Thursday, Sept.18 saw a group of politically-motivated students and faculty members gathered in St. Olaf College’s Viking Theater. This was the second installment of a political series in Northfield. The first installment, entitled “Fundamentals of the Constitution,” came on Sept. 17 to Carleton College.
The event garnered the attention of college and high school students as well as Northfield residents. Associate Professor of Political Science Douglas Casson introduced the evening’s theme, “The History of the Constitution”.
“There are deep divides and deep conflicts in the United States, and some of those conflicts have to do with how we understand the Constitution and how we use the Constitution politically,” Casson said. He then introduced the event’s main speaker, David Robertson. Robertson provided a history of the Constitution’s development that would explain its modern day usage.
David Robertson, Professor at the University of Missouri in St. Louis, earned his Ph.D. in Political Science at Indiana University and has received multiple awards for his articles in Policy Studies. He is an author of multiple publications, including the books Federalism and the Making of America, The Constitution and America’s Destiny and The Development of American Public Policy: The Structure of Policy Restraint. He currently serves as a political analyst on KSDK-TV and has appeared over 450 times on international, national and St. Louis media.
Robertson used his most recent book, “The Original Compromise: What the Constitution’s Framers were Really Thinking,” as the basis for his presentation.
“Politicians wrote the constitutions for politicians to use,” Robertson said. He continued that the framers wrote the 1787 Constitution “as a rule book for future politicians.”
He linked this objective to the present day state of Congress and the difficulty attached in passing legislation. Robertson said that it was always the plan for the nation’s power to be in the hands of government officials. According to the framers, those with political expertise should lead.
Robertson went on to highlight James Madison as one of the key framers of the Constitution.
“He was one of the leaders in the constitution convention,” Robertson said. He detailed President Madison’s political strategy and lauded his Virginia Plan. In order to offer a clear understanding of the Constitution’s development, he contrasted President Madison’s vision with Benjamin Sherman’s New Jersey Plan.
“Much of the Constitution was shaped by the conflict that was so fundamental between these two people,” Robertson remarked. The Constitution exists today as a compromise between the political visions of these men. Robertson explained that, “the vision of broad national power for the nation’s future and narrow national power to protect the nation’s present” led to the separation of state and federal law.
“Political compromises made the Constitution,” Robertson said. Again, Robertson provided a succinct claim that spoke directly to the body of laws governing the United States. The problem of Senate representation, the fight for and against the abolition of slavery, the restrictions on presidential powers and federalism were the main factors determining the final draft of the Constitution.
Photo Credit: ANDREW WILDER/MANITOU MESSENGER