I needed to be reminded.
When Niece Casee was a pre-schooler, she would ask, “What are we doing on the 4th of the July?” There was a “the” July that defines most others. 1776.
When we celebrate July 4th as Independence Day, the whole process seems to be lumped together. Independence was declared in 1776, the Constitution was not presented until 1787 and it was a year before it was ratified. It was a rocky path filled with great stories of bravery and what seem to be supernatural displays of wisdom.
Winning freedom, ordering freedom and administering freedom are distinct. The Declaration and Revolutionary War won freedom, but ordering how that freedom would be applied took several years—resistance and negotiation. I tend to lump it all together and celebrate the 4th.
The gathering of representatives for the Convention out of which would come the Constitution was not widely welcomed. James Madison is called the Father of the Constitution—he was 36 years old. He and Washington were provokers. Getting the Constitution written and presented to the states was difficult and is called “The Miracle of Philadelphia.” Washington called it a miracle as he described it to Lafayette and Madison called it a miracle when he wrote to Jefferson who was in Paris.
Catherine Drinker Bowen wrote the history of May to September 1787. It is published under the title, Miracle At Philadelphia. (Bantam Books ©1966.) My copy is yellowed. It was purchased in Hopkinsville, Ky. in 1975. The yellowing of the pages feels like a validation of the historicity.
Abraham Lincoln, in route to his own 1861 inauguration, would say to the New Jersey legislature:
“I am exceedingly anxious that this Union, the Constitution, and the liberties of the people shall be perpetuated in accordance with the original idea for which that struggle was made, and I shall be most happy indeed if I shall be an humble instrument in the hands of the Almighty, and of this, his almost chosen people, for perpetuating the object of that great struggle.”
The author’s preface includes a paragraph capturing the mood and focus of the elements and principles of the Constitution:
“The Federal Convention, viewed from the records, is startling fresh and ‘new.’ The spirit behind it was the spirit of compromise, seemingly no very noble flag to rally round. Compromise can be an ugly word, signifying a pact with the devil, a chipping off of the best to suit the worst. Yet in the Constitutional Convention the spirit of compromise reigned in grace and glory; as Washington presided, it sat on his shoulder as a dove. Men rise to speak and one sees them struggle with the bias of birthright, locality, statehood—South against North, East against West, merchant against planter. One sees them change their minds, fight against pride, and when the moment comes, admit their error. If the story is old, the feelings behind it are new as Monday morning.” (page x)
So we lump them all together—Declaration, Revolutionary War, The Constitution, Bill of Rights…Normandy and the multi-thousand markers that display the costs of freedom. We try to grasp what it means to be God’s “almost chosen people” and liberty—“ held out a great promise to all the people of the world (for) all time to come.”
Happy Fourth of the July–fresh and new
©2019 D. Dean Benton
Writer, Wonderer, Ponderer