Editorial: Compromising state
Thursday marks the beginning of Constitution Week, a celebration of the document that is the foundation of our government and its relation to all Americans. In 1955, the Daughters of the American Revolution petitioned Congress to set aside Sept. 17-23 each year for this purpose.
Wilton’s Drum Hill chapter of the DAR sent along some of the ways in which Connecticut contributed to the document that was written in 1787, and has endured for more than 200 years.
While still embroiled in the fight for independence, the Continental Congress adopted the Articles of Confederation in 1777 to bring the new states together legislatively as a federation. There were some major weaknesses, however, including no executive or judicial branches of government. States were also unwilling to give up control of trade, tariffs and taxation.
With independence from Great Britain secure, a national convention was convened in Philadelphia in 1787 to correct these problems. Recognizing the legislature’s limitations, Oliver Ellsworth, a Connecticut congressman and delegate to the convention, realized Congress needed to be made “respectable as well as responsible,” with certain powers.
Ellsworth helped do this with the Connecticut Compromise that became part of the Constitution. He and Roger Sherman, also of Connecticut, formulated the compromise which resolved a debate between the large and small states over representation in government. It provided for the two systems of representation that became the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Senate has two elected representatives per state whereas the House of Representatives delegations are based on population.
Ellsworth was a lawyer, judge, politician, and diplomat. He later became a United States Senator and the third Chief Justice of the United States.
Sherman’s name appears on more American historical documents than any other Founding Father. This cobbler, lawyer, judge, and politician played a significant role not only in drafting the Constitution, but two other of America’s most important documents. He was a member of the Committee of Five that drafted the Declaration of Independence, along with John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and Robert R. Livingston. He was also instrumental in developing the Articles of Confederation and the aforementioned Connecticut Compromise. Sherman was the only Founding Father to have signed the Articles of Association, the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution.
The three main parts of the Constitution include the preamble, articles, and the amendments. The preamble is the introduction, the articles explain how the government works and the amendments are all the changes made — 27 so far. The preamble states the goals of the constitution. To protect the basic rights of Americans — rights which each person possesses and that are guaranteed, but not granted, by any government — the framers added the first 10 amendments known as the Bill of Rights.
One of the more unusual amendments took more than 200 years to pass. The 27th Amendment — the most recent to be ratified — concerns compensation for senators and representatives. It was put forth in 1789 and one of its most vociferous opponents was Ben Franklin, who argued public servants should not be paid for fear they would engage in “selfish pursuits.” Those in favor of the amendment believed federal office should not be the province of only the wealthy. They argued for days at the Philadelphia convention.
In essence, the amendment read that Congress could not vote itself a pay raise until the election of a new Congress took place. The amendment languished until efforts by advocates brought it into public view in 1983. Even then, it took until 1992 for approval to be recognized by both houses of Congress.
Any existing constitutional amendment can be repealed but only by the ratification of another amendment. This is such a rare occurrence it has only happened once. In 1933, the 21st Amendment repealed the 18th Amendment — better known as Prohibition — banning the manufacture and sale of alcohol in the United States.