America declared independence with the Revolutionary War, but still…those thirteen states had little interest in forging one strong nation to expedite everything from trade to protection. Something had to be done.
There were a few men with good sense; Thomas Jefferson, for one, and of course George Washington. He was a neighbor of mine and shared incredible things about constructing a country from the bottom up. He said he’d never heard so much whining about states wanting to be sovereign…a thing that would have been a disaster.
“In 1786, there was a sobering disorder in all the colonies,” he told me, as we strolled around his home at Mount Vernon. “We desperately needed some kind of central government.”
“I know we had the Articles of Confederation,” I bragged to the big guy as we headed to the front porch for some refreshing tea.
He nodded. “Those were meant to establish a little coherence, but most of the states followed, or not, as the mood struck them. We needed something real and strong and abiding… and by the grace of God, that’s what we finally got.”
Mr. Washington stopped and picked a few cherries from one of his trees. He handed them to me as he continued to speak about the beginnings of the USA. I hung on his every word, hungry for his front row seat details. As we sat in rocking chairs, he chuckled.
“That Ben; now he was a character. You know, at eighty-one, Benjamin Franklin was the oldest man there. He loved to talk, and would you believe, he arrived at the grand convention in Philadelphia riding in a Chinese sedan chair?”
Mr. Washington slapped his knee and laughed. “That old rascal had commandeered four prisoners from the nearby jail to carry him. Of course, the poor thing did suffer the gout.”
He shook his head as the memories poured forth. “The fifty-five men took an oath to keep all proceedings a secret for those four months. But, oh my! The in-fighting got fierce on some days—even to fisticuffs.” I already knew Mr. Washington was elected president of the convention. I could see it was a good thing he was a well respected military man.
Apparently, Philadelphia was scorching that summer. The delegates wore wigs and woolens and kept the windows shut to prevent eavesdropping. That, added to fatigue, tempers, and an infestation of huge flies, made it almost too hot to bear in more ways than one. They soldiered on though, as if driven by an unseen hand.
As I sat in the cool of the evening with Mr. Washington, fascinated by his first-hand account of the actual molding of a country from scratch, I realized what a miracle it really was.
The old President cleared his throat and smiled. “You know, we took a ten day vacation before getting down to the actual writing of that Constitution. I went fishing; caught some perch. When we got back together it took us a grueling six weeks to hammer out the details.”
I learned how James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay wrote articles for newspapers explaining the checks and balances for power control, and the electing of a new president every four years. Otherwise, it might have taken the states longer than those interminable six months to vote on it.
Mr. Washington was quiet for several minutes. At first I thought he was asleep, but I could see a twinkle in his eyes as more recollections bubbled up.
“You know, boy, there was a grand parade on the 4th of July, 1788--the biggest and best you can imagine. Loud, stirring band music and big floats…one fashioned to look like a huge blue eagle…and so many people marching I’m not sure there were any left to watch.”
He became teary-eyed. “And someone, God bless ‘em, had built a huge framed Constitution replica and affixed it to a carriage. Seeing those six white horses pull that thing brought a lump to my throat--me, a tough old soldier.”
When I stood to leave, I’ll never forget what he said. “At the end of the parade, there was a picnic for all seventeen thousand men, women, and children."His voice trembled with heartfelt awe and thankfulness. “WE THE PEOPLE, son…WE THE PEOPLE. Don’t ever forget that.”
When I reached the gate I turned and looked back. He was standing on the porch, waving. I saluted him, and then couldn’t help whistling all the way home.
*Some details learned from, Shh! We're Writing the Constitution, by Jean Fritz; others from history books.
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