There’s probably a limited audience to be reeled in by the title of today’s blog post, but I couldn’t think of a more creative way that might trick some unsuspecting readers to dive in.
If US Constitutional History is not your cup of tea, please visit my blog again next week. I’m not sure what the topic will be, but I’ll try to avoid the US Constitution.
You might recall that I mentioned the 17th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States in my May 31, 2021 blog post because I’d read that it was ratified on May 31, 1913. After discovering that it was actually ratified on April 8, 1913, I had to come up with another topic for May 31. I’ll explain the confusion somewhere below.
Here we go…
Thank goodness for the 17th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America!
Even though I majored in political science in college, if asked out of the blue what the 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was about, I’d be hard-pressed to give you the correct answer.
The 17th Amendment, in a nutshell
The 17th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States mandates that the two Senators from each state “shall be” elected by the people of each respective state. It also states that U.S. Senators shall serve six-year terms and each Senator shall have one vote.
What about before the 17th Amendment?
The 17th Amendment was passed by Congress on May 13, 1912. Prior to the amendment’s ratification on April 8, 1913, each state’s U.S. Senators were chosen by the state legislatures. Whoa! Let that sink in for a minute! I shudder to think about the possibilities.
Living in the state of North Carolina, I tremble to think about who the NC General Assembly would have chosen for the US Senate, especially over the last decade or more. Granted, the general populous has rarely elected the people I would have preferred for these offices since Senator Sam Ervin died, but at least a fair and open election gives the citizens some measure of confidence in the people we send to Washington, DC. What they do after they get there is a whole other story. But I digress.
The reasoning behind the way it was before 1913
The framers of the United States Constitution weren’t sure the average citizen was smart enough to vote. They formed our government as a democracy, yet the white men who were in charge in our country’s infancy didn’t completely trust the general populous to elect the right people.
Come to think of it, the white men in charge in Washington, DC and in many state legislatures today don’t trust us to “vote right” either. It seems like we would’ve made more progress than this in more than 200 years, but I digress again.
The framers of the Constitution wanted the United States Senate to be a check on the masses. James Madison assured the attendees of the Constitutional Convention that cooler heads would prevail in the Senate than in the House of Representatives where representatives were elected by popular vote of the people. (Well, not really “the people,” for you could only vote then if you were a white male who owned some real estate. The Electoral College was also instituted as a buffer between the people and the US President. But that’s a topic for another day.)
The reasoning behind having the state legislatures elect US Senators was that the senators would be insulated from public opinion. To borrow a question from Dr. Phil McGraw, “How’s that workin’ for ya?”
I was eager to see what their study found. My hunch was that the election of US Senators was viciously fought over in the state legislatures and the said elections, no doubt, took up weeks and weeks of the legislatures’ time.
Unfortunately, it would have cost me $15 to gain access to the study, so I’ll just give you this quote from the article’s abstract: “We find significant evidence that under the indirect electoral mechanism, Senate elections were contentious, and winning majority control of the state legislature did not always ensure an easy electoral process. Specifically, the breakdown of caucus nominating processes, the size of majority coalitions, and whether the incumbent senator was running for reelection each exerted an effect on the probability of conflict in the indirect election process.”
Point of confusion
In my opening remarks, I promised to explain the confusion over the date of the 17th Amendment’s ratification. It was ratified on April 8, 1913, when the Connecticut legislature approved it. With Connecticut’s vote, three-fourths of the state legislatures had approved it. That met the requirement for an amendment’s ratification. It was not until May 31, 1913, that Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan officially announced the ratification in writing. Some sources have picked up that date as the date of ratification.
More than a century later, that’s probably all we need to know. This blog post probably already falls into the category of “too much information” for many of you, so I’ll just leave it at that.
Since my last blog post
I’ve been busy working on my novel. The working title is still either The Spanish Coin or The Doubloon. Unless I self-publish it, I won’t get to choose the title. The manuscript stands at just over 91,000 words. That number fluctuates from day-to-day as I make changes.
I’m re-reading World of Toil and Strife: Community Transformation in Backcountry South Carolina, 1750-1805, by Peter N. Moore. As more of it “soaks in,” I’m making some changes in my novel manuscript – changes that should result in a richer story and an additional layer of setting authenticity.
Until my next blog post
I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading When Ghosts Come Home, by Wiley Cash. I’m trying to finish reading it by tomorrow night, so I can write about it in my blog post next Monday.
I’m also still making my way through The Silk Roads: A New History of the World, by Peter Frankopan. It’s not a book one can rush through. At least, I can’t.
Note: Get Ready! December is Read a New Book Month!
It’s been four weeks since my last #OnThisDay blog post. Today’s might not be the most exciting topic for you, but I think it’s important for Americans to be reminded about the early days of our democracy. The historian in me just can’t help myself.
The Articles of Confederation document was the forerunner of the U.S. Constitution.
On November 15, 1777, the Continental Congress adopted the Articles of Confederation. It was that document that established the name of our country as the United States of America. It served as the defacto constitution of the nation throughout the Revolutionary War.
I reread the Articles of Confederation last week. It had been quite a while since I’d read the document.
Still stinging from oppressive British rule, the frames of the Articles of Confederation were hesitant to create a strong federal government. Much power was retained by the individual states. States’ rights have been a bone of contention throughout the history of the U.S. and still is today. It seems like every week the legislature of at least one state in the union is testing the waters and “pushing the envelope” to see just how far they can go without being reined in by the U.S. Supreme Court. The major issues today that fall in that category are abortion rights, gun rights, and Covid-19 vaccination mandates.
There were weaknesses in the Articles of Confederation. The document did not give the U.S. the authority to issue a national currency. Hence, the various states printed their own money. It makes my head spin to think what our country would be like today if that hadn’t been corrected.
Another weakness in the document was the absence of authority of the national government to levy taxes. Some people probably think things should have stayed that way, but just think how many things we would not have today if not for federal taxes. The “common treasury” was to be supported by the states, with each state contributing an amount based on the value of the land in that state.
Of all the language in the document, the wording in Article III stood out for me. Specifically, the words, “firm league of friendship.” That phrase sounds quaint to our 21st century ears.
