The Foundations of American Constitutionalism

By Andrew C. McLaughlin | Go to book overview

IV
THE CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION

IN the earlier lectures, when speaking of the origins of Separatism or of the democratic church, and of the beginnings of trading-companies, corporations, and colonies, I spoke of the creation of a body through the process of association, the idea which lies at the bottom of the theory of social compact on which all civil bodies-politic were said to rest, a fact which Milton said no one would be so stupid as to deny. I propose now to consider the actual method of setting up states in America, and in doing this to illustrate further the seriousness with which the Fathers viewed the old time-worn doctrines and sought to actualize and objectify the philosophy of association.

All of the states save Rhode Island and Connecticut drew up constitutions; and all these documents were thought of more or less as coming from the people and expressing popular will. These constitutions bear the characteristics and qualities of American constitutionalism. I have already called attention to the celebrated Bill of Rights of Virginia which is in some respects a peculiarly happy expression of the ideas of natural right, social compact, and unchanging principles. Few men in America, even though untouched by Puritan theology or politics -- and many of the Southerners had been influenced by these doctrines -- would deny these elementary notions. Though the Separatists and their American descendants had given to the principle of association very concrete expression

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