Earlier this month I accompanied my wife to an NSDAR (National Society Daughters of the American Revolution) luncheon event that each year celebrates the signing of the Constitution on September 17, 1787. In fact, in 1955 NSDAR petitioned Congress to set aside September 17-23 annually to celebrate the Constitution; that resolution was signed into law in 1956 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Thank goodness for college professors who have a passion for history and who love to teach. The DAR luncheon speaker was Dr. James C Benson, a law professor who teaches in the School of Business, University of Houston – Clear Lake, Texas. He told the story of how delegates from 13 states, with their own respective agendas, came together in May of 1787 and created a document that has served our country for 254 years.
The 1787 Constitutional Convention is an amazing story of leadership. Seventy-four delegates were invited to the convention and 55 attended. Not everyone was on board for the idea of a stronger centralized government … even George Washington, battling rheumatism, despondent over the loss of a brother and absorbed in the management of Mount Vernon … plus having doubts about the conventions success … delayed accepting his invitation to attend for several months.
His election to preside over the convention was unanimous – a deserved acknowledgment of his reputation earned by his leadership during the Revolution. Washington gave himself to the cause of freedom and equality and his presence gave the convention a degree of importance and legitimacy..
Much of the initiative to call a convention to improve the existing Articles of Confederation came from James Madison who had for several years studied history and political theory, searching for solution to the political and economic dilemmas plaguing America at that time. Only 36 years old, he was concerned about the futility and weakness of independent states going it alone. It was a mess.. But there’s something powerful about a vision that is inherently truthful which satisfies the innate human desire of freedom and civility. Madison’s vision, without any details about “how” at this point, was to create order, civility and prosperity for the citizens.
At the convention, plans were presented: the Virginia Plan, the New Jersey Plan and Hamilton’s Plan, etc. None were approved. The Convention was further deadlock when the small states rejected representation in Congress in proportion to the populations … and the initial idea for a bicameral legislature with a Senate resulted in a tie vote!
Finally, having debated for almost three months that sultry summer in Philadelphia, a committee of five were tasked to draft the first document. Presented on August 6, it was approved on September 15 by every state delegation.
The delegates to the convention of 1787 were men of means but, more importantly they gave out of service to a cause beyond enhanced prosperity, i.e., a better bottom line! They gave themselves … mind, body and spirit to the promise of a better society and human equality. That’s why today we continue to honor the legacy of those men, each with their own individual biases and prejudices, but drawn together by the promise of a country unlike any in the history of civilization.