Article III states the following: “The said states hereby severally enter into a firm league of friendship with each other, for their common defence [sic], the security of their Liberties, and their mutual and general welfare, binding themselves to assist each other, against all force offered to, or attacks made upon them or any of them, on account of religion, sovereignty, trade, or any other pretence [sic] whatever.”
Article IV went on to state that citizens of any state had the freedom to travel to and from any other state. Of course, slaves were not considered citizens, so they were not afforded that right.
Just as details of how a democratic government operates today takes a long time and much gnashing of teeth, so it was with the Articles of Confederation. The debate leading up to the adoption of the document lasted 16 months.
The Articles of Confederation served the United States of America until March 4, 1789, when it was replaced by the U.S. Constitution. The Constitution is a living, breathing document. It is continually up for interpretation and has been amended 27 times. No doubt, it will be amended many more times.
Since my last blog post
We had spectacular autumn weather last week in North Carolina! Wednesday was a crystal clear, unseasonably warm day. I took a break from raking dead, brown leaves to walk around our yard with my cell. I couldn’t stop taking pictures as I happened on one gorgeous tree after another.
I concluded that I live in paradise. I started with one of my favorite trees. It’s a maple that my father and I found as a sprout in our woods in the fall of 1965. It wasn’t much taller than I was, but it was decked out in beautiful orange leaves. The maples in our yard were yellow in the fall, and I wanted an orange one.
Daddy marked the location of the sprout and returned later to dig it up. We planted it in front of our house, and there it proudly stands today, much taller than the house. This fall, it’s orange at top and the rest of it is yellow.
I’m blessed to once again live in that house. We’re blessed with a wonderful variety of trees, including pine, cedar, maple, hickory, several varieties of oak, holly, mulberry, poplar, ash, dogwood, sweet gum, persimmon, and black walnut.
Dealing with the leaves in the fall after the red, yellows, golds, and oranges have faded and the spent leaves have dropped to the ground is quite a chore. I tend to dread autumn because of the multitude of leaves that must be raked, blown, carried off, or mulched with the tractor, but this year I’ve chosen to enjoy the riot of color in our yard every day. It won’t last much longer.
When not outside, I worked on my novel. I’m putting into practice some of the things I recently learned in the online writing course I’ve mentioned in earlier blog posts. It feels good to be revising, editing, and improving my novel.
Before I jump into today’s topic, I’ll tell you what I went through in preparing a blog post for today.
You can’t always trust the printed word. I read in a book (not on the much-maligned internet) that the 17th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States was ratified on May 31, 1913. In fact, I wrote a 702-word blog post about it for today.
It turns out that it was ratified on April 8, 1913, and Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan officially announced its ratification on May 31, 1913.
“#OnThisDay: 17th Amendment’s Ratification Announced” just doesn’t have the same blog title punch as “#OnThisDay: 17th Amendment Ratified, 1913.” Upon discovering my mistake last Monday night, I had to find a new topic for today’s post.
For those of you who are dying to know all about the 17th Amendment, don’t worry. I saved that blog post on my computer and will use it some other time – perhaps when I’m in a bind and can’t think of a blog post topic. It will pop up when you least expect it.
What about today’s blog topic?
When I learn something new about reading or writing, I like to dig a little deeper and then write a blog post about it. If it’s news to me, perhaps it’s news to you, too. Let’s look into bibliophobia, scriptophobia, and graphophobia.
A few minutes after I discovered that my blog topic for today shouldn’t be the ratification of the 17th Amendment, my sister made me aware that reading is stressful for some people. We are both avid readers and were gobsmacked to learn this.
This is a real thing. Bibliophobia is a fear of books – and can be extended to a fear of reading or a fear of reading aloud in public. It probably affects more people than I can imagine.
The cause of bibliophobia is not certain, but it is thought that some people develop it after having an embarrassing experience when reading aloud. That negative experience is remembered by the brain and can come back when asked or told to read out loud in public again.
A person who has bibliophobia usually knows it is irrational to be afraid of books or afraid to read in public but is hard-pressed to do anything about it. The reaction this phobia causes can be both physical and psychological and be as severe as to cause panic attacks.
Scriptophobia or Graphophobia
Scriptophobia or Graphophobia is a fear of writing in public. I didn’t know this was a thing until I stumbled upon the words while researching bibliophobia. Ironically, I think I have it, at least to a degree.
It makes me extremely uncomfortable for someone to watch me sign my name. This source of stress came to light in 2014 when my vintage postcard book, The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina was published.
I had a book launch event and was thrilled when people lined up to buy my book and get me to autograph their copy. But as soon as the first person eagerly waited for me to sign their book, I nearly froze. I think that was the first time I realized I had a problem. I just didn’t know there was a name for it until last week.
When I have to sign a contract, application, or other such document, it is stressful because someone is usually watching me. I know this is irrational. Now that I know it has a name, I want to overcome it.
Treatment for Bibliophobia and Scriptophobia/Graphophobia
Recognizing you have such a phobia is Step One. Step Two is seeking treatment. According to what I’ve read this past week, cognitive behavior therapy and desensitization therapy are usually helpful in treating phobias like bibliophobia and scriptophobia.
I am not a psychologist or a medical doctor, so the information in my blog post today is based entirely on sources I’ve read in the last week. The terms bibliophobia, scriptophobia, and graphophobia were new to me as of last Monday, and I just thought I’d blog a little about them today in case some of my blog readers weren’t familiar with the terms. If you have either of these two phobias, just know that there is help available. Perhaps I can get help to overcome my fear of signing my name in public before I have another book signing.
Since my last blog post
One of my great-nieces graduated from high school in Georgia on Thursday. I couldn’t be there in person, so I was delighted to be able to watch it live online. Two of my other great-nieces graduated from high school in past years. I couldn’t attend their commencement ceremonies either. Thanks to the expanded use of technology due to the Covid-19 pandemic, many people are enjoying the opportunity to watch such family milestones online. I hope school districts will continue to offer this service even after the pandemic is over.
