As far back as colonial times, there had been disagreements between the people and leaders of the various sections of the British colonies of North America. United action between the people living as far north as Massachusetts and as far south as Georgia came with the conflicts with France and its Indian allies. By 1763, that unifying force had been eliminated. Thereafter, British Parliament had become the common enemy of the people living in the various colonies when it attempted to impose a Mercantile system in their colonies.
Such a system ran counter to over one hundred-fifty years of freedoms enjoyed by the colonists. Such freedoms had become rights. The colonists all, resented Parliament’s attack on their freedoms so strongly that they went to war with the mother country, the most powerful nation on earth at the time, to keep them; and won.
Their independence was recognized in the Treaty of Paris of 1786. The first attempt at united government resulted in the weak, ineffectual Articles of Confederation. It was soon recognized by many as the new common enemy. This time, it seemed to be the enemy of the proper growth and even the survival of the new nation. Thus, the new challenge was to devise a form of joint governance that allowed for the survival and prosperity of the new nation while at the same time preserving the core freedoms that had been won from Great Britain.
This challenge was taken on by representatives of twelve of the 13 independent states (former British colonies) at a meeting in Philadelphia in May of 1787. As Thomas Jefferson later said of the effort,
“”They (the delegates) laid their shoulders to the great points, knowing that the little ones would follow of themselves.”
Throughout the summer of 1787, the delegates worked to come up with a federal government ” adequate to the exigencies of the Union,” but not so strong as to impinge on individual freedom or the core sovereignty of the various states.
By August of 1788, eleven of the thirteen sovereign states had ratified the new Constitution of the United States. But, it was not without debate and drama. In two of the most important and necessary states, the fate of the proposed Constitution was narrowly decided.
In June of 1788, the Virginia convention delegates voted to adopt the proposed Constitution by a vote of 89 to 79 despite fierce opposition from such patriots as Thomas Paine. In August of 1788, the New York delegates voted to adopt the proposed Constitution by a vote of 30 to 27, despite opposition from the state’s governor and other staunch revolutionary heroes. In both states, the delegates also voted to approve a caveat: If the new federal union did not work to the benefit of their citizens and instead did harm to their prosperity, they reserved the right to leave said Union.
Rhode Island and North Carolina delegates would also adopt the Constitution before year’s end.
Within eighteen months, a federal government under this new constitution would be formed. Thus began the grand experiment. Over the next seventy years, the fabric of this union would be tested repeatedly. Time and again, political leaders would come together, solve the dilemma and avoid a serious tear in that fabric.
But, after 1852, such leaders no longer led the Union. So, when the fabric of the Union would be seriously tested, irretrievable tears would not be avoided.