National Center for Constitutional Studies
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On the seventeenth of this month, we will celebrate 211 years since the writing and signing of the United States Constitution. As the Founders went into the constitutional convention in 1787, they were frightened. They really didn't know whether or not they could salvage the nation which had been nearly torn to pieces during the previous four years since the Treaty of Paris ended the Revolutionary War. They were in need of a miracle.
Since reading The Making of America for the first time in 1985, I have been particularly impressed with the chapter entitled, "The Need for a Miracle." It chronicles the terrible things which were happening to the country, which, if not quickly corrected, would have led straight into anarchy, just as they did to France a few years later.
As we now view our present situation in America, it is much the same as that which faced our Founding Fathers. The parallel is rather amazing. In this letter we will review, mostly in the words of the Founders themselves, a few of the conditions which existed before the Constitution was written and adopted. You will notice practically the same conditions exist today. Then came the Constitution. Miraculously, the nation was strengthened and saved. Do we not need the same miracle today? Would we not be able to express the same surprise that Washington did as to how quickly our problems are solved?
But first, lets see what some of the problems were 211 years ago. (See The Making of America, pages 111-131 for full documentation)
The Expectation that the Nation would Soon Collapse
Foreign nations and even many Americans did not think the nation could endure much more. England kept her troops here so they could move in quickly to take over. Spain began to seize territory along the Mississippi. Among Americans there was even talk of secession and the forming of three new confederations - New England, Middle States, and the South.
Is this not the same talk we hear today-that the United States as we have known it will dissolve into the great global conglomerate with no sovereign identity. Foreign nations are having a field day with us in nearly every way - trade, money, consumer markets, political influence, etc.
Worthless Money Is Destroying Our Society
For 50 years, the money managers in America have depreciated the savings and buying power of all our citizens. It is the same problem John Adams lamented in his day:
"I am firmly of the opinion ... that there never was a paper pound, a paper dollar, or a paper promise of any kind, that ever yet obtained a general currency [as money] but by force or fraud, generally by both. That the army has been grossly cheated; that the creditors have been infamously defrauded [some closed their shops to prevent being paid off with worthless paper money]; that the widows and fatherless have been oppressively wronged and beggared; that the gray hairs of the aged and the innocent, for want of their just dues, have gone down with sorrow to their graves, in consequence of our disgraceful depreciated paper currency."
The Last Stage of National Humiliation
Certain deplorable aspects of our national life humiliate our nation whose citizens claim it to be the greatest in the world. Listen to Alexander Hamilton as he outlines the very same things in his day which caused national humiliation - huge debts, lack of military readiness, breaking long-standing agreements, disdain of foreign powers, etc.:
"We may indeed with propriety be said to have reached almost the last stage of national humiliation. There is scarcely anything that can wound the pride or degrade the character of an independent nation which we do not experience.
"Are there engagements to the performance of which we are held by every tie respectable among men? These are the subjects of constant and unblushing violation.
"Do we owe debts to foreigners and to our own citizens contracted in a time of imminent peril for the preservation of our political existence? These remain without any proper or satisfactory provision for their discharge.
"Are we in a condition to resent or to repel the aggression? We have neither troops, nor treasury, nor government.
"Is respectability in the eyes of foreign powers a safeguard against foreign encroachments? The imbecility of our government even forbids them to treat with us. Our ambassadors abroad are the mere pageants of mimic sovereignty."
A Very Real Potential of Economic Collapse from Huge Debt
Founders Francis Corbin and Thomas Johnston were aghast to think of having to borrow money to pay interest on money previously borrowed! Sound familiar?
Johnston: "The United States are bankrupt. They are considered such in every part of the world. They borrow money, and promise to pay. They have it not in their power, and they are obliged to ask of the people, whom they owe, to lend them money to pay the very interest."
Corbin: "The consequences of deranged finances ... what confusions, disorders, and even revolutions, have resulted from this cause, in many nations! ...
"The debts due by the United States and how much is due to foreign nations! No part of the principal is paid to those nations; nor has even the interest been paid as honorably and punctually as it ought. Nay, we were obliged to borrow money last year to pay the interest. What! borrow money to discharge the interest of what was borrowed, and continually augment the amount of the public debt! Such a plan would destroy the richest country on earth."
A Spirit of Profligacy Is Engulfing the People
The moral decline of our country today, with its fascination with gambling, alcohol, extravagant spending, and crumbling morals was the same situation faced by the Founders just months before the Constitution was adopted. Listen to John Williams of New York:
"Unhappily for us, immediately after our extrication from a cruel and unnatural war, luxury and dissipation overran the country, banishing all that economy, frugality, and industry, which had been exhibited during the war.
