[photopress:Constitution_1010.jpg,thumb,pp_style] By Laurel Beckstead
It was noon, October, 19, 1781, when two lines formed on the Yorktown battle field. Washington and the Americans stood in one line. The French stood in the other. Between them slowly marched the defeated British. The British General Cornwallis did not come. He excused himself as being indisposed. Instead, he sent his sword of surrender by the hand of General O’Hara. O’Hara tried to surrender the sword to the French commander, but he was waved back to Washington.
When Washington saw that a subordinate officer had come with the sword of surrender, he told O’Hara to make his presentation of the sword to one of Washington’s subordinates, General Benjamin Lincoln. The sword ceremony was the signal for the British to march forward and surrender. At that very moment, on the Yorktown battlefield, America was given her freedom.
After the Revolutionary War was won, the states were bound together by the Articles of Confederation, which had been adopted in 1777. The Confederation, comprised of 13 very independent states was collectively The United States of America. The states had different agendas and different issues confronting them. They owed no real allegiance to a central government. In fact, the federal government was subordinate to the state governments.
The Continental Congress’s biggest problem was that it needed to pay for the Revolutionary War debt.
The economic conditions following the war were devastating and the country was in turmoil. The citizens were restless and were more interested in their states than in the nation as a whole. In particular, farmers lost a major market for their produce. The foreign troops were gone and the trade routes stopped. Due to these economic conditions, farmers rebelled against the intolerably heavy taxes to pay for the war debt by attacking the armory in Springfield, Massachusetts.
This revolt was called Shay’s Rebellion. It was significant because it underscored the tension and turmoil that was present in the country. Shay’s Rebellion also led the way for the Philadelphia Convention of 1787. The states realized that changes were necessary or there would likely be widespread revolt.
While there were many miracles during the Revolutionary War, the greatest American miracle was the Philadelphia Convention, also known as the Constitutional Convention. It was the guarantee of the freedom fought for and won during the Revolution. This convention was intended to address the Articles of Confederation, but the delegates realized from the beginning of their discussion that this was not enough to solve the nation’s pressing problems. They needed a new stronger national government with sovereignty between the states.
Our Founders set up our government as a Republic. You may say, “I thought we were a democracy.” But let me explain. The primary difference between a democracy and a republic is the fundamental source of its authority. In a democracy, the people are the highest source of authority. But in a Republic, it is recognized that there is a source of authority higher than the people. That source is the knowledge of God’s standards, and God-given rights. Thomas Jefferson understood this when he wrote these words in the Declaration of Independence, “we are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights.”
The first key issue of the convention was to decide how the states would be represented in the new national government. In the Virginia plan, states would have representation according to population. In the New Jersey plan, all states would have equal representation.
This heated debate over representation almost broke up the convention until the Great
Compromise was presented.
In that, the legislative branch of the national government would consist of two houses. In order for the large states to not have too much power, the Senate would have 2 representatives from each state. In the House of Representatives, the representation would be based upon population, giving larger states more representatives.
But before this great compromise was reached, Benjamin Franklin, the oldest member of the convention, stood and addressed the President of the Convention, George Washington.
He noted that the “different sentiments on almost every question” seemed to be “a melancholy proof of the imperfection of the human understanding.” He asked why the convention had “not hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of lights to illuminate our understandings?”
Franklin reminded the Convention how at the beginning of the war with England, the Continental Congress had prayers for divine protection in that very room. “Our prayers, Sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a Superintending providence in our favor. To that kind Providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now forgotten that powerful Friend?
“I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth – that God governs in the affairs of men. If a sparrow cannot fall to the ground unseen by him, is it probable an empire could arise without His aid? I firmly believe this, and I also believe that without His aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel. We shall be divided by our little partial local interests; our projects will be confounded and we ourselves shall become a reproach and byword down to future ages…. I therefore beg leave to move that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of heaven and its blessings on our deliberations, be held in this Assembly every morning before we proceed to business.”
From that point on nearly every provision in the Constitution was a compromise among various viewpoints – on how long the President should serve, the details of how to regulate commerce, and the regulation of the slave trade.
The Constitutional Convention convened in the middle of May and did not adjourn until the middle of September. Those were long, hot summer months. It was recorded that when Benjamin Franklin signed the Constitution, “the old man wept.”
In James Madison’s recorded notes, it states, “Whilst the last members were signing, Dr. Franklin looking toward the president’s chair, at the back of which a rising sun happened to be painted, observed to a few members near him, that painters had found it difficult to distinguish, in their art, a rising from a setting sun. ‘I have’ said he, ‘often in the course of the sessions have looked at that behind the president, without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting: but now, at length, I have the happiness to know that it is a rising, and not a setting sun.’”
God sent great men to secure and lay the foundation of our Government. Today, He has sent you to preserve it. I would urge you, if you have not read our Constitution, read it and ponder it. You will come to cherish it. If you have read the Constitution, now is the time to really study it, reason with it, relate to it; incorporate its principles into your lives. Clothed with understanding, you will be equipped to defend it.
John Adams said, “Be it remembered that liberty must at all hazards be supported. We have a right to it, derived from our Maker. But if we had not, our fathers have earned and bought it for us at the expense of their ease, their estates, their pleasure, and their blood. And liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people, who have a right, from the frame of their nature, to knowledge, as their great Creator, who does nothing in vain, has given them understandings and a desire to know.”
It is that desire, I wish above all else, to instill in you: to know of the divine nature of our Constitution that protects our God-given liberty.
May God bless you and God bless America.