December 7, 2007

"We... fully, freely, and entirely approve of, assent to, ratify, and confirm, the said Constitution."

It was 220 years ago today that Delaware — my home state — became the first state to ratify the United States Constitution:
We deputies of the people of the Delaware state, in Convention met, having taken in our serious consideration the Federal Constitution proposed and agreed upon by the deputies of the United States in a General Convention held at the city of Philadelphia, on the seventeenth day of September, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty-seven, have approved, assented to, ratified, and confirmed, and by these presents do, in virtue of the power and authority to us given, for and in behalf of ourselves and our constituents, fully, freely, and entirely approve of, assent to, ratify, and confirm, the said Constitution.

Done in Convention, at Dover, this seventh day of December, in the year aforesaid, and in the year of the independence of the United States of America the twelfth.

It is a shame that December 7th is remembered as a dark day when America was attacked, when it could be seen as a bright day in our history, the beginning of constitutional ratification.

"In the year of the independence of the United States of America the twelfth" — is an interesting phrase. Was there ever an effort to begin numbering the years beginning with the revolution (as was done for a time in France)?

ADDED: Other Delaware natives appreciate Delaware Day.

38 comments:

Paddy O. said...

Living memories are much stronger than distant history.

When the WWII generation is finally gone, however, my guess is that Pearl Harbor too will be pushed back from priority, just as in 100 years September 11th won't be as important.

We think our own historical events to be the most important. But later generations have a way of finding what was really the longest lasting.

And then there's the fact there's already a Constitution Day on September 17th, signed into law in the year of the independence of the United States of America the two hundred twenty eighth.

Ann Althouse said...

I grew up in Delaware, so my personal memory was of calling December 7th "Delaware Day." I was surprised to learn, much later, that most Americans think of it as Pearl Harbor Day.

Simon said...

Ann said...
"It is a shame that December 7th is remembered as a dark day when America was attacked, when it could be seen as a bright day in our history, the beginning of constitutional ratification."

To the contrary: as I said in my post noting the anniversary this morning, the coincident anniversaries stand out - in my mind, at least - as a powerful reminder that America remains the land of the free because it is the home of the brave. When attacked, we will fight to defend that magnificent system of government bequeathed us by the framers.

Titan said...

I have heard before that there WAS a movement to start a new American calender, but I don't have a cite for you.

sean said...

That kind of double dating ("year of our Lord _____ and of the independence of the United States ____") is pretty common in old legal documents. Prior to 1776, documents were often dated "in the year of our Lord ________ and of the reign of ____________ the _________." Check out, for example, the Mayflower Compact. Evidently once 1776 came around, the clerks and lawyers had to use a new formula.

I guess Prof. Althouse doesn't do much genealogy or legal history, if she hasn't seen this formula before.

jp said...

Presidential proclamations still include dating from the year of independence:
http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/proclamations/

I believe in the UK (and maybe other Commonwealth nations) they still include "in the X year of the reign of Y."

Paul Zrimsek said...

Who would need such recondite knowledge in the year of our Lord 2007, and of the Vortex of Althouse the fourth?

Lawgiver said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lefty John said...

"[T]his government never of itself furthered any enterprise, but by the alacrity with which it got out of its way. It does not keep the country free. It does not settle the West. It does not educate. The character inherent in the American people has done all that has been accomplished; and it would have done somewhat more, if the government had not sometimes got in its way." -- Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience.

Who cares that Delaware was the first to ratify the Constitution? Might as well celebrate whichever state was first to ratify the 16th Amendment.

Revenant said...

Who cares that Delaware was the first to ratify the Constitution?

Me. I think it is an interesting bit of historical trivia.

Simon said...

Lefty John said...
"Might as well celebrate whichever state was first to ratify the 16th Amendment."

Alabama, for the record.

Lefty John said...

My point being, government is nothing to celebrate, until we have occasion to celebrate its backside moving away from us. I wish people would stop getting all worked up and teary-eyed over it.

Roger Sweeny said...

An imperfect government is something to celebrate, when the alternative is an even worse one.

Considering what else was around in 1789--and what else is around today--I'll celebrate Delaware's action.

Of course, that doesn't mean I won't try to do some backside moving.

Simon said...

Lefty John said...
"My point being, government is nothing to celebrate, until we have occasion to celebrate its backside moving away from us. I wish people would stop getting all worked up and teary-eyed over it."

