Preserving "A Fair Chance For a Free People" - Karl E. Mundt

Tomorrow's Hamiltons


ONE OF THE MOST REMARKABLE things about the career of Alexander Hamilton was that he accomplished so much at so early an age. The people in his native West Indies had faith in him-faith enough to give him the money to go to America and to college. The talent was within him, but if the people hadn't believed in his potential, the story might have been different.

The people must want the talented youth of today to prepare to be the political and governmental leaders of the future. Perhaps this is the reason that the American Students Constitutional Convention was held in Philadelphia in June. It, too, was a manifestation of belief in youth's potential.

It was sponsored by the Hamilton Bicentennial Commission, headed by Senator Karl E. Mundt of South Dakota, and organized by its Advisory Committee on Contests and Awards under the chairmanship of Dr. Bower Aly. J. Harvie Williams, as Director of the Commission, had an active hand in it, of course. This is a story of the Convention as one delegate saw it.

Each of the 55 American States and territories selected in various ways a high school student as its delegate. All were chosen through their speaking or writing activity, and each was rewarded with a $1,000 scholarship and a free trip to the Convention. The winners: 44 boys and 11 girls. The delegates included two Negroes and one Japanese-American.

June 16th started a wonderful week for us all. Two days were spent in Washington, D. C., where we received "red carpet" treatment, complete with meeting both President Eisenhower and Vice-President Nixon. Then we went to Philadelphia.

Next to Independence Hall stands Congress Hall, where the Continental Congress met for most of 10 years. This was where our Convention sat. No detail that could make the proceedings more realistic was overlooked. Formal parliamen tary language was used throughout. Every session was opened with a prayer by the Reverend Alexander Hamilton, a direct descendant of man we were assembled to honor. The staff included a parliamentarian, a reading clerk, secretaries, and even pages. The gavels were made of timbers taken from the Grange, Hamilton's New York home. All this lent to the proceedings an air of authenticity.

The business of the Constitutional Convention in 1787 was to amend Articles of Confederation.* It was fitting, then, that the business at the Students' Constitutional Convention 1957 should be the amending of the present Federal Constitution.

The delegates were each instructed to prepare an amendment to the Constitution for debate at the Convention. We were also told to study and prepare ourselves for an objective test on Alexander Hamilton and the Constitution. Twelve evaluators, mostly professors of speech, judged our work. On the basis of our speaking before the Convention and our score on this test, 13 of the delegates were awarded Alexander Hamilton Fellowships of $2,000. For every scholarship and fellowship given an equal amount was given to the school of the student's choice. All the funds for this came from private sources and were handled by Frederick Crawford Cleveland, Ohio.

Who Most Recalled Hamilton?

In judging us, the evaluators attempted to find those whose speaking "most nearly exemplified the closely reasoned eloquence characteristic of Alexander Hamilton's speech making at its best."

The objective test covered dates, places, and events in Hamilton's life an his writings, with a section on the Constitution and the Federal Government

The 13 Fellowship winners we Craig Bamberger, Alabama; Gordon Chester, Idaho; James Copeland, Michigan; Carlisle Dick, Arizona; Harlan Hahn, Iowa; John Kirby, District of Columbia; Michael Marenchic, New Jersey; Dan McCall, California; Karen Ordahl, Missouri; Shannon Radiff, Texas; Allen Rule, Ohio; Sam Stegman, Indiana; and Hastings Wyman, South Carolina.

In the first session, we were each assigned to committees of 11 members each. Each committee dealt with one of the six Articles of the Constitution, except that one had Articles IV and V taken together. The proposed amendments were read and referred to the proper committee.

The next session was devoted to committee meetings. After discussing the various proposals, each committee reported out one to three amendments. The Convention then debated each committee report for two and a half hours. Proposals could also reach the floor through a minority report of committee. members or by petition of other delegates.

In the action we took, we were really quite conservative. Although the proposals included checking the Supreme Court, suspending the Fifth Amendment in same cases, and checking the treaty powers of the President, the convention adopted only one resolution-the repeal of the 22nd amendment.

We were equally liberal, though, in other respects. Every resolution which could weaken the Federal Government was firmly opposed and rejected. No move to reverse the trend toward more and more centralization in our government was adopted.

Harlan Hahn, the delegate from Iowa, remarked in a speech before the house, "I wonder how many future members of Congress, how many future national leaders are assembled here in this convention." I think the answer will be "very many." And the credit for the "very" will go, at least in part, to this convention. The talent, of course, was already there, within the delegates, as it was in Alexander Hamilton, but perhaps they lacked the inclination before the Convention met.

At our convention we had a chance, for four days, to become a real, active part in the consideration of the country's constitutional problems. On top of this, the Hamilton Bicentennial Commission had enough faith in our potential to pro-college. All this, I am sure, will provide that all-important inclination, which may well produce the Alexander Hamilton of this century.

*"The 1787 Convention, it should be noted, ignored this limitation and never even attempted to amend The Articles of Confederation; it set out at once to draft a new constitution.--The Editor

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