A look at how early Americans almost rejected the U.S. Constitution
Approximately 2.5 million colonists became Americans on the 4th of July, 1776.* This day in history marks the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. Before this date colonial America had not been a nation. It was not a democracy, and its people were not free. Imagine an America made up of thirteen small separate colonies ruled over by an oppressive king. England was empire. It was an enormous risk for colonists to defy the British Empire. Their lives and livelihoods were on the line. Yet with a spirit of freedom the thirteen British/American colonies declared their independence from foreign rule to become the thirteen United States of America. And the Revolution had already begun.
This first generation of Americans had to fight for their freedom, so they knew what it was. Many died for it. We are the heirs of their courage. The American Revolutionary War lasted eight long years. An estimated 25,000 Americans, roughly 1% of the population, died on the battlefield.* When it was over the American people were free. They were also a country. But there was still one thing left for them to do. They had to decide what kind of country they should be.
Surprisingly, after the drafting of the U.S. Constitution in 1787, nothing happened. It did not immediately become law. Instead, there was a huge political debate over its ratification. On the one side you had the federalists, those who supported the Constitution. On the other side were the anti-federalists.
From its very beginning The United States has been divided. Federalists approved of the plan to create a single federal government over all thirteen states, forming a union so powerful that it could protect itself against any foreign threat. Anti-federalists strongly opposed the idea. They didn’t trust any form of government that gives men too much power. Some Americans felt a sense of loyalty to Great Britain. A few wanted a monarch because it was familiar to them. It was a tradition. Competition among the states was fierce. Governors did not want to give up any of their power. State legislators didn’t want to give up any of their power, either. Wealthy business owners had special interests. The individual states were happy to print their own money. Some representatives attempted to ally themselves with foreign governments. At the state level, leaders did not want their commerce or trade to be regulated or blocked by a federal authority. A centralized government could jeopardize the rights of the people. Just like today there were all these power grabs going on. Citizens feared that they would lose their individual liberties. And, generally speaking, nobody wanted to pay their taxes.
Should it come as any shock that early Americans argued about the issues of their day? As a society they openly talked about the different struggles they faced as a nation. The debate over how the Union could survive took place in the public square, in the streets, outside church and inside homes. Most men and women who lived back then were decent hardworking folks. They worked and lived off the land. It was a time of wooden ships with sails, horses, carriages and letters written by hand. The weapons of the day were swords, muskets and bayonets. And Americans had just come from a fight. Even though the war had ended, fears of another one remained a part of the ongoing political debate.
Then something happened to change public opinion. Three secret authors, through a series of essays called The Federalist Papers, began to explain how this radical new idea of democracy works.* They concealed their identities under the collective pseudonym “Publius,” but they did not lie to the American people. On the contrary, they were brutally honest. They called out and challenged the corruption of politicians and special interest groups. They exposed the misinformation of liberal newspapers, the fake news of their day. In this collection of eighty-five essays, they spoke to the American people directly, revealing the genius and inventiveness of the framers of the Constitution. What had they created, anyway?
These architects of government borrowed from some of the greatest philosophers and lawgivers of antiquity. They had learned their lesson about “monarchies” and guarded against this danger by creating limited government with a separation of powers, officials elected by votes and temporary terms of service. They created a foundation of just and fair laws that applied to everyone. They allowed for amendments to be made to the Constitution itself. The first ten of these amendments became known as the Bill of Rights.
Over the next three years, federalists gained support from the state governments and their fellow citizens. The success of The Federalist Papers was due in large part to the authors’ ability to address so many of the major issues that early Americans faced. Federalists agreed to include a Bill of Rights. Not including it was a deal-breaker. It was understood that a common currency would help to unite the states. Having a unified military meant greater security. Also, a central government could end some of the jealousies and rivalries among states. Each state would have representation in this newly formed government. Voices of reason prevailed. One by one, different states joined to form this more perfect union. A national debate that had lasted three years finally ended. All thirteen states had agreed to the terms of this new republic. And the secret authors of The Federalist Papers, later discovered to be Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, had played a major role. This honest and very candid talk persuaded early Americans to accept the United States Constitution.