That's an asinine way of looking at it. There will always be government, and to celebrate the beginning of the ratification of the Constitution is to celebrate the creation of a government that has historically balanced authority and liberty more successfully than any of those tried anywhere. Even where it has a little subverted, it remains far better - and far more free - than any of the alternatives yet tried or proposed. It's a magnificent accomplishment, a work of serendipitous good fortune for this country, and we ought to both venerate it and approach changing it with great care.

John Foster said...

It's not just presidential proclamations that include the year of independence; court documents may as well. For example, yesterday I obtained a court writ ("process of maritime attachment and garnishment") in the Manhattan federal court that ended:
"WITNESS, the Honorable ___, United States District Judge of said Court, this 6th day of December, 2007, and of our Independence the two hundred and thirtieth."

Roger said...

I felt it was inappropriate to use alcohol to mark Pearl Harbor day--now I can safely toast Delaware's ratification without appearing to be insensitive to WWII vets. Thanks Ann!

MadisonMan said...

Who cares that Delaware was the first to ratify the Constitution?

The US Mint and its State Quarters program

Lefty John said...

Simon said "That's an asinine way of looking at it."

Screw your government and your precious Constitution. It's not my government, nor my Constitution (and yes, I realize this fact doesn't change your government's conviction that it's also my government). I never consented to it, and since I don't have millions of dollars to blow funding monumentally wasteful political campaigns I have zero say in what government does and what laws it enacts. I agree with slavery abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, who burned a copy of the Constitution on the courthouse steps and called it a "covenant with death" and an "agreement with hell." I agree with lawyer Lysander Spooner, who at the end of his brilliant "No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority," observed "But whether the Constitution really be one thing, or another, this much is certain --- that it has either authorized such a government as we have had, or has been powerless to prevent it. In either case, it is unfit to exist." I agree (in this respect at least) with Dr. Samuel Johnson, who said in reference to your sacred Framers, "How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty from the driver of Negroes?"

Just because the extortionist on your block isn't quite as oppressive as his mob brother on the next block doesn't make your extortionist any less of a criminal.

I'm glad you feel free under this regime. As for me, the government is unjustly ruining my life. You might be inclined then to attribute my over-the-top language to personal bitterness and sour grapes, but wasn't it just this sense that they were being personally oppressed that justified in the American revolutionaries' minds their rebellion and Declaration of Independence? It sometimes astounds me that the taxes our government extorts from "its" people is many many times greater than the taxes that were thought to justify the American Revolution, and yet Americans meekly take it.

And no, I'm not contemplating following in our forefathers honored footsteps by joining some armed insurrection against a government which is far more oppressive than the British Empire was at the time of the American Revolution. But I'll be damned if I voluntarily give one iota of respect to government as such, or celebrate anything about it.

pct said...

Ann says, "I grew up in Delaware, so my personal memory was of calling December 7th 'Delaware Day.' I was surprised to learn, much later, that most Americans think of it as Pearl Harbor Day."

That's odd; I grew up in Delaware, too, but my friends and I thought of December 7th as Pearl Harbor Day. It is not surprising that Delaware was the First State, however. Being so small, Delaware was a hotbed of Federalism, and remained so even after the party ceased to be a force nationally.

Blake said...

That's the second time I've seen that Spooner quote on this blog in the past week or so. Is that because LJ keeps posting it or has it become the latest meme?

In any event, assuming I agree with your every sentiment, LJ, perhaps you might celebrate the fact that you choose this repressive government over all others?

Simon said...

Lefty John said...
"Screw your government and your precious Constitution. It's not my government, nor my Constitution."

I had thought - perhaps this has changed, but I had thought that members of the Indiana bar swore an oath which pledged their support to the Constitution of the United States and the State of Indiana. And you say you're a practicing attorney in Indiana, so I'd think that means you joined the Indiana bar. Perhaps that's not the case any more, though, and in any event, like it or not, it's your government, and you have as much or as little pull over it as me, or the chairman of GE, or anyone else who isn't personally an officer of the government: you get one vote.

And I find your point about taxation hilarious, because it entirely misconceives the objection of the revolutionary era to British taxes; it was not taxation but taxation without representation that was objected to; it was taxation imposed by a Parliament which was not composed of or elected by Americans. You will perhaps rejoin by saying that you aren't represented by Congress, but such an argument would be historically untenable, and factually inaccurate. "I am not represented" is not synonymous with "my opinion didn't prevail." As Sen. Moynihan put it, everyone's entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts; you may not like your representatives, and you may even have voluntarily opted out from the choosing of them, but they are your representatives.

