Although it’s not a major federal or state holiday (except in Florida), the recent Constitution Day (Sept. 17) and Constitution Week (Sept. 17-23) ought to be.
The date recognizes the vote by 12 states’ delegates (Rhode Island sent none) to approve the new constitution hammered out in Philadelphia in 1787. Besides the law of the land, the U.S. Constitution has become the model for more of the 50 states when crafting their own constitutions, not to mention untold numbers of municipal governments below that level and many foreign nations as well.
Despite its remarkable endurance and legacy, these Founding Fathers of the American Revolution are under withering attacks never before seen. They are being denigrated by historians, politicians and educators because so many of their number either owned slaves or tacitly approved of the institution.
With all their faults, they provided for the means in this document to outlaw slavery plus later gave citizenship and voting rights to women and other groups. Some elements of the Constitution, specifically the Second Amendment and Electoral College, are also under attack for being outmoded and relics of a bygone era. Until amendments remove them, we should be aware of arguments against doing so.
First, a well-armed citizenry, according to the authors of the Bill of Rights, was deemed necessary for protection against the government’s possible future abuse of power. Today it’s even more essential as protection against lawless elements of our society. Random mass shootings, of course, grab front-page headlines. Seldom, if ever, making news are such attacks that are thwarted by responsible and responsive gun owners.
Second, the last part of the Constitution to be finalized in Philly was a method of choosing the president. Most delegates felt only Congress possessed the requisite wisdom to make the best choice, but many others, not wanting the Chief Executive beholden to the legislative branch, wanted direct election by the people. The Electoral College was a compromise. That being said, it was widely believed that many ties would occur in the Electoral College and the House of Representatives – the half of Congress closest to the people – would often make the choice. As it turned out, only the 1800 and 1824 elections made that necessary. Still, the Electoral College requires a wannabe president to win broad support from most of the states and their voters, and even small states have at least three votes in every election.
Our Founding Fathers, especially the Constitution makers, never would have imagined a future three centuries later like our current one. Yet they knew that though times may change, human nature doesn’t. The Constitution was established to give power to the federal government while guaranteeing safeguards against its overreach and providing a mechanism for making changes when necessary. For many good reasons, Sept. 17 should be an important national civic holiday, equal in stature to Independence Day. Fourth of July celebrates the birth of America, while Sept. 17 recognizes the U.S. attaining adulthood among the other grown-up nations of the world.
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