There are days in history which speak their own importance. No one questions July 4th as a national holiday in the United States, nor should they. But what about September 17th? Is this day any less important? The Declaration of Independence was vital to the creation of this country, and yes, set forth some basic principles of governance. But, the Declaration is not the document that has governed the United States since that humid summer day in 1776.
But the principles set forth in the Declaration were just that: Principles. The United States as we know it did not come into existence until overly a decade later. On September 17th, 1787 the Constitutional Convention approved the document which we now call the United States Constitution. While the government would not be officially established under this document until March of 1789 following ratification, this is the day we celebrate the document itself.
This document was not without controversy, both during the convention (which had been called to amend the Articles of Confederation, not replace them) and during ratification. But, in the end, the Constitution was ratified based on a compromise which included the addition of a Bill of Rights.
Today, we celebrate the constitution. We celebrate the separation of powers. We celebrate the checks and the balances. We celebrate the republican form of government. But most of all, we celebrate “An empire in many respects the most interesting in the world.” Hamilton goes on to write:
It has been frequently remarked that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force. If there be any truth in the remark, the crisis at which we are arrived may with propriety be regarded as the era in which that decision is to be made; and a wrong election of the part we shall act may, in this view, deserve to be considered as the general misfortune of mankind.
Georgia College marked today by taking over my class (literally, I teach in the Auditorium) for a guest speaker. Dr. Bruce Stinebrickner was outstanding. I’ve heard many Constitution Day lectures, but this one was out of the park. Instead of doing as is typical and focusing on the Bill of Rights, he walked through a few features which made the body of the document unique. The three branches of government with full separation of powers only exist in one other country. With most other democracies, if you control parliament, you control the executive by default. Then he went on to who involved the public is in the nomination process. Most nominees are selected by the party insiders, not by the general population.
So, from this “reflection and choice” we have a document which has governed the United States for over two centuries with only 27 formal amendments. Political discussions aside, it is my firm belief, that this document has indeed been a prevention to the “general misfortune of mankind.”