The Constitution of the United States – Part 4
ARTICLE V – Amending the Masterpiece
Article V is a vital one, and may be the most important part of the Constitution – it sets forth the process for amending the Constitution should times and circumstances warrant it. In the past, changes to the form of government in most countries was accomplished by revolution. This process allowed for change in a peaceful manner. A system was developed for “tweaking” the Constitution as needed. Interestingly, the process does not include the President’s input or approval!
An amendment must be passed by two-thirds of the House and two-thirds of the Senate, and then it goes to the people, who must pass it through state legislatures by a wide margin; the process was made deliberately difficult to prevent “tinkering” without a lot of forethought and required a great deal of deliberation by the Congress AND the people in order to preserve Constitutional stability.
The “sell-out” clause in order to get some of the Southern states on board forbid an amendment to the Constitution altering the reservation set forth in Article 1, Sec. 9, Clause 4 which states there will be no restriction on the importation of slaves before 1808. The slave states needed 20 years to convert their production systems and close down the slave operations, so while many of the Founders reviled slavery, it was too hot an issue to force an immediate resolution while they were trying to get the Constitution ratified to hold the Union together. Madison wrote in Federalist 42, “it is extremely regrettable that the power to abolish the slave trade will not exist until the year 1808, and even more so that it cannot be stopped at this very moment.”
In the end, the Framers believed that the amendment process would protect the Constitution from undue change at the same time that it would strengthen the authority of the Constitution with the people. “The basis of our political systems is the right of the people to make and to alter their Constitutions of Government,” George Washington wrote in his Farewell Address of 1796. (The Heritage Guide to the US Constitution)
The Framers put a great deal of trust in the People to stay engaged with the government they created. Have we been worthy of this trust?
ARTICLE VI -Debt Assumption
This Article clarifies that the new government will honor all of its obligations to creditors, including the Revolutionary War debts – not only of the national government, but of all the states as well.
To finance the War of Independence, the American states and the Continental Congress sold millions of dollars in public bonds to soldiers, ordinary Americans and investors, both within America and abroad. Whether Congress could discharge the state debts was left unsettled because the ensuing debate centered on a different question: Would the new federal government necessarily inherit the debt obligations of the old Continental and Confederation Congresses? (The Heritage Guide to the US Constitution) Heated debate raged on this clause.
In the end, the wording was changed from having the “power” to pay back the debts incurred to having the “obligation” and the new federal government made good on all the bond obligations inherited from the Articles of Confederation.
Article VI also set forth in irrefutable written form the supremacy of the Constitution, federal treaties and federal laws over state constitutions and laws. This section introduces the Supremacy Clause which basically strives to set forth a conflict-of-laws rule specifying that some national laws would take precedence over any conflicting state laws . The Framers felt the laws of the nation must necessarily take precedence and become the supreme law of the land or else – what was the point? Every state would continue to do what it wanted on an individual basis and no Union would survive.
This particular article, once word got out, almost immediately inspired confidence and respect in the fledgling nation and started the wheels of commerce turning. It pulled the whole team together, so to speak, and people felt a sense of comfort that we were, indeed, One Nation.
“When President Washington saw what was happening, he could scarcely believe it! He saw the bankrupt United States experience a miracle of recovery at a pace he never would have believed possible.” (The Making of America)
Article VI also establishes the oath of office for elected representatives and officers of both the United States and individual states swearing their support of the Constitution.
ARTICLE VII – The Finishing Touches
Article VII provides for the ratification process whereby nine states out of the thirteen were required to ratify this unique document to put it into full force and effect. The Founders very pointedly required approval by the states, but not Congress, so that again shows that they intended for the STATES to have the power, not the Federal government.
John Fiske, noted historian, wrote: “Thus, after four months of anxious toil, through the whole of a scorching Philadelphia summer, after earnest but sometimes bitter discussion, in which more than once the meeting had seemed on the point of breaking up, a colossal work had at last been accomplished, the results of which were powerfully to affect the whole future career of the human race.”
And the course of world history was changed by 4,500 words.
A review of the Articles of the Constitution: “In other words, government was structured so that each branch has an interest in keeping an eye on the others, checking powers while jealously protecting its own. By giving each department an incentive to check the other – with overlapping functions and contending ambitions – the Founders devised a system that recognized and took advantage of man’s natural political motivations to both use power for the common good and to keep power within constitutional boundaries.” (Federalist 51, Original Argument, page 121)
Is that not absolutely brilliant?????