Writing today’s blog post made me realize that we all have phobias. I not only fear writing my signature in front of someone, I also have a phone phobia. Email and texting have been a blessing for me.
Until my next blog post
I hope you have a good book to read. I finished listening to A Million Reasons Why, by Jessica Strawser on CD last night, and I’m reading The Library of Legends, by Janie Chang on my tablet.
I’ve admitted some very private things in this blog post. I don’t expect any of you to tell me about your phobias when you leave a reply, but it helps me to know and might help you to know that a lot of people have at least one irrational phobia. Stop being hard on yourself or other people about their phobias. Most people are trying hard in this life and are doing the best they can.
If you know someone with bibliophobia or scriptophobia/graphophobia to the point it disrupts their lives, please encourage them to seek treatment. It makes me sad to know that there are people so afraid to read in public that it causes them mental and physical distress.
Trust me — it was easier to write 700 words about the 17th Amendment to the US Constitution than it was to write what I’ve posted today.
Note: Get ready! June starts tonight at midnight. June is Audiobook Appreciation Month. As I’ve found it more and more difficult to read books in regular-sized print, I’ve come to appreciate audiobooks. I didn’t see that coming any more than I saw the topic of today’s blog post coming!
If you’ve visited my blog today expecting to find out what books I read last month, please forgive me. I felt compelled to write about an event in American history today. I’ll share with you my thoughts about the books I read in February in my blog posts on March 8 and 15.
It was 240 years ago today that the Articles of Confederation were ratified by the State of Maryland – the last of the 13 states to ratify the document, making it the law of the land.
As a writer and reader of historical fiction and nonfiction, I need to keep in mind what the federal government could and could not do before 1789. Today’s blog post is a “crash course” about the Articles of Confederation. I hope it will be a painless way to refresh your memory about the document and some of the reasons it had to be replaced by the US Constitution.
What were the Articles of Confederation?
The Articles of Confederation were spelled out in a five-page document that served as a constitution for the former American colonies after they won independence from Great Britain in the American Revolutionary War. It took the Continental Congress 16 months to draw up the document. The document was adopted on November 15, 1777, in York, Pennsylvania. York was serving as the temporary capital of the new country.
The Articles of Confederation loosely held the 13 states together. It mandated a single house in Congress, and each state had one vote. The Articles gave Congress authority over foreign affairs, the power to raise a national army, and the power to declare war and declare peace; however, the Articles did not give the Congress the power to levy taxes.
How durable were the Articles of Confederation?
It didn’t take long for people to identify problems with the Articles of Confederation.
Not wanting to risk being accused of “taxation without representation” the framers of the Article of Confederation gave states the authority to impose taxes but they did not give that authority to the United States government. Having hindsight, we can see today that such a setup was unsustainable, and it’s difficult for me to see how the framers couldn’t anticipate that. Since the new nation was in debt at the end of the American Revolution, it was difficult to raise funds to pay off that indebtedness without the power to impose taxes.
Another problem with the Articles of Confederation was that each state could issue their own currency. Imagine if that were the case today!
The Articles of Confederation failed to create a sense of nation. With a weak central government, allegiances were often more to one’s state than to the country. Indeed, that mindset continued in some ranks and contributed to the formation of the Confederate States of America and the outbreak of the American Civil War. Robert E. Lee’s almost blind allegiance to the State of Virginia comes to mind.
The US Constitution
Seeing the problems with the Articles of Confederation, the US Constitution was drawn up. It replaced the Articles of Confederation on March 4, 1789. For more information about the creation of the US Constitution, please see my May 25, 2020 blog post, #OnThisDay: 1787 US Constitutional Convention.
Since my last blog post
I’ve enjoyed reading some books that I’ll blog about later. After having trouble concentrating on anything in January, it’s been gratifying to once again enjoy reading.
Until my next blog post
I hope you have a good book to read and quality writing time if you’re a writer, blogger, or like to journal just for your own edification. Writing is therapeutic.
I hope you have time to enjoy a favorite hobby.
Keep wearing that facemask out of respect for others.
If not for the 12th Amendment to the US Constitution, Donald Trump could now be president and Hillary Clinton could now be vice president. Talk about an unworkable state of affairs!
The ratification of an amendment to the US Constitution deserves a blog post on its anniversary. Unfortunately, the 12th Amendment gets into the Electoral College – something that has always baffled me. I’m probably the last person who should be trying to explain the 12th Amendment to you, but I’m going to plow my way through it.
As soon as I started doing the necessary research so I could write today’s blog post, I ran into conflicting dates. I’m going with June 15, 1804 as the date the 12th Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified. I’ll address the conflicting date later in this post
What is the 12th Amendment about?
The 12th Amendment to the US Constitution determined how every US President and Vice President have been elected since 1804. It mandates that electors in the Electoral College vote for president on one ballot and for vice president on a separate ballot.
Presidential Elections Prior to the 12th Amendment
Under Article II, Section 1 of the US Constitution, each state was entitled to appoint a slate of electors equal to the number of US Senators and US House Representatives the state had. Each state had (and still has) two Senators. The number of Representatives a state has is based on population.
Every four years those electors, now known as the Electoral College, chose the president and vice president. Each of them could vote for two people; however, they couldn’t vote for someone from their state of residency.
The highest vote getter became president and the one with the second highest number of votes became vice president, as long as their total votes exceeded one-half the number of appointed electors. Therefore, the president and the vice president weren’t necessarily from the same political party.
If no one got a majority of votes, or if two candidates received the same number of votes, the House of Representatives chose the president and the person with the second highest number of votes became vice president.
In the 1790s, differences of opinion on domestic and foreign policies became pronounced enough that two political parties formed. The founders of the United States had not anticipated the formation of strong political organizations/parties. The two parties were known as the Federalists and the Democratic-Republicans.
Yes, it’s very confusing to us in 2020 when there are two major political parties in the US: Democrat and Republican.
The Federalists wanted a strong central government that was friendly to Great Britain. The Democratic-Republicans wanted strong local governments and were more in line with the French Revolution.
