Rules of self-governance at age 230

Rules of self-governance at age 230

Happy Constitution Day to all my friends, lovers of reason and readers of this humble blog.  It was the product of several months of intense negotiation between delegates representing wide and varied common and opposing interests but it was on this day exactly two hundred and thirty years ago which was a Monday that the final product was presented for approval to the body of the Constitutional Convention of the United States assembled in the Pennsylvania State House.  To say it was the finest work ginned out by the ultimate sausage factory of its day in an understatement.

Howard Chandler Christy’s depiction of the         Signing of the Constitution

In the end only 39 of the original 55 delegates signed their name to it but few if any were likely completely satisfied with what has become an enduring system of rules and law of a nation still trying to improve it.  Benjamin Franklin summed up this pervading sense of dissatisfaction as thus:

“I confess that There are several parts of this Constitution which I do not at present approve, but I am not sure I shall never approve them. … I doubt too whether any other Convention we can obtain, may be able to make a better Constitution. … It therefore astonishes me, Sir, to find this system approaching so near to perfection as it does; and I think it will astonish our enemies…”

At the time of the signing, Mr. Franklin delivered a speech in which he mused philosophical on a sun painted on the back of George Washington’s chair.

Regarding that speech, Convention delegate James Madison noted the following:

“Whilst the last members were signing it Doctor Franklin looking towards the Presidents Chair, at the back of which a rising sun happened to be painted, observed to a few members near him, that Painters had found it difficult to distinguish in their art a rising from a setting sun. I have said he, often and often in the course of the Session, and the vicissitudes of my hopes and fears as to its issue, looked at that behind the President without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting: But now at length I have the happiness to know that it is a rising and not a setting Sun.”

The genius and beauty of the United States Constitution is its mechanism to be amended.  Two hundred years and three decades beyond the time of its original signing, there are now a total of twenty-seven ratified amendments.   These amendments have changed the way the American people govern ourselves, do business, live life and enjoy those ethereal blessings of liberty.  Most have been good, one did not work so well and had to go but the soul and essence embodied in the document has endured.  The framers of this Constitution were perhaps enlightened for their day but still had their pitfalls of bad interests which future generations had to rectify.  Sure, they tolerated slavery, did not allow women to vote, did not allow non-landowners to vote but even still at their core the gist of their ideas were and are good.  Self-governance is still regarded as a radical idea in many places on this planet.  A government with a designed system of checks and balances has heretofore been demonstrated to prevent one party/one person absolutism.  An independent and disinterested judiciary has proven to be an imperative for fairness to all before the law.  A Congress with a House of apportioned numerical representation and a Senate with equal numbers of senators from each state have ultimately produced a huge but necessary bureaucracy and a system that is still working.  I will admit that while none of it may be perfect, it still the oldest and best approach to government going.  Indeed, all democracy is a work in progress just as this grand American experiment has demonstrated.

Let it be duly noted that when a person accepts a commission in the Armed Forces of the United States the oath they affirm upon accepting such an appointment reads as follows:

I, [name], do solemnly affirm that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter.

The Constitution is the supreme governing document of the United States and all states are subservient to it.  If ever in doubt, refer to the Constitution.  That said, I still stand amazed at the number of the voting public who have not a clue as to what is contained in it.  Ask any random number of people how many rights are delineated in the First Amendment and see how many can name three.   It troubles me that so many draw a blank.

For all the citizens in favor of the “right to bear arms,” it never ceases to amaze me the number of them who could not recite the Second Amendment cold if their life depended on it.  It is after all one of the shorter amendments:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

The Third Amendment has not been pertinent in the lives of most Americans since its crafting and therefore appears (and is) archaic, but it stays in the document all the same:

“No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.”

The vast majority of the rest of the amendments, less the 18th, may not factor into the lives of most citizens on a daily basis but all the same they are necessary to make the USA the nation that it is.

The more I learn about the Constitution, the more enamored with it I become with it.  When I travel I carry my own copy of it in hopes that the TSA people or whoever is responsible for inspecting airline passengers will open it to see what it actually in it.

My personal copy

Personalized copies of the Constitution can be purchased at the National Archives Store online.  Copies of it can also be obtained from the American Civil Liberties Union.  Most offices of elected Congressional representatives and Senators stock paperback copies of the Constitution.  There are numerous places it can be found online.   It is also available in a cellphone app.  The back of my personalized copy contains a few blank pages I saved for autographs of people I meet who are high profile civil libertarians, but I digress.

The U.S. Constitution serves as the identity of all America.  It is the duty of all conscientious citizens to work to ensure our nation lives up to the true meaning of the creed it embodies.  At age 230, it is still a work in progress.  The question going forward is how can we make it better?

Celebrating Constitution Day


1 Comment

  1. Mark Collins
    Sep 17, 2017

    Cobbled together by imperfect men, each promoting their own agendas, and bereft of input from more than half the population,
    the living, mutable – by design – document has served us better, I believe, than its authors could have hoped.
    It has been esteemed – whole, or in part – by the rest of humanity and has set a standard for all subsequent legislators.
    Fortunate are we to have lived under it and to have benefited from its collective wisdom.

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