Sunday, September 16, 2012

Constitution Day

September 17 is not one of those Hallmark holidays, nor even one when we don't have to go to work, but it's important nonetheless. The day commemorates the date in 1787 when the Constitution was signed, on the parchment now on display at the National Archives.

Too often, I feel,  Americans treat the Constitution as inspired Holy Writ, when in fact it was a compromise document, far from the final word on any of its sections.

There are many curious and interesting passages in the Constitution, often included to prevent abuses which the Framers had seen in Great Britain. One of the most revealing to me is this section from article VI:
The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution....
What this meant was that, once the Constitution was in force, no one could hold any political office in the country unless they swore support for it. In particular, patriots who opposed ratification -- such as Patrick Henry, George Mason, and James Monroe -- would have been barred from public life unless they suppressed their dissent.  Remember, oaths meant something important in the 18th century.

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