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?)