By Douglas V. Gibbs
, Radio Host
The United States Constitution is a social contract between the States to create a federal government. The document was written as a result of a little more than four months of debates in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1787 by delegates from twelve of the original thirteen States. The intent of the new Constitution was to form a federal government for the purpose of protecting, preserving, and promoting the union of States because the constitution before the U.S. Constitution, the Articles of Confederation, had proven to be too weak to protect the union of states. Originally, the founders met in May of 1787 with the general understanding that they were congregating together for the purpose of fixing the Articles of Confederation. The delegates, however, quickly realized it was necessary to form a whole new central government through the process of writing a new constitution.
The new government, and the new Constitution they were about to construct, had to be unique. It needed to be exceptional. The concept of exceptionalism emerged from the idea that the American System was becoming an exception to the rule in Europe where a ruling elite controlled through an authoritarian system the general population. The Framers of the new Constitution knew that the United States was different from all of the other countries around the world.
Alexis de Tocqueville in 1831 and 1832 recognized the exceptional nature of the United States after he observed American Society first hand. He was astonished by America when he visited the States because he had been told by the elites in Europe that America was in shambles. There was an anti-American sentiment among the elites that had permeated down to even the lowly members of the general populace. Word had it that the United States was a horrible place steeped in poverty, and had a government unable to properly function because it represented the people. Government by the consent of the governed, it was established, had been a terrible mistake because the ruling elite were unable to take charge as rulers in order to serve the General Will. When Alexis de Tocqueville visited the United States, however, the truth turned out to be very different from the criticisms of America by the political ruling classes of Europe.
Alexis Tocqueville, however, discovered that not only was America not a mistake, but it was something very special. America was an exceptional nation with an exceptionally unique symbiotic dichotomy between government and The Church.
American Culture champions individual natural rights, and liberty, while keeping a watchful eye on a potentially intrusive government. The early history of America set the tone for our exceptionalism. Historically, America was diverse,
rugged, and a land of individual opportunity. For this, the United States was blessed with an incredible influx of immigrants who came to this nation desiring the opportunity to participate in the freedom, and exceptionalism, that America had to offer.
The United States also made its share of errors, but rather than sink into despair, this country rose above those dark points in history, correcting the nation’s course, and becoming greater as a result of those momentary storms of history. The strengths of our civil society has been different than that of the rest of the world largely because we have achieved our prosperity through self-governance, where the local governments handle the local issues, and the centralized federal government is tasked only with the complexities of protecting, preserving, and promoting the union.
We cherish as individuals our personal freedom, and as a result, the community better benefits.
To understand the Character of Americanism that led to the principles contained on the pages of the United States Constitution, it is important to understand why the British Colonies emerged in the manner that they did. King James watched the rise, and the decline, of the Spanish Empire, and learned that empires in the New World can be expensive. So, armed with this knowledge, Great Britain did not approach the New World as conquerors like the Spanish. Instead, the colonization of America by the English was offered as an investment opportunity for private companies, as well as an opportunity for a new start for families. Riches were available in the New World, and with the hard work of individual investors, the hope of becoming a wealthy property owner awaited those willing to take the chance. King James offered charters. The success of the colonies would also mean a new revenue source for the British monarchy. Failure would result in a financial loss for the investors, not The Crown. At that point the entrepreneurial spirit of America was born.
In 1607 English colonists arrived at Jamestown. The English colonization of North America was very different from that of the Spanish. The lessons of military conquest, and the financial expenses of empire, convinced the English monarchy to use a different tact when colonizing the Atlantic Coast. Rather than conquer, adventurers were encouraged to invest in the New World. English colonists cultivated tobacco, and other crops, for wealth. They produced crop surpluses for export to the Old World, making the English colonies profitable in a potentially unlimited manner.
Taking gold and silver from the New World could only work as long as more gold and silver remained. Spain’s cost to maintain the empire, however, left the Spanish with less remaining as far as profit went. King James I did not wish to create yet another high risk, and expensive, system of colonization, so England’s colonization of the New World on the outskirts of Spain’s New World empire (where Spain could not defend the lands she claimed to rule) was encouraged by a system of investment by various companies with ambitions to reap riches, while benefiting England both overseas and at home.
English colonists were not soldiers, as were the Spanish settlers, filled with the desire of conquest and gold, but families filled with the desire of a new start, property ownership, and riches through farming and trade. They were driven by a desire to be self-reliant, personally responsible, and to carve their own path of success in the New World.
