September 17 is Constitution Day - a day to remember the signing of the Constitution of the United States. On September 17, 1787, the delegates to the Constitutional Convention met for the last time. On that day thirty-nine brave men signed the United States Constitution and changed the course of history. Constitution Day is a day for us to continue the legacy of our Founders and to develop good citizenship habits in the rising generations.
The writing of the United States Constitution was a true miracle. As shown by the following quotes, the Founders were not of one mind as to what form the Constitution should take. These few quotes show that our Constitution was basically a compromise.
"I confess that there are several parts of this Constitution which I do not at present approve, but I am not sure I shall never approve them. For having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged by better information, or fuller consideration, to change opinions even on important subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise." (Benjamin Franklin, 1787)
"My political curiosity, exclusive of my anxious solicitude for the public welfare, leads me to ask who authorized them (the framers of the Constitution) to speak the language of `We, the People,' instead of `We, the States'?" (Patrick Henry, 1788)
"I am exceedingly distressed at the proceedings of the Convention - being … almost sure, they will … lay the foundation of a Civil War." (Elbridge Gerry, Massachusetts Delegate, 1787)
"I consider the difference between a system founded on the legislatures only, and one founded on the people, to be the true difference between a league or treaty and a constitution." (James Madison, at the Constitutional Convention, 1787)
Thomas Jefferson was obviously worried that the courts would change the Constitution: "The Constitution, on this hypothesis, is a mere thing of wax in the hands of the Judiciary, which they may twist and shape into any form they please." Did Jefferson foresee our day when politicians and judges consider our Constitution to be a "Living Constitution"?
John Dickinson, a delegate from Delaware, compared government to the solar system where the sun and all the planets have their own orbits but are part of bigger system. "Let our government be like that of the solar system. Let the general government be like the sun and the states the planets, repelled yet attracted, and the whole moving regularly and harmoniously in several orbits." (1787)
The following statement by W. E. Gladstone indicates that he understood the Constitution to be of great importance. "As the British Constitution is the most subtle organism which has proceeded from the womb and long gestation of progressive history, so the American Constitution is, so far as I can see, the most wonderful work ever struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man."
I believe that our Founders were "raised up" by the Lord to obtain our independence and to write our Constitution. In the words of Jesus Christ, "According to the laws and constitution of the people, which I have suffered to be established, and should be maintained for the rights and protection of all flesh, according to just and holy principles….
"And for this purpose have I established the Constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose, and redeemed the land by the shedding of blood." (Doctrine and Covenants 101:77, 80)
This important document had no permanent home until 1952 when the National Archives Building was dedicated in Washington, D.C. This building contains nearly 800,000 cubic feet of records, including maps, sound recordings, and still and motion pictures. These records date from 1774 to the present and are stored in areas where the temperature and humidity are carefully controlled.
The Archives Building was specifically designed and built as a place where the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States could be displayed together. Thousands of people visit the stately Exhibition Hall each year to see these masterpieces. These documents, charters of America's freedom, are sealed in bronze and glass cases filled with helium. In emergencies and at a moment's notice, they can be lowered into a safe that is fire-resistant and shockproof.
The ceremony to dedicate the National Archives Building was presided over by the Chief Justice of the United States, and the invocation was given by the chaplain of the Senate. The main speaker was the President of the United States, Harry S. Truman.
It was a solemn time. The world was enduring a dark time in history, and the Cold War was putting a chill on everyone. Many people were in bondage behind the Iron Curtain in Europe, and the United States was fighting a war in Korea. Communism seemed to be advancing steadily. I'm sure that people were wondering if liberty was safe even in America.
President Truman said that liberty "can be lost, and it will be, if the time ever comes when these documents are regarded not as the supreme expression of our profound belief, but merely as curiosities in glass cases."
Do you have the words and principles of these two great documents engraven upon your heart and mind?? Have you actually read them? Do you feel the power of the words? Do you agree with them or do you consider them to be outdated?
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. - That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…."
Between those words at the beginning of the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence and the final words "… we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our Sacred Honor" is a list of twenty-seven grievances against the King of Great Britain. I was amazed the first time I read that list. Do you have any idea what those injuries were? If not, I suggest that you read the Declaration of Independence in its entirety.
The Preamble of the Constitution says, "WE THE PEOPLE of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."
The men who wrote those words knew that their formula for freedom could be lost in a single generation and yet the Constitution of the United States has been the supreme law of our land for 223 years. No generation before ours lost the independence and liberty provided by these two great documents and those people who sacrificed so much that we might live in freedom. Are you willing to be part of the generation that loses freedom? My answer is a firm "NO!" If the generations before ours were willing to make great sacrifices to gain and preserve liberty and independence, I too am willing to make sacrifices to maintain freedom.
I encourage you to memorize the Preamble as part of this Constitution Day. I invite all of you to join with me in keeping the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution as the "supreme expression of our profound belief."