When our forefathers were gathered in fits and starts to revise the Articles of the Confederation from May 14, 1787 to September 17, 1787, they did so in order to form a “more perfect union.” As we see two hundred and thirty three years later, our union is less than perfect. Among those delegates who ratified the United States Constitution, there was vigorous debate on how representatives should be chosen for the Senate. Some believed that the choice should be made by the legislative body, others through proportional vote of the electorate and yet others by giving each state equal numbers. As with any healthy process of accommodation there was much disagreement. Still, there was understanding, too, that this was a work in progress.
It was not news to the signers of our Constitution, then, that this document was a compilation of compromises, which would, more than likely, need revision after its ratification. Of the original thirteen states, the last to ratify was Rhode Island on May 29, 1790; and the only unanimous votes were from Delaware, New Jersey and Georgia.
Benjamin Franklin at 81, who was considered congenial and fair-minded, had believed one chamber in the legislative branch best, chosen proportionally through the electorate. Even so, two chambers were finally decided with the Senate given equal numbers in all states rather than proportional representation. This was based on a fear in the smaller states that they would be dominated by the decisions of the larger; and so, in effect, the Senate became a check on the rule of the majority.
As a consequence of the Senate’s proposed configuration and treaty powers, September 11, 1787, James Wilson, delegate of Pennsylvania, and other delegates were concerned that vesting too much power in the Senate “would have a tendency to establish a dangerous aristocracy in that branch of Congress.” As we see today, the Senate, with it’s disproportionate representation holds excessive power over the democratically elected House of Representatives, holding sway over the majority of the citizenship. With a President elected through an outdated electoral system that overrules the majority, put in place by the same fear that configured the Senate, this compromise made in 1787 is due for change. With minority rule for too many terms, it is obvious that the will of the people in this democratic society has been undermined.
Our forefathers understood that the Constitution was imperfect and would need amendment. The Bill of Rights was not added until 1791, and ‘adjustments” have been ongoing. It is essential then, as always, that our Constitution grows with us and reflects the best of what we have to give.
In truth and the understanding that we have an imperfect union, do we have the courage to make changes that are needed to realize the dream of this democratic union?
… To establish Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty … for all.
February 14, 2020
Building the Constitution, by Irving Dilliard, former editor of the St Louis Dispatch, 50th Anniversary Edition
The Constitution of the United States with the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation, Introduction by R B Bernstein 2002