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HALL OF FAMEon 5 January 2006
In the United States, each year in September is a little known holiday known as Constitution Day - timed to be around the close of the Constitutional Convention in September 1787, this day is honoured at the college where I taught by speakers in a special forum, and the gift of pocket versions of the Constitution for all interested students.
However, the Constitution is heavily in the news, more than we often realise. When the American election of 2000 was contested, the Constitution became primarily important; it is always in the background of Presidential elections, but this time it came to the forefront. In the current situation with a brand-new Chief Justice (a relatively rare occurrence in American history), once again the Constitution is big news. 'We the people' are interested, and we the people should be interested. However, we the people often have little concept of how this formative and foundational document came into being. Jeffrey St. John provides an answer to this situation, in very engaging and accessible style.
This is a journal, a day-by-day account, done in a sort of combination of journalistic and court-reporting styles. Of course, we have no direct journal of this sort, as the proceedings of the Constitutional Convention were strictly secret (not the kind of thing that would play out well in our media-saturated world - BBC, CSPAN and CNN among others would certainly expect to be there!). Indeed, those who went to the Constitutional Convention in May 1787 were charged with a reformation of the Articles of Confederation, not the drafting of a new Constitution. History had a surprise in store.
This is not the only area of interest. St. John's documentation shows the different influences into the formation of the Constitution - while it is common to look to classical times and contemporary European governments for influences and inspiration, in fact the most memorable words of the Constitution come from the constitution of the Iroquois League, drawn up in 1520, which began with the words 'We the people, in order to form a union...'.
The various federal structures, the separation of state and federal powers and responsibilities, the debates over how representation is carried out (and who gets represented; the issue of slavery was contentious from the start, and one can clearly see the seeds of the Civil War being planted even at the Constitutional Convention) - these are all portrayed with clarity and candour.
The American Constitution was not a document that was intended to be from the outset, nor was it passed unanimously (indeed, not all states were represented at all times of the Convention, not all delegates appointed attended, and one state never participated at all). Some of the founding fathers, including Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and Benjamin Franklin, made references to divine intervention being key in the process; Franklin at the end made the warning about the government being a Republic, 'if you can keep it' - no doubt recalling the fall of other great republics in the history of the world.
This is a fun and exciting book to read, a real page turner. It was published in 1987 as part of the bicentennial celebrations of the Constitution; former Chief Justice Warren Burger provides a foreword for this text.
This is a great and inspiring story, one that should be of concern to Americans of all types and walks of life. All are 'we the people'.
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