Sunday, September 17, 2006

Constitution Day

There are those who say that America's greatest gift to the world is jazz. (If one limits oneself to that category, I am inclined to say it was musical theatre.)

I disagree. America's greatest gift to the world was the U.S. Constitution, which was approved 219 years ago today by the Constitutional Convention meeting in Philadelphia.

James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, and the other delegates who met that summer in what is now known as Independence Hall crafted perhaps the finest governing document that any political society has ever known. The U.S. Constitution has inspired countless others across the globe, some which have succeeded, some which have failed.

One of the most fascinating books I have ever read about the Constitution and the political process that led to its ratification and implementation is Professor Jack Rakove's Pulitzer Prize-winning Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution. I bought and read the book because I saw the author interviewed by Brian Lamb on C-SPAN's Booknotes. I am glad I was channel surfing that night, nearly a decade ago, because I ended up learning a lot because of it. (The transcript of that July 6, 1997, interview can be found here.)

In the book (as I recall -- it's 9 years since I read it), Rakove delves into the ratification debates in several key states and looks into the arguments used by proponents and opponents of the new Constitution. They used political approaches appropriate to each individual setting. (An argument that might prevail in Pennsylvania, for instance, might be a non-starter in Virginia.) He shows how the Founders -- even some of the lesser-known ones, like James Wilson of Pennsylvania -- played instrumental roles in persuading their fellow citizens that the Constitution should be adopted and replace the Articles of Confederation. We are fortunate today that their arguments then were so convincing.

Happy Birthday to the U.S. Constitution!

1 comment:

Tim said...

Those who claim that America's greatest gift to the world is jazz usually claim that the Constitution was France's greatest gift to America.