The Early US Presidents
Without opposition, George Washington was elected the first US president in 1788 and again in 1792. He announced he would not seek a third term. He became increasingly aligned with the Federalists, although he saw the dangers inherent in factionalism. John Adams was Washington’s vice president. He identified himself with the Federalists. Thomas Jefferson was Washington’s Secretary of State until 1793. Jefferson became the leader of the Democratic-Republicans.
The 1796 election was the first time candidates for president ran from two political parties. John Adams and Charles C. Pinckney were the foremost Federalists running against Thomas Jefferson. John Adams won a majority of votes, but Thomas Jefferson was elected vice president. Remember, they were from opposing political parties and ideologies. Such a situation is difficult for modern Americans to imagine.
Moving on the 1800 election, John Adams ran for reelection and Thomas Jefferson ran for president again. The political parties had gotten stronger and electors divided their votes between “only” five candidates. John Adams received 65 votes. In order to avoid a tie vote between Adams and Pinckney, one of the electors from Rhode Island voted for John Jay so Adams would have a one vote advantage over Pinckney.
But Democratic-Republicans Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr each received 73 votes. The Federalists thought they had an edge in the House of Representatives that would result in the election of the more conservative Aaron Burr, so they weren’t worried. They thought they could work better with a President Aaron Burr than a President Thomas Jefferson.
In order to be elected president, a candidate had to receive nine votes from the 16 states. Eight states favored Jefferson, six aligned with Burr, and two states were divided in how to cast their votes. Voting on the floor of the House of Representatives continued for six days and 35 ballots!
Although he personally favored Burr, Delaware elector James A. Bayard let it be known that he would vote for Jefferson after Senator Samuel Smith assured him that Jefferson would not undo the accomplishments of the Washington and Adams administrations. In the end, 10 states voted for Jefferson, electing him the third US president.
The 1800 election proved to the Federalists and the Democratic-Republicans that the electoral system was deeply flawed.
On December 9, 1803 Congress proposed a 12th Amendment to the Constitution.
What the 12th Amendment did
The 12th Amendment didn’t change the structure of the Electoral College but, in order to understand the purpose of the amendment, one needs to have some knowledge of the Electoral College.
Whereas the Constitution had required each elector to vote for two people for president (yes, you heard me right!), the 12th Amendment required each elector to cast one vote for president and one vote for vice president.
If no one receives a majority of votes for president, the House of Representatives will choose the president under the rules of the original procedure as set forth in the Constitution, except they will choose between no more than three candidates instead of five, as was stipulated in Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution.
In case no candidate receives a majority of votes for vice president in the Electoral College, the US Senate chooses the winner from the top two vote getters. However, if there is a tie between multiple candidates, the Senate will choose from all those in the tie.
Additionally, the 12th Amendment requires a two-thirds quorum for balloting procedures. It also provided for a remedy should a president not be chosen by March 4. That remedy was that the newly-elected vice president would act as president until the election of the president could be settled. (March 4 was the first day of a presidential term until the ratification of the 20th Amendment in 1933 which established January 20 as the first day of a presidential term.)
Under the 12th Amendment, if no president or vice president have been elected by January 20, Congress will appoint a president. We almost got into that situation in the 2000 election, but that’s a whole other story, #HangingChads.
The Pros and Cons of the Electoral College
I’ve read various reasons and speculations about why the framers of the US Constitution provided the Electoral College as a way to elect the president. I’ve read that it was to ensure that people who had wisdom (in other words, that knew about politics, had some education, and understood this new form of government) would have enough sense to elect a president.
I’ve read that they didn’t want people living in the population centers of the nation to have an advantage over the citizens in the backcountry because the people in the cities would be more likely to know the candidates. (They obviously didn’t foresee the advent of the radio or television.)
There is much confusion over the Electoral College. As a political science college student, I was more interested in the administration of government than its political aspect. I made a conscious decision not to take the senior-level Political Science course called “The Electoral Process.” Looking back, perhaps I should have taken that class.
With practically every presidential election, pro-Electoral College and anti-Electoral College opinions rise to the surface. There are people who would prefer the candidate receiving the majority of the popular vote (the votes of all citizens) to be president, while people who like the idea of the popular vote in each state being sifted through the Electoral College electors of their state want us to keep the Electoral College.
I’m going to go out on a limb today and say that I would like to see the Electoral College ended. I think each American’s vote should count equally to every other American’s vote. The people in favor of the Electoral College typically fear a populous state such as California or New York could influence an election by the sheer number of voters who live there.
Americans stand in line to cast their votes for president on the first Tuesday in November every four years, and then the electors who make up the Electoral College meet in their states on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December and cast their votes.
Since we elect the president and vice president via the Electoral College, in 2016, Donald Trump became president even though Hillary Clinton had some three million more popular votes than Trump. There are other elections in which the top popular vote getter lost the election, but I think that one example suffices.
I think it’s time to rethink the electoral process, but I’m not impassioned enough about it to lead the campaign to amend the 12th Amendment.
Ratification of the 12th Amendment
On June 15, 1804, 189 days after the 12th Amendment had been proposed by Congress, it was ratified by 14 or the 16 states. North Carolina was the first state to ratify it, doing so on December 21, 1803. By the end of February 1804, it had been ratified by nine states.
By mid-May 1804, Delaware, Massachusetts, and Connecticut had rejected the amendment. New Hampshire ratified the 12th Amendment on June 15, 1804, meeting the requirement that in order to be adopted, a US Constitutional amendment must be ratified by three-fourths of the states.
What about the conflicting dates I found?
Technically, when three-fourths of the states have ratified a US Constitutional amendment, it is officially ratified and becomes law. That’s what happened on June 15, 1804 with the 12th Amendment. That’s why I went with today being the anniversary of the amendment’s ratification.
Secretary of State James Madison sent a letter to the state governors on September 25, 1804, declaring the 12th Amendment as ratified. Some history books use September 25, 1804 as the date of ratification.
Since my last blog post
I opened my blog with some trepidation last Monday. I didn’t know how my blog post that morning would be received. I was very pleased with the response the post got. As of last night at 10:00 pm, last Monday’s post, “I can’t breathe!”, has had 147 visitors from 15 countries. That’s a record for my blog. It has received more comments than any of my other blog posts. My thanks to each reader!
