Sunday, September 17, 2006

September 17: Constitution Day

Today is the anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution on September 17, 1787 at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. The 55 delegates began their work in May 1787, and they worked through the summer to forge a document that laid the foundation for American democracy, including the three branches of government and its system of checks and balances (1).

In his book Made in America, Bill Bryson explains that the delegates selected a Committee of Detail to polish the final draft of the Constitution and put it on paper. It was one of these committee members, John Rutledge, who influenced the opening words of the Constitution's Preamble. As Bryson explains:

[Rutledge] was an admirer of the Iroquois and recommended that the committee familiarize itself with the treaty of 1520 that had created the Iroquois Confederacy. It begins: "We, the people, to form a union . . . ." (Bryson).

It was, in fact, these words that were chosen as the introduction for what has become the single most influential document in history:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, 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.

Today's Challenge: A More Perfect Union
Celebrate the miracle of the Constitution by reading each of the quotes below that mention the Constitution. See if you can identify the speaker of each quote.

1. I also wish that the Pledge of Allegiance were directed at the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, as it is when the President takes his oath of office, rather than to the flag and the nation.

2. The U. S. Constitution doesn't guarantee happiness, only the pursuit of it. You have to catch up with it yourself.

3. The constitution vests the power of declaring war in Congress; therefore no offensive expedition of importance can be undertaken until after they shall have deliberated upon the subject and authorized such a measure.

4. The American constitutions were to liberty, what a grammar is to language: they define its parts of speech, and practically construct them into syntax.

5. The Constitution is not neutral. It was designated to take the government off the backs of the people.

6. To live under the American Constitution is the greatest political
privilege that was ever accorded to the human race.

7. The United States Constitution has proven itself the most marvelously elastic compilation of rules of government ever written.

Quote of the Day: Some events define and shape history with the force of plate tectonics, moving the world onto a new path. On September 17, 1787, just such an event occurred when the Constitution of the United States was signed. --Robert Byrd

Answers: 1. Carl Sagan 2. Benjamin Franklin 3. George Washington 4. Thomas Paine 5. William O. Douglas 6. Calvin Coolidge 7. Franklin D. Roosevelt

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2 - Bryson, Bill. Made in America: An Informal History of the English Language in the United States. New York: Perennial, 1994.

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