Begun in 1939 to celebrate American citizenship, Constitution Day is observed each Sept. 17, the day in 1787 that the U.S. Constitution was signed. To celebrate, we headed down to Tower Plaza at 13th and P streets in downtown Lincoln and handed out free pocket Constitutions. And they went quick! We were grateful to see Nebraskans so engaged in their democracy.
The United States was founded on an idea that all people are created equal. The Constitution is confirmation of that creed. Compared with other texts in its league, the Constitution is relatively short – it checks in at a mere 4,500 words (before amendments). That’s a breeze, fellow American– it’s the equivalent of reading the first few chapters of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, only in this case, the magic is derived from the Framers’ amazing forethought.
The Framers understood that democracy, for all its messiness and noise, was a relatively simple concept. The Constitution certainly begins simply enough; everyone knows the first three words. “We the People” might be the most oft-repeated phrase in our nation’s history.
But it’s those next set of words – “in order to form a more perfect union” – that is truly at the center of the American experience. Those words form a fundamental promise to always work toward a better, fairer, freer nation. Today, “a more perfect union” is the work of binding together — and the constant securing of freedoms — of some 330 million Americans of all ages, views, and backgrounds.
This is not an automatic guarantee. As time goes on, and the extraordinary events of 1787 become more and more distant in the past, we Americans must renew our commitment to the Constitution and the democratic ideals it so efficiently and eloquently lays out for us. This calling is the great responsibility and privilege of U.S. citizenship. Otherwise, as they say, the Constitution is just a piece of paper.
“The glory of justice and the majesty of law are created not just by the Constitution,” Robert Kennedy said. “(It is created) by the men and women who constitute our society, who are the protectors of the law as they are themselves protected by the law.” When we read those words, we can’t help but think of the “why” of our work — as well as the “how.” Creating a more modern and robust democracy requires an engaged, active, informed society so that we can reach for that more perfect union. So that all Nebraskans and Americans can participate fully in our federal constitutional republican representative democracy. Through our work in the schools, in communities across the state, in our cities’ neighborhoods, and with our democratic institutions, we can see the enduring strength of our Constitution every day.
That’s “we the people,” all right. And at the end of the day, because of you, that more perfect union has gotten a little closer, a little clearer into view.
Happy Constitution Day.