Today in History
History's Happenings for September 25
After turbulent debate over not only the proposed content of a Bill of Rights, but whether such a document was necessary or even advisable, Congress submitted the proposed Bill to the states for their approval on September 25, 1789.
The Federalists, who had pushed hard for the passage of the original Constitution, did not see a need for a Bill of Rights, as they had purposely created a small Federal government with limited powers. They argued strongly against muddying the waters with enumerated rights that may be interpreted as exclusive.
The people were not convinced, especially those of particularly closely held religious views, the press, and the many who remembered British violations of search and seizure and other basic laws.
Federalist James Madison, having been bumped from a Senate seat, successfully ran for the House on a promise to pursue a Bill of Rights. Despite the general position of his party, Madison had long been a fan of a Bill, and had given the proposed content much thought. Responding to his continuous pushing, the House finally acceded to appointing Madison and Roger Sherman of Connecticut to craft such a Bill.
Madison wanted to change the original Constitution to incorporate the necessary rights guarantees, but Sherman firmly believed that the Constitution should remain intact, and Amendments should be added. His view carried the day. Eventually the House passed seventeen of the proposed Amendments, and the Senate whittled this down to twelve in the final document.
Two of the Amendments failed to gain the necessary eleven state approvals. The first dealt with the method of apportioning congressional seats to the states. The second, interestingly enough, prohibited congressional pay raises from taking effect until there was an intervening election. As proper as this seems, the idea lay dormant for almost two centuries, until the Twenty-Seventh Amendment was ratified in 1972.
The remaining ten Amendments were ratified by the eleventh state, Virginia, on December 15, 1791, and our Bill of Rights became law.
Vasco Núñez Balboa was born of a poor noble family in 1475, in Jerez de los Caballeros, Spain. In 1501, he set sail with Rodrigo de Basyidas on an expedition to what is now Venezuela, and established a plantation in the recently discovered New World island of Hispaniola [modern Haiti and the Dominican Republic].
When the plantation failed in 1510, he fled to Colombia to escape his creditors, and from there set out to establish a new settlement on Darién [Panama]. On this day in 1513, standing on a high peak in the mountainous region of the Isthmus, he spotted the previously unknown Pacific Ocean and, upon reaching it with an expedition, claimed it for Spain as the Mar del Sur (South Sea).
The province of Darién grew, and a provincial governor eventually arrived from Spain. Balboa married the new governor's daughter, which turned out to be a poor choice. He and his father-in-law became bitter rivals. In 1519 the governor came to accuse Balboa of rebellion and had him beheaded.
The Twelfth Amendment is generally un-noteworthy in a pantheon of groundshaking Amendments. Its main claim to fame is the distinction it drew in the election of the two highest officers in the nation -- the President and the Vice President.
Prior to the Twelfth, the original Constitution provided that the Vice President would be the presidential candidate receiving the second-highest number of (Electoral) votes. At the time of our founding, the concept of diametrically opposed factions had not reached anything like present-day proportions, and the risk that such an election arrangement would put in office two "team members" that should not have been in the same room together was not particularly threatening. While it can hardly be said that all of our founders were of identical opinion, they were much more attuned to the common Foundations of the nation they had wrought.
The Twelfth Amendment separated the election of the two offices, requiring a separate counting of candidates for the office of Vice President. While this still allowed the possibility of opposed views serving so closely together, it also opened the door for the present system wherein the paired candidates run as a team.
Theoretically at least, under the present Constitution and Amendments, the citizens of the United States can demand that the presidential and vice presidential candidates run independently of each other and, succeeding at that, could elect candidates of opposite political stripes.
In all probability, as ugly as the current political arrangements seem at times, that would not be a good idea.