Washington:
"Literary power and statesmanship were combined in George Washington, the greatest political leader of his time and also the greatest intellectual and moral force of the Revolutionary period. Everybody knows Washington as a quiet member of the Virginia Assembly, of the two Continental Congresses, and of the Constitutional Convention. Few people realize that he was also the most voluminous American writer of his period, and that his principles of government have had more influence on the development of the American commonwealth than those of any other man." (Noah Webster, 1828)
Constitution (U.S.), Must Be Framed on Correct Principles
"If, to please the people, we offer what we ourselves disapprove, how can we afterwards defend our work? Let us raise a standard to which the wise and the honest can repair. The event is in the hand of God."-Stated to delegates to the Constitutional Convention, as quoted by Gouverneur Morris in An Oration upon the Death of General Washington (delivered in New York, 31 Dec. 1799), pp. 20-21; in Max Farrand, ed., The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787 , rev. ed., 4 vols. (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1937), 3:382. (1787.)
Constitution (U.S.), Worthy of Acceptance
"The Constitution that is submitted is not free from imperfections, but there are as few radical defects in it as could well be expected, considering the heterogeneous mass of which the convention was composed and the diversity of interests that are to be attended to. As a constitutional door is opened for future amendments and alterations, I think it would be wise in the people to accept what is offered to them, and I wish it may be by as great a majority of them as it was by that of the convention."-To David Humphreys. Fitzpatrick 29:287. (1787.)
"The various and opposite interests which were to be conciliated, the local prejudices which were to be subdued, the diversity of opinions and sentiments which were to be reconciled, and, in fine, the sacrifices which were necessary to be make on all sides for the general welfare, combined to make it a work of so intricate and difficult a nature that I think it is much to be wondered at that anything could have been produced with such unanimity as the Constitution proposed."-To Mrs. Catharine Macaulay Graham. Fitzpatrick 29:316. (1787.)
Constitution (U.S.), Ratification of
"Is it best for the states to unite or not to unite? If there are men who prefer the latter, then unquestionably the constitution which is offered must, in their estimation, be wrong from the words "We the people" to the signature, inclusively; but those who think differently, and yet object to parts of it, would do well to consider that it does not lie with any one state, or the minority of the states, to superstruct a constitution for the whole. The separate interests, as far as it is practicable, must be consolidated; and local views must be attended to as far as the nature of the case will admit. Hence it is that every state has some objection to the present form, and these objections are directed to different points. That which is most pleasing to one is obnoxious to another, and so vice versa. If, then, the union of the whole is a desirable object, the component parts must yield a little in order to accomplish it."-To Bushrod Washington. Fitzpatrick 29:310. (1787.)
"A few short weeks will determine the political fate of America for the present generation, and probably produce no small influence on the happiness of society through a long succession of ages to come.. It will demonstrate as visibly the finger of Providence as any possible event in the course of human affairs."-To the Marquis de Lafayette. Fitzpatrick 29:507. (1788.)
"No one can rejoice more than I do at every step the people of this great country take to preserve the Union, establish good order and government, and to render the nation happy at home and respectable abroad. No country upon earth ever had it more in its power to attain these blessings than united America. Wondrously strange, then, and much to be regretted indeed would it be, were we to neglect the means and to depart from the road which Providence has pointed us to so plainly; I cannot believe it will ever come to pass. The great Governor of the Universe has led us too long and too far on the road to happiness and glory to forsake us in the midst of it."-To Benjamin Lincoln. Fitzpatrick 30:11 (1788.)
Constitution (U.S.), Best Constitution
"I . most firmly believe that in the aggregate it is the best constitution that can be obtained at this epoca, and that this or a dissolution of the Union awaits our choice, and are the only alternatives before us."-To Governor Edmund Randolph. Fitzpatrick 29:358. (1788.)
"The Constitution recommended by the federal convention [of 1787] . approache[s] nearer to perfection than any government hitherto instituted among men."-To Sir Edward Newenham. Fitzpatrick 30:73. (1788.)
