Pomeroy Washington Downtown National Historic District
News from the
May 10, 1924
The Constitution, The Safeguard of Freedom
Following is Miss Marguerete Sherfey's oration, which won third place in Walla Walla:
Friends and Fellow Citizens: It is my pleasant task to discuss the value of that greatest of all political documents with you, the constitution of the United States of America. The constitution is universally considered a perfect model. It has stood the acid test of time., and it is bound to endure. Its benefits are numerous and of lasting influence. Allow me, therefore, to give you: a brief definition of it, a summary of its history and its vital parts.
As to the question "what is the constitution" I answer: It is a system of fundamental laws, rules, principles and ordinances for the government of the nation. The purpose of it is admirably set forth in the preamble as follows: ''We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice and secure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this constitution for the United States."
Briefly stated the history of the constitution is as follows: When the first continental congress met in Philadelphia over a hundred years ago it appointed a committee to draw up a set of laws under which the colonies were to be governed. These laws are known as the "articles of confederation," and they bound the colonies together in a loose way. Of course, after the colonies had secured their independence from England the weaknesses of these articles began to make themselves felt. To mention ©nly one striking instance: trouble arose between Virginia and Maryland over the trade on Chesapeake bay. A meeting of delegates from these two states was called at Alexandria for the purpose of regulating the trade. This meeting and the one following it at Annapolis showed plainly that the articles frof confederation were inadequate. A third meeting, therefore, was called for delegates from all colonies, at Philadelphia, with the express purpose of revising the articles.
The net result of the meeting was the decision to do away with them and draft a constitution. The federal convention entrusted with this task met at Independence Hall. It was composed of fifty-five members under the presidency of George Washington, the Father of our Country. Twenty-nine of the members were college graduates, the convention including some of the best brains of the country. The two most original and profound thinkers of the delegates were undoubtedly Alexander Hamilton, afterwards secretary of the treasury in Washington's administration, and James Madison, the father of the constitution. Carefully note the following measures of Hamilton, designed to place the government upon a sound financial basis: At the close of the Revolutionary war the government had many debts, and a large number of the soldiers had, not been paid for their services. The first of these measures was the Assumption Bill, which was to provide for assuming the debt, or in other words to take over the debt of the nation. The second was the Funding Bill, which provided a way of paying the debt. The third provided for the creation of a National bank. This was meant to keep the government funds intact and to assist in borrowing and paying out money. The fourth was the tariff placing a tax on imported goods. And what was the result of these measures? you may ask.
The result of them was the establishment of confidence and respect for the new government at home and abroad, truly a great accomplishment for an almost bankrupt government.
To go a step further, from May to September, 1787, this convention sat behind closed doors and debated in a painstaking manner the framing of a real constitution. When at last the document was finished it was signed by all the members present, except three, Randolph, Mason and Gerry. Here, then, was a new government utterly untried, with many of its leading men not in favor of it or indifferent to it. Adams, Hancock, Lee, Patrick Henry, Monroe, Clinton had signed the document, but did not give it their unqualified support. The ship of government once launched, however, bravely rode the waves of many storms, and proved a sea-worthy craft.
The following, then, dear friends, is a brief outline of this document, around which entire libraries have been written: The government is divided into three departments. First, the legislative, which consists of an upper house called the senate, and a lower house which is called the house of representatives. These two houses, bear in mind, constitute what is called the congress of the United States. The members of the upper house, the senate, are chosen two from each state by the people, every six years with this provision. They are so divided as to their terms that there will always be two-thirds holdover. This was done evidently to avoid the necessity of electing an entirely new senate every six years. The representatives are chosen every two years by the people according to the voting population of the several states. Second, the executive department, consisting of the president of the United States, elected by the people every four years, together with such officers as are to assist him in the enforcing of the law. Third, the judicial department, which is vested in one supreme court and such inferior courts as may be provided. The supreme court consists at present of one chief justice and eight associates. Their chief duties are to pass upon the constitutionality of any laws enacted by congress and hear certain well-defined case pertaining to the federal jurisdiction of the country.
Without fear of successful contradiction, friends, I proudly assert that the constitution has stood the test of one hundred and thirty-five years, and has proved to the world that it is a live document, entirely meeting the needs of the government. In proof of it listen to the opinions voiced by our most noted statesmen. Here is what George Washington said: "This government, the offspring of our own choice, uninfluenced and unawed, adopted upon full investigation and mature deliberation, completely free in its principles, uniting security with energy and containing within itself a provision for its own amendment, has a just claim to your confidence and your support. Respect for its authority, compliance with its laws, acquiescence in its measures are duties enjoined by the fundamental maxims of true liberty. The basis of our political system is the right of the people to make and alter their constitution of government; but the constitution which at any time exists till changed by an ex-! plicitly and authentic act of the whole people is sacredly obligatory upon all. The very idea of the power and the right of the people to establish government presupposes the duty of every individual to obey the established government!" Equally striking, though much more concise is the comment of Alexander Hamilton: "The constitution is in itself in every sense and to every useful purpose a bill of rights!"
Quoting Alexander Hamilton, friends, reminds me that the constitution defined the duties, powers and qualifications of its officers, still it did not guarantee individual rights. In order to meet this necessity, naturally enough, a specific bill of rights was attached to the constitution. The first of these guaranteed religious freedom, freedom of speech and press and the right to assemble and petition the government. The second of these provided for indictment by grand juries, and trial by jury in all cases of persons tried by the federal courts for serious crimes. The ninth and tenth amendments were designed to re-assure those who had fears for the rights of the individual states. Then there was the eleventh amendment, adopted in 1798, which was written in the same spirit, because it was intended to prevent the federal courts from hearing suits brought by private citizens against sovereign states.
Hence we conclude that no one can be a good citizen of this country of ours without patriotism. Th/is means , that he must whole-heartedly subscribe to the creed of true Americanism: "I believe in the United States of America as the government of the people, by the people and for the people, whose just powers are derived from the consent of the governed; a democracy in a republic, a sovereign nation of many sovereign states, a perfect union, one and inseparable, established upon those principles of freedojm, equality, justice, and humanity, for Which American patriots sacrificed their lives and fortunes."
The secret of the success of this government of ours, dear friends, is easily explained. It lies both in the determination of a free nation to govern itself and is the most marvelous instrument ever designed for self-government, the constitution of the United States of America. Here lies the fountain-head of our liberty, our happiness and our prosperity.
I thank you for your kind attention.
W. A. Miller spent Saturday, Sunday and Monday in Pomeroy, returning to his home in Waitsburg Monday evening.
If you are going to need any Easter Lillies, cut flowers or bulbs, give me your orders and 1 will saveyou money. C. M. Vassar.
G. W. Jewett has purchased a new Oldsmobile sedan.
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