What is needed now is Constitution Day


Gordon Garnos

AT ISSUE: Sunday was known as the Fourth of July, or July Fourth, but did anyone address the occasion as Independence Day in celebration of July 4, 1776, when the members of the Second Continental Congress unanimously declared its separation from England. The day has been celebrated every year since then from the original 13 states to what we have today. As one walks through the calendar there are various honored days. Some of them are to be celebrated, like the 4th of July, and some of them are to be observed, like Memorial Day. There is a difference. But there is no day set aside to observe or celebrate a Constitution Day that I know of. Perhaps if we had a Constitution Day more Americans would pay attention to what it says and maybe fewer people would quit trying to twist it to meet their own goals.

HISTORY TELLS US that the American Revolutionary War started April 19, 1775, and Independence Day followed on July 4, 1776. But it wasn’t until 1789 when our nation’s Constitution was established that, in effect, put our Declaration of Independence to work. Yes, there is a Bill of Rights Day on Dec. 15. On Sept. 25, 1789, Congress approved 12 amendments to the U.S. Constitution and sent them to the states for ratification, but it wasn’t until Dec. 15, 1791, when 10 of the 12 were ratified and Virginia ratified the Bill of rights.

So, the calender marks off each Dec. 15 as our Bill of Rights Day, but there is no Constitution Day and there should be.

It could be May 25 when in 1787 the Constitutional Convention opened with a quorum of seven states in Philadelphia to discuss revising the Articles of Confederation. A side bar here was eventually, all the states except Rhode Island were represented at the convention.

Or, it could be the following Sept. 17, for on that date all 12 state delegations approved the Constitution and signed it. Thirty Nine delegates of the 42 present and the convention formally adjourned.

Or, it could be on June 21, for on that date in 1788 was when the Constitution became effective after New Hampshire was the ninth state to ratify the Constitution.

ACCORDING TO the calendar our nation is well covered with special national days ‹ from Robert E. Lee Day on Jan. 19 to the Bill of Rights Day Dec. 15. And this doesn’t even consider the several special religious days like Easter and Christmas. There’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day (Jan. 18), Washington’s Birthday (Feb. 15), National Day of Prayer (May 6), Woman Suffrage Day (Aug. 26) and Citizenship Day (Sept. 17), just to name a few.

And we haven’t even got around to such special days as St. Jean-Baptiste Day, Mothers Day, Fathers Day and Grandparents Day, and not to mention Leif Erickson Day. But so much for dates and places.

In researching our nation’s Constitution I discovered some interesting tidbits that for at least those of us interested in American history find fascinating.

FOR EXAMPLE, our Constitution has 4,440 words. It is the oldest and the shortest written constitution of any government in the world. It is the greatest legal document ever written. It is the most influential legal document in existence and since its creation more than 200 years ago more than 100 countries around the world have used it as a model for their own.

Thomas Jefferson did not sign the Constitution as he was in France during the convention, where he served as the U.S. minister.

James Madison, “the father of the Constitution,” was the first to arrive in Philadelphia for the Constitutional Convention. He arrived in February, three months before the convention started, bearing the blueprint for the new Constitution.

Patrick Henry was elected as a delegate to the convention, but he turned it down because he “smelt a rat.”

Benjamin Franklin, because he was in such poor health, needed help to sign the Constitution and as he did, tears steamed down his face. At the age of 81 he was the oldest person to sign the Constitution. The youngest was Jonathan Dayton of New Jersey who was 26 at the time.

CONTRARY TO some critics our U.S. Constitution is a living document It is one of the world’s oldest surviving constitutions and while the Supreme Court continually interprets the Constitution its basic tenets have remained virtually unchanged since its inception and unchallenged as well–except until recently….

Gordon Garnos was long-time editor of the Watertown Public Opinion, retiring after 39 years with that newspaper. Garnos, a lifelong resident of South Dakota except for his military service in the U.S. Air Force, was born and raised in Presho.

16 Responses to “What is needed now is Constitution Day”

  1. Um, we already have Constitution Day, September 17. Ask any public school or university teacher: we know all about it. Thank Democratic Senator Robert Byrd.

  2. Yes, I noted that as I published the piece this morning, and meant to make an annotation to that effect. Thanks for taking care of that!

    It sure would be nice if it was given more attention, though.

  3. A Constitutional Day sounds good, but first we must examine how effective the Constitution has been. Did it stay within the spirit of less government and stayed within the spirit of federalism and State's Rights? Or has it been ineffective in keeping the gross overgrowing of our federal government, against our founders' intentions?

    This is some of Anti-federalist Paper #32

    A powerful rebuttal of Hamilton, the logic of Brutus (This pen name is thought by most scholars to have been Robert Yates, a New York judge, delegate to the Federal Convention.) can be found in a supreme Court decision of 1819, McCulloch v. Maryland. Taken from “Brutus” fifth essay, The New-York Journal of December 13, 1787.

    “This constitution considers the people of the several states as one body corporate, and is intended as an original compact; it will therefore dissolve all contracts which may be inconsistent with it. This not only results from its nature, but is expressly declared in the 6th article of it. The design of the constitution is expressed in the preamble, to be, “in order to form a more perfect union, to establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and posterity.” These are the ends this government is to accomplish, and for which it is invested with certain powers; among these is the power “to make all laws which are necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers and all other powers vested by this constitution in the government of the United States, or in any department or officer thereof.” It is a rule in construing a law to consider the objects the legislature had in view in passing it, and to give it such an explanation as to promote their intention. The same rule will apply in explaining a constitution. The great objects then are declared in this preamble in general and indefinite terms to be to provide for the common welfare, and an express power being vested in the legislature to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution all the powers vested in the general government. The inference is natural that the legislature will have an authority to make all laws which they shall judge necessary for the common safety, and to promote the general welfare. This amounts to a power to make laws at discretion. No terms can be found more indefinite than these, and it is obvious, that the legislature alone must judge what laws are proper and necessary for the purpose. It may be said, that this way of explaining the constitution, is torturing and making it speak what it never intended”.

    Brutus went on to blast the new Constitutions confusing and contradicting intention, that he predicted will lead to abuse:

    ” Were I to enter into the detail, it would be easy to show how this power in its operation, would totally destroy all the powers of the individual states. But this is not necessary for those who will think for themselves, and it will be useless to such as take things upon trust; nothing will awaken them to reflection, until the iron hand of oppression compel them to it.

    I shall only remark, that this power, given to the federal legislature, directly annihilates all the powers of the state legislatures. There cannot be a greater solecism in politics than to talk of power in a government, without the command of any revenue. It is as absurd as to talk of an animal without blood, or the subsistence of one without food. Now the general government having in their control every possible source of revenue, and authority to pass any law they may deem necessary to draw them forth, or to facilitate their collection, no source of revenue is therefore left in the hands 'Of any state. Should any state attempt to raise money by law, the general government may repeal or arrest it in the execution, for all their laws will be the supreme law of the land.”

    I think Brutus understood the consequences of this new doctrine and the intentions of some supporters of the new Constitution. It's too bad Thomas Jefferson was in France, but when he came back, he joined the ranks of Patric Henry and George Mason, as an Anti-federalists. But later compromised with the Bill of Rights, thinking it would protect us from our Constitution (the last line of defense). So believe it or not, I'm not ready to support a Constitutional Day, and I wonder if Thomas Jefferson would also?

  4. Though there was some disagreement about the precise extent of what is “necessary and proper,” in carrying out the powers of the federal government, both Federalists and Anti-Federalists agreed that our constitution was one of limited government and enumerated powers.

    This was made clear by the nature and structure of the Constitution itself, and was affirmed in the Federalist Papers as well as in the statements of many founders, both Federalists and Anti-Federalists.

    Unfortunately, there is no constitution–and none could ever be crafted–which could prevent nefarious men from “reinterpreting” it to their own ends. Even the Bible has been “reinterpreted” countless times to allegedly support what it obviously does not support.

    The problem is not in the U.S. Constitution; the problem is in the hearts of men–fallen, sin-predisposed men. Only Christ can fix that, and that won't be fully accomplished until God remakes the earth.

    As inadequate as it may seem, there are two statements made by the founders that I believe accurately define our problem…and our solution to it

    We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion…Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other. – John Adams

    If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be. – Thomas Jefferson

    In other words, we must determine to make ourselves a moral people so that we can better withstand the temptations to illegitimately consolidate power, and keep ourselves educated and informed enough that we can be alert to attempts to do so by others, especially those in power.

    Nothing, other than a functioning moral compass and an alert mind, can keep us free.

  5. Bob,
    Robert Yates was there during the Constitutional Convention and thought that it was not in the spirit of limited government by centralizing the powers (Articles of Confederation did not). Jefferson and other Founders (many signers of the Articles of Confederations) of the Revolution, quickly seen some of the flaws. If it were not for the Bill of Rights, the Constitution would have never been ratified. As for John Adams, he probably never understood the spirit of the Constitution, since he signed and supported the Alien and Sedition Acts, which Americans rejected and fueled the landslide victory of Jefferson over Adams in the election of 1800. I'm not a big fan of John Adams as President, but rather, admired him for his courageous role in the years leading up to the Revolution.

  6. In the strictest sense of meaning, I agree that a centralization of power does move away from a more pure posture of limited government. However, I believe it was a necessary move, as the Articles of Confederation were not working very well, and caused us a lot of problems during the Revolution.

    There has to be a balance between a reduced level of government, and one with the authority to be effective. Good people can certainly disagree on exactly where that line falls (as the founders did), but I agree with them that the Articles weren't on that line, and I think the Constitution is about as close as is humanly possible–again, with the caveat that the people exercise great care in electing moral men of integrity, and maintaining vigilance for usurpations.

    I agree that Adams left something to be desired as president, though I seem to recall he had his own misgivings about the Sedition Acts–even though in the end he did sign them. But his overall wisdom I believe was pretty close to profound.

  7. I just feel that supporting a Constitutional Day and not State's Right Day or Bill of Rights Day, might encourage a blind affection to a Nationalistic view and might also, take away the importance of being a Republic, and the importance of Independence Day.
    Our Declaration of Independence states,”…that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. ”

    and furthers with,

    “appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name and by the authority of the good people of these colonies solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British crown and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved; and that, as free and independent states, they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and do all other acts and things which independent states may of right do. And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor. “

    Our current federal laws (with the usurpations) do not seem to embrace this declaration. I hope that the Spirit of the Declaration of Independence (Independence Day) lives on and does not compete or be replaced by a Constitutional Day. Supporting the original visions of the Constitution- yes, but definitely not as it is interpreted now by our Judges.

  8. I feel the government should not establish any day as a so called 'national day' calling for the citizens of the US to honor anything. The Constitution gives Congress no such powers.

  9. Hey Brian,
    But the Constitution does not prohibit us or any other government (state or local) from choosing to have a holiday and therefore, a state holiday would be protected under the Tenth Amendment, as long as government does not force private businesses to close for the day or participate. If the government wants to shut itself down, then great. Maybe we should have a federal holiday everyday, it would help save some money. I also bet that Holidays fall under the Preamble of the Constitution, “in order to form a more perfect union” and some our founders of the new Constitution wanted a more nationalistic feeling, one that the Articles of Confederation did not provide. So, I agree with you for the most part, except the Fourth of July and Memorial Day should remain as federal holidays.

  10. No, sadly our current laws run counter to not only the Constitution but most of our founding principles. However, that isn't the fault of the Constitution, bur rather it is the fault of “we the people” for allowing it to happen.

    I think if more people understood our Constitution and our founding principles, the socialists in congress and the courts would be getting away with far less of that.

  11. I would think even the Fourth and Memorial Day should fall under the States and not the Feds.Where do you draw an abitrary line? Between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Seems all or nothing to me.

    And then there is the oft heard cry of ” Keep the Federal Government out of our lives”, so lets keep them out by not letting them tell us which days to honor:-)

  12. Bob,
    Yes, I can agree with that. I've been reexamining Constitutional Convention of 1787, to further understand the intentions of delegates present. Yes, you were right that the Colonies had problems under Articles of Confederation, here is some of what I found:

    “Several statesmen, especially George Washington, were concerned that the idea of an American mind that had emerged during the war with Britain was about to disappear and the Articles of Confederation were inadequate to foster the development of an American character. According to Washington, “we have errors to correct.” He argued that the states refused to comply with the articles of peace, the union was unable to regulate interstate commerce, and the states met, but oh so grudgingly, just the minimum interstate standards required by the Articles. Others, especially James Madison, were concerned that the state legislatures—dominated by what he saw as oppressive, unjust, and overbearing majorities—were passing laws detrimental to the rights of individual conscience and the right to private property. And there was nothing that the union government could do about it because the Articles left matters of religion and commerce to the states. The solution, concluded Madison, was to create an extended republic, in which a variety of opinions, passions, and interests would check and balance each other, supported by a governmental framework that endorsed a separation of powers between the branches of the general government. ” This is from teachingamericanhistory.org by Gordon Lloyd

  13. Brian,
    It is hard for me to get a firm stance on this right now. I can see how this can easily fall under states domain. But Independence Day, Memorial Day or Labor Day does not seem to be too intrusive or oppressive. If you can be arrested or fined for not participating in them, then I think it would be definitely unconstitutional. You''re probably right that the States can decide and I bet most national holidays will continue in the states, also. State government employees want these paid holidays.

  14. That sounds about right. One of the most dangerous problems under the weak Articles was that it was tough to get the states to pony up and help General Washington carry out the war–or even keep his troops fed.

    It's a delicate balance between too much central power and not enough. I sometimes think of the Greeks and how great were their intellectual contributions to the world, yet with their loose federation of city-states, they accomplished little…except for when they were unified under Phillip of Macedon and his son Alexander–probably a case of too much centrlized power, but wow! was Alexander a heck of a conqueror!

  15. Rian
    I am not sure sure if ' intrusiveness ' is the issue. The Constitution is quite specific when it enmerates the specific powers of government and pretty sure establishing a national Memorial Day or a Labor Day or a Prayer Day or a Cha-Cha Day is one. Maybe that is being too ' strict ' a constituionalist, but seems like once you let the government start pushing its 'enumerated powers' that a whole bag of cats is let out, which is why we have so many governmental expansion problems today