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Commemoration of the Ratification
of the Constitution
RADIO ADDRESS OF HONORABLE SOL BLOOM
DIRECTOR GENERAL, UNITED States ConstitUTION SESQUICENTENNIAL COMMISSION, DELIVERED OVER NETWORK OF COLUMBIA BROADCASTING SYSTEM, 4:15 P. M., JUNE 21, 1938, FROM INDEPENDENCE Hall, PHILADELPHIA, PA.
THE TWENTY-FIRST day of June is a milestone on the long and rough road of human liberty. It marks the hour when Americans, after suffering many disappointments and dangers, found the secret of "more perfect Union.” From that hour the United States of America has grown more and more powerful among nations, armed as it is with the breastplate of peace, the shield of liberty and the sword of justice.
Almighty Providence has ordained that the United States shall stand as a lighthouse, immovable by any storm, to throw the beam of hope to all mankind. Thanks to the American spirit as manifested on June 21, 1788, human liberty is a reality-a perpetual fact—and the right of a human being to pursue happiness is not a dream. On that day the Constitution of the United States came into being. Eight states having previously voted ratification, the vote of New Hampshire on that day consummated the Union.
No pages of history are more inspiring than those which tell of the beginnings of American independence, the struggles and partial failures in the search for the secret of Union, and the final success of the people in establishing upon everlasting foundations a government of their own choosing. Although brave, other peoples were equally brave; and Americans did not succeed by bravery alone. Although patriotic and intelligent, Americans made mistakes which baffled their hopes. Their courage was shaken by reverses in the field, and their fortitude was sapped by long-continued disappointments in statecraft. But they profited by their bitter experiences, and worked their way patiently through errors to perfect the Constitution. On this day, 150 years ago, they triumphed.
Many students of history regard the victory of the Revolution as a miracle. The financial resources of the Americans were meager to the point of beggary. Their political system was in effect a lack of system-a hodgepodge, an improvised arrangement which could have been expected to insure defeat instead of victory. There was no central government. The only agency of common action was a convention of delegates from the colonies--a convention that sprang from the universal protest against the injustice of the British government. Calling itself the Continental Congress, this convention had no constitution or standard of precedents. It made its rules as it went along gradually enlarging its powers of government Its fundamental rule was that each colony should have one vote.
It assembled first in September, 1774, adopted a petition to the king asking for redress of grievances, took steps to remind England that commercial retaliations were on foot and adjourned after recommending another congress or convention to be held in Philadelphia on May 10, 1775.
Although active in the struggle for righting of the wrongs then suffered by the colonists, the Continental Congress continued to lack the powers essential to efficient government.
June 10 and June 11, 1776, are important dates in American history. On June 10 it was resolved that a committee should be appointed to draw up a Declaration of Independence. On the next day a resolution was passed to appoint a committee to prepare and digest the form of a confederation to be entered into between the colonies.
The Declaration of Independence was adopted on July 4, 1776, and the war went on. The committee charged with preparation of a form of Confederation brought in a draft on July 12. This report was debated until November 15, 1777, before it was agreed to. The Congress directed that the Articles of Confederation be submitted to the legislatures of the states with the recommendation that, if approved, their delegates in Congress be authorized to ratify them. A form of ratification was drawn up, and on July 9, 1778, the Articles of Confederation were ratified by the delegates of New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and South Carolina. But the confederation could not go into effect until all states concurred. So, with stumbling and inadequate powers, the Congress did its best to support Washington in his discouraging campaign.
DIRECTOR GENERAL BLOOM's ADDRESS
Long delays, for various reasons, prevented ratification of the Articles by the delegates of other states. New Jersey's delegates did not ratify until November 26, 1778. Delaware delayed until May 5, 1779. Maryland instructed its delegates not to ratify the Articles until a satisfactory settlement of the western land question could be found; but the enemies of independence circulated reports of the early dissolution of the Union and defeat in war, and Maryland finally directed its delegates to ratify. They signed the Articles on March 1, 1781, and the next day the Congress assembled under its new powers.
