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Constitution Day: The Road From the Articles of Confederation to our Constitution

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
September 19, 2022 3:02 am

Constitution Day: The Road From the Articles of Confederation to our Constitution

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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September 19, 2022 3:02 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, Dr. Larry Arnn, President of Hillsdale College, tells the story of how we managed to completely change our nation's governing document from a broken one, to a beautiful one.

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Take it away, Dr. Harn. The story of the American Revolution, the story of American history is one of the most remarkable stories in human history. We came here from nowhere, we settled a continent, we extended freedom across the whole continent, all that. You know, it's a really amazing story, but this revolution is a really great story, too. And the story of the revolution begins like this. The state legislatures under the British Crown were the most democratic system of government ever practiced in the world for about 150 years. It grew over that time.

And so they all had, you know, they had their identities. They were not, by the way, separate. They were united by the British Crown, but they didn't have to work together. And the British government took care of foreign policy. And the British, managing the colony's foreign policy, would get themselves involved in the French and Indian War, which Britain would win. But with victory came debt.

The British, flushed with victory, decide we've just spent a lot of money on those colonies, and so we're going to tax them and regulate them, get some advantage from them. Well, that was 150 years too late, because these people were used to running their own business. And that's how the American Revolution started. It really started in 1763. It went in stages. People just started communicating different. They started writing to each other more and different kinds of things across state lines and cities.

And Boston was a hot seat, but the rest of the country was very involved. And then finally they sent delegates to a legislative body called the Continental Congress. And this Continental Congress, they wrote and adopted a constitution. The Articles of Confederation. The Articles of Confederation leave the states in near total power, but it's also called the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union.

Perpetual. So it had become a country. So it's charged now with waging a war for the birth of the nation. And so the Articles provided that there was no real executive branch, that Congress would pick somebody to run the government. Most things required nine states to agree.

Out of 13, that meant supermajority. That meant it was hard to agree about anything. And some things required unanimity. And they didn't have any power to get any money except by asking the states.

And you know, with the best will in the world, if you don't really have to send the money, will you? And you know, they didn't. I mean, it got so bad that in the last year of the war, there was a big meeting of the Continental Army. By the way, it's really cool that George Washington named the Army the Continental Army because at the time he did that, he didn't know how big the continent was.

And he actually never lived to see, to hear the knowledge of how big it was, because Lewis and Clark was about six years after he died. And so they had a big meeting in Newburgh, and they had this cockamamie plan. They were going to pick up and go out west and start over and leave these idiots to their own devices because we have won the war against the greatest power on earth, having started with not only no army but no large military experience anywhere in America. And we've won this war, and they won't pay us. So they just didn't get paid, you know? So the best plan they came up with was, let's just march out west and leave them to their own devices.

You know, they had justice on their side, but it's also a little bit like a petulant child. And George Washington corrected that. He went there. He wasn't invited. He heard about it.

And the one thing you couldn't do by this time and for the rest of his life was have a fight in public with George Washington, because he was just so great. So he intervened. First he moved the meeting to a different time, and then he showed up and walked up there to make a speech. And it's a very affecting speech. It's the one where he takes out his spectacles and said, excuse me, he says, I've grown old serving with you. And then he makes himself their servant, George Washington's way.

He says, in this matter of your pay, I will be your servant. You see, and George Washington wasn't getting paid. So that shows the weakness of the government under the Articles of Confederation. The Articles of Confederation were failing, and soon prominent thinkers such as James Madison were writing that change needed to happen.

And happen fast. He writes an essay called The Vices of the Political System of the United States. So this vices of the political system just names what's wrong. We can't pay our bills. We can't keep the peace. There are riots all over the country. The British are all over our soil and we can't get them off. And they just scoff at us, their armies.

We're afraid to go near them. And so this ain't working. Those factors led a group of people and it was widespread. All of the states sent somebody, not all of them remained to the end, but all of them sent somebody to figure out how to revise the Articles of Confederation. That's what the Constitution was called for. But to bring states to the table to discuss it, they needed Washington. Well, Madison and Hamilton had Washington persuaded to go. But Washington was so honorable that his sense of honor could get in his way. And there were articles in the paper saying that the Society of the Cincinnati, you know, which exists in America today, it's the society of the now, the descendants of people who fought in the Revolutionary War. And, you know, it's named for a Roman statesman who was famous for resigning his commission and returning to private life every time he won a war. And so they styled themselves after this man.

But then people got the false idea that it was an emerging aristocracy. And Washington was embarrassed by that because he hated the idea of that, as he would later prove. And so he decided not to go to a convention of the Cincinnati. But then he decided, if I go to the Constitutional Convention, it'll be in the papers, and it will be apparent that I have snubbed my fellow officers in the Cincinnati.

And so my personal situation prevents my attendance. And, you know, Madison reads that, and he gets on his horse and he goes to Mount Vernon. You know, he goes that day, I gotta go talk to that guy, because we can't do it without him, see.

And he talks him into it. We don't know exactly what arguments he used, but he knows after that visit, Washington returned to the idea of going. And, you know, Washington was a very shrewd man. He's a tremendous judge of men and things. He was not, let's say, expansive in his eloquence. At the Constitutional Convention, he said one thing.

But he's sitting up there at the front. And the one thing he said was, he offered toward the end a mild correction. Brookhiser wrote a good book about Washington. It's short, too, called Founding Father.

It's a very good book. And he says in that book that the nature of what Washington had to say emphasized the point that there's not much wrong with this document. But, of course, they're designing a strong executive in that convention. And that was controversial, because they'd just been fighting a king. The fact that Washington was sitting up there and everybody just knew, whatever the executive is, he's sitting right there. And, you know, he ran twice unopposed, because you couldn't oppose him. Washington could have been made a king. But he wasn't, even though there were forces asking him to be made one. There was a different fellow. He was circulating the letter, let's make Washington king. And, of course, they're like we are today, a lot of us. We don't know what to do. Is the whole regime going to change?

Maybe. And Washington intervened to denounce that idea, strongly, to that particular soldier and to others. In the end, it was Washington that helped hold together a newly formed nation and bring about a better rule of law through example. But Madison actually made the gears turn and wrote the best reasoning for our Constitution replacing the Articles of Confederation.

Here's what Madison had to say. What is government but the profoundest of all commentaries on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be needed.

If angels were to govern men, neither internal nor external controls on the government would be necessary. Now, that's a piece of beautiful logic that is, by the way, undeniable. And it justifies the Constitution of the United States in two sentences. And a special thanks to Dr. Arnn for telling this story the way only he and maybe a handful of historians can tell in this country.

The story of the Articles of Confederation here on Our American Story. Soon millions will make Medicare coverage decisions for next year. And UnitedHealthcare can help you feel confident about your choices. For those eligible, Medicare annual enrollment runs from October 15th through December 7th. If you're working past age 65, you might be able to delay Medicare enrollment depending on your employer coverage.

It can seem confusing, but it doesn't have to be. Visit to learn more. UnitedHealthcare, helping people live healthier lives. Meet us at MWC Las Vegas September 28th through the 30th.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-01-25 15:18:52 / 2023-01-25 15:23:50 / 5

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