Jamestown, however, did not begin its settlement using the free market principles that would later come to define American Economics. At first, Jamestown failed to yield a profit for the Virginia Company, so after two decades of struggling to survive, the royal government was forced to take over operations.
The colonists endured Indian attacks, and disease. As a result of their early system of communal property, starvation also become a major concern, with little assistance from the homeland. Bickering among themselves left the colonists with unplanted crops, and shrinking food supplies. In 1607 the local Indians began to bring corn to the colony for barter, which assisted in feeding the colonists, and stocking the Indians with Old World goods they desired. However, the corn was not enough, and in 1610 only 60 of the previous 500 settlers remained alive. These early struggles, however, had an important impact on the English colonies that the Spanish never encountered. The struggles, with limited help from England, instilled a spirit of survival, self-reliance, and independence into the English colonists. They eventually shed the concept of communitarianism and instituted a free market model, allowing the settlers to keep what they produced, and only bring to market what they believed was excess, for the purpose of profit or trade.
Through the new free and dynamic market the settlers began to embrace the virtues of hard work, and personal responsibility. These principles became important for the sake of survival. Without these characteristics, which were taught to the colonists through their struggles, the English colonies would never have survived. The promised riches of the New World had not materialized at that point, however, but only because a cash crop had not emerged as they had hoped for.
Tobacco, and later cotton, became those cash crops, which became growing industries that attracted droves of English indentured servants to work in the fields.
Colonizing by offering charters had paid off for the British Monarchy. The English colonies were finally prospering, and they did so with little interference from the English government. The colonies were self-sufficient, yet England was profiting from the burgeoning farming industries. The only thing holding back the promise of increasing profit to ever higher possibilities was the lack of labor. English arrivals were limited in numbers, and the indentured servants, after seven years of service, were striking out on their own. The southern colonies needed a new work force that was less expensive, not likely to strike out on their own, and capable of increasing in number quickly. The labor-intensive nature of the tobacco crop opened up the eventuality of slave labor.
Aside from the emergence of slavery in the English Colonies, the charter system played a significant role in creating the American virtue of self-reliance. A value system based on biblical principles also propelled the new English Colonies on a path to success. In the southern colonies the promise of riches through property ownership and cash crops encouraged more Englishmen to arrive seeking their fortune, but in the north new colonies were being established with a different goal in mind. North of the Chesapeake region, colonies were emerging based on the desire for religious freedom.
The Pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock in 1620 is the tale we are most familiar with. The Pilgrims were separatists. Though the Pilgrims’ roots were with the Puritan Church, they endeavored to separate themselves from the Puritan Church, as well as British mainstream society.
The early northern colonies were theocracies, but the stronghold by the Church splintered as more and more colonists moved into the frontier. New strains of Protestantism emerged in the frontier lands to the west of the colonies, and the Puritan Congregationalist Church’s influence lessened with each new settlement to the west. In the colonies the Puritan churches divided and subdivided as well. The Christian founding of these settlements is undeniable, but so is the diversity of the religious beliefs of the early colonists.
Quakers flocked to Pennsylvania where William Penn was determined to live in peace with the Indians, and all other religious denominations. Penn’s first principle of government was that every settler “enjoy the free expression of his or her faith and exercise of worship towards God.” Pennsylvania tolerated all Protestant sects, as well as Roman Catholics. The government in Pennsylvania did not compel settlers to attend church services (as in Massachusetts), or pay taxes to maintain a state-supported church (as in Virginia). Pennsylvania was the first of the northern colonies to practice true religious freedom, aside from Rhode Island, which had begun to advocate freedom of religion when Roger Williams had been banished by the Puritans in the early 1630s.
The colonies, from the beginning, were separate, self-sufficient, independent entities. Each colony had its own unique culture, its own religion, and even its own political system. The individual colonies were like siblings who fought against each other constantly, while coming to each other’s aid when they felt it was necessary. The American Revolution taught the newly independent states that if they were to survive, they would need to continue to function as a union. It took uniting together as a single force to defeat the British, and it would take being united as a country to survive the test of time.
The Founding Fathers provided the framework for the creation of the U.S. Government based on their research of various political systems, but were mostly influenced by biblical concepts, the Saxon System from Britain, and their own history dating back to the earliest colonies. The delegates in Philadelphia’s Federal Convention debated for over four months over what authorities the federal government should be granted. The central government was designed to protect, preserve, and promote the new union of sovereign States because they had always enjoyed autonomy even as colonies, but also needed to be united as a union so as to protect itself against potential invasions from other countries. However, the federal government needed to not only be strong enough to defend the union of States against enemies, but also needed to be limited enough in its authorities to preserve the basic rights of the individual States, and the American people.
