Archive for Articles
and Will E. Mack
Thank God Rush Limbaugh was not around to lend his political philosophy to the earnest men who huddled in Philadelphia at the Constitutional Convention in the summer of 1787.
Imagine if that attitude had prevailed at the Philadelphia convention scheduled to begin on May 14, 1987. Because Rhode Island boycotted the convention, a quorum was not reached until May 25, 1787 when 12 delegations from seven states arrived.
Though 55 delegates total had come to Philadelphia, there was only between 30 and 35 delegates at any one time, sealed in a stifling hot small room no larger than the largest schoolroom in Philadelphia’s state house. Under guard, and sequestered away from the prying eyes of the press and the public, they took a vow of secrecy.
For the next four months, they hammered out compromises that laid the foundation of this nation that has withstood the test of over two hundred years of change. Their goal: devise a strong national government yet somehow limit its power.
Without a doubt, there were deep divisions amongst the delegates. They wrestled with whether the president should stand for reelection. When they hit an impasse, they appointed committees to seek solutions and bring them to the convention as a whole. This was a precursor to the division of labor scheme now used in both the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives.
The issue of slavery threatened to destroy any hope of consensus among the delegates on more than one occasion. Though the word “slave” appears not once in the original Constitution, slavery was afforded important protections in the document in order to preserve the fragile union. For example, the Three-fifths clause—it counted only three-fifths of the slave population in apportioning representation—was created to give the South additional representation in the House as well as in the Electoral College. Furthermore, the Constitution forbade the outlawing of the Atlantic slave trade by Congress for twenty years. Also, a fugitive slave clause was added to mandate the return of runaway slaves to their owners. Finally, the federal government was endowed with the power to put down domestic rebellions, including slave insurrections. These were all compromises that were grudgingly forged after much heated debate.
“The framers of the Constitution believed that the concessions on slavery were the price for the support of southern delegates for a strong central government.”
But slavery was not the only thorny issue with which they dealt. It was only one of many. Among the myriad of difficult decisions that were debated:
- Would the federal government be permitted to veto state laws;
- Would states be totally abolished in favor of one large nation/state;
- Would the executive branch consist of a single executive or an executive committee.
Consensus, through compromise, was arrived at on these tough topics:
- The new nation would have a republican form of government divided among three separate branches—legislative, executive, and judicial;
- This central government would have the power to levy taxes;
- The House of Representatives would be elected directly by the populace;
- Periodic elections would be held;
- Only the national government would have the power to regulate interstate commerce and foreign trade.
Not surprisingly, no one was completely satisfied with the finished product.
Benjamin Franklin said:
I confess that there are several parts of this Constitution which I do not at present approve…. [But] the older I grow, the more apt I am to doubt my own judgment, and to pay more respect to the judgment of others…. I consent, sir, to this Constitution because I expect no better, and because I am not sure that it is not the best.
And, so this nation’s birth was forged through that long hot summer.
Without these critical compromises, and many others like them, America would not exist today as we know it.
I can’t help but wonder if Rush would call Benjamin Franklin a turncoat for accepting compromises on the single most important document in our history, our Constitution.
America today is strong enough to withstand a bovine blowhard like Rush Limbaugh. As a young democracy it is likely America could have died a crib death at the hands of dittoheads and Rush Limbaugh if they had their way. At the very least, America would have failed to thrive under his political philosophy.
Rush Limbaugh’s approach to problem solving would have been bad for a young America. He can’t be good for America today.
 Digital History http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/database/article_display.cfm?HHID=293
 Digital History http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/database/article_display.cfm?HHID=291