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31
Speech delivered at
Toledo, Ohio
September 17, 1937
THE CONSTITUTION
In the hundred and-fifty-'years that separate us from the time when
the Constitution
was adopted, changes have occurred thst make it hard fo
us to imagine what life at that time was' like. It was a life without
railways, automobiles, steamships, motor-boats, telegraph, telephone,
radio, moving pictures, airplanes, machine tools, electric light and
power. It was a life without great cities, without public schools and
public libraries, without great newspapers, magazines, and advertising,
without large scale factory production. There were few theatres, little
means of recreation and sport, and practically no music. The occupation
of the people were different. Nearly every one worked for himself,
either on his own farm or in his own shop or at his trade of carpenter,
mason, or ship Wright* There were few mines and no factories. In the
cities there Were a few merchants or others who had nore than a dozen
employees. Great corporations with thousands of employees were completely unknown• New W K , the largest city in the country, had 33,000
inhabitants. Toledo now has nearly ten times as many. The site of
Toledo was then forest and prairie in possession of the Indians. The
settled area of the United States was then a strip about two to three
hundred miles wide along the Atlantic coast; it now reaches the Pacific.
The population of'the country was then about 4,000,000; it is now about
130,000,000. The people were then al.nost wholly oi English stock; now
other races and nationalities are counted by the million and each helps
to make America what it is.
The primary purpose of the Constitution, as is stated in its first
few words, was "to form a more perfect union".
So far, the union of the thirteen states had been extremely loose.
They had worked together during the Revolution under an informal arrangement, which, as historians have said, was little more than a gentlemen's
agreement. The Articles of. Confederation drew them closer together into
what they called "a firm league of friendship", but it stipulated that ,
each state was to retain "its sovereignty, freedom, and independence".
Under these circumstances, Congress might adopt wise measures but it lay
with- the separate states to make them effective. In too many cases,, the
individual states ignored or nullified these measures.
The

reason for'the' looseness of organization was that the states
had been-established as 'separate colonies and in process of time had developed strong local interests. They could not readily and immediately
abandon their separate ways, nor subordinate their laws, their institutions, and their powers to a new and more/general authority. They had
many interests in common but'they also had many interests in conflict.
On the one hand there were large states like Massachusetts, Pennsylvania,
and Virginia, and on the other small states like Ehode Island, New Jersey
and Maryland. Some of the 3tates owned enormous tracts of western lands
stretching indefinitely toward the Pacific Ocean. .Others- held no lands
outside their own borders. Some laid claim to the same lands. Some
states had a- relatively large population, relatively large cities, and

2
great commercial activities.
mainly agricultural.

Others had smaller populations and were

Moreover the natural differences between the states began to be
exaggerated by tariff lavs. One state, in order to raise revenue, would
levy an import tax on the products of its neighbors. Its neighbors,
irritated by this obstacle raised against the sale of their products,
would retaliate. New York taxed Connecticut products, and Connecticut
taxed New York products. Intense friction between the states developed
and trade as a whole was interfered with more and more.
In spite of friendship, these differences could not be forgotten or
concealed. They had to be faced and reconciled. Washington wrote to
Lafayette in 1783 that experience would "convince us that the honor,
power and true interest of this country must be measured by a Continental
scale, and that every departure therefrom weakens the Union, and may
ultimately break the band which holds us together". In every state theie
were interests which believed in the imperative importance of a firmer
central organization.
Yet the men who held this conviction were by no means a majority.
The first effort to effect a closer organization, made at a meeting in
Annapolis called for the purpose of considering a uniform system of
commercial relations between the States, was unsuccessful because representatives of only five States attended the meeting. The second eifort
was successful. Acting on a suggestion made at the Annapolis meeting,
Congress recommended to the states that a new convention be called, "for
the sole and express purpose", as Congress said, "of revising the Ax-ticies
of Confederation and reporting to Congress and the several legislatures
such alterations and provisions therein as shall
render the
federal constitution adequate to the exigencies of government and the
preservation of the Union".
The Constitutional Convention was the result of this recommendation.
It met in May 1787 in Independence nail, Philadelphia, where eleven
years earlier the Declaration of Independence had been signed. Light of
the members of the Convention had signed the Declaration.
All of the states except Rhode Island had complied with the recommendation of Congress and chosen delegates to the convention. Not all
the delegates attended however and a number withdrew before the Constitution was fully composed. One of the delegates was George Washington, who
was chosen to preside. Other delegates included Madison, Framclin, and
Hamilton. No one delegate or group of delegates wrote the text of the
Constitution, but Madison, who was an authority on political science, co
contributed more to it in substance than any other one person.
Gouverneur Morris was largely responsible for its literary form.
The convention continued in session four months, during which its
members carried forward day by day the labor of composition. Two outstanding issues had to be settled. One of these was the problem of
equitable representation for states of different sizes. This was met
by giving each state representation on the basis of its population in
the iower house of Congress, and equal representation, state for state,

