Fast Track Gave the U.S. its Constitution

Fast Track Gave the U.S. its Constitution

Public arguments against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) from many on the left end of the political spectrum have become, to a large degree, arguments against fast track authority. This is unfortunate, because:

  1. Fast track is becoming a red herring for arguments against trade agreements
  2. The arguments, repeated ad nauseam, mischaracterize fast track into something evil that Congress and President Obama want to use in order to bypass the American people
  3. Without a fast track process, the Constitution of the United States of America would never have existed

A closer look at the process used in creating the Constitution might help to clarify some common misconceptions about fast track.

The Constitutional Convention in 1787 was a secretive process. It had no chance of success without secrecy. The fact that it was being held in order to write a new Constitution for the United States was a secret even to the delegates who attended. Congress had called for a convention “for the sole and express purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation.” It was only after the convention convened that the focus changed to actually writing a United States Constitution. It became clear that the Articles of Confederation was too flawed to simply tweak into something practical. The only way to successfully “revise” the Articles of Confederation was to create an entirely different system. But if this had been known in advance – if it had been the plan all along – there would have been no support for it. It never would have happened.

The delegates who attended were among the young nation’s most prominent dignitaries:

  1. The “First American” (an aging Benjamin Franklin)
  2. Two future presidents, George Washington (the recent hero of the Revolutionary War who went on to become the “Father of Our Country”) and James Madison (the “Father of the Constitution”)
  3. Alexander Hamilton
  4. and many other household names of the time.

Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were absent. They were both overseas, performing diplomacy on behalf of the new United States in Paris and London, respectively. Each state chose how many delegates to send – representation was not proportional. Rhode Island sat out the process entirely, thinking that nothing good could come out of it. Every issue was on the table. Each state and each region had its own interests to protect. These interests often conflicted, and negotiations became tense. Some delegates walked out. But negotiations went on. The purpose was two-fold:


  1. Create a workable framework for the new nation
  2. Make this framework something which every state in every region could get behind

We all know now that the Constitutional Convention was successful. But at the time, it was a long shot. The only way to discuss all options and successfully deal with conflicting interests was to keep all negotiations a secret. Every piece of the puzzle had to be considered in the context of the entire package. There simply was no way for the Convention to end successfully unless each conflicting interest was taken into account. The written Constitution emerging from the Convention had to balance all of these interests. Once that was done, then any subsequent amendments on behalf of any of these interests would undermine the entire negotiated outcome.

The process simply had to be done in secret. The Constitution had to be presented for ratification in its final form, with no subsequent amendments possible. If it had been anything less, we would not have had a United States Constitution.

Imagine what the public and the press would have been saying if some of the details of ongoing negotiations during the Constitutional Convention had leaked out before the Constitution had been finalized.

“According to the latest proposal, we are going to have a monarchy. Why did we fight a revolutionary war if we were going to create our own king? This thing just MUST be defeated or we will lose our way of life.” ~ It is true that with everything on the table, giving the United States a king was under consideration during the proceedings. You can imagine the damage this information would have done to the prospects for ratification if it had leaked out and was used as a talking point against the Constitution – even before the final version had been written. The fact that the eventual Constitution did not call for a king would not be enough to undo the damage this misinformation could do in terms of influencing people to make up their minds.

“I have always admired and trusted George Washington, but he is dead wrong for trying to sneak this past the American people.” ~ Progressives, does this sound familiar?

“The delegates refuse to include a Bill of Rights! This proves they don’t have the people’s best interest in mind. We can’t have a Constitution without a Bill of Rights!” ~ This argument was actually an important sticking point during the ratification process and is the reason George Mason, a delegate from Virginia to the Constitutional Convention, refused to sign the final version of the Constitution. Including a Bill of Rights had been discussed at the Convention, but had been dismissed as being unimportant in the process of dealing with state and regional interests. The argument against including rights for the people as part of a federal Constitution was that the individual states had already settled this issue with their own Bills of Rights. It was seen as a state matter that had already been solved, not as a federal matter. The public didn’t buy this argument, and the Federalists promised to make a Bill of Rights amendment the first order of business following ratification. Enough people believed them, and they kept that promise. But it would have been more difficult to get people to believe the intent if that talking point had been part of the public discussion without the benefit of an actual, finalized document for perspective.

