Front Matter The Beginning of the U.S Franklin's Return Troubles After the War The Constitution The First President Washington's Troubles A Wonderful Invention Death of Washington The U.S. Buys Land War With African Pirates Death of Somers The First Steamboat The Gerrymander The War of 1812 "Don't Give Up the Ship" The Star-Spangled Banner Clinton's "Big Ditch" More Land Bought Jackson Stories Jackson's Presidency New Inventions Whitman's Ride The Mormons The First Telegraph The Mexican War The Slavery Quarrel Daniel Webster's Youth Webster's Speeches Early Times in California Discovery of El Dorado Rush to California The Underground Railroad The First World's Fair John Brown's Raid Lincoln's Youth The First Shot The Call to Arms The President's Decision Admiral Farragut The Monitor and Merrimac The Penninsular Campaign Barbara Frietchie Lincoln's Vow The Battle of Gettysburg The Taking of Vicksburg Riots, Raids, and Battles The Burning of Atlanta The March to the Sea Sheridan's Ride The Doings of the Fleet Lee's Surrender Decoration Day Lincoln Stories Lincoln's Rebukes A President's Son A Noble Southerner Hard Times in the South The Atlantic Cable Best Way to Settle Quarrels Our One Hundredth Birthday Gold for Greenbacks A Clever Engineer Death of Garfield The Celebration at Yorktown The Great Statue A Terrible Flood Lynch Law The Great White City The Explosion of the Maine The Battle of Manila Hobson's Brave Deed Surrender of Santiago The Hawaiian Islands The Annexation of Hawaii The Philippine War Assassination of McKinley The Panama Canal Roosevelt's Administration Two Presidents German Views The World War Since the World War

Story of the Great Republic - Helene Guerber

The Constitution

The Constitutional Convention met in Independence Hall, in Philadelphia, in 1787. All the states sent delegates except Rhode Island, and among these, one man; the beloved Washington, was chosen by every one present to act as president. As it seemed best that the public should hear only the final result of the meetings, the convention held secret sessions. It was soon found impossible to revise the Articles of Confederation in a satisfactory way, so it was decided to make a new constitution, or set of general laws. They were to be laws which all the states should obey, but which would still leave them the right to settle minor matters to suit themselves.

Although all the members wished to do their best, opinions were so very different that for four months there was a great deal of quarreling in the convention. Indeed, it often seemed as if the members never would agree; and, seeing how heated some of the delegates became, the aged Franklin once suggested that it would be well to begin every session with a prayer for wisdom and divine guidance.

Washington, too, often tried to pour oil on the troubled waters; but sometimes even he grew frightened, and once he said: "It is too probable that no plan we propose will be adopted. Perhaps another conflict is to be sustained. If, to please the people, we offer what we ourselves disapprove, how can we afterwards defend our work? Let us raise a standard to which the wise and honest can repair; the event is in the hand of God."

After four months' discussion, and after all parties had given up some of their ideas and wishes to please the rest, the present Constitution of the United States was drawn up. It was called the "new roof," because it was to serve as a shelter in time of storm for all the states who chose to take refuge under it.

This Constitution provided that the lawmaking part of the government should be carried on by a new Congress, consisting of two houses. One was to be called the House of Representatives. The men forming it were to be elected by the people, who at first had a representative for every thirty thousand inhabitants, though they now have only one for about six times as many people. But it was then agreed that as there were many slaves in the South who could not vote, the Southerners should consider five slaves equal to three white men in taking the census, or counting the population. At the same time, to please the men of the South, the North agreed that Congress should not forbid the importing of slaves until 18o8.

The other house of Congress was called the Senate, where each state, large or small, was to send two members, called senators.

House of Representatives


After a new law had been talked over and voted for in both houses, it was to be sent to the President for him to sign. If the President did not wish to sign the Jaw he was not obliged to do so, and if he vetoed it,—that is, if he said, "I forbid it,"—the law was to be sent back to Congress. There it was to be talked over again, the votes of the houses taken once more, and if, on counting, it was found that two thirds of each house still thought the law was best for the country, it was to be put in force without the President's consent.

As Congress thus had the right to make the laws, it was to be called the lawmaking or legislative part of the government. Now you know it is not enough to make laws: you must have somebody to see that they are obeyed, or to execute them. The Constitution said that this part of the work was to be done by another part of the government, to be called the executive.

Several persons cannot well give orders at once, so it was thought best that one man should be the executive. This man was to be called the President. He was to be chosen every four years by electors, each state having as many electors as it had senators and representatives in Congress. The duty of the President was to see that the laws made by Congress were properly carried out, and to call out the soldiers in case of war. A Vice President was also to be chosen in the same way as the President. His duty was to be head or president of the Senate, and to take the President's place if the latter died.

State Chamber


The makers of the Constitution knew that there would surely be disputes between states, which ordinary state courts could not settle; so they further decided that there should be a third part to the government. This was to be the judiciary, or justice-dealing part, composed of judges chosen by the President. These United States judges were to form a Supreme Court, where all such cases could be tried, and they were also to settle all disputes concerning the laws of the nation.

Each state was still to govern itself in home matters, but treaties with other countries, questions of trade, war, etc., were to be settled by the United States government. Thus, you see, it had the right to coin money, keep the post office, tax the people, and see that the nation was ruled in the very best way.

The Constitution thus made did not quite suit everybody; but most of the members of the Constitutional Convention felt like Washington, who once said that it was the best Constitution which could be obtained at that epoch; and all knew that unless it was accepted the thirteen states would fall apart. That, you see, would have been very bad; for while they could hold their own when they were united, they were too small and weak to stand alone.

James Madison had taken a large share in all this work. He had made many speeches, taken notes, tried to coax the members to agree, and had labored so hard to suit everybody that he is generally called the "Father of the Constitution." This important paper, the "title deed of American liberty," begins with the words: "We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

The Constitution having been drawn up, read, and signed by the members of the convention, it was sent to the Continental Congress at New York, which forwarded copies to each state. It was provided that when nine or more states approved of it, the new Constitution should go into effect for those states.

Constitutional Convention


The disputes had been so bitter in the Constitutional Convention that it had often seemed as if no agreement would ever be reached. So when Franklin came forward to sign the Constitution, he quaintly said, pointing to the back of Washington's chair, upon which was carved a sun: "In the vicissitudes [changes] of hope and fear, I was root able to tell whether it was rising or setting. Now I know that it is the rising sun." Franklin was right. The sun was rising for our dear country, and we hope it will go on growing brighter and brighter for many a year yet to come.

All the delegates present, except three, signed the Constitution, which was accepted by Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, Connecticut, and Maryland just as it stood. Massachusetts, South Carolina, New Hampshire, Virginia, and New York accepted it, but at the same time proposed a few additions called "amendments." Thus, in August, 1788, all the states had adopted it except Rhode Island and North Carolina, which, however, joined the Union soon after.

When so many states agreed to the Constitution, there were great rejoicings everywhere. Bonfires, illuminations, and processions were seen in all large cities, and many fine speeches were made. In one procession there was a big float, representing the Constitution as the "Ship of State." It rested upon a platform where Alexander Hamilton's name was written in huge letters, for he too had had a great share in making it, and in persuading the people of his state to accept it.