CONSTITUTION DAY celebrates the “birthday” of our national government. On September 17, 1787, thirty-nine delegates from the thirteen states met for the last time in a Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, to sign the governing document they had created. They had met multiple times throughout that summer and discussed, debated and prayed over this carefully-crafted document, establishing a “constitutional republic.” By its terms, the states were asked to agree to be related and governed in a “united” way. It was to be a government that would “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”
The Declaration of Independence, seven years earlier, had been proclaimed to secure “certain unalienable Rights…among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It went on to say that governments were to be established, by the consent of the governed, “to secure these rights.” In birthing this new federal government, the founding document, therefore, began with a declaration of the governed—“We the People.”
Preamble to the Constitution
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 for the United States of America.
This Preamble introduces us to the general goals of the framers. It emphasizes that this federated nation of thirteen states was to be ruled by the people – not a king or a dictator, not the president, Supreme Court justices, members of Congress or state legislators. The adequate authority and limited powers of those officials and entities are set forth in the articles and amendments which followed. Any powers and authority beyond those which are “delegated” or “prohibited,” were reserved for the States.
Today, as we would acknowledge and celebrate this (sometimes forgotten) historic event in our nation, let us also identify with the prayer of Abraham Lincoln, as he concluded his brief—but significant—remarks at Gettysburg, in 1863 “– that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”