"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, 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."
It was on Sept 17, 1787, that 39 American patriots signed the Constitution. That document has guided this nation through good times and bad, prosperity and depression, war and peace, for more than two centuries.
It's a remarkable document, intended to set out the procedure and power of a government created from scratch and, make no mistake, the limits of that governmental power.
The Constitution as signed that day consisted of a preamble and seven articles. The first article concerned the Congress and legislative power. The second dealt with the executive branch. The third the judiciary.
Article Four laid out the states' powers and their limits, as well as the obligations of the federal government. Article Five detailed how the Constitution could be amended. Article Six established the Constitution as the supreme law of the land and the seventh article explained the requirements for ratification of the Constitution.
Many think the Bill of Rights—the first 10 amendments to the Constitution—were part of the original document. They were not. Those 10 amendments were part of 12 proposed in 1789. The third through 12th proposed amendments became the First through 10th Amendments when ratified in 1791. The second proposed amendment, which dealt with how members of Congress are compensated, was not ratified until 200 years later. It became the 27th Amendment in 1992. The first proposed amendment of 1789—dealing with how representatives are apportioned based on population—still has not been ratified.
Tuesday is Constitution Day, when we honor that document as the foundation of our nation and our liberty.
Surprisingly, Constitution Day is a recent federal holiday. From 1952 until 2005, Sept. 17 had been designated Citizenship Day.
But Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia thought that the Constitution should be celebrated and proposed the new name. He also included a provision that every federally funded educational institution be required to stress the history and meaning of the Constitution to students on this day.
Many schools and colleges have taken it a step further and declared "Constitution Week" to provide a more complete educational experience.
We like that idea. Taken to a national level, Constitution Week is something that could do our nation a lot of good.
Of course, it's not just students who should look to the Constitution—all Americans should stand in awe of the extraordinary Founders who gave us this document. And all Americans should take the time and effort to read the Constitution and study its history for themselves.
Over the years, the people of the U.S. have squabbled over how the Constitution should be interpreted. That's to be expected. But our Constitution has stood for 232 years and will stand for many generations yet to come. For that may we be truly thankful.