3
in the Senate. The second question was how to adjust the authority of
the new national government-to the authority of the states. This was
accomplished by making the Constitution and national legislation enacted
in accordance with its provisions the supreme law of the land. In the
next to the last article of the Constitution these words appear:
"This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States "
:
which shall; be made iri Pursuance thereof and all Treaties
made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the
United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and
the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any
Thing in the Constitution or laws of any State to the
contrary notwishstanding."
This same problem was also met by the principle that the national
government was a government of the people - not a government of the individual states. The words of the preamble are: "Vie the'people
do
ordain and establish this Constitution for the. United States."
On September 17, .1737 the details had all been settled and the work
was completed. The proposed Constitution was signed by all but a few of
the delegates - some, of whom were absent - and transmitted to Congress,
which was then in session in New York City. The recommendation was that
in each state delegates be selected by the people to meet;in convention
and ratify it.
The following is the letter with which the proposed Constitution
was transmitted to Congress. It was addressed to the President of Congress and signed by George Uashington, as presiding officer of the convention:
"Sir,
"We have now the honor to submit to the consideration of the United States in Congress assembled,"
that Constitution which has appeared to us the most?. : • • < . . '
.., *
adviseable.
• \
"The friends of our country have long seen and'
desired, that the power of making war, peace, and
treaties, that of levying money and regulating
commerce, and the correspondent executive and
judicial authorities should be fully and effe.ctu- .
ally vested in the general government of the Union.
But the impropriety of delegating such extensive
trust to one body of men is evident - hence result^
the necessity of a different organization.
"It is obviously impracticable in the federal
government of these states, to secure all rights
of independent sovereignty to each, and yet provide
for the interest and safety of all. Individuals
entering into society, must give up a share of,
liberty to preserve the rest. The magnitude of the
sacrifice must depend as well on situation and circumstance, as on the object to be obtained. It is
at all times difficult to draw with precision the

line between those rights which must be surrendered, and those
which may be reserved; and on the present occasion this difficulty was encreased by a difference among the several states as
to their situation, extent, habits, and particular interests.
"In all our deliberations on this subject we kept steadily in
our view, that which appears to us the greatest interest of
every true American, the consolidation of our Union, in which
is involved our prosperity, felicity, safety, perhaps our
national existence. This important consideration, seriously and
deeply impressed on our minds, led. each state in the Convention
to be less ri£.id on points of inferior magnitude, than might
have been otherwise expected; and thus the Constitution, which
we now oresent, is the result of a spirit of amity, and of that
mutual deference and concession which bhe peculiarity of our
political situation rendered indispensible.
"That it will meet the full and entire approbation of every
state is not perhaps to be expected, but each will doubtless
consider, that had her interest been alone consulted, the conseouences might hove been particularly disagreeable or injurious
to others; that it is liable to as few exceptions as could reason-'
ably have been expected, we hope and believe; that it may promote the lasting welfare of that country so dear to us oil, and
secure her freedom and happiness, is our most ardent wish.
"With great respect, Ve have the honor to be, Sir,
Your Excellency's
most obedient and humble servants,
George Washington, President.
11
By unanimous Order of the Convention.
The Congress immediately forwarded the new Constitution to the various states to be submitted to the people for ratification. During the •
succeeding months the question of adopting the Constitution became a sharp
issue. On the one hand were those who energetically advocated it. They
believed that the benefits won by the people in the Revolution would be
lost unless state interests were subordinated and a central government
were established in which the strength of the people as a whole was
united. On the other hand there were those who energetically opposed the
Constitution. They believed that the liberties won in the Revolution
would be destroyed by a.central government paramount over the individual,
states.
In three states, Delaware, New Jersey, and Georgia, the Constitution was ratified by unanimous vote. In most of the other states the,,
issue was close. In Massachusetts there were 187 yeas and 168 nays; in
New Hampshire 57 yeas and U1 nays; in Virginia 89 yeas *-;nd 79 nays; in
New York 30 yeas and 27 nays; in Rhode Island 34 yeas and 3^ nays. Moreover, North Carolina and Rhode Island did not ratify until after the new
government was in operation and they found themselves classed as foreign
countries.

