In a very real sense, today is the anniversary of the birth of our nation. On September 17, 1787, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the original Constitution was signed by representatives of the thirteen states of the United States of America, and submitted for ratification to those states. Yes, our independence was proclaimed between July 3 and July 5 as signatures were gathered on the Declaration of Independence, and that is usually the bigger celebration. But the foundational law of our nation is not the Declaration but rather the Constitution.
Our current form of government, the embodiment of the real political genius of that generation of remarkable men who founded our nation, came into existence on what we celebrate now as Constitution Day. There are no parades, there are no fireworks, there is no day off work, there are no barbeques or beer busts or used car sales to celebrate Constitution Day.
But there ought to be. The Constitution fulfills the promise of the Declaration; where the Declaration announces our ideals, the Constitution gives life to them. It is ultimately the Constitution, not the Declaration, that actually puts in place meaningful protections to our individual freedoms, that actualizes our rights and our power as citizens and as free people, and which sets up a meaningful and generally admirable system of self-government. We can certainly disagree about the extent to which the system of limited government is being honored today or whether there are modifications to the system that we need to face contemporary challenges. The brilliance of the original scheme shows through in the fact that we can have such discussions, and do so in a civilized and non-violent manner.
So far, Mr. Franklin, we have kept the Republic. There have been some times our margin of doing so have been thin, but we’ve pulled it off. Let us hope that 223 years from now, another American can say the same thing.