“We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution of the United States of America.”
Those are the opening words of the document that has provided the framework for our country since its adoption on this day 233 years ago. Today, September 17, is Constitution Day and Citizenship Day, designed not only as a commemoration of the event, but also as an opportunity to study and refresh ourselves about the document.
One of the great defenders of the Constitution was the late Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia. He always carried a well-worn copy of the Constitution in his breast pocket, ready to produce it during debate.
On September 17, 2008, Byrd delivered a brief lecture in the Senate about the Constitution. Although in failing health, his voice was strong, and his thoughts were clear.
The Senator started by contrasting the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration, he said, contains the soaring rhetoric that inspired a revolution, while the Constitution makes for less compelling reading.
“The Constitution is not full of stirring pros, but rather the Constitution is like an assembly and repair manual—straightforward and common sense,” he said. The beauty of the document is found in its guidance and longevity.
“The Constitution supports the framework for freedom and justice,” he said, taking that copy of the Constitution from his breast pocket. “The Constitution’s words, and those of its amendments, are as critically important to every American as instructions on how to operate a lifeboat are to the passengers of a storm tossed ship.”
He marveled at the brevity of the document; an entire country built on just seven articles and a preamble. Byrd said the Founders could not have imagined all the challenges and changes ahead for the country, yet the Constitution has survived, and the country has thrived, “honed through years of practice.”
Byrd’s wish was that on September 17th, every American would take just a few minutes to “read and think about our remarkable Constitution.”
That is sound advice, especially during these turbulent times, if we still aspire to, as the Constitution’s preamble stated, “form a more perfect union.”
Happy Constitution Day.