Constitution Sunday: “The Republican” to the People

“The Republican” to the People

Connecticut Courant (Hartford), January 7, 1788

Throughout the history of the United States, there have been numerous instances where its citizens questioned whether the Constitution and its amendments were sufficiently protecting the liberties of the people. Those questions have led to substantial change—such as the amendments to the Constitution and laws that furthered the Constitution’s objectives, like the Civil Rights Acts—and yet, the American people’s perspective on the Constitution and the liberty it affords has often been one of disenchantment.

Disenchantment was pervasive in the late 1780s as the Constitution was being debated: the Articles of Confederation had failed to be effective and the proposed Constitution was under fire for not going far enough and, by others, for going outside the bounds of what was acceptable for the scope of a federal government. One author, in the Connecticut Courant, wrote a compelling argument for the ratification of the Constitution:

“Act out your native good sense; be not afraid to entrust men appointed by yourselves with the powers necessary for promoting your interest; learn the characters of those whom you appoint to places of trust and power; choose men who know what the public good requires; and have virtue to act accordingly; act rationally upon the great political subjects which are submitted to your consideration.”

The nature of the Constitution, with its division of representative government placing the citizens in a position of power, ensured that so long as the citizenry remained active and educated, it could preserve those liberties that it wished to have. Indeed, the author continued, “the friends of liberty throughout the world have their eyes fixed upon us; if we have not wisdom and virtue enough to unite government and liberty; the cause of liberty must be given up for lost.” The proposed Constitution had a design requiring that the people “assent to the Laws by which they are governed” rather than the laws be “made by a power which they cannot controul.” The people would not be simply choosing “one branch of their legislature” “in a very partial[,] unequal manner”; they would be choosing their Representatives and Senators, the President, their local government officials which could range from mayor to county executive to state senator or representative. If the government, in its actions, contravened the wishes of the majority of the people, the majority would reshape the government in its image: it would vote out those who failed and keep those who succeeded.

That spirit of active accountability—and the spirit of the time that Americans were a “young, virtuous, and growing people”—must remain. The author wrote: “we have the good wishes of all mankind; nature has bountifully bestowed upon us the blessings of climate and soil; the extent of our country affords room for our rapid increase for ages to come; a wise system of government we want; a wise system of government is offered for our acceptance; receive the offered good; put it in practice with wisdom, moderation, and virtue; and you may become a great, flourishing and happy nation.” That sentiment need not be one of a bygone age but instead should be renewed during each generation as one reminder of the Constitution’s and the country’s spirit.

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