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.

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Constitution Sunday: Luther Martin, “The Genuine Information,” IX

Luther Martin: “The Genuine Information,” IX

Maryland Gazette (Baltimore), January 29, 1788

Impeachment of a president has become a feature within the Constitution that is colored by its uses throughout history: the impeachments of Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton, and Donald Trump and the near-impeachment of Richard Nixon. While none of the impeachment proceedings resulted in conviction—and thus removal—of a president, those proceedings illustrated how Congress would deliberate over the solemn task that the Constitution assigned it. At the time the Constitution was facing ratification, it remained unclear how Congress would actually remove a president, and one author, writing under the name Luther Martin, opined in the Maryland Gazette that Congress would never remove a president—and thus far, Martin has been correct.

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Constitution Sunday: Luther Martin, “The Genuine Information,” II

Luther Martin, “The Genuine Information,” II

Maryland Gazette (Baltimore), January 1, 1788

Every form of government known to human history has been presented—on occasion—with the possibility of revolution or, perhaps euphemistically, a drastic reform of that government’s structure. While the causes may vary for a revolution or reform, the discontent that precedes it is universal: massive parts of the citizenry feel disillusioned with the government’s ability or will to act in the citizens’ best interest. It is at that point that the defects in the government are most evident, and it is at that point that citizens decide whether those defects can and should be corrected or whether fundamental change is necessary. Read more

Constitution Sunday: A Cumberland County Mutual Improvement Society Addresses the Pennsylvania Minority

A Cumberland County Mutual Improvement Society Addresses the Pennsylvania Minority

Carlisle Gazette, (Pennsylvania), January 2, 1788

One of the most frequent dooming political predictions that Americans—of any political persuasion—tend to make is that the end of the Republic, and therefore the end of liberty, has come. This prediction even goes back to the debate of the Constitution in 1788, which a minority in the State Convention of Pennsylvania opposed. The prediction persists because the circumstances under which a republic ends are amorphous as the Cumberland County Mutual Improvement Society’s makes clear in its address supporting the minority at the State Convention:

“The history of mankind is pregnant with frequent, bloody, and almost imperceptible transitions from freedom to slavery. Rome, after she had been long distracted by the fury of the patrician and plebeian parties, at length found herself reduced to the most abject slavery under a Nero, a Caligula, &c. The successive convulsions, which happened at Rome, were the immediate consequence of the aspiring ambition of a few great men, and the very organization and construction of the government itself.”

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Constitution Sunday: “Publius,” The Federalist XXII

“Publius,” The Federalist XXII [Alexander Hamilton]

New-York Packet, December 14, 1787

A well-functioning democracy must be capable of recognizing and dealing with the friction that occurs between the minority and the majority on any given issue. As Alexander Hamilton wrote, in the Federalist XXII, the difference between a vote requiring a simple majority versus a vote requiring a two-thirds majority is one that—the latter—empowers a small, vocal minority to obtain significant power over two-thirds of the body. Furthermore, it enables foreign powers—who may be seeking to “perplex our councils and embarrass our exertions”—to sway the policymaking of our country by using that method to encourage factions to block legislation that may be harmful to that foreign power but beneficial to us. Read more

Constitution Sunday: “Americanus” V

“Americanus” V [John Stevens, Jr.]

Daily Advertiser (New York, December 12, 1787

The structure of the American government, with its division into three branches and its layered arrangement from top (federal) to middle (state) to bottom (local), made it an exception in 1787 from what had been previously known. Even with the Constitution’s framework appearing to better safeguard against the country devolving into a dictatorship or monarchy, there remained the plausible theory that, despite the Constitution’s best features, it would do nothing more than slow, or mitigate, that devolution; it would be unable to prevent it. Read more

Constitution Sunday: “Publius,” The Federalist XVI

“Publius,” The Federalist XVI [Alexander Hamilton]

New-York Packet, December 4, 1787

When any union or confederacy of states or provinces decide to form a nation, it does so with its citizens knowing that members may “alarm the apprehensions, inflame the passions, and conciliate the good will even” in those states that were not “chargeable with any violation, or omission of duty” but had influence to be obtained. As Alexander Hamilton wrote in the Federalist XVI, when there are associates not found “at home, recourse would be had to the aid of foreign powers, who would seldom be disinclined to encouraging the dissentions of a confederacy, from the firm Union of which they had so much to fear.” The consequences of such an event are substantial: “When the sword is once drawn, the passions of men observe no bounds of moderation. The suggestions of wounded pride, the instigations of irritated resentment, would be apt to carry the States, against which the arms of the Union were exerted to any extremes necessary to revenge the affront, or to avoid the disgrace of submission. The first war of this kind would probably terminate in a dissolution of the Union.” Read more

Constitution Sunday: “Publius,” The Federalist XIV

“Publius,” The Federalist XIV [James Madison]

New-York Packet, November 30, 1787

With the draft Constitution having been published for consideration by the residents of each state in 1787 came questions about whether and how the federal government would effectuate its responsibilities given the vast land that the states and territories had already comprised—which James Madison found to be framed by the Atlantic Ocean and the Mississippi River. Madison, in The Federalist XIV, articulated the reasoning behind the Constitution’s model for government, and at the heart of that reasoning was that this new form of government was not going to be a pure democracy of yore but rather a modern republic: “The true distinction” between a democracy and a republic is “that in a democracy, the people meet and exercise the government in person; in a republic they assemble and administer it by their representatives and agents. A democracy consequently will be confined to a small spot. A republic may be extended over a large region.” Read more

Constitution Sunday: “Brutus” IV

“Brutus” IV

New York Journal, November 29, 1787

At the heart of a healthy democracy is the power for people or their representatives to create, modify, or repeal the laws for those laws inevitably govern nearly all aspects of life. The New York Journal published an article that dissected fair representation in the proposed Constitution:

“The object of every free government is the public good, and all lesser interests yield to it. That of every tyrannical government, is the happiness and aggrandisement of one, or a few, and to this the public felicity, and every other interest must submit. Read more

Constitution Sunday: “The Republican” to the People

“The Republican” to the People

Connecticut Courant (Hartford), January 7, 1788

The liberties that Americans hold dear are not inherently self-sustaining. While the Constitution secures many liberties, it requires Americans to be vigilant in fulfilling their civic duties. This week’s Constitution Sunday highlights the Connecticut Courant, which explored these issues amidst the debate about ratifying the Constitution: Read more