Thursday, June 25, 2009

Remembering Ratification

Today is the 221st anniversary of the ratification of the U.S. Constitution by the elected delegates of the people of Virginia, meeting in convention in Richmond. Delegates included James Madison, Patrick Henry, John Marshall, George Mason, and James Monroe.

Virginia's ratification came four days after the Constitution had received the approval of the required nine states and preceded New York's ratification by one day. The Constitution took effect on March 4, 1789, about eight months later.

Virginia did not ratify the new Constitution without reservation. In addition to a declaration of ratification, it sent along a list of demands.

One of the demands was that a Bill of Rights be added to the Constitution. Madison, who was one of the "Federalist" leaders of the convention (Henry and Mason being leaders of the "Anti-Federalists," believing that the new central government was too powerful and there was too little protection of individual rights and liberties), took this demand seriously and introduced 12 amendments to the Constitution shortly after he took office as a Member of Congress. Ten of those amendments were ratified almost immediately and became the Bill of Rights on December 15, 1791; an eleventh, dealing with the remuneration of Members of Congress, became the 27th Amendment in May 1992.

In its message of ratification, the convention stated (italics added):

WE the Delegates of the people of Virginia, duly elected in pursuance of a recommendation from the General Assembly, and now met in Convention, having fully and freely investigated and discussed the proceedings of the Federal Convention, and being prepared as well as the most mature deliberation hath enabled us, to decide thereon, DO in the name and in behalf of the people of Virginia, declare and make known that the powers granted under the Constitution, being derived from the people of the United States may be resumed by them whensoever the same shall be perverted to their injury or oppression, and that every power not granted thereby remains with them and at their will: that therefore no right of any denomination, can be cancelled, abridged, restrained or modified, by the Congress, by the Senate or House of Representatives acting in any capacity, by the President or any department or officer of the United States, except in those instances in which power is given by the Constitution for those purposes: and that among other essential rights, the liberty of conscience and of the press cannot be cancelled, abridged, restrained or modified by any authority of the United States.
Those are powerful words, too little honored, and too much forgotten, today.

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