Until my next blog post
If you still have questions about the 12th Amendment and the Electoral College, please research them. I’ve said all I know about the subject, and I’m still a bit confused. Perhaps I should have gone with the September 25 date. That date doesn’t fall on a Monday (the day I blog) until 2023. After more than a little frustration, I wish I’d postponed today’s post until then!
I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading The Book of Lost Friends, by Lisa Wingate.
If you’re a writer or other artist, I hope you have lots of creative time.
Be safe. Be well. Wear a mask in respect for other people.
In doing the research necessary to refresh my memory enough to write today’s blog post, I discovered just how close the United States came to failing in the 1780s. As a younger student of history, I didn’t grasp the fragility and gravity of the situation. In an effort to stabilize and save the new nation, a constitutional convention was called for in the spring of 1787. Today’s blog post will attempt to give you an idea about what necessitated that convention which opened 233 years ago today.
It was a contentious time. It was a time of trial and error as the former colonists, who had just won a war for independence from Great Britain against all odds, faced the difficult work of creating a nation and there was no guide book for them to follow.
The Articles of Confederation
The Continental Congress agreed on “Articles of Confederation” in November 1777. The document formed more of an alliance than a nation. The Articles gave Congress the power to wage war, conduct diplomacy, and arbitrate disputes between the various states. Each state had one delegate. Going to war required nine of the 13 votes in favor. All 13 states had to ratify the Articles of Confederation in order for them to go into effect. Any amendments also required unanimous votes.
Congress could not, under the Articles of Confederation, enact laws. In fact, it had to rely on the states to recruit soldiers for the Continental Army. States were free to regulate trade and enact laws and the Congress had no power over them.
State boundaries needed to be established and states needed the authority to maintain authority within those boundaries. The Articles of Confederation left too much to chance and interpretation.
How could the 13 states go about forming a union with only the Articles of Confederation holding them together? They feared creating a Congress strong enough to interfere with issues within the individual states. After all, they knew what life was like under a strong central government. In today’s vernacular, they would have said, “Been there. Done that.” They knew what they didn’t want in a national government, but it wasn’t easy to agree on what they wanted or needed.
Small states wanted a federal government that could control westward expansion. They feared that, without a strong central government, states like Virginia and New York would prosper financially from selling their western lands and, therefore, become more solvent and more attractive to settlers than the smaller states.
Virginia and New York eventually relinquished their claims on “western lands.” That was enough to persuade Maryland to ratify the Articles of Confederation on February 2, 1781 –finally making ratification of the Articles unanimous and complete.
To begin to address the problems associated with western expansion, Congress started establishing temporary territories that could later become states. I’ll get into some of the details of how that was carried out in a blog post planned for July 13, 2020 on the anniversary of the adoption of the third Northwest Ordinance in 1787.
By the end of 1776, 10 states had adopted constitutions. Connecticut and Rhode Island still operated under their charters. Massachusetts didn’t adopt a state constitution until 1780.
Most of the state constitutions began with a stated bill of rights. A free press, freedom of religion, the right to petition, trial by jury, and due process under the law were the items most states included in their constitutions. Most of them made it clear that the people wouldn’t stand for hereditary offices. In other words, there would be no American aristocracies.
In reaction to the royal governors the states’ residents had suffered under, the state constitutions limited executive power. They limited who could vote: only white men who owned enough property to support a family. It was believed if a man had a landlord, he would not be free to vote his own mind. Several states restricted those men who could serve in their legislatures to the very wealthy.
After the Revolutionary War
Although the Americans won the war for independence, they had paid a big price in deaths and the economy. The new country had no silver or gold mines to back an economy. Fortunately, many British and other European merchants offered American businessmen credit because they were eager to reestablish trade with their former clients. However, the British blocked America from trading with the West Indies. That restriction was instrumental in plunging American merchants into debt in the years after the war.
A recession followed the war while the new country tried to get on its feet. There were economic inequalities between the “haves” and the “have-nots,” so not much has changed in two and half centuries.
Frustration increased as states racked up debt and taxed citizens. In Massachusetts, South Carolina, and New Hampshire farmers began to mobilize much as the Regulators had prior to the revolution. They went so far as to block county courts from meeting so farm foreclosures could not be processed. Some states chose to forgive debts in an attempt to avoid armed conflict. Seven of the 13 states started printing paper money.
Conservatives started having misgivings about the outcome of the war. They saw many states as being too democratic, and they started calling for a Constitutional Convention.
James Madison’s input
James Madison was turned to for advice. He had studied state governments and concluded a popular majority could govern every bit as tyrannically as a monarch. He said that the rich minority should be protected from the poorer majority.
Conventional wisdom of the day was that a republic had to be small so representatives could really know their constituents. Madison bucked that theory. To quote from Pulitzer Prize winning historian Alan Taylor’s book, American Revolutions: A Continental History, 1750-1804, Madison thought that if voters had a larger population from which to elect their leaders, “the purest and noblest characters” would be elected to office. (I wonder if he would still hold to that belief today.)
Madison met with Alexander Hamilton and 10 other “nationalists” in September 1786 to draft an appeal to Congress to call for a constitutional convention. Congress wanted the Articles of Confederation to remain but agreed to call a convention to write amendments. Congress also stipulated that the amendments would have to be approved by Congress and each state legislature.
The nationalists feared that the country would plunge into anarchy and the result would either be a monarch or a splintering of states into several confederations.
What happened 233 years ago today?
A Constitutional Convention was scheduled to open on May 25, 1787 in Philadelphia with the purpose of revising and strengthening the Articles of Confederation. However, what happened over the next four months was the drafting of the United States Constitution.
Every state except Rhode Island sent delegations to the convention. James Madison convinced George Washington that he should attend as a Virginia delegate. As a group, the 55 delegates were elitists. More than half of them held college degrees. More than half of them owned slaves. None represented the populist views of the farmers and other citizens of modest means.
The convention was held in what is now known as Independence Hall. On the first day, George Washington was unanimously elected to preside over the group. The doors and windows were kept shut and they agreed to a strict code of secrecy. No outsiders were allowed inside.
