It was Sept. 17, 1787, when that imperfect but magnificent document that is the original "Contract with America" was signed.
Just as Americans of every faith should be familiar with the Bible because of its influence on our culture, it behooves each of us to read the Constitution and have a basic understanding of how its framers - and their critics - saw their efforts. (Thanks to thinkexist.com for most of the following quotes.)
Ben Franklin was aware just how fragile a government can be. When asked what kind of government the Constitutional Convention had bestowed on the country, he replied, "A republic, ma'am - if you can keep it."
Thomas Jefferson was also prescient of the potential for abuse: "The Constitution ... is a mere thing of wax in the hands of the Judiciary, which they may twist and shape into any form they please."
Longtime British Prime Minister William Gladstone marveled, "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 ... the most wonderful work ever struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man."
Patrick Henry thought it a grievous error for the Constitution to address its origins as "we the people" instead of "we the states." James Madison, the "father of the Constitution," answers thus: "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."
The trilateral balance of powers within the federal government is well known, but the balance of powers between federal and state government is attracting renewed attention. Delaware delegate John Dickinson noted of the offsetting powers, "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."
But given the difficulty in either establishing or maintaining a people-based government, it boggles the mind that the founders were willing to invest themselves in the creation of this Grand Experiment.
Reinhold Niebuhr accurately weighed the value of government of, for and by the people: "Man's capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man's inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary."
Contact Daily Journal Oxford Bureau reporter Errol Castens at (662) 281-1069 or email@example.com.