This week has been designated Constitution Week, meant to encourage the reading of the document and to enhance understanding of this simple yet complex statement of the foundations of our government. Intense debate marked it's creation and many opposed various elements as it moved toward it's final ratification, as our government formally adopted it in 1789.
Historically, we mark the date of Sept. 17, 1787 as the day the document was completed.
The National Archives has a fascinating section of questions regarding the document and it's creation, which I have been perusing some this week. I noted for the first time that some 19 citizens selected to attend the Constitutional Convention never bothered to show up at all. Most of those at the Convention were lawyers, but not all. I have read and re-read the document for years and years, and still I learn from it, and I think each of us can if we bother to exert our brains and consider the words and the declarations within it. (Read the document here.)
Of all the questions posed at the NA site, I liked this one best:
"Q. Does not the Constitution give us our rights and liberties?
A. No, it does not, it only guarantees them. The people had all their rights and liberties before they made the Constitution. The Constitution was formed, among other purposes, to make the people's liberties secure-- secure not only as against foreign attack but against oppression by their own government. They set specific limits upon their national government and upon the States, and reserved to themselves all powers that they did not grant. The Ninth Amendment declares: "The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."
It's most important to know that each of us already have rights, liberties, freedoms which exist not because of a document or a government, but simply because we exist. The government and it's foundation are simply tools to secure and protect what we already have.
Part of the promotion of awareness of The Constitution this year is a project called "I Signed The Constitution", as copies of the document travel the country. In Greeneville at the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site Visitors Center, visitors can view and sign the document. While I appreciate the intent of encouraging citizens to affirm the tenets of the document, I rather wish we were instead promoting "Read The Constitution and Know What You Are Signing."
I also think it would be a fascinating experiment to ask those who go view it to come up with one amendment of their own to add. What additions would we make? Something insightful, something selfish, something which could never have been imagined in 1787?
For example, I have long thought it would be appropriate to require that members of Congress should live in a dormitory-style setting. Two to a room, very sparse accommodations, like bunk beds, common rooms, a TV room, a laundry room, and a cafeteria with a limited budget, no chefs and no maid services. No visitors in the rooms, no lobbyists or media allowed in the dorms, curfews, and no outside residence would be allowed. They work, they come back to the dorm, and when the congressional session is ended, they go home. Payment for the dorm's operations would come from the pay of each member, a percentage of what they earn. Likewise, congressional staff would have their own dorms as well.
And maybe when the return to Washington, time would be provided for dorm residents to present an oral report on What I Did During Recess To Learn About My Home District.
What might you add to the Constitution?