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Dr. Carey Roberts


Liberty University Professor shares historical insights at DCC’s Constitution Day event


(September 21, 2017)  – The U.S. Constitution is now the supreme law of the land, but its path to creation in 1787 was anything but easy. Guest speaker Dr. Carey Roberts, addressing more than 50 Danville Community College students on Sept. 21 for Constitution Day, painted a vibrant and often amusing picture of the process – from unruly delegates being dragged through the streets of Philadelphia and forced to vote, to a colonial governor’s bad case of gout that may have saved the Constitution as we know it.
Roberts, a Liberty University history professor and associate dean of the college of arts and sciences, said people often think of 18th-century American life as being “slow, simple, and agricultural. Everybody looked and thought the same,? but this is not true.
In fact, by the time the Constitution was drafted, the American colonies were incredibly diverse in culture, religious practice, cuisine, and language. There were 200 different English dialects spoken east of the Mississippi River, Roberts said. One challenge of uniting the colonies was preserving and protecting that diversity, which led many of the Founding Fathers to disagree passionately about the wording and ratification of the Constitution.
It may be hard for today’s Americans to imagine, but the iconic first three words of the Preamble, “We the People,? caused quite a bit of controversy among the Founding Fathers, according to Roberts. Famous Virginian orator Patrick Henry and the two Pittsylvania County delegates to the Virginia ratifying convention, John Wilson and Robert Williams, actually voted against ratifying the U.S. Constitution in 1788. Other major figures in United States history, including John Hancock and Samuel Adams, also opposed it. Why?
Those who opposed the Constitution, known as Antifederalists, feared the document gave too much power to a strong central government instead of to the states, Roberts said. Patrick Henry spoke vehemently against it. The original draft of the Constitution listed the names of the individual states in the Preamble, but a representative pointed out that the Constitution would have to be amended any time a new state joined the union, so the list was replaced with the word “people.?
The Constitution required ratification by nine states, which happened in 1788 despite the opposition by Henry and other Antifederalists. At the Massachusetts convention, Constitutional opponent Governor John Hancock was unable to attend and voice his opposition due to a flare-up of gout that kept him bedridden while the vote was taken. Thus, “John Hancock’s big toe saved the U.S. Constitution,? Roberts said.
However, opponents of the Constitution played an important role that shaped the document we know today: Massachusetts and Virginia ratified it on the condition that a Bill of Rights be added to preserve individual liberties.
DCC Associate Professor of History Ana Ruiz-Fodor and adjunct history instructors John Kingery and Justin Stowe organized the lecture as part of the college’s annual observance of Constitution Day. This study is important, Ruiz-Fodor said, because “this short document is the foundation of our nation.  It is 230 years old but it has only been amended 27 times.?
Ruiz-Fodor said she hoped the presentation and classwork on the Constitution’s Preamble “gave [students] some perspective about their rights under the law,? as well as about “early relationships between Colonial Virginians, their economic issues, and their refusal to ratify it at first. This is very important, as the first five presidents were from Virginia and Founding Fathers of America.?

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