Cap-Stone of the Great American Empire

James Wilson.

The political theory that emerged from the Revolution and the debates surrounding the Constitution was not “a matter of deliberation as it was a matter of necessity.” Gordon Wood, The Creation of the American Republic: 1776-1787, 593.

Coming away from the Constitutional Convention, many expressed “wonder and admiration” and a “growing awareness among all Americans that the Constitution had actually created a political system ‘so novel, so complex, and intricate’ that writing about it would never cease.” Id. quoting Benjamin Franklin to Du Pont de Nemours, June 9, 1788, Smyth, ed., Writings of Franklin, IX, 659.

These sentiments from the Constitutional Convention came a decade after the Revolution. Aaron Hall, of New Hampshire, stated that “[t]ill this period, the revolution in America has never appeared to me to be completed; but this is laying on the cap-stone of the great American Empire.” Aaron Hall, An Oration . . . to Celebrate the Ratification of the Federal Constitution by the State of New-Hampshire (Kenne, N.H., 1788), 6, 7.

James Wilson explained that “[t]here are some great eras when important and very perceptible alterations take place in the situation of men and things,” and David Ramsay stated that America “was in the midst of one of those great eras.” James Wilson, “Lectures on Law,” Wilson, ed., Works of Wilson, II, 40; Gordon Wood, The Creation of the American Republic: 1776-1787, 594 quoting Ramsay, American Revolution, I, 356.

America’s emerging government was one “capable of embracing and confederating all the various interests and every extent of territory and population.” Gordon Wood, The Creation of the American Republic: 1776-1787, 596.

The robust political environment, filled with new ideas and novel principles, empowered Americans on all levels to become involved in their government. It was a political environment where, like Benjamin Franklin said, debate and discussion would never cease.

Perhaps the most notable summary of the importance of the framing of the government was that the Constitution was serving as a cap-stone of a new, emerging American Empire, as Aaron Hall said. While the interpretation of the United States as an empire is hotly contested, Hall’s statement reflected the ambition that some early Americans had.

Lest any American forgets, the Revolution and Constitution put America on a path toward being the most powerful and freest republic in the world. While part of this happened by sheer chance, as a confluence of events permitted, the Founding Fathers and early Americans dedicated their lives to ensuring America would be a truly exceptional republic.

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