What transpired over the next four months?
Delegates came and went as the weeks went by. In fact, all 55 were never in attendance at the same time. Though multiple delegates came from each state, each state was allowed only one vote. Just as seems to be the rule instead of the exception with American politicians in 2020, they talked a good talk about “the common good,” but they all fought for their own state’s interests.
“The Virginia Plan” was presented on May 29. It called for a bicameral legislature with both houses having a number of representatives based on population. It called for a powerful national government with an executive branch and a judicial branch in addition to the legislative branch. Smaller states didn’t like the Virginia Plan.
The “New Jersey Plan” was presented in mid-June. Under that plan, there would be only one legislative body and much of the government would continue as it was under the Articles of Confederation.
Believing both plans were weak, Alexander Hamilton presented is own plan on June 18 in a five-hour harangue. He maintained that Great Britain had the best government in the world and that America should copy it. Under Hamilton’s plan, the electoral college would elect the president and senators and they would serve for life! Only the House of Representatives would be elected by popular vote of the people. Congress would not have the power to override a presidential veto. All state governors would be appointed by the national government.
For the next month, the delegates debated the Virginia Plan and the New Jersey Plan, not thinking the majority of citizens would accept the British model championed by Alexander Hamilton. They were essentially deadlocked until Benjamin Franklin and the Connecticut delegation presented a plan whereby there would be a bicameral legislature. Each state would have equal representation in the Senate, but representation in the House would be based on population. That compromise plan was adopted on July 16 by a vote of five to four. The Massachusetts delegation could not agree on which way to vote.
The following day, July 17, seven of 10 delegations voted against Hamilton’s idea that the national government should be able to veto state laws. They also voted to prohibit states from issuing paper money.
Another point of contention for the convention was slavery. Slaves made up about four percent of the population of northern states and about 40 percent of the population of Southern states. Southern delegates wanted a national government strong enough to protect their property rights but not strong enough to emancipate slaves.
Since virtually all the delegates regarded blacks as inferior to whites, the debates came down more to regional interests than the morality of slavery. The compromise that was struck was the “three-fifths clause” which said that three-fifths of slaves would count in the allocation of congressional seats and presidential electors. In essence, it meant that a slave was considered to be only three-fifths of a person.
In August, 1787, as the hot and humid Philadelphia summer dragged on, there was heated debate over the future of the slave trade. The Georgia and South Carolina delegates wanted to continue to bring slaves from Africa, but the upper-southern states had more slaves than they needed. They wanted to be able to sell their slaves to planters in the Lower South when the African slave trade ended.
But the South Carolina and Georgia delegates valued continued slave trade more than they valued the national union. They threatened to pull out of the convention. By doing so, they called the bluff of Northern delegates who prospered from the slave trade through their shipping and shipbuilding interests. The Northern delegates wanted the national government to enact “navigation acts” that would favor northern vessels over foreign ones and would increase shipping costs for Southerners.
Slave-holding states lobbied for a fugitive-slave clause under which northern states were required to return runaway slaves to their owners. Euphemisms were used in the constitution they were drawing up in order to avoid using the words “slaves” or “slavery.”
The United States Constitution, therefore, protected slavery through the three-fifths clause, the “fugitive-slave clause, and by approving the slave trade for an additional 20 years. These compromises proved to be short-sighted. They appeared necessary to preserve the union, but they set the United States on a long-term racial division that still exists 233 years later.
The convention spent more time figuring out the national legislative branch than it did the executive branch. It was assumed that George Washington would be the first U.S. President, so the constitution created a strong executive. Both houses of Congress would need a two-thirds majority vote to override a Presidential veto. The president and vice-president would be elected to four-year terms and could be reelected indefinitely. State legislatures would choose the electoral college and that group would elect the president and vice-president.
Not much time was spent on the judicial branch. A Supreme Court would be created and Congress would have the power to create courts that would serve subordinately to it. It was made clear that state laws and courts would be trumped by U.S. laws, treaties, and the U.S. Constitution.
US Constitution signed on September 17, 1787
After numerous heated debates, 39 of the 42 delegates who had hung in there that long, signed the Constitution on September 17, 1787. The governor of Virginia refused to sign it. Fellow-Virginian George Mason said he’d rather chop off his hand than sign it. Alexander Hamilton wasn’t pleased with the final document, but he signed it because he feared the alternative was anarchy.
As difficult as the convention had been, the hard work lay ahead as each state had to ratify the Constitution. It would take a year to accomplish that, but that is a story for another day and another blog post.
Since my last blog post
I’ve spent more time reading nonfiction than fiction. My brain is tired. I’m listening to Long Bright River, by Liz Moore.
Until my next blog post
I look forward to concentrating on reading fiction in the coming days.
I hope you have a good book to read.
If you’re a writer or other artist, I hope you have quality creative time.
Thank you for taking time to read my long blog post today. It was longer than I wanted it to be, but I concluded that anyone truly interested in the topic would read it and anyone not interested in the topic wouldn’t read it no matter how short or long it was. I hope I judged correctly.
Let’s continue the conversation
What jumped out at you in today’s blog post? What surprised you?
I had originally considered writing about the 40th anniversary of the eruption of Mount Saint Helens today, but then I was reminded that it was on this day in 1896 that the United States Supreme Court handed down a decision that changed the course of American history. The case was Plessy v. Ferguson.
Plessy v. Ferguson was one of the cases we studied in the constitutional law class I took in college. The decision in this landmark case sanctioned segregation in the United States.
What happened after the American Civil War?
The Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the United State Constitution were intended to guarantee the civil rights of African Americans in the years after the Civil War and forevermore. Some states found ways around the intent of those amendments by instituting such things as a poll tax that many former slaves could not afford to pay and literacy tests that former slaves who had been denied an opportunity to learn to read or write couldn’t possibly pass.
The result of the poll taxes and literacy tests was the disenfranchisement of black men. (This just applied to men because women didn’t gain the right to vote until 1920.)
Racially-segregated public schools were the legal norm in some states in the post-Civil War years and into the 1960s. Narrow interpretation of the U.S. Constitution made these state laws possible.
