Revolutionary responses to extraordinary circumstances
Sunday, September 16, 2018
Beginning with the reading of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, the American Colonies charted a revolutionary course that challenged accepted institutions of government existing throughout the world.
Even before victory in their audacious war with the most powerful empire in the world, in 1777 the Founding Fathers drew up “The Articles of Confederation” providing a loose framework (constitution) for the administration of the new country. The Articles were intentionally written to allow for a confederation of loosely allied states with a limited central government in the form of a weak Congress that left most governmental power in the hands of the states. Eventually recognizing serious weaknesses in this government, some leading statesmen called for a meeting to revisit the governmental organization.
Eastern North Carolina has a distinct connection with the Constitution of the United States resulting from these efforts. In 1787, New Bern native Richard Dobbs Spaight was a delegate to the Philadelphia Convention to address issues presented by the existing Articles of Confederation. The outcome of this historic meeting was the U.S. Constitution.
North Carolina was not convinced, however, that the document sufficiently balanced power between the central government and the states. Fear existed that the new framework of government left the states with too little power. In 1788 Spaight was a member of the state convention which voted not to ratify the Constitution as written, although Spaight supported ratification.
A later state convention ratified the Constitution on Nov. 21, 1789, just prior to its going into effect nationally on Dec. 15. This U.S. Constitution then approved is now the oldest written constitution in the world, and its ratification was yet another revolutionary action of the new nation.
James Madison’s Bill of Rights was a critical influence on the ratification of the Constitution in North Carolina and elsewhere. Translated into the first 10 amendments, it figured greatly in our country’s future success by providing the Constitution a vehicle for change when needed. Over the years, Madison’s foresight has led to 27 instructive responses to needs identified by “We the People.”
In 1955 The National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution (NSDAR) lobbied President Dwight D. Eisenhower to introduce legislation to designate a national recognition of the signing of the United States Constitution on Sept. 17, 1787. This effort was led by Gertrude Sprague Carraway, member of New Bern’s Richard Dobbs Spaight Chapter of the NSDAR and resulted in a celebration during the week following Sept 17.
More recently, The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2005 mandates that schools receiving federal funding and federal agencies must provide instruction and information about the U.S. Constitution on Sept. 17. One mission of the NSDAR is to celebrate the Constitution and to provide opportunities for citizens of all ages to learn about its history and its impact on our society. The Susanna Coutanch Evans Chapter of the DAR invites each citizen to celebrate our country. If you haven’t read the Constitution, this week is the perfect time.
Monday, Sept. 17, at 4 p.m. is also a perfect time to ring a bell for the U.S. Constitution. That’s when the last man added his signature to this Revolutionary document.
LouAnn Dickens Haddock is the Constitution Week chair of the Susanna Coutanch Evans Chapter, National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution.