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Tag: constitutional convention

Eight myths about the Constitution

Constitution Day is September 17. We’ve got events, programs, and activities at National Archives locations across the United States.

Pundits, candidates, and party activists like to cite the Constitution of the United States as the moral and legal backing for whatever they’re proposing. Or they say that something an opponent proposes is unconstitutional.

But the Constitution is silent on a lot of things you probably thought it said. Here are eight examples.

The President can veto a proposed amendment to the Constitution.

No. He has nothing to do with the amendments. Congress can propose an amendment with a two-thirds vote of both houses, or a Constitutional Convention can be called by a vote of two-thirds of the state legislatures. However, once the amendment is proposed either by Congress or a convention, it must be ratified by three-fourths of the state legislatures.

Only one amendment, the 21st Amendment, which repealed Prohibition (the 18th Amendment), was ratified by conventions in the states.

The “Founding Fathers” who wrote the Declaration of Independence in 1776 are the same men who wrote the Constitution in 1787.

Only five individuals signed both of these two founding documents. They were George Clymer, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Morris, George Read, and Roger Sherman. Some of the famous signers of the Declaration were elsewhere when the Constitution was being written. Thomas Jefferson was in France … [ Read all ]

The Real Constitution Day?

Today’s post comes from Jessie Kratz, historian of the National Archives.

June 21, 2013, marks the 225th anniversary of the U.S. Constitution’s ratification. As we prepare for a long, hot summer here in the nation’s capital, I can only imagine what it felt like in 1787, when delegates from 12 states met in Philadelphia’s pre–air conditioning summer heat.

Their original purpose was revising the ineffective Articles of Confederation, the country’s first constitution. The delegates, however, soon decided to abandon the document altogether and start from scratch.

For four months the men worked tirelessly on a document outlining a new form of government. On September 17—now known as Constitution Day—delegates representing 12 states finished and signed the document (Alexander Hamilton signed the document even though New York lacked a quorum to vote in the convention).

Then the delegates passed a resolution to the Continental Congress, recommending that the Constitution be implemented upon approval by nine state conventions rather than by the unanimous approval of all 13 state legislatures as required by the Articles of Confederation.

On December 7, 1787, Delaware’s convention became the first to ratify the Constitution, earning the state its nickname “The First State.” Pennsylvania and New Jersey ratified later in December of 1787; and Georgia and Connecticut in January of 1788.

The remaining ratifications stalled as states argued that the new Constitution created a federal … [ Read all ]

Constitution 225: It was secret, but we know about it

Today’s post was written by National Archives volunteer Paul Richter. It is part of a series tracing the development of the Constitution in honor of the 225th anniversary of this document on September 17, 2012.

In the earliest days of the Constitutional Convention, the delegates agreed their proceedings would be secret.

As the convention drew to a close, several delegates expressed concern that the opposing viewpoints—intentionally encouraged by the convention rules and captured in convention records—would encourage opposition to the Constitution if they became public knowledge. They briefly considered destroying the convention records before deciding it was important to preserve them as proof of what had transpired there.

Just before signing the Constitution on September 17, the delegates voted to give all convention papers to George Washington. He was directed to keep them until a Congress was formed under the Constitution and directed him what to do with the records.

Eventually, Washington gave the records to the State Department for safekeeping. The State Department transferred custody of the records of the Continental and Confederation Congresses and the Constitutional Convention to the National Archives after its creation in 1934.

Of course, the source of much of our information about the Constitutional Convention’s proceedings is James Madison’s journal, which, unlike the voting record shown here, was not part of the official record of the convention. The … [ Read all ]

Constitution 225: George Washington’s Constitution

 

 

Today’s Constitution 225 post was written by Jim Zeender,  senior registrar in Exhibits at the National Archives.

Imagine George Washington’s first day on the job as President of the United States on April 30, 1789. What what his role? How was he to act? What were his duties and powers? Who should advise him? Who worked for him?

The Constitution described the role of the President in general terms, but spelled out only a few specific duties and powers. Since the democratic republic created under the Constitution was an entirely new form of government, there was no user’s manual. There were no previous presidents he could look to for advice. The Constitution, the proposed Bill of Rights, and Acts of Congress were the closest thing. After the first session of Congress, these documents were printed and compiled into a volume.

Visitors to the Donald W. Reynolds Museum at Mount Vernon will have a rare opportunity to see Washington’s personal copy of this rare volume.

Inside, his handwritten notes in pencil can be seen in the margins. The text was printed by Francis Childs and John Swaine and bound by Thomas Allen, all of New York. Washington received the book in 1789, his first year in office as U.S. president, and brought it with him to Mount Vernon upon his retirement in 1797. Only … [ Read all ]

Constitution 225: It takes a committee to write a Preamble

Today’s post was written by National Archives volunteer Paul Richter. It is part of a series tracing the development of the Constitution in honor of the 225th anniversary of this document on September 17, 2012.

By the second week of September, the delegates to the Constitutional Convention had hammered out nearly all of the details of new government. They had carefully recorded each article they adopted throughout the summer, but they had not focused much energy on making them presentable as a whole.

Aware that they would soon lift their self-imposed veil of secrecy and present the finished document to the rest of the nation, they referred the entire document to the Committee of Style.  The Committee of Style was charged with organizing the articles and polishing the language to impart the Constitution with a consistent voice commensurate with its status as the foundation of the United States government.

The five delegates selected to serve on Committee of Style were William Samuel Johnson, Alexander Hamilton, Gouverneur Morris, James Madison, and Rufus King.

Perhaps the most iconic edit proposed by the Committee of Style appears in the first line of the Preamble to the Constitution. While earlier drafts listed each state individually, the Preamble presented to the Convention on September 12 began succinctly “We the People of the United States.”[ Read all ]