2017 | Week of September 18 | #1221
It was September 1787. It had been a long hot summer in the nation’s largest city, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. However, in spite of the soaring temperatures and the associated discomfort, 55 men had been meeting regularly in The City of Brotherly Love since May, occupying what was then known as the Pennsylvania State House, now Independence Hall. They were truly men on a mission and in the process of accomplishing that mission, some say they were part of a miracle.
The mission of these men was essentially to rescue America. Originally they believed they were meeting to revise the Articles of Confederation under which the states had been operating since 1781. The intervening years had shown the Articles to be cumbersome and virtually unworkable for the fledgling country. And so once again delegates from the states were asked to sacrifice time from their families and their livelihoods in order to help this grand experiment have any hope of succeeding. Before long, the delegates realized revising the Articles was insufficient. America needed a new governing document, maybe even a new form of government. Their mission now became to make that a reality.
Twelve states responded with delegates. Rhode Island deferred. The list of those attending is filled with luminaries: James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington to name a few. The average age was 43, even factoring in Benjamin Franklin’s 81 years. Most of the delegates had political experience. Nearly three-quarters had sat in the Continental Congress, while others had been involved with their states, even in the writing of state constitutions.
What went on in the meetings was largely kept secret from the public. However, reports and letters to friends and family members from those attending tell us emotions were high, conflicting ideas were prolific and tempers often flared in the meetings, as the men sought to reach consensus on their important mission.
In fact in late June, with the Convention seemingly at an impasse, the venerable Dr. Franklin suggested “humbly applying to the Father of lights to illuminate [their] understandings” and moved “that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessings on our deliberations, be held in this Assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of the Clergy of this City be requested to officiate in that Service.” While the records don’t show any vote on this motion, we do know that on July 4, 1787, a Baptist clergyman, William Rogers, led the Convention in prayer.
Eventually, these dedicated delegates came to consensus and on September 17, 1787, 52 of the 55 men signed what they called the Constitution of the United States of America. The preamble begins with those stirring and declaratory words, “We the people,” and continues to lay out the purpose of the document: “in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity….”
In seven articles the delegates laid out the form of government we would have—a Republic—and established 3 separate but equal branches, each having checks and balances over the other and set up the delicate but important concept of federalism, where we have that unique balance of a central government with sovereign states. The federal government’s powers are enumerated and by virtue of the 10th amendment, part of the Bill of Rights added after ratification, those powers not specifically given to the federal government are the province of the states and the people.
George Washington and James Madison are the ones who used the word miracle to describe what took place over those twenty-some weeks in sweltering Philadelphia—and in some sense surely it was a miracle. The Constitution we recognize and commemorate this week is now 230 years old and continues to be the longest standing constitution in the world, providing the rule of law for this Republic. Rehearsing the story of our Constitution is good and proper. Knowing and understanding our Constitution is imperative. Giving thanks to God for His guidance in this miracle at Philadelphia is also good and proper.
For Wisconsin Family Council, I’m Julaine Appling, reminding you the prophet Hosea said, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.