The war had been conducted all this time under direction of committees of Congress. These committees were rudimentary departments of Foreign Affairs, Treasury, War, and Marine. The Congress exercised legislative, executive, and judicial functions.
The Confederation had been in existence only seven months when Cornwallis surrendered to Washington on October 19, 1781. From the day when Congress prepared for confederation until the Articles went into effect, four years and nine months elapsed. These were the years when the fate of the Revolution hung in the balance. Then followed eight years of unhappy and unfortunate efforts at government under the Confederation--the period from March 1, 1781, to March 4, 1789, when the Constitution went into operation. These were the years of doubt, when it seemed that a people who had won their independence were incapable of preserving it.
The men who framed the Constitution had been through the war and the agonizing years of demoralization under the Confederation. They remembered that it had taken nearly five years to bring the states into the Confederation, and that after they were confederated all efforts to perfect the government were blocked because of the objections of one or two states. They were agreed upon two fundamental propositions: First, that a more perfect Union must be established; and second, that the rule of unanimity must be abolished. One state had, indeed, refused to take part in framing the Constitution.
The Articles of Confederation provided that they should never be altered unless “agreed to in a congress of the united states, and be afterwards confirmed by the legislature of every state.”
For the sublime purpose of forming a more perfect Union the framers of the Constitution boldly proposed to set aside this provision of the Articles of Confederation. They proposed that conventions, and not legislatures, should have power of ratification; and that the conventions of nine states, and not thirteen, should have
power to establish the Union. They provided that the Constitution itself should be subject to amendment by the vote of three-fourths of the states instead of all the states.
This bold action was denounced in all the states by individuals who described it as revolutionary. The objectors were in the majority in some states. So, if the rule of unanimity had been observed, it is safe to say that the Constitution would not have been established. But the practical common sense of the people supported the makers of the Constitution. Charges of “revolutionary action” and “usurpation of power" were dismissed with this argument: "Are we not masters? Do we not have power to form a more perfect Union if we choose? Let the will of three-fourths of the states be the expression of our will."
The people in state conventions proceeded to consider the draft of the Constitution. The discussions were exceedingly penetrating and informative. Great patriots opposed the Constitution. Indeed, one Virginia delegate who voted against ratification was afterward elected President of the United States-James Monroe. The vote in many states was very close.
Delaware, by unanimous vote, was the first to ratify, on December 7, 1787. Pennsylvania followed, by a vote of 46 to 23. New Jersey and Georgia were next, with unanimous votes. Connecticut ratified by a vote of 128 to 40. The struggle in Massachusetts was prolonged until February 6, 1788, when the vote for ratification was recorded, 187 for and 168 against. Maryland and South Carolina ratified by substantial majorities, while Virginia and New York were locked in doubtful debate.
Then, on June 21, 1788, 150 years ago today, New Hampshire's delegates by a vote of 57 to 47 crowned the years of trial by ratifying the Constitution. Thereupon it was transformed from a blueprint into an everlasting structure.
Congress on July 2 received official word of the action of New Hampshire. It discussed ways and means for putting the Constitution into operation. It fixed the first Wednesday in January, 1789, as the day for choosing presidential electors; the first Wednesday in February for balloting for President and Vice President; and the first Wednesday in March for the commencement of the government under the Constitution.
Although delays occurred which prevented President Washington from taking the oath of office until April 30, it has been judicially held that the United States government came into operation on March 4, 1789.
RATIFICATION OF THE CONSTITUTION
From that day to this, the history of the United States has been one of Liberty Triumphant. We honor ourselves and our posterity when we celebrate today, the birthday of the more perfect Union without which our liberty would be but a hopeless dream. Throughout the shifting time-flood of 150 years, when nations have been engulfed like sand, and humanity has clung to the wreckage of governments, the Rock of American Union has withstood the battering-rams of accident and war. This Rock of Union is the foundation upon which Liberty, as from a lighthouse, flashes its beams throughout the world. Storm-tossed millions in many lands see this eternal light and renew their courage. The message goes forth: “Do not despair. We, like you, were engulfed in trouble. Seek liberty in yourselves, in your own Union. Base your union upon the rock of individual liberty, pull together, and you will be saved.”