September usually represents the end of summer and the early start of fall. The same was true in 1787 when a group of men were winding up the four-month process of writing the United States Constitution on a cool fall morning.
Since the end of May, they had proposed, debated, modified their positions and compromised. On the 17th of September, the delegates gathered to sign the final engrossed document and let the ratification process begin.
However, some had misgivings. Benjamin Franklin, who had earlier called for prayer at the convention to ease the fear of failure, had comments which were read by fellow delegate James Wilson: “I confess that there are several parts of this constitution which I do not at present approve, but I am not sure I shall never approve them: For having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged by better information, or fuller consideration, to change opinions even on important subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise. It is therefore that the older I grow, the more apt I am to doubt my own judgment, and to pay more respect to the judgment of others.”
He concluded his comments saying, “On the whole, Sir, I cannot help expressing a wish that every member of the Convention who may still have objections to it, would with me, on this occasion doubt a little of his own infallibility, and to make manifest our unanimity, put his name to this instrument.”
James Madison noted “The members then proceeded to sign the instrument.” Of the 70 delegates appointed and the 55 who attended regularly, 39 would sign the document with three dissenting.
George Washington would later state, “It appears to me, then, little short of a miracle, that the Delegates from so many different States would unite in forming a system of national Government, so little liable to well-founded objections.” Strong words from Washington. Alexander Hamilton was of a like mind: “For my own part, I sincerely esteem it a system which without the finger of God never could have been suggested and agreed upon by such a diversity of interests.”
Sept. 17 2021, we celebrate the signing of the oldest active governing constitution in the history of the world. Through the years we have chosen to modify it only 27 times with the first 10 changes being added almost immediately in the Bill of Rights.
Public Law 108-447 requires that this date be recognized by Federal agencies, departments and schools that use federal funding. It is sad that it takes a federal law to require that we remember our Constitution. We should be proud and glad to do honor and teach it routinely. It is We the People who should make sure that we do!
Colonel, USAF (Ret.)