Editorial: Foundation of a nation

  • Posted: Tuesday, September 17, 2013 12:57 a.m.

It’s altogether fitting that a throng of prayer supporters should gather at the county government building Monday evening.

It was 226 years ago today, on Sept. 17, 1787, that delegates to the Constitutional Convention signed the Constitution of the United States, the document that has defined our nation and provided its enduring foundation for the freedoms we enjoy — freedom of religion, of speech and of assembly among them.

Today’s anniversary is all but an afterthought in the pantheon of our national holidays. As you can read elsewhere on this page, it took an act of Congress to officially recognize Constitution Week, largely through the efforts of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Locally, the Elizabeth Maxwell Steele Chapter of the DAR makes sure this week gets some recognition, including articles in the Salisbury Post and a city of Salisbury proclamation.

If we’re not going to throw a parade or declare a three-day weekend, how might we best honor and uphold the oldest (and shortest) written founding document of any of the world’s major governments?

For starters, we could read it — all 4,400 words. That isn’t that much, really — about 10 times the length of this editorial. Reading the Constitution might renew our appreciation for protections we often cite — those in the Bill of Rights, for instance — while making us pause over some less heralded stipulations — such as Article VI’s declaration that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

Reading it also might deepen our understanding for why, two centuries later, we’re still arguing about the parameters of some of those enumerated rights — such as balancing an elected official’s personal freedom of speech or religion with the requirements of their official duties.

As brilliant as the Constitution would prove to be, its authors knew the document wasn’t perfect or immutable. They provided a mechanism for amending the Constitution, which has allowed for such vital revisions as the abolition of slavery (13th Amendment); the extension of voting rights (15th, 19th and 26th amendments) and the end of poll taxes (24th). The world changes, as Thomas Jefferson observed, and “... as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also and keep pace with the times.”

That’s the miracle of the Constitution. Written with quill pens, it remains wholly relevant and indispensable in an era of iPhones and tweets. We should get to know it better, and celebrate it more often.

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