We often think of the “Philadelphia Convention”, or, “Grand Convention” as a focused united effort by the Founders to establish the Constitution of the United States of America. I think that this idea of uniformity of opinion may be more prevalent in Utah and other “Mormon” strongholds. Adherents to the teaching of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) view the Constitution as a Godly inspired document. I am of the opinion that subconsciously, if not overtly, some members of the LDS Church are of the viewpoint that no controversy could have existed during the Constitutional Convention…since it was inspired.
Not only was the convention controversial, most if not all of, the men at that convention realized that it would be highly confrontational. In fact one aspect of the convention was that proceedings were held in secret. “The delegates also agreed that the deliberations would be kept secret. The case in favor of secrecy was that the issues at hand were so important that honest discourse needed to be encouraged and delegates ought to feel free to speak their mind, and change their mind, as they saw fit.” ( Gordon Lloyd, The Constitutional Convention, TeachingAmericanHistory.org).
The Founders were selected not for the unity of views, but rather for their unity of purpose.
That purpose, with all of its broad interpretations, was to refine the Articles of Confederation. What did refine mean? Providing just sufficient strength to the united states to make them strong enough to be The United States.
In May of 1787 the mental, emotional, oratorical, and on rare occasions the physical brawl began. Congress, under the Article of Confederation had authorized convention delegates to revise the “Articles ” to achieve the purpose of the convention. Virginia came out swinging. Under the industrial work of James Madison “revising the Articles” meant starting over. From May until September ensued a slugfest and stalemate of progress.
I return briefly to the discussion of LDS Church viewpoint. I do this with a two-fold purpose. The predominate number of my readers are members of LDS Church and familiar with the various Church statements. The second reason is because I strongly believe the following is relevant and true despite the religious orientation of any reader.
In the April 2012 General Conference of the LDS Church Richard G. Scott, a member of the Council of Twelve Apostle (a senior leadership group of the LDS Church) said, “The Holy Ghost communicates important information that we need to guide us in our mortal journey. When it is crisp and clear and essential, it warrants the title of revelation. When it is a series of promptings we often have to guide us step by step to a worthy objective, for the purpose of this message, it is inspiration.”
Even though the Founders may not have had constant unanimity among themselves I embrace the idea that unitedly they did in fact have a “series of promptings”. Those prompting brought them to create the singularly most relevant political document in the history of the world. Yes, they were inspired! Given the contrast of views and parochial stance of various “states” men, without inspiration, the contrast would have been contention. Failure undoubtedly would have followed.
Having laid that historical and religious framework I come to the point I likely could and should have said in one or two sentences. During the Grand Convention, as men debated regarding the merits of national versus state’s power “Oliver Ellsworth of Connecticut suggests that we are neither wholly national nor wholly federal but a mixture of both.” Perhaps to some that may have been the most important and relevant observations made during the sweltering, humid, and stifling summer, behind secret closed doors, windows and draperies.
Ultimately under inspiration what those men suggested, and thirteen states eventually ratified, was a unique government. It was never discussed as a “central” government. Central conveys the idea of a government with power over the various states. Intolerable to some, unsatisfactory to some, and acceptable to a few.
Rather, what was construed was a “General” government. That was a government conceived and viewed not to have power over the states and the people, but rather one that was empowered by the states and the people. Such a government was not to have the natural tendencies of all governments that preceded it, to instill fear.
More than anything else about American History, the War of Independence, the fortitude of the Founders, and the rallying point of meaningful clichés’ stands one virtue above the rest. The federal government comprising a republic of, for, and by the people engenders confidence…”if we can keep it”.
That is The Way I See It.