During the convention, many forms of government were examined, and ultimately the Framers decided upon a Constitutional Republic. In the colonies, communal utopian systems resulted in starvation and death. Under the Articles of Confederation the government had proven to be too weak to defend the union against insurrection or rebellion. A Unitary government was out of the question, for the “Top down from a single ruling point” style of government was too much like the monarchy the United States had just won their independence from. A pure democracy would give the people all of the power, but historically, that had proven to be a disastrous style of government, as well. A democracy always deteriorated into “mob rule,” and would ultimately become so unstable that an oligarchy would take over the government. History had proven time and time again that democracies destroy themselves, and become tyrannies after the system breaks down.
The U.S. Constitution was a product of heavy debate, compromise, and serious research of past republican forms of government. Anticipating the intensity of the debates, and the constant changes of mind by the participants, the convention was held in secret, with the doors and windows closed, so as not to concern the people about their quarreling leaders.
What emerged from the intense debates during the Constitutional Convention was a republic that uses a mixture of democratic processes and indirect electoral processes to elect the members of the representative government. The new federal government was a far more complex form of government than had been provided by the Articles of Confederation. To protect against the excess of democracy a system of limits, checks, and balances were devised. Three branches of government were established, and their power was divided through a concept called Separation of Powers. Some of the authorities were also divided between the federal government, and the States. Even the power of the vote was divided as to diminish the amount of power residing in the hands of the citizens.
The members of the House of Representatives were originally established to be voted in by the voting public, as it remains to this day. The Senators of the U.S. Senate were appointed by the state legislatures, which was changed by the 17th Amendment. An electoral college was devised so that the President would be indirectly voted into office, though the term Electoral College did not emerge until the 1820s. The members of the judiciary were to be appointed, and the judicial branch was slated to be the weakest of the three branches of government.
The U.S. Constitution became the law of the land.
The first words of the Constitution is We The People. The Constitution was written for We The People, to secure our rights, to restrain itself from interfering with our freedoms, to protect our union of States from all enemies, foreign and domestic.
The Preamble is the introduction of the U.S. Constitution. The opening paragraph of the founding document holds no legal authority. The Preamble serves to establish who is granting the authority to create a new federal government, and the reasons for the decision. We The People of the United States are the granters. In other words, the States, which were the embodiment of the people, were creating the federal government, and granting authorities to it so that it may function in a manner necessary to protect, promote, and preserve the union of States. The concept became known as federalism.
The driving force, however, was the reliance upon the protection of divine Providence.
"The general principles on which the fathers achieved independence were the general principles of Christianity. I will avow that I then believed, and now believe, that those general principles of Christianity are as eternal and immutable as the existence and attributes of God." --John Adams wrote this on June 28, 1813, in a letter to Thomas Jefferson.
"Our laws and our institutions must necessarily be based upon and embody the teachings of the Redeemer of mankind. It is impossible that it should be otherwise; and in this sense and to this extent our civilization and our institutions are emphatically Christian." - United States Supreme Court, 1892.
Biblically speaking, there are no direct references to democracies and republics in God’s Word. When one speaks of the Constitution being based on Biblical principles, what is meant is the style of governance. The principles being referred to that are in the U.S. Constitution are how our laws were inspired by the moral principles of the Ten Commandments, and how the Blessings of liberty to ourselves and our Posterity (principles of freedom) were inspired by the biblical principles of free will, individualism, personal responsibility, moral conduct, and honest governance.
George Mason was one of the Founding Fathers who insisted on the Bill of Rights to be added to the Constitution. He said, regarding his stance, that, "The laws of nature are the laws of God, whose authority can be superseded by no power on earth."
Benjamin Franklin stated, "I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth - that God Governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid?"
All of the Founding Fathers recognized the providence that must have guided them through the war against the British Empire. They also recognized another truth. Our natural rights are God-given, and there must be a God for that to be the case. Natural rights existed prior to the existence of any government, because God existed before any government. If God does not exist, then that would mean that our rights are government-given, in which case the government would also have the allowance of taking our rights away.
Patrick Henry said, "It cannot be emphasized too strongly that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For this very reason peoples of other faiths have been afforded asylum, prosperity and freedom of worship here."
