The Constitutional Convention

Called Unto Liberty, J. Reuben Clark Jr., May 29 1957, 20th Century Sermons

The Constitutional Convention was in fact a revolutionary body composed of representatives of the people. Neither the Constitutional Convention nor its work had any legal and official political sanction until it was adopted by the representatives of the people . . . .

The record of their work gives early evidence that the leaders were consciously abandoning the idea of amending the articles of Confederation. They were striking out along new lines.

They also gave up following the British Government as a model. Randolph declared: “. . . the fixt genius of the people of America required a different form of Government.” (Farrand, The Records of the Federal Convention, Vol. I, p. 66)

Furthermore, they found no ancient or modern system that they might take as a blueprint for their work. Madison said: “. . . as it was more than probable we were now divesting a plan which in its operation wd. decide forever the fate of Republican Govt. we ought not only to provide every guard to liberty that its preservation cd. require, but be equally careful to supply the defects which our own experience had particularly pointed out.” (Documentary History of the Constitution of the United States of America, 1786- 1870, Vol. III, p. 216.)

In the same strain, Franklin called the attention of the Framers to their situation in these words: “We have gone back to ancient history for models of Government, and examined the different forms of those Republics which having been formed with the seeds of their own dissolution now no longer exist. And [p. 72] we have viewed Modern States all round Europe, but find none of their Constitutions suitable to our circumstances.” (Farrand, Vol. I, p. 451.)

Nevertheless, it is clear that, learned as they were in political history and in matters of world-wide politics, they exhausted the lessons of history and of their own experience, which was of a considerable nature for they came, as it were, from twelve different countries—in an effort to find the best which their learning, experience, and wisdom could furnish . . . .

It will be recalled, as already pointed out, that the resolution of the Continental Congress in expressing its opinion of the expediency of the proposed Constitutional Convention to be held in Philadelphia, explicitly stated that it was for “the sole and express purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation and reporting to Congress and the several legislatures such alterations and provisions therein as shall when agreed to in Congress and confirmed by the states render the federal constitution adequate to the exigencies of Government and the preservation of the Union.” (Farrand, Vol. III, pp. 13- 14)

As a matter of fact, the Convention fully and completely ignored these instructions, both in the preparation of the Constitution and in its suggestions as to the method of its submission to the people. The Articles of Confederation were completely abandoned. The Congress, upon receiving the document, did not “agree” to the Constitution as they had provided, indeed it completely abandoned the Articles of Confederation. It passed the Constitution to the States to be acted upon, not by the State Legislatures (as stipulated by the Continental Congress), but by conventions specially called for its consideration and adoption. Congress became a mere messenger boy to get the Constitution to the people. (The United States, Its Beginnings, Progress and Modern Development, Edwin Wiley and Irving E. Rines, ed. 1912, Vol. IV, pp. 1-30.)

Again we may state that in simple fact, and in legal concept and effect the Constitutional Convention was a revolutionary body, the outgrowth of a bloodless political revolution. The governmental system set up was a revolutionary government, completely dissimilar from that under the Articles of Confederation. We went through two revolutions—in the first, we won our political independence from Britain; in the second, we planned and established a system of government, a blueprint for which was not found in the entire history of the world.

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Source:  J. Reuben Clark Jr. (1871–1961), served as a mem­ber of the First Pres­i­dency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1931–1961. Prior to his full-time church ser­vice he was assis­tant solic­i­tor to the State Depart­ment, worked in the Attor­ney General’s office, Under Sec­re­tary of State, the author of the clas­sic study, the “Clark Mem­o­ran­dum on the Mon­roe Doc­trine” and U.S. ambas­sador to Mex­ico. Among those who knew his work best, J. Reuben Clark was rec­og­nized as the fore­most con­sti­tu­tional scholar of the 20th Century.