"Sir, if we were to reassume all our old habits, we might expect to prosper. Let us, then, abandon all those foreign commodities which have hitherto deluged our country, which have loaded us with debt, and which, if continued, will forever involve us in difficulties. How many thousands are daily wearing the manufactures of Europe, when, by a little industry and frugality, they might wear those of their own country! One may venture to say, sir, that the greatest part of the goods are manufactured in Europe by persons who support themselves by our extravagance. And can we believe a government ever so well formed can relieve us from these evils?
"What dissipation is there from the immoderate use of spirits! Is it not notorious that men cannot be hired, in time of harvest, without giving them, on an average, a pint of rum per day? so that, on the lowest calculation, every twentieth part of the grain is expended on that particle; and so, in proportion, all the farmer's produce.
"And what is worse, the disposition of eight-tenths of the commonalty is such, that, if they can get credit, they will purchase unnecessary articles, even to the amount of their crop, before it becomes merchantable. And therefore it is evident that the best government ever devised, without economy and frugality, will leave us in a situation no better than the present."
The Federal Government Hanging By A Thread
Fisher Ames was convinced that the federal government was headed for dissolution and anarchy. He could very well have spoken these same words in our own day:
"Who is there, that really loves liberty, that will not tremble for its safety, if the federal government should be dissolved. Can liberty be safe without government?
"The period of our political dissolution is approaching. Anarchy and uncertainty attend our future state. But this we know -- that Liberty, which is the soul of our existence, once fled, can return no more.
"The Union is essential to our being as a nation. The pillars that prop it are crumbling to powder. The Union is the vital sap that nourishes the tree. If we reject the Constitution, -- to use the language of the country, -- we girdle the tree, its leaves will wither, its branches drop off, and the mouldering trunk will be torn down by the tempest.. The Union is the dike to fence out the flood. That dike is broken and decayed; and, if we do not repair it, when the next spring tide comes, we shall be buried in one common destruction."
A Breakdown of Law and Order Was Turning Good Neighbors Into Enemies
Unless America turns from the path it is following, law and order will break down and as Isaiah foretold, suffering people will be desperate for leadership. So it was before the Constitution:
Smith: "Mr. President, I am a plain man, and get my living by the plough. I am not used to speak in public, but I beg your leave to say a few words to my brother plough-joggers in this house. I have lived in a part of the country where I have known the worth of good government by the want of it. There was a black cloud that rose in the east last winter, and spread over the west.... I mean, sir, the county of Bristol; the cloud rose there, and burst upon us, and produced a dreadful effect. It brought on a state of anarchy, and that led to tyranny. I say, it brought anarchy. People that used to live peaceably, and were before good neighbors, got distracted, and took up arms against government.... I am going, Mr. President, to show you, my brother farmers, what were the effects of anarchy, that you may see the reasons why I wish for good government. People, I say, took up arms; and then, if you went to speak to them, you had the musket of death presented to your breast.
"They would rob you of your property; threaten to burn your houses; oblige you to be on your guard night and day; alarms spread from town to town; families were broken up; the tender mother would cry, `O, my son is among them! What shall I do for my child!' Some were taken captive, children taken out of their schools, and carried away. Then we should hear of an action, and the poor prisoners were set in the front, to be killed by their own friends.
"How dreadful, how distressing was this! Our distress was so great that we should have been glad to snatch at any thing that looked like a government. Had any person, that was able to protect us, come and set up his standard, we should all have flocked to it, even if it had been a monarch; and that monarch might have proved a tyrant; -- so that you see that anarchy leads to tyranny, and better have one tyrant than so many at once."
The Desperately Needed Miracle Happened
Two hundred and eleven years ago, the Founders barely escaped disaster. They adopted the Constitution and its marvelous saving principles. After only two years so many problems had been solved that Washington was able to write:
"The United States enjoy a scene of prosperity and tranquility under the new government that could hardly have been hoped for."
The next day he wrote to David Humphreys:
"Tranquility reigns among the people with that disposition towards the general government which is likely to preserve it.... Our public credit stands on that [high] ground which three years ago it would have been considered as a species of madness to have foretold."
The Miracle Can Happen In Our Day
Could it not also happen in our day? Could we not say with Washington, if the principles of the Constitution are fully restored, that tranquility reigns once again among the people? That is the mission of NCCS. We thank you all for making it a priority in your life also. Have a joyous and meaningful Constitution Week.
Earl Taylor, Jr.