It's frequently said that we live not in a democracy, but a federal republic, and to the extent that's right, Churchill was wrong that democracy was worse than all the other systems that have been tried; I think the framers by sheer luck got it exactly right. You will search in vain for a better system of government than that instituted by the Constitution of the United States. And, not to put too fine a point on it, the wise decision to keep people who've not yet realized that out of public office by demanding the support and defense of the Constitution by public officials at all levels makes it all the better.

Revenant said...

I wonder which one of the trolls "Lefty John" is? I'm going to guess Cyrus.

Simon said...

Rev, he's not a troll (as such), it's the commenter formerly known as John Kindley.

Lefty John said...

Here's a new Lysander Spooner quote, to satisfy Blake's desire for new material, and to provide something of an answer to Simon's comment, from Spooner's 1835 open letter To the Members of the Legislature of Massachussetts: "In the first place, I object to the oath to bear true allegiance to the Commonwealth, and to support the Constitution. The right of rebelling against what I may think a bad government, is as much my right as it is of the other citizens of the Commonwealth, and there is no reason why lawyers should be singled out and deprived of this right. My being a fried or an avowed enemy of the constitution has nothing to so with the argument of a cause for a client, or with any other of my professional labors, and therefore it is nothing but tyranny to require of me an oath to support the constitution, as a condition of my being allowed the ordinary privileges for getting my living in the way I choose. It will be soon enough, after I shall have been convicted of treason, to refuse me the common privileges, or take from me the common rights of a citizen to decry and expose the character of the constitution, and if possible to bring it into contempt and abhorrence in the minds of the people, without forfeiting any of the ordinary privileges of citizens – and the recognition of this right constitutes one of the greatest safe guards of the public liberty. And if any one class of men, the moment they attempt to prove that our constitution is not a good one, and ought to be abolished, are to be denied any of the ordinary rights and privileges of citizens, then has that class been singles out for the especial tyranny of the government. There would be just as much propriety in requiring a farmer to take an oath to support the constitution, as a condition of his being allowed the privilege of being allowed to enter his deed of record in a public recording office, as there is in requiring it of me, as a condition of my being allowed the privileges of an attorney. There would also be the same propriety in requiring this oath of the members of a manufacturing corporation, as a condition precedent to their receiving an act of incorporation, as there is in requiring it of me."

Jeff with one 'f' said...

"Was there ever an effort to begin numbering the years beginning with the revolution (as was done for a time in France)?"

The Founding Fathers set too conservative an example for the Republic to follow such a course.
The French effort at "starting from zero" set a tragic precedence for leftist revolutionaries who would remaking society in their own image. From Robespierre to Lenin and Trotsky through Mao's Cultural Revolution and Pol Pot's "Year Zero", severing our connection with the past is a leftist dream. Political Correctness and multiculturalism in the West are soft power efforts aimed at the same goal.

Simon said...

John, if you (or Spooner, whose real beef with the Constitution was that it hadn't abolished slavery, although he never did get around to explaining how on earth it could have done so and still been ratified) have a problem with taking an oath to support and defend the Constitution, no one's putting a gun to your head and forcing you. But what you can't and shouldn't be permitted to do is refuse to take the oath AND demand to assume the office regardless. If you want to be a conscientious objector, you have to pay the price for that.

Revenant said...

Rev, he's not a troll (as such), it's the commenter formerly known as John Kindley.

Oh yeah, him.

But what you can't and shouldn't be permitted to do is refuse to take the oath AND demand to assume the office regardless.

Exactly right. Ethically speaking, how can a person lay claim to an office established by a government they believe to be illegitimate? If the Constitution is not worthy of being upheld, neither are any offices established under its auspices.

Lefty John said...

Gee, Simon, I had previously thought more highly of you, despite our disagreements. I kind of thought we were friends. I apparently overestimated your character. I didn't think you'd stoop to "outing" someone who had obviously preferred to engage in debate here by pseudonym, as most other commenters do. You must be really touchy about any disparaging speech regarding the Constitution that you so reverently pore over, and think such speech is just really out of bounds and calls for disciplinary action.

I imagine you gleefully imagining my worried reaction to your revelation. Well, I hate to spoil your party, but I'm proud of the fact that in my life I've stood up for truth as I've known it, despite risking and in fact incurring professional and personal consequences. You might be aware from other comments on other threads of one prominent example of my doing so. I'm not about to stop standing up for myself and for what I think is right just cause some kid gets bent out of shape and thinks I committed a "no-no."

