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LOOKING BACK: The U.S. Constitution

History column by Mary Braswell

Each week Albany Herald researcher Mary Braswell looks for interesting events, places and people from the past. You can contact her at (229) 888-9371 or mary.braswell@albanyherald.com.

Constitution Day is an American federal observance that recognizes the adoption of the United States Constitution and those who have become U.S. citizens. It is observed on Sept. 17, the day the U.S. Constitutional Convention signed the Constitution in 1787.

DID YOU KNOW …?

— James Madison, the “Father of the Constitution,” was the first to arrive in Philadelphia for the Constitutional Convention. He came in February, three months early, bringing the blueprint for the country’s Constitution.

— It took 100 days to actually “frame” the Constitution.

— The U.S. Constitution has 4,400 words, the oldest and shortest written Constitution of any major government in the world.

— Including signatures, the Constitution contains 4,543 words. With its amendments, it now contains 7,591 words.

— The word “democracy” does not appear in the Constitution.

— Patrick Henry was elected as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, but declined because he “smelt a rat.”

— George Washington and James Madison were the only presidents to sign the Constitution.

From 1804 to 1865, there were no amendments added to the Constitution. At the end of the Civil War the 13th Amendment was added abolishing slavery.

— Georgia was the fourth state (of 13) to ratify the Constitution.

— James Madison was the only delegate to attend every meeting of the Constitutional Convention and took detailed notes throughout. His journal, kept secret until after his death, along with other papers, was purchased by the government in 1837 for $30,000 … about $630,000 in today’s dollars. It was published in 1840.

— The only language other than English used in the Constitution is Latin.

— At the time of the Constitutional Convention, Philadelphia was the most modern city in America and the largest in North America. The city’s population was 40,000 and the city had 7,000 street lamps, 33 churches, 10 newspapers and a university.

— Among the spelling errors found in the Constitution, “Pensylvania” is perhaps the most obvious.

— Delegates attending the convention were involved in debates from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. six days a week.

— After its ratification and including the Bill of Rights, the Constitution has only been changed 17 times since 1791. The success rate of a proposed amendment to actually become part of the Constitution is less than 1 percent.

QUIK QUIZ

The Constitution was “penned” by Jacob Shallus, a clerk for the Pennsylvania General Assembly. How much was he paid?

a) $15

b) $30

c) $50

d) $100

BENJAMIN FRANKLIN

— Franklin made the suggestion at the Constitutional Convention that each session be opened with a prayer. The delegates refused to accept the motion, saying there was not enough money to hire a chaplain.

— Although his mind was clear and sound, Franklin’s body was weak and he was in constant pain. He entered the convention hall in a chair carried by four prisoners.

— At age 81, Franklin was the oldest signer of the Constitution.

— Franklin was the mediator at the Constitutional Convention and often reminded the delegates that “we are here to consult, not to contend.”

— Because of his poor health, Franklin needed help signing the U.S. Constitution. As he did so, tears streamed down his face.

THE ONLY ONE

The 18th Amendment (proposed Dec. 18, 1917; adopted Jan. 16, 1919) effectively outlawed the alcohol industry. Once the amendment was adopted, nobody could buy, sell, or manufacture alcoholic drinks; but that didn’t mean they couldn’t drink it. It was called Prohibition. The alcohol industry didn’t stop, however; it just went underground.

With alcohol-related crime on the rise, Congress proposed and adopted the 21st Amendment (proposed Feb. 20, 1933; adopted Dec. 5, 1933). This amendment repealed the Eighteenth Amendment and the Prohibition of Alcohol, becoming the first amendment, and the only one to date, to repeal a previous amendment.

PROPOSED AMENDMENTS THAT FAILED

1876: An attempt to abolish the United States Senate.

1878: An Executive Council of Three to replace the president.

1893: Renaming the nation the “United States of the Earth.”

1914: Making divorce illegal.

1916: All acts of war should be put to a national vote. Anyone voting yes had to register as a volunteer for service in the U.S. Army.

1933: An attempt to limit personal wealth at $1 million.

1948: The right of citizens to segregate themselves from others.

QUOTES

— The U. S. Constitution doesn’t guarantee happiness, only the pursuit of it. You have to catch up with it yourself. — Benjamin Franklin

— The Constitution shall never be construed… to prevent the people of the United States who are peaceable citizens from keeping their own arms. — Samuel Adams

— The framers of our Constitution meant we were to have freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. — (Billy Graham

— To live under the American Constitution is the greatest political privilege that was ever accorded to the human race. — Calvin Coolidge

QUIK ANSWER

Jacob Shallus was paid (b) $30 (about $750 in today’s dollars).