The purpose of the Constitution is revealed in the preamble of the Constitution. By design it establishes the legal framework for a democratic government. As John Adams said, “A republic is a government of laws, and not of men.” It was made for a society of people who believe in things like justice and freedom, equality, peace, prosperity, unity and security. These are the ideals behind the laws.
If you study the U.S. Constitution, you will find that it only speaks about two main things: the powers of government and the rights of the people. History has taught us that we need both. It does not work if you have a giant amount of one but too little of the other. There must be a balance between the two. You cannot have an all-powerful authoritarian government that operates behind the scenes without oversight. Zero transparency equals zero accountability. If left unchecked, it would soon turn into an Orwellian nightmare, just a cruel and relentless police state that oppresses the people. And you cannot have a people with unlimited liberties and no laws, a people who are never punished for their crimes. Society would quickly degrade into something out of a Mad Max movie, rival gangs at war over who gets to take control of the leftover resources and rule the streets. It would be mob rules.
The author of the book Liberty’s Blueprint writes: “According to Publius, the motivations for people’s differing beliefs and conduct can be divided into three broad categories. The most powerful and most destructive of these is “passion,” whereby a person’s intellect is dominated by prejudice and emotion. Next is “interest,” which arises from rational but selfish considerations. Both passion and interest can be harmful to civilized society; when Madison defined faction in Federalist 10, he described citizens who were united “by some common impulse of passion, or of interest” which was opposed to either the rights of others or to the interests of the community at large.” *
The third category spoken about was that of “reason.” This is the one most likely to be in everyone’s best interests.
Meetings at The Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia were a unique anomaly in history. A room full of politicians came together and all agreed upon a course of action that would benefit the people. Using reason, these statesmen compromised their passions and interests without compromising their principles. Madison himself commented on the difficulties they overcame: “It is impossible for the man of pious reflection not to perceive in it, a finger of that Almighty hand…” *
To the uninitiated the U.S. Constitution is a boring legal document. But the Federalist Papers and national debate brought it to life and revealed its relevancy and importance to the first generation of Americans. Today in much the same way modern-day patriots who have some common sense and who believe in our God-given rights are inspiring others to speak up and defend the core values and beliefs that made America great in the first place.
Filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza, statesman and senator Ted Cruz, Fox News journalists Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity, political commentators Charlie Kirk and Candace Owens: To the uninformed their names may seem as insignificant as the names listed at the end of the U.S. Constitution, but these men and women are helping millions of Americans to have a “more informed patriotism.” *
I am reminded of something Ronald Reagan said: “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.” *
Years ago, I remember watching on TV a few clips of Jesse Watters stopping random people on the street to ask them basic questions about this country we all live in. It was shocking how little the public knew. College students were the worst. But they did not seem to care. Maybe it was because everything they have was given to them. This generation has not had to create or build or work for or fight for this nation in quite the same way that the first generation did. Somebody else built America. We were just born or immigrated here. Now that we are here, being a citizen is not supposed to take any effort, so we think. America is 246 years old. It is an economic and military superpower. It is a leader on the world stage. It’s easy to think that it cannot fail, but it could.
This was never about winning a debate. It’s about exposing the selfish, destructive and Godless ideologies that are undermining the principles of democracy and freedom and faith in this country.
When Madison and Hamilton, with support from icons like George Washington and Benjamin Franklin, persuaded their fellow Americans to believe in the practicableness of the U.S. Constitution; it was not a trick, it was the truth.
There is strength in numbers. But there is even greater strength in unity. Now “We the People” must again decide what kind of country the United States should be. But a divided house cannot stand. So, what might happen if millions of Americans don’t pay attention or don’t get involved when the government closes churches, shuts down private businesses and limits free speech? What will happen if Christians and conservatives do not say anything and just remain silent? What if believers fail to speak the truth? It would mean the fall of America.
In the 1800’s French writer and historian Alexis de Tocqueville said, “I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers, and it was not there; in her fertile fields and boundless prairies, and it was not there; in her rich mines and her vast world commerce, and it was not there. Not until I went to the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”
The Bible confirms this…
Doing what is right makes a nation great, but sin will bring disgrace to any people. (Proverbs 14:34 New Century)