Principles were well tried

In constructing this frame of government, practically every feature showed the influence of the unwritten constitution of the British Empire; but also there is hardly a clause which cannot be traced to the constitution of one of the thirteen American states or to colonial practice. The principle of separation of powers, familiar in most colonial governments, had already been given a fair trial in most state constitutions and had been proven sound. And so the Convention set up a governmental system in which there was a separate legislative, executive, and judiciary branch - each checked by the others. Congressional enactments did not become law until approved by the President. And the President was to submit the most important of his appointments and all of his treaties to the Senate for confirmation. He, in turn, might be impeached and removed by Congress. The judiciary was to hear all cases arising under the laws and the Constitution. The courts were, therefore, in effect, empowered to interpret both the fundamental and the statute law. But the judiciary, appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate, might also be impeached by Congress.

Foreseeing the possible future necessity for changing or adding to the new document, the Convention included an article which delineated specifically methods for its amendment. However, to protect the Constitution from indiscriminate alteration, Article Five - used successfully only twenty-three times - was designed. It states that either two-thirds of both houses of Congress or two-thirds of the states, meeting in convention, may propose amendments to the Constitution. The proposals become law by one of two methods- Reception of President Washington in New York, first capital of the United States. Soon after, the seat of government was moved to Philadelphia, where it remained for ten years before the move to Washington, D.C. either by ratification by the legislatures of three-fourths of the states, or by convention in three-fourths of these states. The Congress proposes which method shall be used.

Finally, the Convention faced the most important problem of all: How should the powers given to the new government be enforced? Under the old Articles of Confederation, the national government had possessed-on paper-large, though by no means adequate, powers. But in practice these powers had come to naught, for the states paid no attention to them. What was to save the new government from meeting precisely the same obstacle? At the outset, most delegates furnished but one answer - the use of force. But it was quickly seen that the application of force upon the states would destroy the Union. As the discussion progressed, it was decided that the government should not act upon the states but upon the people within the states. It was to legislate for and upon all the individual residents of the country. As the keystone of the Constitution, the Convention adopted a brief but highly significant device:

"Congress shall have power . . . to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the ... powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States. (Article 1, Section viii.)

"This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every State shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding." (Article VI)

Thus the laws of the United States became enforceable in its own national courts, through its own judges and marshals. They were also enforceable in the state courts, through the state judges and state law officers.

At the end of sixteen weeks of deliberation - on September 17, 1787 - the finished Constitution was signed "by unanimous consent of the states present." The delegates were obviously impressed by the solemnity of the moment, and Washington sat in grave meditation. But Franklin relieved the tension by a characteristic sally. Pointing to the half sun painted in brilliant gold on the back of Washington's chair, he remarked that artists had always found it difficult to distinguish between a rising and a setting sun.

"I have often and often," he remarked, "in the course of the session, and the vicissitudes of my hopes and fears as to its issue, looked at that behind the President, without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting; but now, at length, I have the happiness to know that it is a rising, and not a setting sun."

The Convention was over; the members "adjourned to the City Tavern, dined together, and took a cordial leave of each other." Yet a crucial part of the struggle for a more perfect union was still to be faced. For the consent of popularly elected state conventions was still required before the document could become effective.

The Convention had decided that the Constitution would take effect as soon as it was approved by conventions in nine of the thirteen states. By the end of 1787, three had ratified it. But would six others? To many plain folk the document seemed full of dangers, for would not the strong central government that it set up tyrannize over them, oppress them with heavy taxes, and drag them into wars? These questions brought into existence two parties, the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists - those favoring a strong government and those who preferred a loose association of separate states. The controversy raged in the press, the legislature, and the state conventions. Impassioned arguments were poured forth on both sides. The ablest of these were the Federalist Papers, now a classic political work, written in behalf of the new Constitution by Hamilton, Madison, and John Jay. As a result of a particularly sharp contest in Massachusetts where agrarian discontent was still rife, a Bill of Rights Was appended to the Constitution in the form of amendments. Other states soon recognized the importance of making such additions to the Constitution, and the Rights, which had previously been included in all the state constitutions, were incorporated into the supreme law of the land-forming the first ten amendments of the original constitutional document. These amendments have guaranteed to citizens of the United States - among other rights - freedom of religion, speech, the press, and assembly; a militia instead of a standing army; the right to trial by jury; speedy trials by the law of the land, and prohibition of general warrants. As a result of the adoption of the Bill of Rights, the wavering states soon came to the support of the Constitution, which was finally adopted June 21, 1788. The Congress of the Confederation arranged for the first presidential election, declared the new government would begin on March 4, 1789, and quietly expired.