Bait and Switch

According to pious American folklore, there was in 1787 a “Miracle at Philadelphia” in which demigod Founding Fathers gathered and gave the world the “U.S. Constitution”; thereby, as chanted by former Chief Justice Burger in a juvenile bicentennial panegyric, they changed human history forever—and got rid of the awful Articles of Confederation, which stood in the way of a preordained march into American greatness.

In fact, what came from Philadelphia was not a “U.S. Constitution” or a “Constitution of the U.S.”  It was “a Constitution for the United States.”  It was no more than a draft proposal that had no force whatsoever until it was ratified by the people of each state acting as free sovereigns, with no power to bind the free sovereign people of any other state.  The proposal created a great deal of learned discussion, pro and con.  It succeeded eventually, but it by no means swept the field and triumphed amidst hosannas of glorious anticipation of changing the world.  The margin for ratification in several states was small, and two at first refused to approve at all.  It would not have passed had not its opponents promised an early correction and clarification of some of its challenged provisions and confidently pacified the warnings of potential dangers.

Chronicles contributor William J. Watkins, in his fourth...

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