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From 1781 until 1789 the thirteen colonies were governed by the “Articles of Confederation,” which soon proved
to be insufficient for governing the young nation. As a result a constitutional convention was convened in 1787 at the same location where the Declaration of Independence had been signed 11 years earlier. For four months, 55 delegates from the several states met to frame a Constitution for a federal republic that would last into “remote futurity.” On September 17, 1787 the Constitution for the United States of America was signed into law. Its preamble made it one of the most unique documents ever drawn up for governing mankind.
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more per¬fect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, 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.”
As he walked from the hall that day, 81 year old Benjamin Franklin was ap¬proached by a lady who asked, “Sir, what form of government will we have?” His answer was, “A Republic madam, if you are able to keep it.”
During the debates on the adoption of the Constitution, its opponents re¬peatedly charged that the Constitution From 1781 until 1789 the thirteen colonies were governed by the “Articles of Confederation,” which soon proved as drafted would open the way to tyranny by the central government. Fresh in their minds was the memory of the British violation of civil rights before and during the Revolution. They demanded a “bill of rights” that would spell out the immunities of individual citizens. Several state conventions in their formal ratification of the Constitu¬tion asked for such amendments; others ratified the Constitution with the understanding that the amendments would be added.
On September 25, 1789 ten amendments were added to the Constitution which are known as the Bill of Rights. The first article in the Bill of Rights states:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of re¬ligion, 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 re¬dress of grievances.”
Two facts were behind this Amendment. First, when the thirteen colonies threw off the yoke of the King of England they also threw off the yoke of the Church of England; the national church of the British Empire. This “church” was even above the King, with the authority to order religious crusades, dis¬ miss kings, and imprison anyone at its pleasure. This was never to be the case in America. In America the individual, not the church, would determine his own faith and his manner of expressing it. Secondly, and just as important, is the recognition of the importance of religion as the basis of our national morality, and its public expression as essential to our national existence.
We hear a lot these days about the “Constitutional wall of separation between church and state.” That statement is not found in the Constitution, and is totally foreign to the thinking of the founding fathers. Our constitution does not put a wall between church and state, it places restrictions on government. It prohibits governmental authority over churches. The government is pro¬hibited from either establishing a state church or restricting any of us from practicing our own religion, both in private and in public.
Thus it was, that the men we called our founding fathers came together at par¬ticular times, and in particular places to establish a nation which has changed the course of human history. The nation they founded had never before been known on the earth or imagined in the minds of men. It would be an experi¬ment in government “of the people, by the people, and for the people,” which would preserve and promote freedom and liberty through a system of equal justice under law by providing equal treatment to every person. More impor¬tant, it would place the ultimate power, not in the hands of government, but in the hands of “We the people.”
In commenting on this document, John Adams stated, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the govern¬ment of any other.”
In 1789 the Electoral College elected George Washington to the presidency of the new republic, and again in 1792. Washington took the oath of office as the first President under the Constitution of the United States of America on April 30, 1789 at Federal Hall in New York City. Upon finishing his second term he refused a third even though he was requested to stay in office. On September 17, 1796 George Washing gave his farewell address to the nation. It contained a warning for both the nation and all who would follow him into the presidency.
“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political pros¬perity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should la¬bor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these fin¬est props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked: Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation deserts the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice? And let us with caution indulge in the supposi¬tion that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on the minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in the exclusion of religious principal.”
To be continued…..
This is the fourth of several installments. It comes from a pamphlet entitled “Once Upon a Time There was A Land Called America.” The entire pamphlet can be read at www.alandcalledamerica.com.