Thursday, September 16, 2010

Happy Unity Day

I sign the US Constitution
SEPTEMBER 17, 1787 -- That's the real birthday of the UNITED States! We may celebrate July 4 (1776) when we declared our independence from Great Britain but after the Revolution we were united in name only. By 1787 the States were squabbling with one another, blocking any meaningful legislation in the Congress established under the Articles of Confederation, and refusing to pay into any national fund. Each state issued its own (worthless) currency and inflation was destroying the income of farmers. That of course led to foreclosures and Captain Shays, a farmer and former army officer, mustered his fellow farmers to close down the courts and then marched on the state armory before being stopped by the Massachusetts militia. Britain, France, and Spain were plotting to pick off individual states while European creditors threatened to cut off all credit to the new country because of unpaid war debts. No, it was not a happy time. A few years after the hard-won revolution, the UN-united states faced dissolution.
James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and Benjamin Franklin conspired to call what we know today as the Constitutional Convention. Fifty-five delegates from 12 of the 13 states met through four hot, muggy months, from May to September, in the Pennsylvania State House (now Independence Hall.) They hammered out a new Constitution using James Madison's draft as a jumping off point. They argued, postured, debated, and speechified. They were sometimes grumpy and occasionally even rude to one another. They caucused, cajoled, and compromised. (They also partied, went on excursions, dashed home to attend to business, and complained bitterly about the hard conditions in boarding houses and lack of money to pay for food and lodging.)

In the end, 40 men signed the document on September 17, 1787. We owe them a big debt. Once the Constitution was ratified in the states and the government was established with its three branches and a bicameral legislature, the states were no longer sovereign. That's right. Many states had considered themselves sovereign prior to this. Without the unity that was established with the Constitution, the likelihood that the new nation would have survived is quite slim.

Today we many argue about the amount of authority that should rest in the states and the federal government, and the framers left it a little vague in places. The fact is we are one united nation. So September 17 should be a big celebration for each American. And maybe its OK that it hasn't become another day to skip work, watch fireworks, and barbecue. Instead, why not take a little time to read the document itself. Find out what it really says. It's quite short, even with the amendments. And, maybe just thank little Jemmy Madison and the boyz for persisting in their quest for a "more perfect Union."
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(C) Rebecca Staton-Reinstein, Ph.D., President, Advantage Leadership, Inc.

Richard Brookhiser has written an excellent profile of James Madison recently. Check it out
Want to know more about the Constitutional Convention and how it functioned as a strategic planning session? Check it out:

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