BTW, re: your description of my remarks on taxation being "hilarious," cause what the colonists were really upset about was "taxation without representation" -- nothing in the comment you called "hilarious" displayed ignorance of that well-known fact.

Simon said...

Lefty John said...
"I apparently overestimated your character. I didn't think you'd stoop to 'outing' someone who had obviously preferred to engage in debate here by pseudonym, as most other commenters do."

Well, I'm sorry if I "outed" you - heated disagreement aside, I thought I was defending you from Rev's suggestion that you were a lefty troll sock puppet.

JohnAnnArbor said...

It's not just presidential proclamations that include the year of independence; court documents may as well.

At least once, I saw a formal patent document contain that.

I'm surprised the US Mint hasn't thought of dual-dating; they'd get one more variety for coin geeks to collect yearly. Every coin that does not circulate is profit for the Treasury. (Most coin nerds like me get at least one coin of each year and mint. In circulation, for pennies, that would be one 2007 from Philadelphia and one 2007-D, from Denver. The year of independence would change on July 4, so then collectors would collect the same two coins again after the change.)

Lefty John said...

Simon said ". . . Spooner, whose real beef with the Constitution was that it hadn't abolished slavery, although he never did get around to explaining how on earth it could have done so and still been ratified")

No one who has actually read Spooner could reasonably come to the conclusion that Spooner's "real" or primary beef with the Constitution was that it hadn't abolished slavery, although he of course thought slavery was an abomination. Your contrary assertion is "hilarious."

Indeed, before his "No Treason" he wrote "The Unconstitutionality of Slavery," in which he argued, contrary to Garrison, that slavery was not in fact supported by the Constitution. Later, in "No Treason," (after slavery had been abolished) he spelled out his belief that the Constitution was without authority because not supported by actual consent.

Lefty John said...

Simon said: "Well, I'm sorry if I "outed" you - heated disagreement aside, I thought I was defending you from Rev's suggestion that you were a lefty troll sock puppet."

Apology accepted.

Simon said...

Revenant said...
"[But what you can't and shouldn't be permitted to do is refuse to take the oath AND demand to assume the office regardless.] Exactly right. Ethically speaking, how can a person lay claim to an office established by a government they believe to be illegitimate? If the Constitution is not worthy of being upheld, neither are any offices established under its auspices."

Remember the Madison councillors who wanted to take the oath of office with reservations? As I said then, "If you're uncomfortable with the obligations imposed by the office, resign." When Irish Republicans were elected to the British Parliament in the late 1990s, they at least ahad the courage of their convictions: presented with the choice to take an oath they could not in good faith subscribe to or be excluded from Parliament, they chose their conscience and good faith, although I'm inclined to think that you shouldn't run for public office in the first place if you know in advance that you can't meet the requirements of office.

(At risk of shooting myself in the foot, however, is there any mileage in pointing out that many offices not established under its auspices require an oath to it by virtue of Article VI)?

Simon said...

Lefty John said...
"[Spooner] argued, contrary to Garrison, that slavery was not in fact supported by the Constitution."

And to an extent, that's correct. Slavery was neither abolished nor supported by the Constitution. I realize that Akhil Amar and others have argued that in some ways it did give the slave states more clout which in turn helped perpetuate slavery, but the Constitution itself is neutrally buoyant on the issue, and could not possibly have done more - those who criticize it for not doing more need to account for how it could possibly have been ratified if it had done any more. And in all events, I'm skeptical of any argument that takes the form "the Constitution is invalid or invidious because it doesn't resolve issue X" - people argue that about slavery, and I occaisionally meet people that who say that if the Constitution permits abortion it's evil (other people I've met would never admit it, but they'd repudiate the Constitution if they thought it didn't protect thr right to an abortion or that they couldn't amend it to do so). But that's just not what the Constitution does; it sets a structure, a framework for resolving issues in the political process, and it seems to me that to the extent your and spooner's consent argument has any force at all, the fewer substantive issues are decided Constitutionally, the less force that argument carries.

Lefty John said...

Some of my language above was theater, to deflate what I see as unwarranted and dangerous reverence for government. But part is my personal reaction to what I experience as very real oppression. Under the 16th Amendment, Congress can now take as much of our income as it decides to take. What if it decided to take 100%, or 80%, or 50%? That would amount to 100%, 80%, or 50% servitude. (How much servitude does our present tax rates amount to?) Would that oath that I presumably took (it would have been back in 1999, and I don't remember taking it) bind me to support and defend THAT? How about if the States ratified a new Amendment, e.g., instituting a one-child only policy, like China? From these considerations come my conclusion that laws are only as legitimate as they are just. An unjust law is a mockery of true law, whether supported by the Constitution or not. That's all I'm really saying.

