One hundred and fifty years ago this summer, a still-young nation known as the United States of America faced its greatest challenge. Armies of brothers dressed in blue and grey clashed in a small Pennsylvania town called Gettysburg.
More than just the outcome of a battle hung in the balance. So did our form of government. Would the Founding Fathers’ great experiment prove to be a failure?
The fact that our Founders were brilliant men is beyond debate, but they were not perfect. Once the Revolutionary War was won, they needed to form a government. But what type?
During the war the Founders drafted the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, designed to loosely bind the states together and ensure peace and harmony among them after the war. It was finally ratified by the states in 1781 and became the law of the land.
When the war ended in 1783, the Articles of Confederation were the contract by which the states cooperated, but the governing body it created had very little power. The articles soon proved to be insufficient to hold the Union together.
In 1787 a new Constitutional Convention was called in Philadelphia to revise the Articles and address the document’s shortcomings. Instead, the delegates decided to begin new, to form a national government that would, from the start, address the issues the Articles didn't, as well as any other problems they could foresee.
It was a risky endeavor that went well beyond the mission with which their respective states had charged them. They knew the weaknesses of the Articles and did their best to tackle them in what became the Constitution of the United States.
More than that, they had the foresight to recognize that nothing they could come up with would be flawless. So they created a mechanism by which the document could be amended to address situations as they arose.
They knew that perfection was reserved for God, so they did not strive for that. In the preamble to the Constitution, they stated clearly that their objective was to “form a more perfect union.” And in that document they moved further toward perfection than any government had before or since.
Not everyone was happy with the Constitution. In fact, no one was completely happy with it. Rhode Island, for example, refused to send a representative to the convention. But the state had the wisdom to see the convention had addressed the problems in the Articles of Confederation and created a government with which they could all live and flourish.