September 17 is the date set aside every year to celebrate Constitution Day in the United States, though every day we find we appreciate the value of this document written not only to serve the 18th century but generations to come well into the future.
It’s often reported that the broad language of the Constitution is enhanced by the principles set forth in the Declaration of Independence, written 11 years earlier. Indeed, for more than 244 years, the Declaration has inspired countless millions around the world.
On Sept. 17, 1787, 39 of our nation’s founders gathered in the Pennsylvania State House in Philadelphia to create the Constitution of the United States that later was ratified on June 21, 1788.
This document, signed almost six years after our fledgling nation defeated the British forces at Yorktown to win the Revolutionary War, changed the world.
For the first time in history, in what is often considered “America’s Great Experiment,” We The People ruled themselves by establishing a limited government based on law and consent of the governed. Power was with The People, not with a ruler.
Unalienable rights were recognized as coming from God, not from a king.
Preamble of The Constitution of the United States
WE THE PEOPLE of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish 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.
The First Amendment in the Bill of Rights
The first Ten Amendments to the Constitution, also known as the Bill of Rights, were passed by Congress on Sept. 25, 1789, and ratified by three/fourths of the States on Dec. 15, 1791.
Those ten Articles, ie. amendments, proposed by Congress are provided for in the Article 5 of the original Constitution.
To all Americans who respect the free press and personal freedom, Article I of the Bill of Rights particularly resonates:
Article I – Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
Plenty of links to the Constitution of the United States are available online. Individuals interested in reading the entire document will find it takes about an hour.
However, considering all the volumes as well as Constitutional Dictionaries defining words, phrases, and concepts that have been dedicated to the study of the fundamental law of the American federal system – many available at Naperville Public Library – understanding the many ways the Constitution has been interpreted could require a lifetime.
For instance, about 12 years ago an interview featuring Amity Shlaes caught my attention on CSPAN. Shlaes, an economic historian who writes and tells great stories, was talking about Indiana native Wendell Willkie and her book, The Forgotten Man, A New History of the Great Depression, published in 2007. As a fellow Hoosier, our family always drove past Wendell Willkie High School in Elwood, Ind., on the way to my aunt’s home in Rushville where Willkie also had lived as an adult. I was curious. I bought the book.
At any rate, when PN Columnist Barbara Blomquist submitted her story mentioning the Declaration of Independence, FDR, the New Deal and Social Security, my thoughts turned to The Forgotten Man, mindful of references to the Constitution throughout the book. Considering the current challenges that hopefully will unite us, some of the stories featured in Shlaes’ well-told story illustrate lessons regarding the connections between power, liberty and amending the Constitution.
Shlaes wrote that government had grown to be “less a representative republic than it had once been.” She surmised the change began in “the 1910s with the Constitutional Amendment to permit the electorate to pick senators directly, rather than through state legislatures. Suffrage for women had accelerated it. And the Depression had accelerated it again.”
Individuals became more interested in government, she noted. “Instead of asking what government was doing on behalf of the general welfare, voters were asking in a very democratic way what Roosevelt was doing for them.”
According to reviewers, historian Shlaes writes about politics and economics from a classical liberal perspective. When I recently found my copy of The Forgotten Man, I again became immersed in so many ways our history connects to today. I recommend it. Thanks to Blomquist, I’m planning to read The Forgotten Man again.
– Stephanie Penick, PN Publisher
Two Constitutional Amendments of 27
Since the first Ten Amendments to the Constitution were passed by Congress and ratified by three/fourths of the States, 17 additional amendments have been approved for a total of 27. The 17th Amendment and 19th Amendment are listed here:
On April 8, 1913, the 17th Amendment became official.
The Seventeenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution:
“The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, elected by the people thereof, for six years; and each Senator shall have one vote. The electors in each State shall have the qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the State legislatures.
“When vacancies happen in the representation of any State in the Senate, the executive authority of such State shall issue writs of election to fill such vacancies: Provided, That the legislature of any State may empower the executive thereof to make temporary appointments until the people fill the vacancies by election as the legislature may direct.
“This amendment shall not be so construed as to affect the election or term of any Senator chosen before it becomes valid as part of the Constitution.”
Women’s Right to Vote was passed by Congress on June 4, 1919, and ratified August 18, 1920.
The Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution:
“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”