5
I mention .these things because I think it is important for us to
remember that tlie Constitution.was not simply a statement of what everybody agreed about. If it were, there would have been no reason'for
r
composing dt.. On the contrary it was composed because there.wa > a press
ing need for people tb forget their- differences, to yield their selfish
interests, and ,to" unitfe for the common good. It is natural that sacrifices would have to be made, and that many people woula believe that the
sacrifices were'unjustified. As the,letter prepared,by the members of
the Convention declared, "It is at all times difficult to draw with precision the line between those rights which must be surrendered and those
which may be reserved", and the Constitution itself was a product of
"mutual deference 'and concession". As the letter further said, it was
not perhaps to be expected that the proposed Constitution would meet the
full and entire approbation of every state. That it nevertheless was
accepted indicates the realization of common interest that governed the
people despite their differences.
There was a strong popular feeling however that the new Constitutio
should be more explicit on the subject of civil liberties. Accordingly,
the new Congress proposed a number of amendments comprising what are
generally known as the Bill of Rights. This addition was largely due tc
the efforts of Thomas Jefferson, who was in Europe at the time as
American Minister to France. These first ten amendments include the
following important points. They insure freedom of religion, freedom
of speech, freedom of the press, and the right of the people peaceably
to assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
They insure that the right of the people to be secure in their persons,
houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures
shall not be violated. They forbid trial for crime except upon indictment, and more than one trial' for the same offence. They insure that no
person shall be compelled in a criminal case to be a witness against
himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty or property without due
process of law, nor have his private property taken for public use without .just compensation. They insure that in all criminal prosecutions,
the accused shall have a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury,
that he shall be informed of the charges against him, be confronted by
the witness against him, have the power to summon his own witnesses, anc
have the assistance of counsel. They protect the accused from requirement of excessive bail, and forbid excessive fines and infliction of
cruel and unusual punishments.
Some of these provisions may seem odd to us, but if so it is becau;
we have forgotten how much tyranny and arbitrary injustice there has bee
in human history. These rights protected by the first ten amendments ai
rights that mankind has repeatedly had to fight and die for. Americans
knew this. In large part America had been settled by people who had lef
Europe in order to get away from tyranny 'and repression. These people
and their descendants wanted specific guaranties against persecution for
religious beliefs and political ideas, against sudden and arbitrary imprisonment, against punishment on false charges without opportunity for
defence. In these first ten amendments they used language which for the
same purpose had already been incorporated' in the bills of rights adopter
by state legislatures during the Revolution.

These first ten amendments were all ratified by 1791. In the long
period since then - a hundred-and-f'orty-six years - eleven additional
amendments have been ratified.
Since 1791 therefore the Constitution has been amended on the average once in more than 13 years. In fact however most of the ^ n d m e n t s
have occurred since 1865- In the sixty-one years irom 1804 to 1*65 there
was no amendment; and in the forty-three years from 1870 to 1913there
was no amendment. In the twenty-four years since tnen there have been
six amendments or an average of one every four years.
I think it will be interesting to name the nine amendments since
1865.
The 13th amendment, ratified in 1865, abolished slavery.
The U t h , ratified in 1868, defined the status of citizens and
added to the Constitution the often invoked clause
which forbids any State to deprive any person ot life,
1
liberty, or property without 'due process of law.'*
The 15th, ratified in 1870, declared that the right of citizens to
vote should not be denied or abridged on account o, race,
color, or previous condition of servitude.
The 16th, ratified in 1913, authorized the Federal income tax.
The 17th, ratified also in 1913, authorized direct election of
United States Senators; previously they had been
elected by their state legislatures.
The 18th, ratified in 1919 and repealed fourteen years later,
established prohibition ol' alcoholic beverages.
The 19th, ratified in 1920, authorized voting by women.
The 20th, ratified in 1933, had the effect of changing the date on
which the terms of the P r e s i d e n t and the Vice President
begin and end from march U to January 20 and also changed
the dates of the sessions of Congress."
The 21st, also ratified in 1933, repealed prohibition.
The original copy of the Constitution, written in longhand on four
sheets of parchment and bearing the signatures of its thirty-rune
signers, is in the Library of Congress in Washington. It is mounted
in a bronze shrine and protected from damaging li^ht rays by tinted
class. There it is viewed daily by the public, as many as a thousand
visitors a day coming to see it. Printed copies of the Constitution can
be procured for a few cents almost anywhere that books or magazines are
sold. A special historical edition has been prepared by the United otate
Constitution S e m i c e n t e n n i a l Commission under authority oi Congress.

7
The Constitution of the United States, including its twenty-one
amendments, is a brief document. A person can read it through in half a:
hour. Some of its expressions are old-fashioned, but it is written in
simple and direct style and offers its readers no difficulties. Its
terms are general and in that fact lies much of its strength. Exact
language covering complicated details might apply in 1737 but in the
course of the changes that have occurred in the 150 years since then it
would no longer apply. Such a Constitution would not have served for
any length of time without numerous and elaborate amendments. The wisdo:
of its authors is shown in the fact that the Constitution is clear and
definite and yet at the same time adaptable to change. On the one hand
.it did what its authors intended - namely, formed a more perfect union
and gave it a strong and practicable government. On the other hand it
left room for adjustment and change as year follows year and new discoveries, inventions, habits, institutions, and interests change the
lives of men and the governmental problems that face them.