By Dr. JANET NORBY
Esther Reed Chapter, National Society Daughters of the American Revolution
Each year The President of the United States, in accordance with Public Law 915, proclaims the week of Sept. 17-23 as Constitution Week. Traditionally both our governor and our mayor also issue such proclamations. Regrettably, many of us give little thought to these proclamations, and may even be unaware of why they are issued.
Most of us are fully aware of the significance of the date July 4, 1776, but fewer regard Sept. 17, 1787, as being a date of equal significance to our national life. Yet it was on that date 225 years ago that our United States of America officially became a new nation governed not by a King, but by a Constitution hammered out in only four months by delegates from the original 13 colonies.
The delegates' radical belief that people could and would rise to the task of self-governance clearly flew in the face of the long thrust of history in which it was believed that kings ruled by “divine right”, and that ordinary people could never be capable of self-governance. Just how revolutionary these delegates' ideas were, is suggested by the words James Madison spoke at the conclusion of their Constitutional deliberations: “The happy union of these states is a wonder, their Constitution a miracle; their example the hope of liberty throughout the world.”
On that September day, the success of this new experiment in what has been called “ordered liberty” would begin to be tested. Constitutional Convention delegate, Dr. James McHenry, noted in his memoirs that when Benjamin Franklin left Independence Hall on the final day of deliberations regarding the Constitution, he was asked by a lady, “Well doctor, what have we got—a republic or a monarchy?” To which Franklin replied, “A republic, madam,” and then added, “If you can keep it!” While this story may be apocryphal, the caution it expressed was very real. It was true then, and is still true today; “we have a republic, if we can keep it.”
Keeping it was not regarded as an easy task in 1787, nor has it ever proven to be such. Yet some now fear that today's citizens, complacent about their freedoms and given the press of their daily lives, are forgetting how vital our individual roles are to the preservation of that Republic. Certainly the speed and stress of our daily lives make this understandable, yet if we reflect upon the early patriots and the sacrifices they made in the name of the Republic, and upon those later patriots who fought and died to preserve it, it seems little to ask that each of us take time—at least during Constitution Week—to consider, “Have I fully accepted my civic responsibility?”
Our group will be asking that question of themselves this week. You too, might want to consider a few of the questions we'll be addressing:
1. What am I teaching my children about the responsibilities of citizenship?
2. How informed am I regarding the Constitution, and how can I become better informed?
3. What do I make of the words written in the Preamble to the Constitution? “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 to secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
4. Am I willing to accept the responsibility for voting not only in my own best interests, but also in the best interests of the Republic?
5. Am I willing to struggle honestly with the hard issues? For example, the Founding Fathers struggled mightily with finding a good balance between federal and state sovereignty. How do I see that balance given that today our mobile population may be subject to the laws of one state today and those of another state tomorrow?
We hope you will join with us in recognizing Sept. 17-23, as a time to reflect upon our Constitution, our Republic, and our Citizenship. We'll be doing that publicly Saturday, Sept. 15 at 2 p.m., near the Park Bench Restaurant in Manito Park at our costumed Constitution Day Event. Please join us.