Constitution (U.S.), God's Hand in Framing and Adoption of
"We may, with a kind of pious and grateful exultation, trace the fingers of Providence through those dark and mysterious events which first induced the states to appoint a general convention, thereby, in all human probability, laying a lasting foundation for tranquility and happiness, when we had but too much reason to fear that confusion and misery were coming rapidly upon us. That the same good Providence may still continue to protect us, and prevent us from dashing the cup of national felicity just as it has been lifted to our lips, is [my] earnest prayer."-To Jonathan Trumbull. Fitzpatrick 30:22. (1788.)
"The hand of Providence has been so conspicuous in all this, that he must be worse than an infidel that lacks faith, and more than wicked, that has not gratitude enough to acknowledge his obligations."-To Thomas Nelson. Fitzpatrick 12:343. (1778.)
Constitution (U.S.), Provides Barriers Against Tyranny
"With regard to the two great points, the pivots upon which the whole machine must move, my creed is simply: 1st. That the general government is not invested with more powers than are indispensably necessary to perform the functions of a good government; and consequently that no objection ought to be made against the quantity of power delegated to it. 2nd. That these powers (as the appointment of all rulers will forever arise from, and at short, stated intervals recur to, the free suffrage of the people) are so distributed among the legislative, executive, and judicial branches, into which the general government is arranged, that it can never be in danger of degenerating into a monarchy, an oligarchy, an aristocracy, or any other despotic or oppressive form, so long as there shall remain any virtue in the body of the people."-To the Marquis de Lafayette. Fitzpatrick 29:410. (1788.)
Constitution (U.S.), Avoid Innovation on Its Principles
"Towards the preservation of your government and the permanency of your present happy state, it is requisite, not only that you steadily discountenance irregular oppositions to its acknowledged authority, but also that you resist with care the spirit of innovation upon its principles, however specious the pretexts. One method of assault may be to effect, in the forms of the Constitution, alterations which will impair the energy of the system, and thus to undermine what cannot be directly overthrown." (Farewell Address.)
Constitution (U.S.), Binding Until Changed by Majority
"The Constitution of the United States, and the laws made under it, must mark the line of my official conduct."-To Edmund Randolph. Fitzpatrick 31:9. (1790.)
"The Constitution is the guide which I never will abandon."-To the Boston selectmen. Fitzpatrick 34:253. (1795.)
"The basis of our political systems is the right of the people to make and to alter their constitutions of government. But the constitution which at any time exists, till changed by an explicit and authentic act of the whole people, is sacredly obligatory upon all. The very idea of the power and the right of the people to establish government presupposes the duty of every individual to obey the established government." (Farewell Address.)
"If, in the opinion of the people, the distribution or modification of the constitutional powers be in any particular wrong, let it be corrected by an amendment in the way which the Constitution designates. But let there be no change by usurpation; for though this, in one instance, may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed." (Farewell Address.)
Constitution (U.S.), Power of, Rests in the People
"The power under the Constitution will always be in the people. It is entrusted for certain defined purposes, and for a certain limited period, to representatives of their own choosing; and whenever it is executed contrary to their interest, or not agreeable to their wishes, their servants can, and undoubtedly will, be recalled."-To Bushrod Washington. Fitzpatrick 29:311. (1787.)
Constitution (U.S.), Duty to Preserve, Rests in the People
"The structure has been erected by architects of consummate skill and fidelity; its foundations are solid, its compartments are beautiful, as well as useful; its arrangements are full of wisdom and order and its defenses are impregnable from without. It has been reared for immortality, if the work of man may greatly aspire to such a title.
"It may, nevertheless, perish in an hour by the folly, and corruption or negligence of its only keepers, the people. Republics are created by the virtue, public spirit and intelligence of the citizens. They fall when the wise are banished from the public councils, because they dare to be honest and the profligates are rewarded because they flatter the people in order to betray them." (From poster produced by Commission on the Bicentennial of the United States Constitution.)
"A primary object.should be the education of our youth in the science of government. In a republic, what species of knowledge can be equally important? And what duty more pressing.than .communicating it to those who are to be the future guardians of the liberties of the country?" Fitzpatrick 35:316. (1796.)
Hopefully, we will not, by folly, corruption or negligence as the only keepers of the Constitution, fail to teach our youth "who are to be the future guardians of the liberties of the country" the science of government.
Earl Taylor, Jr.