Constitution event in Wilton

WILTON – The U.S. Constitution is considered the most important document ever written, and an increased civic knowledge is indispensable for an informed citizenry.

To that end, the Wilton Community Center hosted a forum on the Constitution at High Mowing School on Saturday, Feb. 18.

Considering how such forums have ended in recent months, Stasia Millett, serving as master of ceremonies, asked for civility and consideration of other people’s opinions. The 50 or more people attending complied, and the two-hour discussion was lively, occasionally full of laughter at lightly veiled innuendos, and informative.

The presenters were John Greabe, from the University of New Hampshire Law School, and David Alcox, a 21-year civics teacher at Milford High School.

Greabe teaches civil procedure, conflict of laws, the First Amendment and judicial opinion writing. He presented a description of what led to the writing of the Constitution; the Articles of Confederation that preceded it; Shay’s Rebellion, which showed that it was necessary; and the general attitudes of those who wrote it.

Alcox talked about the Federalist Papers and how they were used to convince the states for the need for a strong federal constitution. The discussion back then, he said, was between the Federalists, who wanted a strong federal government, and the anti-Federalists, who were more for states’ rights and who insisted on the Bill of Rights.

Alcox has been adviser of the school’s We the People team, leading Milford High to 14 state championships in 18 years.

The question-and-answer portion of the program was fielded expertly by five members of that team: George Hoyt, Sean Murphy, Florian Bochert, Rachel Nelson and Andre Arsenault.

Our founders realized, Greabe said, “that we needed a well-structured government to protect us against enemies, print money, equalize taxes and deal with other countries. The Articles of Confederation didn’t do that, leaving each of the 13 states to handle its own affairs.”

Shay’s Rebellion in 1786, an uprising of farmers against the government of Massachusetts protesting what they saw as unfair practices, showed that a federal government was needed. Such outbreaks could happen anywhere.

The founders, Greabe said, were generally distrustful of human nature and realized the government needed to be structured with balances, and “to prevent interest groups from taking over.”

The Constitution was the result of compromises between large and small states, slave and free states, and widely conflicting views. There was a need for stability, and the Constitution provides that.

Alcox said our exercise in creating a government was closely watched by other countries.

“If this experiment didn’t work, why should they try it?” he said.

Among the questions asked were the need for primary elections, what are executive orders and why have an electoral college.

The Electoral College is confusing, the students agreed. The Constitution doesn’t say the people shall elect the president, and smaller states would be forgotten in a popular vote. Nowadays, with a popular vote, the country would be run by the six most populous states, and those running for president would never come to New Hampshire. In effect, the presidential election is 50 separate elections.

That also makes primaries important.

The writers felt that ordinary people were not educated well enough to choose leaders, so they provided for the electors from each state to do that, assuming that such people would be chosen.

All presidents have the prerogative to write executive orders, Alcox said.

“Franklin Roosevelt wrote as many executive orders as anyone,” he said.

They also noted that “nothing that is happening right now is new, except the possibility of an election being hacked,” Greabe said. “There is no precedent for that.”

The question raised at the end was, “How do you get more people involved? How do you get people out to vote when local elections draw as few as 20 percent of residents?”

There was no answer except to get the word out and educate people.

Each of the students was presented with a pot of three paper white narcissus bulbs for the Constitutional symbolism, Millett said: Legislative, executive and judicial branches.

The Wilton Community Center was organized to create community enrichment through cultural, educational, recreational and social opportunities for Wilton and the surrounding towns. Its motto is “Wilton Cultivates Community.”

For more information, email Millett, publicity director and editor of the newsletter The Blinking Light, at facesbmillett@tds.net.