The Citizen's Constitution
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We the People1 of the United States,2 in Order to form a more perfect3
Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility,4 provide
for the common defence,5 promote the general Welfare, and secure
the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity,6 do ordain
and establish7 this Constitution for the United States of America.8


1. As opposed to the states. Said Samuel Adams: “I confess, as I enter the Building I stumble at the Threshold. I meet with a National Government, instead of a Federal Union of Sovereign States.” Arguing against ratification in Virginia, Patrick Henry demanded: “Who authorized them to speak the language of, We, the people, instead of, We, the states? States are the characteristics and the soul of a confederation.”
   One delegate to the Constitutional Convention who emerged among the Anti-Federalists, Luther Martin, recommended to Maryland that it reject the Constitution: “We appeared totally to have forgot the business for which we were sent . . . we adopted principles which would be right and proper, only on the supposition that there were no State governments at all, but that all the inhabitants of this extensive continent were in their individual capacity, without government, and in a state of nature.”
   The Federalists would have none of it. At the Pennsylvania ratifying convention, James Wilson declared: “I know very well all the common-place rant of State sovereignties, and that government is founded in original compact.” But he insisted that the Preamble “is not an unmeaning flourish. The expressions declare, in a practical manner, the principle of this constitution. It is ordained and established by the people themselves; and we, who give our votes for it, are merely the proxies of our constituents. We sign it as their attorneys, and as to ourselves, we agree to it as individuals.”


2. Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Virginia attended the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia; Rhode Island, which was in the grip of a paper money faction that opposed the Federalists, refused. About Rhode Island, James Madison wrote: “Nothing can exceed the wickedness and folly which continue to rule there. All sense of character, as well as of right is obliterated. Paper money is still their idol, though it is debased to eight for one.”


3. Among the imperfections in the union formed under the Articles of Confederation were the absence of an executive and the weakness of the federal Congress. The legislature couldn’t levy taxes, impose uniform tariffs, raise an army, or make land grants. State legislatures were straining the patience of the founders. “We have, probably, had too good an opinion of human nature in forming our confederation,” Washington wrote to John Jay the summer before the Constitutional Convention. One of the advocates of a strong federal government, Alexander Hamilton, in 15 Federalist on the “Insufficiency of the Present Confederation to Preserve the Union,” wrote: “We may indeed with propriety be said to have reached almost the last stage of national humiliation.”


4. The rebellion in Massachusetts, where Captain Daniel Shays and his men had only recently been defeated, raised fundamental issues. Shays led farmers and debtors in a campaign to block foreclosures carried out for the purpose of collecting taxes levied to pay debts of the Revolution; the rebels wanted Massachusetts to finance these levies by issuing paper money, then rarely used. Shays’ rebels appeared in arms against the courts, forcing, in September 1776, the adjournment of the Massachusetts Supreme Court at Springfield. Shays’ Rebellion gained the enactment of relief for debtors in Massachusetts and, coming as it did on the eve of the Constitutional Convention, put the questions not only of taxation and monetary authority but contracts into sharp relief at Philadelphia.


5. As the delegates gathered at Philadelphia, the new nation was surrounded by enemies, Spain having closed New Orleans and Britain the West Indies; France was imposing trade sanctions.


6. At the time of the Convention, $60 million in Revolutionary War debt was owed by the federal and state governments.


7. Hamilton singled out this phrase in 84 Federalist: “Here, in strictness, the people surrender nothing, and as they retain every thing, they have no need of particular reservations.” It is typical of the Federalists’ sly evasions.


8. The name of the new nation was given in the first of the Articles of Confederation.

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