Happy Birthday: US Constitution

September 17 marked the 230th anniversary of the United States Constitution as on that date in 1787 it was signed by 39 of the 55 delegates to the Constitutional Convention.  The document then went to the states (13) for their approval, with nine (three-quarters) being the required number for ratification.

Delaware (December 7, 1787) was the first to ratify, Pennsylvania (December 12, 1787) the second, and New Hampshire (June 21, 1788) the ninth and deciding state.  The first Congress, consisting of 20 Senators and 59 Representatives, convened on March 4, 1789 in New York City.  George Washington, the first President (and only President unanimously elected by the Electoral College), took the oath of office on the balcony of the Senate Chamber at Federal Hall on Wall Street on April 30, 1789.

Some delegates at the Constitutional Convention would not sign the document because it lacked a Bill of Rights.  These concerns carried over to the states’ ratifying conventions and the subsequent debates.  Some of these fears were addressed through the 85 Federalist Papers, written by Alexander Hamilton (52), James Madison (28), and John Jay (5).

The 1st Congress of the United States recommended 12 Constitutional amendments to the states to put these concerns to rest.  When the 10th state (Virginia) approved 10 of these amendments on December 15, 1791, America had a formal Bill of Rights.

The First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of press, freedom of assembly, and freedom of petition.

The Second Amendment guarantees the right to keep and bear arms.

The Third Amendment prohibits the quartering of soldiers in private homes.

The Fourth Amendment protects against unreasonable searches and seizures.

The Fifth Amendment protects against self-incrimination.

The Sixth Amendment guarantees the right to a speedy trial, an impartial jury, the ability to confront witnesses, and the right to counsel.

The Seventh Amendment guarantees the right to a trial by jury.

The Eighth Amendment prohibits excessive bail and cruel and unusual punishment.

The Ninth Amendment guarantees people’s rights – even those not listed:  “the enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”

The Tenth Amendment guarantees state sovereignty:  “the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

Every elected official – federal, state, and local – swears or affirms they will “support, obey, and defend the Constitution of the United States and Constitution of this Commonwealth.”  We’d have a lot fewer problems if they did.