The Louisiana Separate Car Act
The Separate Car Act took effect in Louisiana in 1890. It dictated that railway companies had to provide separate cars for blacks and whites and made it against the law for anyone of either race to enter a car designated for the other race.
Creole professionals in New Orleans organized the Citizens’ Committee to test the constitutionality of the Separate Car Act. They hired Albion Tourgée as legal counsel. Mr. Tourgée had a record as a reformer. They wanted to find a person of mixed race to serve as plaintiff in a test case. They maintained that the act could not be applied on a consistent basis because it did not define the “white” and “colored” races.
Who was Plessy in Plessy v Ferguson?
Homer Adolph Plessy was seven-eighths white and one-eighth African American. He bought a ticket to take the East Louisiana Railroad from New Orleans to Covington, Louisiana. He boarded a passenger car for whites. When he refused to move to a car for African Americans, he was arrested.
Mr. Plessy was found guilty and appealed the decision.
Who was Ferguson in Plessy v Ferguson?
John H. Ferguson was the judge when Mr. Plessy was tried in U.S. District Court.
Counsel for Mr. Plessy argued that the Louisiana Separate Car Act violated the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution – the amendment that prohibited slavery.
The Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states the following in section 1: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States… are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of laws; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
Counsel for Mr. Plessy argued that the Act violated this amendment because it did not provide African Americans “equal protection of the laws.” Judge Ferguson dismissed that claim, too.
The case was appealed to the Louisiana State Supreme Court where Judge Ferguson’s ruling was upheld.
Plessy v Ferguson
The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to consider the case, which was titled Plessy v Ferguson and oral arguments were heard April 13, 1896. The court’s 7 to 1 decision with one associate justice not voting, was rendered 124 years ago today on May 18, 1896.
The majority opinion in the case
Associate Justice Henry Billings Brown wrote for the majority. He wrote that the Louisiana Separate Car Act didn’t violate the Thirteenth Amendment because it did not reestablish slavery or servitude. He wrote that the act wasn’t in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment because the amendment only addressed the legal equality of whites and blacks and did not address social equality. Justice Brown maintained that the law in question in Louisiana provided equal cars for the two races. He backed up his statement for the court’s majority by citing various states’ courts that allowed for racially-segregated public schools. He wrote: “If one race be inferior to the other socially, the Constitution of the United States cannot put them upon the same plane.” Furthermore, he wrote that the intention of the Louisiana law in question was to preserve “public peace and good order” and was “reasonable.”
The minority opinion in the case
Associate Justice John Marshall Harlan of Kentucky, as the only dissenter, wrote in the minority statement that the majority of the Supreme Court had ignored the purpose of the Separate Car Act. To Justice Harlan, it was obvious that the purpose of the act was “under the guise of giving equal accommodation for whites and blacks, to compel the latter to keep to themselves while traveling in railroad passenger coaches.” He argued that “Our Constitution is color-blind” and does not see or tolerate citizens being divided by class. He said the act affected the free movement of both races and, therefore, violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Stating his dissent to the decision in the strongest possible terms, Justice Harlan wrote, “in my opinion, the judgment this day rendered will, in time, prove to be quite as pernicious as the decision made by this tribunal in the Dred Scott Case.” (In the Dred Scott case in 1857, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney wrote that African Americans were not entitled to the rights guaranteed by U.S. citizenship.)
By the way, Associate Justice John Marshall Harlan came to be called “The Great Dissenter” because in the 34 years he sat on the U.S. Supreme Court (1877 until his death in 1911) he was often the dissenting voice, particularly in cases involving civil rights.
The separate but equal doctrine
Although the words, “separate but equal” do not appear in the majority or minority opinions in Plessy v Ferguson, that doctrine was a result of the case. The “separate but equal” doctrine made possible the continuation of racially-segregated public schools for decades.
The Brown v Board of Education of Topeka landmark U.S. Supreme Court case in 1954 ruled that separate but equal public schools were unconstitutional; however, in the county in which I lived in North Carolina, voluntary school integration was not instituted until 1965, and integration wasn’t mandatory until the following school year. Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka essentially overturned Plessy v Ferguson.
Since my last blog post
I’ve continued to work on a short story around the May 20, 1775 Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence.
Until my next blog post
Be safe. Be well. Be positive. Be creative and productive.
I hope you have a good book to read. I’m listening to Commonwealth, by Ann Patchett.
Let’s continue the conversation
I attended an all-white school until the seventh grade. That year, integration was optional. Only three black students attended the school of first through eighth grades. The year I was in the eighth grade, the public schools in our county were fully-integrated. Looking back on it now, I don’t know what all the fuss was about.
How about you? Did you attend a racially-segregated school? Please feel free to share your experience in the comments below and on my Facebook pages where I post my blog.
“I don’t think a woman can handle this job.” That’s a direct quote from a job interview I had in a large city. It was an interview for a position in city government. At the time, I had a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s degree in public administration.
had just died, I was 24 years old, single, and desperate for a job. It was
If that happened today
happened today, I would come back at the older white male interviewer with a
hundred reasons why not only could a woman handle the job but that I was the
best-qualified person of any gender for the job.
happened today, I’d not only file a lawsuit, I would tell the interviewer it
was beneath me to work for a city government that had such low regard for
But that was 1977. It was against the law under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to discriminate in the workplace on the basis of sex, but it was just the way things were and I was too young and desperate for a job to make a fuss about it. I didn’t want to get labeled as a trouble maker before I even started my career in government.
Today is Women’s Equality Day
19th Amendment to United States Constitution was passed by Congress
on August 26, 1920. It gave women full and equal voting rights.
Equality Day was first celebrated in 1971 by a joint resolution of the US
Senate and US House of Representatives. The resolution was sponsored by US
Representative Bella Abzug, a Democrat from New York.
How you can celebrate
Women’s Equality Day
#EqualityCantWait, #WomensEqualityDay, or related hashtags on social media
to vote, if you haven’t already done so.
