On today’s bike ride I stopped by to see the United States Constitution at the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration Building. I chose to do so because it was on this day in 1789 that an American government under the Constitution initially began when the first session of Congress was held in New York City.

It was three years earlier, in 1786, that shortcomings in the Articles of Confederation became apparent, such as the lack of central authority over foreign and domestic commerce and the inability of Congress to levy taxes. This led Congress to endorse a plan to draft a new governing document.  In September of the following year, at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, the new U.S. Constitution was approved by 38 of 41 delegates to the convention, creating a Federal government with an intricate system of checks and balances.

However, the new document would not become binding until it was ratified by nine of the 13 existing states. So it was sent to the state legislatures for ratification.  Five states – Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, and Connecticut – quickly ratified it. However, other states opposed the document for its failure to reserve powers not delegated by the Constitution to the states and its lack of constitutional protection for such basic political rights as freedom of speech, religion and the press, and the right to bear arms.

The following February, a compromise was reached in which the other states agreed to ratify the document with the assurance that amendments would immediately be adopted. The Constitution was thus narrowly ratified by Massachusetts, Maryland, South Carolina, and New Hampshire, giving it the number needed for adoption, and government under the U.S. Constitution was scheduled to begin on March 4, 1789.

However,  for that first session of congress, of the 22 senators and 59 representatives called to represent the 11 states who had ratified the Constitution, only nine senators and 13 representatives showed up.   So I guess the today’s work ethic in Congress is really nothing new.

(Note:  They wouldn’t let me bring my bike into the National Archives to take a photo next to the Constitution.  In fact, they don’t allow any photography at all, which is why the photo I quickly took when no one was looking is not very good.)

  1. We need to add the Right to Photograph to the Bill of Rights. But thanks for the post.

    Liked by 1 person

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