By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 17, 2007 – The U.S. Constitution is a remarkable, visionary document that has guided the American republic through times of peace and turmoil for 220 years, officials said at a Pentagon-hosted commemoration today.
All department civilians affirm their support of the Constitution when they take their oath of service, Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness David S.C. Chu said at the Defense Department’s third annual commemoration of Constitution Day and Citizenship Day.
All federal agencies are providing educational programs about the Constitution in support of President Bush’s directive proclaiming today as Constitution Day and Citizenship Day.
Chu introduced keynote speaker Allen Weinstein, the archivist of the United States, who discussed the Constitution’s role and impact on American life.
Created “to form a more perfect union” of American states following the end of the Revolutionary War, the Constitution was signed in Philadelphia on Sept. 17, 1787, Weinstein said.
Americans should be aware of the founding fathers’ “skill and tenacity” when they drafted the Constitution, Weinstein said. The Constitutional Convention, he noted, was an arduous process that featured much bickering among participants.
America exists today only because the acrimonious power brokers attending the convention “gave way to a more urgent need for agreement and unity,” Weinstein observed.
Representatives from just 12 of the 13 states attended the convention, Weinstein pointed out, noting that Rhode Island opted out, feeling there was nothing for it to gain from the proceedings.
The key issue facing the Constitution’s framers, Weinstein said, was to create a strong national government that wouldn’t infringe on the individual rights of citizens. Accordingly, the Constitution spells out numerous legal rights, such as freedom of religion, the right to bear arms, the right to a speedy trial by jury, and more.
The Constitution’s provisions for a peaceful exchange of political power during election cycles have served as the bedrock for America’s democratic government, Weinstein pointed out. Many countries lacking a visionary instrument like America’s Constitution have suffered destructive, disabling revolutions, he observed.
Weinstein cited the cordial exchange between President-elect Thomas Jefferson and departing chief executive John Adams, who lost the election of 1800 to Jefferson. This was an extremely turbulent period in American politics, Weinstein said. Aaron Burr tied Jefferson in the Electoral College, but Alexander Hamilton had convinced the House of Representatives to choose Jefferson over Burr. Hamilton later died during a duel with the outraged Burr.
Weinstein cited the Constitution’s wisdom in allowing for amendments. The first amendment, the famous Bill of Rights, was ratified Dec. 15, 1791.
However, the Constitution loses points, Weinstein said, for passing over the issues of slavery and women’s voting rights, which were later resolved via Constitutional amendments.
A videotape of Weinstein’s presentation at the Pentagon will be posted to the department’s Constitution Day Web site.