It was the end of a very heated, intense four months. The framers had joined together in an attempt to save the struggling confederation of 13 former colonies now known collectively as the United States of America. It was a time of turmoil among the states. Efforts to organize a central government under the Articles of Confederation were proving ineffective.
Many feared the experiment in independence was about to unravel. On September 17th, 1787 each state was presented, forratification (agreement) of a grand experiment in governing that became known as a very complex federalist republic. Care had been taken to avoid many of the downfalls revealed in the history of governments studied by the framers. It was their combined desire to avoid pitfalls that led past republics to failure, and attempt to end the wild pull between anarchy and tyranny. 39 of the original 56 framers signed the Constitution of the United States of America.
This rule of law based constitution proposed an approach to governing that was debated and discussed around the world. Theories of such philosophers as John Locke and Charles Montesquieu were brought to life. Its basic form had been tested in Massachusetts after the ideas of John Adams were initially rejected in 1776 in favor of the Articles of Confederation. Among the 4543 words (including signatures) were distinct separations of enumerated powers. A maze of important checks and balances between federal government branches, and between the states and federal levels.
States were responsible with protecting the fundamental rights of life, liberty and property. However, the most responsible branch for governing daily life was neither federal or state. Personal responsibility and self-governing was the ingredient that created a country united and ruled by the people while avoiding the known problems of past governments of people known as a representative democracy. (Only one branch of federal government was actually defined to be democratically selected, the House of Representatives.)
Within the preamble there were six distinct goals. These goals are rarely the focus of any federal discussion today yet these were embraced by the people as the thirteen states completed the ratification process by 1790, when Rhode Island approved. It would have been wise for future representatives to use these as a measuring stick to insure federal legislation met each. These goals are;
For emphasis the key words were capitalized and the key words found in the sixth goal are liberty and posterity. In civil government the 1828 Noah Webster dictionary defines liberty as;
1. Civil liberty, is the liberty of men in a state of society, or natural liberty, so far only abridged and restrained, as is necessary and expedient for the safety and interest of the society, state or nation. A restraint of natural liberty, not necessary or expedient for the public, is tyranny or oppression. civil liberty is an exemption from the arbitrary will of others, which exemption is secured by established laws, which restrain every man from injuring or controlling another. Hence the restraints of law are essential to civil liberty.
Each person living under the agreed rule of law, set by the federal and state constitutions, are only restrained as necessary to insure they do not injure or control others living in their society. Otherwise citizens are free to pursue their inalienable rights. Inalienable rights, defined in the Declaration of Independence, are life, (the defined) liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
The American Revolution was recently fought to win the right to live without the tyranny and oppression of either a single monarch or an oligarchy (a few ruling the many). It was believed self-governing would bring blessings of prosperity unavailable under the rule of man or under the rule of the 'Crown in Parliament.' Solid representation combined with the people's agreement to laws were believed a better way to secure a society of liberty. It was expected the current generation would be able to secure these blessings yet the proposed Constitution went beyond the current generation. It reached into the future, their posterity, emphasized in the sixth goal of the preamble.
1. Descendants; children, children’s children, &c. indefinitely; the race that proceeds from a progenitor. The whole human race are the posterity of Adam.
2. In a general sense, succeeding generations; opposed to ancestors.
In their minds framers were setting down a form of government with a goal of securing the blessings of liberty indefinitely. As we look around our streets today we see children these framers considered as their posterity. In each successive generation responsibility would be passed to continually seek fulfillment of the goals found in the preamble. It is now our generation who bears this responsibility. Are we securing the blessing of liberty or the chains of economic servitude?
Gary Wood is the Educational Advisor for the Utah Tenth Amendment Center. Co-founder of the Heritage Training Center, focused on helping end constitutional illiteracy. With 35 years of devoted study of our Constitution his desire is to help others rediscover the inspiring heritage of the United States. Radio show host, training officer, lifetime member of the VFW and most importantly Grandpa.
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