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Today (or at least this week) all public schools in America are supposed to do a lesson on the United States Constitution as a result of a law proposed by the late Senator Robert Byrd of W. Virginia, in honor of the completion and signing of the document on this date on 1787.

I am for the first time in almost two decades not in a social studies classroom.  Thus the thoughts I share are person, things I hope we all remember.

Three men still at the Constitutional Convention refused to sign the final draft: Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts, later to serve as Vice President of the young nation;   Edmund Randolph of Virginia, who would serve as the new nation's first Attorney General and second Secretary of State; and George Mason of Virginia, who may be as responsible as anyone for the fact that we have a Bill of Rights.

Ratification of the new plan for government was far from certain:  after all, only 12 of the 13 states had even shown, and by September of 1787 only Alexander Hamilton remained of the 3 representatives from New York.  Mason had enough stature in Virginia that his opposition - along with that of Randolph and within the Old Dominion of Patrick Henry, made it far from certain the document would be ratified in that important state, birthplace of 8 presidents, including 4 of the first 5.

Some argue today that the Constitution should be seriously revived.  Some call for an Article V Convention, the results of which could not be limited ahead of time.  Would such revisions as proposed be ratified by state legislatures or by ratifying conventions?  How confident might we feel about the quality of those participating in either ratification process?  Given how unleashed corporate power and wealth now it, can you imagine the campaign on such a document?  Heck, might such a document define corporations as more important persons than humans?  

Too many know neither our original Constitution nor what it says now that it has had 27 Amendments.  Some think we are a Christian - or Judeo-Christian - nation.  Some think only Christians should hold office - the ban in Article VI on religious tests for office, proposed by Charles Pinckney of South Carolina from the floor as the final change to the document, is something too few Americans know or understand.  

Too few understand the process of how the document came into being, in part because of fear stemming from Shays' Rebellion.  

It is far from a perfect document.  It had holes when it was adopted (it did not define the qualifications for Vice President until the 12th Amendment) and one can argue it still has holes (in theory a Vice President facing an impeachment trial in the Senate has the right to preside over his own trial).

Yet even with its flaws, even with at times whacky interpretations of its meaning (not just in Citizens United, but earlier in things like Dred Scott, Plessy v Ferguson, Minersville v Gobitis, and - yes - Bush v Gore) it has served as the basis of a somewhat democratic form of government for more than two centuries.

So perhaps if we do nothing else, today we should glance at and reflect upon that document, including the social contract with which it begins, the Preamble:  

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 secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (13+ / 0-)

    "We didn't set out to save the world; we set out to wonder how other people are doing and to reflect on how our actions affect other people's hearts." - Pema Chodron

    by teacherken on Mon Sep 17, 2012 at 06:14:52 AM PDT

  •  Thanks,teacherken! (4+ / 0-)

    For reminding me of Constitution Day -- the uncelebrated holiday.  Why no PBS special programming for this week?  (just a rhetorical question).

    I realized recently that the 'Amendments' -- i.e., the Bill of Rights -- were actually 'Fixes'.  The Bill of Rights was an acknowledgement that the Constitution was broken or flawed, and needed to be fixed (amended).  This kind of wowed me -- because it makes the Bill of Rights primary and fundamental -- that citizen//human rights underpin the agreed-upon rules for running the country.

    I've been away fro dKos for a long while (no internet access) and on coming back I don't seem to have the capacity to tip, or I would have tipped this.

    I always appreciate your work, teacherken.  Best regards.

    (ps -- and VA, at that time, extended all the way to the Mississippi, including everything north of the Ohio River from Kentucky, thus including the 'frontier' where two of my ancestral families were living.  As I understand it, it was the 'westerners', not the east-coasters, who refused to sign until the BoR was added.)

  •  I believe the Constitution needs liberal reform (0+ / 0-)

    But I don't believe the attempt should be made until the left is organized, and the TeaBagger Party destroyed.

    Shirley Chisholm was right. Our Republic is in deep trouble.

    by Big River Bandido on Mon Sep 17, 2012 at 06:31:35 AM PDT

  •  Very well said. (0+ / 0-)

    Thank you.

    There are, in every age, new errors to be rectified, and new prejudices to be opposed. ~Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)

    by slksfca on Mon Sep 17, 2012 at 06:32:10 AM PDT

  •  Art I Sec 10 got me in trouble (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Gary Norton, HeyMikey

    with the local Tea Party a couple of years ago.  My principal received irate e-mails from a cadre of parents who were upset that that I was exposing my classes to the notion that the U.S. constitution was designed to severely limit and to subordinate the states to the federal government.  They did not love that I favored Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Paine over Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.  I even got complaints over teaching that the Fugitive Slaves Laws were unconstitutional if the Jeffersonians were true strict constructionist since Congress was not expressly given power to interfere in such state relations such as extradition.  The sad part is that my principal leaned on me and I started to self censor after that.

    •  Lesson from right: "teach the controversy." (0+ / 0-)

      Take a lesson from the creationists, invading the science classroom down the hall: "teach the controversy."

      Teach your side. Teach the other side. Try to give enough context for the kids to figure it out.

      BTW, you have my great respect for teaching, especially social studies. Lots of teachers in my family, currently my brother, who teaches high school social studies.

      "The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals." - Barack Obama

      by HeyMikey on Mon Sep 17, 2012 at 02:49:38 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  The 1787 Constitution can best be understood by (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    teacherken, Illinibeatle, a2nite, HeyMikey

    first understanding the 1781 Constitution, referred to as the Articles of Confederation. Most of the radical wing of the Republican Party, also known as the Tea Party, harken back to an earlier time, but they don't realize that earlier time was the Articles of Confederation. Most of what they seek in terms of a limited government was the very government that was rejected in 1787 with the adoption of the Constitution.

    The debate between the Federalists and the anti-Federalists gives us a very good insight into some of the evolution in thinking between 1777, when the Articles were first written, and 1787 when the Constitution was adopted by the convention. But by then there was no debate on certain central changes which today the Republican radicals still reject.

    Further, affiant sayeth not.

    by Gary Norton on Mon Sep 17, 2012 at 08:36:46 AM PDT

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