Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Constitution Day

You know these words.  If you're of a certain age - or a certain background, I suppose, you were required to memorize them.
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish
Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the
general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do
ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America. 
They were adopted, promulgated, "done in Convention" as it says
by the Unanimous Consent of the States present the Seventeenth Day of September in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven and of the Independence of the United States of America the Twelfth. In Witness whereof We have hereunto subscribed our Names.  
It was, of course, an imperfect document.  Barbara Jordan in her opening statement at the House hearings on the impeachment of President Nixon gave voice to one core problem.
Earlier today, we heard the beginning of the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States: "We, the people." It's a very eloquent beginning. But when that document was completed on the seventeenth of September in 1787, I was not included in that "We, the people." I felt somehow for many years that George Washington and Alexander Hamilton just left me out by mistake. But through the process of amendment, interpretation, and court decision, I have finally been included in "We, the people."
It remains imperfect.  There are things we would change today.  Some I would.  Some you would.  If we do not have exactly the country our forefathers envisioned, well, we can argue about how it is and isn't that.  And whether that's a good thing or not.  It embodies a series of compromises, after all, and that's always going to leave someone unhappy.  

And its application.  Sigh.

It's a blueprint designed for a largely agrarian society.  It created a government intended to be inefficient.  It was to be inefficient, because efficient government was government that too readily acted, too readily abused.  But it created a government still.  Not impotent, just awkward.  (The Articles of Confederation created an impotent government.  That was part of the reason for the Constitutional Convention.)

We've fiddled with it through Amendment.  We've interpreted and reinterpreted it.  We've found in it rights noone really imagined.  And we've squandered protections it clearly promised.

But the structure, for good or ill, has endured.

It was 227 years ago today.  September the seventeenth, 1787.

"What is it you've given us?" a woman supposedly asked Ben Franklin as he walked out of the Convention that day.

"A republic, if you can keep it," Franklin is said to have replied.

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