17 September 1787: Letter from the Federal Convention President to the President of Congress, Transmitting the Constitution
Millions of people have passed through the Rotunda of the National Archives Building in Washington, DC, to see the original parchments that are our Charters of Freedom. They pause to look at the faded writing on the Declaration of Independence, the bold opening words “We the People” on the Constitution, and the straightforward enumeration of our Bill of Rights.
This year, [September 2012] for the first time, visitors will be able to see what is sometimes referred to as the “fifth page” of the Constitution—the Resolutions of Transmittal to the Continental Congress. A special display for the 225th anniversary of the Constitution in September, will feature this document. “It’s up there with the Constitution in terms of value,” says curator Alice Kamps.
The resolutions spell out how the new Constitution would be adopted by the United States and how the new government would be put into effect.
Instead of seeking the consent of Congress and the 13 state legislatures, the delegates to the Constitutional Convention proposed that the Constitution “be laid before the United States in Congress assembled” and then submitted to special ratifying conventions elected by the people in each of the states. Once nine states had ratified it, this new instrument of government would go into effect in those nine states.
This process was carefully devised to ensure that the authority of the new government came from the people. Without the resolution, the Constitution, in the words of James Madison, “was nothing more than the draft of a plan, nothing but a dead letter, until life and validity were breathed into it by the voice of the people.” [National Archives Blog].
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 advisable.
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 effectually vested in the general government of the Union: But the impropriety of delegating such extensive trust to one body of men is evident -- Hence results the necessity of a different organization.
It is obviously impractical 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 circumstances, 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 increased 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 rigid on points of inferior magnitude, than might have been otherwise expected; and thus the Constitution, which we now present, is the result of a spirit of amity, and of that mutual deference and concession which the peculiarity of our political situation rendered indispensable.
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 consequences might have been particularly disagreeable or injurious to others; that it is liable to as few exceptions as could reasonably have been expected, we hope and believe; that it may promote the lasting welfare of that country so dear to us all, and secure her freedom and happiness, is our most ardent wish.
With great respect, We have the honor to be, Sir,
Your Excellency's most obedient and humble servants,
George Washington, President
By unanimous Order of the Convention.
His Excellency, the President of Congress
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