MOUNT VERNON — The first of a 10-part lecture series on the U.S. Constitution was opened by series organizer Phillip Lehmkuhl on Wednesday evening at the Mount Vernon Memorial Theater. The series was inspired by Lehmkuhl’s daughter, Kirby, who took an interest in the U.S. Constitution and who was not taught on this subject in school. “The purpose of this series is not intended to be a political presentation and not an in-depth treatment,” said Lehmkuhl. “Its purpose is to be instructional and educational.”
Lehmkuhl’s lecture, “Origins of the Constitution,” focused on how our country was governed during the 13 years that passed from the time the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776, until George Washington’s inauguration as president in 1789.
At the time of the Revolutionary War, power resided in the hands of the Continental Congress. There were no federal employees, no federal courts, no national treasury and no federal agencies to speak of. Those who did sign the Declaration of Independence were selected by their legislatures, and their self-identity was not as Americans first, but their loyalty was to their state first.
While war was the first priority and little thought was yet given to the structure of a national government, the Articles of Confederation was written to serve as the initial blueprint for our national government. It was created in 1777 and became ratified in 1781. It governed our nation for eight years until 1789 when Washington was inaugurated as president. During this time, each colony had one vote — regardless of population or size. The Central Government was granted very limited powers and was destined to be a weak government. Bickering developed between the colonies over two main issues — land and trade, Lehmkuhl said.
As it became apparent that the Central Government was obviously flawed, Washington criticized it as “little more than a shadow without substance.” Recognizing a need for change, Congress called for a Constitutional Convention in February 1787 to propose and draft amendments to the Articles of Confederation.
Weeks drug into months, and differences were rampant with compromises being reached quite frequently. Finally, on Sept. 15, the delegates reached a consensus, and their work as a convention was done.
Then came the task of state ratification. The approval of nine colonies was needed for adoption; and on June 21, 1788, approval from New Hampshire completed the ratification. A Bill of Rights was then adopted in February 1789, as proposed by the Federalists and adopted through the efforts of James Madison. Thomas Jefferson said the Bill of Rights was “what the people are entitled to against every government on earth.”
Washington was then inaugurated as the nation’s first president in 1789. His first four years were marked by domestic tranquility, financial prudence and steady national progress. After two terms in office, he declined a third. Not allured by power and his duty done, he retired to his home at Mount Vernon.
The Preamble to the Constitution explains Washington’s purposes in committing himself to serve as the president of the Constitutional Convention and as the first president of the nation. His efforts are absolutely what helped create a more perfect union, Lehmkuhl said.