“A federal Constitution would mean the end of slavery and end to our economic way of life.” ~ Likely talking points from Southerners before the compromise involving the 3/5ths rule. Slavery might have been an evil institution, but in 1787 it would have been impossible to ratify a United States Constitution which prohibited it.

“A federal Constitution would mean that every state would be forced to accept slavery.” ~ Likely talking point from Northerners before the compromise involving the 3/5ths rule. It would have been difficult for either northerners or southerners to comprehend a federal Constitution which did not settle the slavery issue once and for all. But it would have been impossible to ratify a Constitution if it had. It is far more likely that people would have assumed the worse for their region rather than assumed that a compromise would be reached.

“The big states will trample all over the small states because the legislature’s representation will be based on population.” ~ This is an argument that people living in small-population states could have made, based on leaked details relating to the House of Representatives, without the context of the entire document – which included the Great Compromise of a two-house legislature.

“The small states will trample all over the big states because each state will have an equal number of votes regardless of how many people live there.” ~ This is an argument that people living in large-population states could have made, based on leaked details relating to the Senate, without the context of the entire document – which included the Great Compromise of a two-house legislature.


As you can see, people could easily have been making up their minds to oppose the Constitution before it was actually written, either by making assumptions or by taking known pieces of the picture out of context.

The Constitution of the United States would never have been ratified if the negotiations had been held in public. The Constitution would never have been ratified if conflicting interests had been allowed to add amendments after all of the negotiations had been completed. This is the nature of legislation involving complex negotiations and multiple interests.

But the Constitution was ratified following a period of public debate. The point is that the time frame for public debate must occur AFTER the negotiations are finalized not before.


This is the same concept as fast track. Fast track gave the United States its Constitution. Yes, TPP negotiations are being held in private. But no, they aren’t trying to sneak something past us. President Obama wants fast track authorization in order to proceed with the negotiations from a position of power – in order to receive the best possible set of concessions from nations with interests which conflict with our interests. The only way to know if he succeeds or not is to look at the final negotiated deal – and then judge it on its entire impact – not on some leaked, out-of-context pieces of the puzzle. After a final deal is reached, there will be an opportunity for public debate. Fast track authority doesn’t mean that Congress is going to support whatever deal is reached. It just means that politics won’t undermine a deal before it can be reached. If it turns out to be a bad deal, we need to let our representatives know how we feel. But now is not the time for that. First, we should let the process work.

If you have made up your mind that you are going to oppose any trade deal, no matter what is included in it – on the basis that trade deals are inherently bad – then make your case for why you think any kind of trade deal will be bad for America. That kind of argument has nothing to do with fast track authorization. It isn’t rational to make this case by using fast track as a red herring.

If you have made up your mind to oppose any deal on the basis that you don’t trust somebody who supports it, then go ahead and try to make that case. It has nothing to do with fast track authorization.

If you have made up your mind that this particular trade deal is bad, based entirely on leaked pieces of a deal that hasn’t even been made yet – and nobody has seen the leaked pieces in the context of an entire deal – then why not give President Obama a chance to negotiate better terms? Fast track authorization might accomplish that. Turning the concept of fast track into something evil in order to help undermine a trade deal is not rational.

I haven’t made up my mind whether to support TPP or not. I will decide when an agreement is finalized and not before. I tend to distrust deals which are based on some concept of “free trade” which I know only exists in theory. But I won’t make up my mind on any specific trade deal until I see the details – the final details, not a few leaked pieces of information. I will still have time to voice my concerns before Congress decides whether to ratify it or not.

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Jerry Wyant