Fighting for the cause

Published 10:23 pm Saturday, September 15, 2012

It was a moment that would come to be largely overlooked 225 years later in the popular history of the nation whose foundation it laid.

The participants were a small group of men, weary and frustrated from months of discussion and debate — and, frankly, somewhat desperate for a compromise that would allow them to complete their work in Philadelphia and return to their homes scattered along what is now considered the East Coast of the United States of America.

It was Sept. 17, 1787 — 225 years ago tomorrow — and the Constitutional Convention had begun back in May. Delegates had arrived in Pennsylvania then with the highest of hopes regarding the government they would create there.


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The work they did, the compromises they made and the lines they drew in the sand would have far more significance to future Americans than had the Declaration of Independence, which had been signed 11 years earlier. New generations would never know how it felt to be ruled by kings, but the decisions made in Philadelphia that spring and summer would echo through time.

For members of the Constantia Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, the groundbreaking governing document that resulted from all those negotiations is something worth celebrating, something that students in Suffolk schools should learn about and ponder, especially on the occasion of big anniversaries like the 225th.

But members told me last week they’ve gotten the equivalent of blank stares when they’ve suggested ways local schools could commemorate the anniversary.

That’s too bad. Almost everyone knows something about “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Far fewer people, however, know much about the Commerce Clause or the important role Virginians played in helping to ensure a right to free speech. Even fewer people know much about the debate and ensuing compromises that took place during that Constitutional Convention and in the months that ensued.

But all those things continue to be important 225 years later. All those things directly influence the lives of Americans each day.

Interpretation of the Commerce Clause, for instance, was a pivotal point in this year’s U.S. Supreme Court decision on the new federal health care law. But things could have been different. Southern states at the time of the Constitutional Convention had argued against giving the federal government the power to regulate commerce.

And then there’s the Bill of Rights. Fearful of a federal government with vast powers left largely unchecked, a group of Virginians joined the national call for a set of rights that would expressly protect individual and states’ rights. That Bill of Rights has long since served as a check on the central government’s authority, and it is the most frequently quoted part of the Constitution by people of all political stripes. But it was among the most hotly debated political topics of its time.

Back in 2012, the ladies in Suffolk are right to be disappointed. Without people to teach them just how important this founding document is to our nation, another generation of American students will become adults without a true understanding of the nation’s principles.

One day — and many would say that day already has arrived — our ignorance of America’s founding principles will come to haunt us. So keep on fighting, DAR ladies. Your cause is a just one.