Patriot’s History: A Nation of Law

I’m into the chapter about the adoption of the Constitution. As with other chapters, I’m learning things I never knew, and learning that some things I was taught are just plain not true.

On slavery and the 3/5 rule:

“In 1619, when black slaves were first unloaded off ships, colonists had the opportunity and responsibility to insist on their emancipation, immediately and unconditionally, yet they did not. Then again, in 1776, when Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence and included the indictment of Great Britian’s imposition of slavery on the colonies, pressure from South Carolina and other southern states forced him to strike it from the final version. Now, in 1787, the young Republic had a third opportunity (perhaps its last without bloodshed) to deal with slavery. Its delegates did not.”

“At the time…the liklihood that the southerners would cause the convention to collapse meant that the delegates had to adopt the three-fifths provision and deal with the consequences later. Realistically, it was the best they could do…”

“Modern historians have leaped to criticize the convention’s decision, and one could certainly apply the colloquial definition of a compromise as: doing less than what you know is right… But let’s be blunt: to have pressed the slavery issue in 1776 would have killed the Revolution, and to have pressed it in 1787 would have aborted the nation. When the ink dried on the final drafts, the participants had managed to agree on most of the important issues, and where they still disagreed, they had kept those divisions from distracting them from the task at hand…”

(I have of course discussed in the past that the 3/5 rule was not in any way saying that blacks were not worth as much as whites, but was an attempt by the North to prevent the South from gaining an irrevocable majority, cementing slavery as an institution forever.)

And they’re right. Having already accepted slavery in the colonies, and considering that the slave states considered slavery to be not just a legal issue, but a moral one, I don’t know what else they could have done. Coulda, shoulda, woulda – they should have never allowed it in the first place.

On the role of the judiciary.

“Article III outlined a first-ever national judiciary. Federal judges would have the jurisdiction over all federal and interstate legal disputes. They would serve lifetime terms on condition of good behavior, and federal district courts would hear cases that could be appealed to federal circuit courts and ultimately to the Supreme Court of the United States. It is important to note that the Constitution in no way granted the federal courts the power of judicial review, or an ultimate interpretative power over constitutional issues…. If the Founders intended courts to possess this ultimate constitutional authority, they did not say so in the Constitution.”

On the role of the President.

“He had the authority to appoint all executive officials and federal judges, with the approval of the Senate.Most important, the president was to be the major architect of  American foreign policy, serving as the civilian commander in chief of the military forces and generally designing and executing foreign policy with the advice and consent of the senate. Perhaps the most significant power given the President was the executive’s ability to veto congressional laws, subject to an override vote by Congress…”

The President, Constitutionally speaking, has THREE jobs. Appoint federal level people. Make foreign policy. Veto. That’s it. He does NOT have the authority to tell Congress what to do. To set the agenda for Congress.

Remember, the Articles of Confederation – too often put down by modern historians – it really was an amazing piece of work, and successfully led to the defeat of the most powerful military on the planet by a bunch of farmers and merchants) had no executive. It had a legislature and very little power. The folks who (illegally, by the way) convened the Constitutional convention to write the Constitution recognized that the federal government needed a little bit more muscle. But they still were quite reluctant to create anything resembling a powerful central government, and particularly a strong central leader. (In fact, one of the proposals, you may know, was to have a Presidential Committee of sorts – a few people serving as president, working together. Can you even imagine if THAT had passed?)

 

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2 responses to “Patriot’s History: A Nation of Law

  1. The author is historically wrong. The Articles of Confederation were proposed by Congress in 1776. However they were not ratified by the states until March, 1781. While the Revolutionary War did not end until October 1781 with the battle of Yorktown, and a peace treaty signed until 1783, it can be nevertheless said the Articles came into existence after the War.

    As to the bogus charge a convention was illegally obtained the author must be referring to the procedure spelled out in Article 13 of the Articles. That article does not specify how an “alteration” was proposed, merely that such alteration be agreed to by Congress and the states. Historic record is clear and irrefutable. Congress chose to have a convention submit proposed “alterations.” The Articles allowed only for an “alteration.” Therefore as more than one was required, the convention complied all into a single document in order to satisfy the requirement of one “alteration.” That alteration was sent to Congress (and there are historic documents proving this) who agreed to it and then sent it to the states who agreed to it. Indeed the agreement was a massive set of votes as discussed in this article: http://www.nolanchart.com/article6449.html

    In sum, there was nothing “illegal” about the convention. It followed the law of the land at that time in every respect. The author needs to study history a bit more and check facts BEFORE making statements.

    • By “author” you hopefully mean ME, since your disagreements are with my commentary and not with the quoted text. Articles of Confederation were adopted by Congress in 1777 and formed the basis for the central government throughout the war, regardless of whether they were formally adopted by the states. Congress operated under the terms of the Articles, even unratified.

      The “illegal” comment was solely mine, is nonetheless technically true, but could I suppose depend on how you look at it. The Articles required unanimous consent among the states to ratify any alterations, “which made any plan to change them without such consent illegal.” Since Hamilton et al planned to completely rewrite/replace the Articles and do so without seeking unanimous consent… well, is what it is. When Congress finally agreed to allow a Constiutional Convention, their mandate was clear: to alter or amend, not to start over.

      Hey, I have no vested interest in whether it was or it wasn’t, I don’t think it matters that much. It’s interesting, that’s all. I agree with George Washington: “The legality of this Convention I do not mean to discuss…. That powers are wanting, none can deny…. That which takes the shortest course to obtain them, will, in my opinion, under present circumstances, be found best. Otherwise, like a house on fire, whilst the most regular mode of extinguishing it is contended for, the building is reduced to ashes.” It clearly needed to be done, and they way they did it was masterful. The framers were, I believe, uniquely suited for the job and clearly had the hand of God guiding them. It is amazing what they came up with.

      In looking up some things online, I’m finding that Conservatives seem to have a huge interest in painting everyone who sees it as the author does as evil and, of course, liberal. I will say that there are many times that I’m confused by Conservatives (though I am one) and this is one of those times.

      http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/database/article_display.cfm?HHID=284 was some good reading.

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