George Washington said, "While we are zealously performing the duties of good citizens and soldiers, we certainly ought not to be inattentive to the higher duties of religion. To the distinguished character of Patriot, it should be our highest glory to add the more distinguished character of Christian." -- The Writings of Washington, pp. 342-3
John Adams said, "Suppose a nation in some distant Region should take the Bible for their only law Book, and every member should regulate his conduct by the precepts there exhibited! Every member would be obliged in conscience, to temperance, frugality, and industry; to justice, kindness, and charity towards his fellow men; and to piety, love, and reverence toward Almighty God ... What a Eutopia, what a Paradise would this region be." -- Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, Vol. III, p. 9.
Adams also wrote: "The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever." -- Adams wrote this in a letter to his wife, Abigail, on July 3, 1776.
Thomas Jefferson said, "God who gave us life gave us liberty. And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the Gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with His wrath? Indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that His justice cannot sleep forever; That a revolution of the wheel of fortune, a change of situation, is among possible events; that it may become probable by Supernatural influence! The Almighty has no attribute which can take side with us in that event." -- Notes on the State of Virginia, Query XVIII, p. 237.
John Hancock said, "Resistance to tyranny becomes the Christian and social duty of each individual. ... Continue steadfast and, with a proper sense of your dependence on God, nobly defend those rights which heaven gave, and no man ought to take from us." -- History of the United States of America, Vol. II, p. 229.
There is no doubt that the founding of this nation was based on the principles of law, freedom, individualism, personal responsibility, and moral conduct - all of which were inspired by Biblical text, and the personal relationship the Founders had with Jesus Christ.
When the convention had finally ended, Elizabeth Powel approached Dr. Benjamin Franklin on a grassy hill. The woman in a bonnet asked, "Sir, what have you given us? A monarchy, or a republic?" Franklin responded, "A republic, ma'am, if you can keep it."
Elizabeth Powel was an informed member of society. She knew what to ask, and Franklin personalized his answer to her.
She was the wife of Samuel Powel, mayor of Philadelphia. Together the couple owned what today we would call a 'bed and breakfast.' To attract the most important travelers, at their inn they offered opulent dinners. It is said that during the convention, George Washington spent most of his suppers at the Powel House. On September 8, 1774, John Adams, writing to his wife Abigail, exclaimed that dinner at the Powel House was "A most sinful Feast again! Every Thing which could delight the Eye, or allure the Taste."
When the meal concluded, the men would retreat to the parlor to light up their pipes and discuss politics. Unlike most of the women of her day, Elizabeth followed the men into the parlor, and argued with them about the issues of the day. Those who wrote about her called her "witty," "intelligent," and "unwavering."
She developed friendships with many of the Founding Fathers, and in particular, George Washington. It was common to see Elizabeth and George strolling the streets of Philadelphia discussing the issues of the day. It was Elizabeth who convinced Washington that "Mr. President" was a good enough title, rather than some of the other titles of preference being offered. . . like "Your majesty," "your excellence," or "your highly mightiness."
When Washington's first term as President of the United States was reaching its end, Washington told three people he was considering not serving another term. The people Washington told this to were Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Elizabeth Powel. It was Elizabeth who convinced George to serve a second term, arguing that he was the foundation of the new system, and if he abandoned it the people would lose faith in the new Constitution, and the anti-federalists would succeed in abolishing the system.
Mrs. Powel and George Washington also wrote each other often, largely discussing in their letters the issues of the day. To guard against the likely belief there was some kind of infidelity going on, however, all of the letters from George to Elizabeth were sealed with Martha Washington’s stamp in the wax. There have also been a number of letters discovered written between Elizabeth Powel and Mrs. Washington.
During his conversation with Mrs. Powel on the grassy hill, Franklin’s answer to her question reminds us that there is so much more to keeping the republic than there is to keeping a democracy. In a democracy, one votes, and then goes home. One’s role, at that point, is finished. In a republic, there is so much more to do. After all, Benjamin Franklin offered to Elizabeth Powel as the answer to her question, "If you can keep it." How could she keep the republic? She couldn't even vote during that early period in American History.
Voting is the sole tool of democracy, but we are a republic, and it was Elizabeth Powel who gave us an example to follow when it comes to what it takes to keep the republic. She got to know her representatives. She informed them and influenced them. She changed the course of history as a result of her relationship with George Washington. At a time when women could not vote, she became an integral part in the political system, and reveals that when it comes to keeping the republic, voting is but a small part.
-- Political Pistachio
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