Constitution Day

crossposted from DCW

This Friday, 17 September, is Constitution Day. It marks the 223rd anniversary of the signing of the Constitution by 39 men, remainders of the 55 men who had fought and negotiated and compromised for more than three months to produce it. (Most of them, honest, British lawyers.) After signage, copies were sent via horse and rider to be ratified by the states.

Events will be held at the US Constitution Center in Philadelphia. The kick-off starts at 8:30 a.m. with a recitation of the preamble (by memory) by 223 school children. Throughout the day there will be many other events, including a naturalization ceremony. You can see the full events listing here. All events are free. If you have never seen Freedom Rising, the multimedia presentation, you really should. It will make you proud to be an American, and give context to some of the issues people fight over to remold government while keeping the base structure intact.

For many people “politics” exists in a vacuum.  It's a game of percentages and winning teams, something to bet on – more like a sporting event than anything else. From 2006 – 2009, there was even “Fantasy Congress”, played along the lines of “Fantasy Football” except the wins were legislation passed. But for some people, me included, “politics” is a step toward governing, and governing comes from the Constitution.

A few days before I left for college, my dad took me shopping for a few last minute things. And he gave me two things (plus some cash): a copy of the textbook he used in his Intro to American Government class (a newer edition of which was used in my class of the same name) and a pocket copy of the US Constitution. I carried that copy, eventually dog-eared, until a few years ago when I downloaded a copy to my iPhone. In all these years, I have never left home without a copy of the Constitution. You never know when it will be necessary to prove a point. 

I have stood on the second floor balcony of the Constitution Center, and looked down the mall at what is now Independence Hall and was then the Pennsylvania State House. I imagine it as it was in 1787: no tourists, no tall buildings, no souvenir shops, more trees and houses. (Archeological digs have shown a vibrant community where the large grassy area is today.)

From the National Archives: 

Guards stood at the entrances to ensure that the curious were kept at a distance. Robert Morris of Pennsylvania, the “financier” of the Revolution, opened the proceedings with a nomination–Gen. George Washington for the presidency of the Constitutional Convention. The vote was unanimous. With characteristic ceremonial modesty, the general expressed his embarrassment at his lack of qualifications to preside over such an august body and apologized for any errors into which he might fall in the course of its deliberations.

To many of those assembled, especially to the small, boyish-looking, 36-year-old delegate from Virginia, James Madison, the general's mere presence boded well for the convention, for the illustrious Washington gave to the gathering an air of importance and legitimacy But his decision to attend the convention had been an agonizing one. The Father of the Country had almost remained at home.

Suffering from rheumatism, despondent over the loss of a brother, absorbed in the management of Mount Vernon, and doubting that the convention would accomplish very much or that many men of stature would attend, Washington delayed accepting the invitation to attend for several months. Torn between the hazards of lending his reputation to a gathering perhaps doomed to failure and the chance that the public would view his reluctance to attend with a critical eye, the general finally agreed to make the trip. James Madison was pleased.

From that arose a system of three branches of government, with checks and balances, the likes of which had never been seen before. The men who put it all together did so knowing they were guilty of treason, and ready to die if it meant birthing this great nation.

As a nation, we've been torn by Civil War, and the current culture wars. While we have righted some of the compromises of the original Constitution (see the Thirteenth Amendment, for example) we still have a ways to go (see this). Still, we are the greatest nation, IMHO.

So come celebrate next Friday. Bring the kids. Watch Freedom Rising and learn who did what to get us to where we are today. See Susette Kelo receive her award. Get a piece of cake. If you live too far away and want your kids to participate, teachers can sign up so their classes can participate remotely. It's less than two months to the next election, scheduled back in 1787: I hope you remember why we do all this, and come celebrate 223 years of freedom. 

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