Constitution Day

Source: National Archives

Well, admittedly, this year’s post for Constitution Day lacks the grandeur of last year. No, I did not host a renowned speaker and have three hundred guests sit in my class (at least not that I know about; class is not until 5:30 tonight). But, this is still a day to remember.

Two hundred and twenty-six years ago, a group a men approved a document which would become the backbone of what Alexander Hamilton would call “an empire in many respects the most interesting in the world.”[1] Hamilton went on to write that the purpose of this new constitution was to establish “good government from reflection and choice”[2] instead of accident and force. The role which they played was vital not just for the young United States of America, but the general fortune of mankind.

I always ask my class, “Was Hamilton justified in his arrogance? Is the US the most interesting empire in the world?” This year, as is every year, it is a difficult question to answer. We are not an empire in the traditional sense of the word. We have conquered most of the world, but we have given the territory back to its native citizens again and again. Germany, Japan, Mexico, England, and many others have all been defeated by American military might. Most of Europe has been liberated not once but twice by the American war machine. Yet, every time, instead of building empire, we rebuild the nation we conquered, and then help them establish their own government. A military presence may remain, but as aid and support, not as authoritative overseer.

What then about the general misfortune of mankind? That is an even more debatable point. I will be the first to admit that the US has made grievous errors throughout history. But, we supply huge amounts for foreign aid to other countries. We have developed medical and technological breakthroughs which are now used around the world. All of this is done under the governmental authority of a document that is 4,535 words, including the signatures, plus 27 amendments.[3]

So today, we celebrate. We celebrate our government built on reflection and choice. We celebrate a nation which, while it not measure up to being called the most interesting in the world, but I dare say we are at least the top five. We celebrate the foundations which give us a system of checks and balances, republican government, and the eventual Bill of Rights.

Take a few minutes sometime this week to read through the Constitution. See what it says for yourself. You may be surprised by some of the things which are contained within it (like how the US is not a democracy), and some of the things which are absent (a wall of separation between church and state).

Here are some of my favorite Constitutional resources:


[1] Hamilton, Alexander. “Federalist 1.” Avalon Project. http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/fed01.asp (accessed September 17, 2013).

[2] Ibid

[3] Bloom, Sol. “The Constitution of the United States: Questions and Answers.” National Archives and Records Administration. http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/constitution_q_and_a.html (accessed September 17, 2013).

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