If there are American children and young people in your life, take time today to seriously speak with them about Women’s Equality Day. Ninety-nine years sounds like a long time to a young person, but try to help them see that in the big scheme of things it really wasn’t so long ago.
The way I would try to explain it to another person is to tell them that my mother was almost eight years old when women won the right to vote. My two grandmothers were 43 and 44 years old when they were allowed to vote for the first time.
time to read about one or more of the suffragists who risked their lives in and
prior to 1920 in an effort to get the US Government to allow women to vote.
Susan B. Anthony is perhaps the most famous suffragist. Others include
Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucy Stone.
We’ve come a long way, but…
We’ve come a long way since 1920 when the 19th Amendment was passed by Congress, and since 1971 when Women’s Equality Day was first celebrated, and since 1977 when a city’s human resource official said that he didn’t think a woman could handle being that city’s assistant community development director; however, women still have so far to go in the workplace.
Melinda Gates has been vocal recently about the pay gap between men and women in the United States. Some of the statistics she has brought to light are staggering and extremely discouraging.
Economic Forum projects that, at the current rate of progress, it will take the
United States of America 208 years to reach gender equality. Let that sink in.
That’s the year 2227. That’s as long into the future as it has been since the
I have four intelligent great-nieces. They all excel in school. One of them will graduate from college next spring. Another one is a freshman in college. The other two are just several years younger. Their interests are diverse and I can’t wait to see what career paths they take. They can’t wait until the year 2227 to make the same salary as a man.
I don’t want
anyone to dare to say to any one of them, “I don’t think a woman can handle
this job.” And I don’t want them to work
their entire lives and not be paid exactly what their male counterparts are
paid. My great-nieces cannot wait 208 years for the United States to reach
gender pay equity.
Since my last blog post
I’ve continued to edit and tweak my novel manuscript as I use C.S. Lakin’s Scene Outline Template. I’m about halfway through this stage of the process.
Until my next blog post
I hope you have a good book to read.
I’m reading Beneath the Tamarind
Tree: A Story of Courage, Family, and
the Lost Girls of Boko Haram, by Isha Sesay.
If you’re a writer, I hope you have
quality writing time and your projects are moving right along.
Thank you for reading my blog. You
could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to
read my blog.
Let’s continue the conversation
Do you take your right to vote for granted?
Regardless of the country you live in, regardless of your gender, regardless of the color of your skin, regardless of your religion, regardless of your economic status – don’t EVER take your right to vote for granted.
No matter which of those categories you find yourself in, know that people sacrificed and risked their lives to give you the right to right. Many gave their lives in the pursuit of voting rights.
thousands of people around the world who still risk their lives to cast their
vote. There are millions of people who would be willing to risk their lives
just for the opportunity to vote.
children and young people in your life know how important it is for them to
register and vote as soon as the law allows them that right and responsibility.
The idea of forming “a more perfect Union” dates back to the formative years of the United States of America. The words can be found in the preamble to the US Constitution:
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
This introduction to the US Constitution sets the bar high. Sometimes we get it right. More often than not, we fall short.
The tragic events of last week tempt us to throw up our hands and give up on working toward “a more perfect Union,” but that’s not who we are. I believe most Americans will continue to strive for a more perfect nation.
In light of the hate crimes and acts of terrorism and political violence last week in the United States of America, I offer the following quote from The Soul of America: The Battle for our Better Angels, by Jon Meacham:
I also share the following famous words of Martin Niemoller:
Until my next blog post
I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading A Spark of Light, by Jodi Picoult.
If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time.
Thank you for reading my blog. You could have spent the last few minutes doing something else, but you chose to read my blog. I appreciate it! I welcome your comments.
Let’s continue the conversation.
What is it going to take to stop the hate crimes and political violence in the United States of America? What can we do as individuals wherever we live to make the world a kinder place?
Perhaps we could start by living the 39th verse of the 22nd chapter of The Gospel of Matthew as it is translated in the Contemporary English Version of the Bible:
The second most important commandment is like this one. And it is, “Love others as much as you love yourself.”
Many of the people who read my blog are not Christians — and that is one of the unexpected joys this blog has given me — but I hope we can all strive to adopt the above words of Jesus in our everyday lives and work for peace in our families, neighborhoods, cities, and nations.
And we can’t wait until they come for us, because by then there will be no one left to speak up.
Jonathan Stinson is the publisher of The Sand Mountain Reporter newspaper in Albertville, Alabama. I recently discovered him on Twitter and was immediately impressed with his level of professionalism.
I have no personal experience with the University of Alabama, but I’m beginning to think it must have a top-notch journalism school. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, one of the most-respected TV journalists in Charlotte was Bob Inman of WBTV. A native of Elba, Alabama, Robert Inman is a successful novelist today. He is a product of the University of Alabama.
Lee Perryman, one of my far-flung Morrison cousins is another graduate of the University of Alabama. Lee recently retired after a celebrated career with the Associated Press in Washington, DC. In retirement, Lee continues to champion the field of journalism in his hometown of Sylacauga, Alabama.
Many years later to happen upon another Alabama native and alumnus of that university’s Department of Journalism — Jonathan Stinson — cannot be merely coincidental. I did not major in journalism in college but, if I were looking for a good journalism school to invest my time and money in as a student, I would certainly give the University of Alabama my serious consideration.
Here’s the quote from Jonathan Stinson that first grabbed my attention:
“Everything you write is about the reader. The sooner you accept this truth as a writer, the better off you’ll be because you’ll have a clear understanding of what it is you’re trying to do.” – quote from Jonathan Stinson’s blog, at http://JstinsonINK.com.
I typed the quote and keep it by my computer monitor so I can read it every day.
Jonathan Stinson can be followed on Twitter as @JstinsonINK and on his blog as referenced above.
In this day in America when reporters and journalists are being recklessly maligned almost daily by the US President and his staff and surrogates, it is reassuring to know that there are countless journalists in this country who are dedicated to reporting the facts. Not “alternative facts,” but facts.
Lest we forget
The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America reads as follows:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Until my next blog post
I hope you have a good book to read. (I’m reading The Second Mrs. Hockaday, by Susan Rivers.) If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time.