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Archive for September, 2017

Yesterday marked the 230th anniversary of the 1787 Constitutional Convention at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. And so, to mark the occasion, I present three alternate versions of an #OTDminus1.

Version One: A group of self-dealing aristocrats and men of big commerce who had, without authorization, convened a convention in Philadelphia to create a national government, enacted, under a convenient blanket of secrecy, a form of national government that served and extended their own interests.

Version Two: The Spirit of Nature’s God descended upon Philadelphia’s Independence Hall and delivered to the convention delegates the blueprints for the Perfect¬†Union. James Madison interpreted, and Gouverneur Morris transcribed.

Version Three: The Philadelphia delegates, in the fiery furnace of free argument, forged a workable, artfully-ambiguous framework for a large Republic. They settled a few disputes, but did subsequent generations of Americans the more important service of *framing* others: setting the parameters within which good-faith advocates could advance, or oppose, arguments about the proper scope of government, the relations between the central and State governments, and how the three branches might authorize their separated powers.

The Convention’s actions, it is true, were more than a little cheeky and not really authorized in advance: the delegates were supposed to amend, not replace, the Articles of Confederation. But the delegates’ chutzpah, and the essential wisdom of the thing they produced, were ratified and blessed after the fact by the States’ conventions, proving that guts and sound judgment are always authorized. A grateful realist can look back at the Philadelphia Convention’s work — a mixture of boldness, compromise, cunning, and wisdom — and marvel at its cleverness and durability.

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