People aren't surprised by liberals / Democrats berating conservatives / Republicans and finding their policy prescriptions outrageous and unjust and totally illegitimate, and vice versa. Well, what if they're both right? If they're both right (which isn't inconceivable, since so many people adhere to those respective camps), the implications would cleave pretty close to my position.

Simon said...

Lefty John said...
"Under the 16th Amendment, Congress can now take as much of our income as it decides to take. What if it decided to take 100%, or 80%, or 50%? That would amount to 100%, 80%, or 50% servitude."

Yes, but just because government can do something legally doesn't mean it ought to do it, or that it morally has the right; the Constitution may permit it, but "[i]t should go without saying that [such an expression] ... carries no implication about the wisdom of exercising [power] to the limit." United States v. Morrison, 529 U.S. 598, 636 n.10 (2000) (Souter, J., dissenting). Moreover, it's important to note that the Constitution is not the only restraint on government; its business (and that of the courts) is the can; the electoral process is responsible for the should. It might reasonably be said that our system presupposes an engaged and observatnt electorate, and becomes dysfunctional in the absence thereof, but I think that states it too narrowly: that's true of all government, and our system does much better at staving off the breakdown of the system than any other system I know of, because it provides alternative checks - horizontally and vertically, Madison's "ambition pitted against ambition," the separation of powers between branches of the federal govenment and between the federal government and the states, each full of men and women jealous of their own power and protective of their own prerogatives. This system is much more capable of protecting liberty than any other system, even with less voter engagement than would be necessary to check any other system.

It's true that the 16th and 17th Amendments collude to expand both the can and the likely to (that is, the 16th amendment makes possible the funding for big federal government and the 17th amendment removes the primary check on big federal government). I don't deny that. But I see the 17th Amendment as far more problematic than the 16th amendment, because the 16th merely makes possible a particular govenrment action that is likely to be checked by a majority (the framers took care of that in their design of the House of Representatives and the appropriations process), while the 17th Amendment is inherently dangerous and removes from the federal government precisely the control necessary to prevent much of what we've seen in the 20th century. It strikes me that the 16th amendment is a beast that can be controlled (far better that govenrment fund its activities through direct taxes than be impelled to tarrifs) and would be far less dangerous to liberty without the 17th.


(How much servitude does our present tax rates amount to?) Would that oath that I presumably took (it would have been back in 1999, and I don't remember taking it) bind me to support and defend THAT?


"How about if the States ratified a new Amendment, e.g., instituting a one-child only policy, like China? From these considerations come my conclusion that laws are only as legitimate as they are just."

If that was an amendment, as a public official, I would probably resign and lobby for its repeal. As an immigrant bound by the citizenship oath, I don't know what I would do. I hope we never find out (although as a rule of thumb, I will not consider it the worst outcome if I live a long life in which I don't see the ratification of the next Constitutional amendment).


"An unjust law is a mockery of true law, whether supported by the Constitution or not. That's all I'm really saying.

The difficulty with that is that reasonable people differ on conceptions of what counts as "justice." Is is just that in an exceedingly depressed area, a dozen people can have their homes taken (with due compensation, of course) and the land used for a business that will bring employment and hope to an economically devastated community? If it's Suzette Kelo, many people (but by no means all) would say no, that's not just. But what if the land taken is vacation homes homes belonging to, you know, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, the incredibly rich? Now it's a harder question. Or, consider this: Which is more unjust, a law that permits the unbridled slaughter of our unborn offspring, or a law that forces women to carry an unwanted child to term? Reasonable people differ in good faith; personally, I don't know that either is a just result, so one is forced to pick the alternative that does the least harm, no matter how unpalatable it may be. I imagine that abolitionists faced with a Constitution that at once didn't abolish slavery, but that was in the long run the only possible vehicle through which slavery could ever be fought might have had a similar dilemma - how do you justify doing something apalling in the service of a greater need? So I hear what you're saying, but "justice" isn't a platonic concept.

reader_iam said...
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Ann Althouse said...

"Delmarvelous" means nothing to me. I was in northern Delaware, and never felt any connection to Maryland. It's considered the "tri-state area" and the connection is to Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey.