The scene was Philadelphia in 1787, where thirty-nine men were concluding months of arduous debate on a subject no less momentous than the creation of a new form of government.
On September 17th of that year, the text of the great charter was set, drawing from Locke and Montesquieu, from the principles of the Glorious Revolution of 1688, from the Bible, and from the genius of those assembled, to establish a government that has endured these two hundred twenty-three years - to give us a Constitution in which the greatest hopes of our nation are enshrined, and the means of her greatness set forth.
Other nations had traditions of liberty, but if in the American Revolution was found the germ of the new birth of freedom, the Constitution saw its fruition, in which the society of Burke, Rockingham, and Pitt's aspirations found its fertile soil. And though the soil of liberty has been tilled unevenly in the intervening years, that Constitution, that vision of civil government, still endures.
To borrow a phrase, the U.S. Constitution has been praised, paraphrased, repeated, discussed, apotheosized, even on occasions read.
Thankfully, those occasions are becoming much more frequent. It is heartening to find that people are not merely referencing the Constitution, but actually picking it up and reading it. Increasingly, there is a desire to return to constitutional principles and a commitment to hold the line on the crucial system of checks and balances established in our nation's foundational document.
The Constitution endures because it stands above the squabbles and disagreements of any one era. It is not a convenient charter, to the chagrin of those in the mood for rapid change (both good and bad) - but it is an essential document, a bulwark of freedom and a framework for government that insists upon a system of checks and balances carefully calibrated to uphold liberty and order.
The framers bequeathed us an astonishing document, and among the oldest national constitutions in continuous effect, and arguably the oldest of the enduring true constitutions. This alone is incredible; its endurance alone is great testament to its unusual merit. Ours is a system defined by the preservation of civil liberties, of peaceful political transitions, and of the impartial rule of law - the inheritance of the Philadelphia Convention, which disbanded 223 years ago today.
The battle was not over that day, of course: the difficult process of ratification lay ahead, and the constitution's legitimacy remained to be tested. But in a sense, the battle is never over: it would be two more years before ratification of the Bill of Rights, and nearly eight decades before the Constitution's dark internal contradiction on slavery would be resolved.
And debates raged on, with often dramatically different interpretations of the Constitution driving political discourse. They continue to this day, for the fight for liberty is unending, and demands unyielding resolve.
Yet the vision of James Madison and his colleagues still endures, and the Virginia Plan which formed the broad outlines of the Constitution still defines our form of government.
It was Madison who warned that there are "more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations," and who thus wrote a constitution designed to empower the citizenry to resist such encroachments and to establish a system of checks and balances to make them less likely. Our charge is to preserve this great inheritance.
On Constitution Day, our thoughts turn to our great heritage of liberty, and the legacy of the framers who helped secure the blessings of liberty for posterity. I hope we will all likewise resolve to secure these blessings for the generations yet to come.
With best regards,
Mark D. Obenshain
Virginia State Senator
P.S. If you've never read the Constitution, or haven't done so recently, what better time than the present? You can find the text online here