Tuesday is Constitution Day, the 226th anniversary of the signing of our country’s great document.
After investing a shade over four months forging and debating its contents in a closed room during the hot Philadelphia summer of 1787, delegates to the Constitutional Convention solemnly autographed their work before presenting it to their countrymen and women.
You may be surprised to find out not everyone was in awe of what they had cobbled together. The ink on their signatures was barely dry before the political pillow fight started. The most storied opponent was none other than Patrick Henry, the American Revolutionary War “Give me liberty or give me death” patriot from Virginia.
Henry was so opposed to the Constitution that his opening comments at Virginia’s ratification debates included the following remark: “It is said eight states have adopted this plan. I declare that if twelve states and an half had adopted it, I would with manly firmness, and in spite of an erring world, reject it.”
Many other learned, thoughtful and earnest men also rejected it. What was their issue? There were several. But their one word all-consuming concern appears frequently in a reading of “The Anti-Federalist Papers and the Constitutional Convention Debates,” by Ralph Ketcham.
The word? Liberty.
Anti-Federalists repeatedly rose to denounce the document, fearful it would one day lead to Americans’ liberty being usurped by a too powerful national government at the expense of states’ rights. Their insistence that a measure to cement liberty be included became the Bill of Rights, our first 10 amendments.
The framers argued they were not necessary because the rights they guaranteed were already inherent in the original document they designed. James Madison, considered the father of the Constitution, was dead set against the idea but in the end gave in on this point.
Anti-Federalists were equally concerned by the unchecked power granted to nine Supreme Court Justices and the possibility of a despot gaining control over us by degrees, recalling the tyranny that eventually snared the Greeks and Romans.
But it was liberty and protecting it that served as their focal point.
Would, that our current President held this idea in as high esteem as they. Today America has “evolved” to the point that we have a President who said “...the Constitution is a charter of negative liberties. Says what the states can’t do to you. Says what the federal government can’t do to you, but doesn’t say what the federal government or state government must do on your behalf.”
Negative liberties? He means our Founders didn’t espouse redistribution of wealth. There is a reason they didn’t. This idea doesn’t represent liberty, but its opposite. Both Federalists and Anti-Federalists would have been repulsed by such thinking.
It is the kind of thinking that can result in tyranny by degrees and about which we must be ever vigilant to ensure America’s name isn’t one day ruefully mentioned third in a listing that starts with Greece and Rome.