Notes from Hunter Creek – Roger Wall
Bill Of Rights
Following the Treaty of Versailles in 1783, the new country known as the United States was truly in a bad place.
There were armed rebellions carried out by farmers in both western Massachusetts and Pennsylvania over whiskey taxes. British, Spanish and soon French warships were becoming a real threat to US international commerce.
And the new nation was almost bankrupt following the Revolutionary War. The country was held together with an unhealthy glue called the 1783 Articles of Confederation and that was barely working.
The Articles (still fearful of a strong central government) provided for a loose confederation of the original semi-autonomous thirteen colonies now States from New Hampshire to Georgia.
Once again an urban-rural, and a north-south division as well as slavery-no slavery were important issues that divided the nation. There was no effective tax mechanism emanating from the new capital in New York City which would provide for the semblance of a united governing body or for an effective military force.
Without effective leadership, the new nation was in serious danger of disintegrating and the European superpowers were, of course, well aware of the fact.
Thankfully three great Americans realized the gains of the Revolutionary War were in jeopardy, and they selflessly stepped forward. These men were Ben Franklin of Philadelphia and current ambassador to France; General George Washington, of Mt. Vernon; and non-citizen Alexander Hamilton, who was born and raised in the Caribbean Virgin Islands.
They, along with others like John Adams, Ambassador to Great Britain, realized a new form of government would be required for the young country’s survival.
Opposed to the strong state-rights founders, they wisely foresaw what was needed: a strong executive wing, a representative Congress with real power, and a Supreme Court, to act as checks and balances on the executive and congressional branches.
And so, two constitutional conventions were held in Philadelphia, with a lot of compromise and diplomacy, and with the support of founding fathers such as Franklin, Washington, Hamilton, Jefferson, Adams, and Madison, they succeeded. The new constitution was first discussed and proposed in 1787, and barely approved in 1789. And of course, General Washington was entrusted and named as the first president.
Probably the smartest thing that Washington did was to designate Alexander Hamilton as Secretary of the Treasury, as this was by far the most important cabinet post in the newly formed nation.
Hamilton understood how government worked and the various means of raising finances required to help fund the new country. He also established the first National Bank in Philadelphia, a precursor to the Federal Reserve Bank. He soon made a formidable enemy of Thomas Jefferson, and later, Madison, once a close ally of Hamilton. But because Washington stood solidly behind his new Treasury Secretary and nearly all his ideas on how to get the country effectively governed, luckily for the country, Hamilton survived.
The issue of slavery had raised its ugly head once again, but was totally ignored by the new Constitution except for one item. Although slavery was not addressed, the number of slaves did count in one important respect, especially in the rural south, for purposes of relative population for congressional representation of each individual state.
For purposes of proportional representational in Congress, each slave could be counted as 3/5ths of a person. How novel and revolting!
I believe the founding fathers got the Constitution almost perfectly ordained except for one thing – Instead of establishing unlimited four-year terms, I believe six year single term would have been a better option –– knowing that Presidents are currently limited in their first term because of the inherent fear of losing the next election, and then in their second term, they are lame-duck Presidents.
However, the founding fathers were still weary of a “King” figure, and probably could not get an agreement that would pass muster with all 13 states.
In 1789 when the new Constitution became effective, there was still the matter of the Bill of Rights.
While there had been a gentleman’s agreement the first nine amendments would be followed, Jefferson insisted that all nine, plus no. 10, be expressly enumerated. Hamilton thought they were already covered, either expressly or indirectly, by the broad language available in the Constitution and further protected by each individual state constitution.
Eventually Madison came over to Jefferson’s side supporting the inclusion of the Bill of Rights.
Two reasons. First, Jefferson, a fellow Virginian, now ambassador to France and a neighbor, violently insisted. Finally, the very influential Declaration signer and another important founding father from Virginia, George Mason, insisted that if Madison desired his support in his upcoming Congressional election as a representative from the State of Virginia, he would have to agree to the inclusion to the first ten Amendments be added to the newly formed U.S. Constitution.
Madison did. He and Alexander Hamilton split into different camps (forming the Federalist Party and the Anti-Federalist Party, later the Republican Party, and eventually under Andrew Jackson, Democratic Party). Madison won his election and the new Bill of Rights were adopted in 1791. And later in 1799, a young Alexander Hamilton was “murdered” in a duel with Thomas Jefferson’s first Vice President (he only lost to Jefferson by one electoral vote, and back then, the person with the second highest vote total became vice president).
Washington remained neutral.
Nonetheless, by 1791, the Bill of Rights, was finally approved and incorporated into the Constitution by the last state and Congress.
And what a Bill of Rights they were. They are still considered a controlling guiding light as to restraint of power, by a strong central government upon its people.
They have been copied and emulated in many State constitutions as well as several nations in South America and even Europe.
Note: July 30 – As you can tell after much thinking, I have re-defined the emphasis of the Notes column. As a very amateur legal historian of America, I do hold a BA degree in history and political science, as well as law (JD) and criminal law (LLM) degrees. Please pipe in if you want. I am far from perfect in this area.
And I will by the end of the year, be closing my law office. Please don’t ask me to take on any new cases, it “ain’t” happening.
Bear with me. I have been chasing salmon in Alaska, etc.
Now, as for the local rivers, they are running decent for this time of year, and apparently full of fish. We are also still in peak jungle period, at least in the valley here. It is so green everywhere. Just now starting to act a little dry.
Now, get up and go enjoy our beautiful Ozarks outdoors!