Forward thinking: On Constitution Day, reflections on our remarkable government

Loren Simmonds

United States Declaration of Independence

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
The 100-day debate known as the Constitutional Convention was one of the most important occurrences in our nation’s history. The events that took place in the Pennsylvania State House during that time would set our country on the course toward becoming a Constitutional Republic.

Seventy delegates had been appointed by the original states to attend the convention, but only 55 were able to attend. Rhode Island was the only state to not send any delegates. The delegates elected George Washington to preside over the proceedings.

The convention took place from May 14 to Sept. 17, 1787, in Philadelphia. The purpose of the gathering was to determine how America was going to be governed going forward. The convention had been officially called to revise the existing Articles of Confederation.

The delegates, however, soon realized that the articles needed more than a little tweaking. They needed to be scrapped entirely to create a stronger national government. As history played out, the result of the convention was the United States Constitution…however; it was not an easy path.

The drafting process was grueling. The delegates wanted to do it right this time around. Yet, after two months of fierce debate, they had nothing to show for their efforts. So on July 24 of that year, the “Committee of Detail” was enacted to handle the drafting process. The rest is history . . .

The United States Constitution was formally adopted on Sept. 17, 1787 with 39 signatures before being distributed to the various states for ratification.

The end product was truly remarkable. The separation of powers and checks and balance were truly revolutionary. Up to this point in history, the government had mainly been composed of single ruling monarchs who decided what was best for their country. The monarch’s rule was law, unchecked and without question. Never had anyone proposed controlling government by setting it against itself. Yet that is exactly what Americans proposed with its new system.

A government of the people . . . by the people . . . and for the people had been put into play. The ball was in the people’s court — so to speak.

As the delegates made their way out of the State House, a woman shouted out to Benjamin Franklin, “Well, Doctor, what have we got – a Republic or a Monarchy?” It is reported that Benjamin Franklin responded: “a Republic if you can keep it.”

The process of creating a new government had more than its fair share of intrigue. Striving for a more perfect union was a worthy goal. However, the framers were flawed and imperfect. They had their biases, prejudices and world views that they brought to table. These colored the end product they produced.

The 55 delegates were all men — no women! They came from the upper echelons of society. Most had attended college and had become wealthy planters, lawyers and merchants — no commoners either.

Secondly, the framers of the constitution did not create a true democracy, which would have been based only on a popular vote, because they did not trust the “rabble” of uneducated commoners. Instead, they created a republic, a system based on the consent of the governed, where representatives exercised power for the public.

Thirdly, fearing that the “rabble” would elect an uneducated “man” to the presidency, the delegates stipulated that the people would only indirectly elect its presidents. Instead, state legislatures would choose a select body of “educated” men to case final votes for the president in the Electoral College.

In theory, voters in the college would vote according to the outcome of the popular vote in their states; however, should the people elect a person deemed unqualified for the presidency, electoral voters could change the vote to ensure only the “best man” become president.

And now for the rest of the story . . .

It has been reported that as the founders signed the Constitution in 1787, Benjamin Franklin observed a painting on the wall in the room in which they had worked so hard to frame the historic document. He is reported to have commented . . .

“I have often . . . in the course of the session . . . looked at the sun (in the picture) behind the President without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting. But now at length I have the happiness to know it is a rising and not a setting sun.”

I realize I can only speak for myself; however, in candor, it is hard these days not to wonder whether we still see the sunrise or sunset of our country when we are confronted daily with political upheaval and polarization on every hand.

I can’t help but wonder what “Doctor Franklin” would say after 232 years of our great experiment. Or might he say very sadly . . . you have lost, or are losing the Republic . . . especially as it comes to freedom as we have been blessed to know it in our country.

Until next time . . .

— By Loren Simmonds

Loren Simmonds has been a resident of Lynnwood for 37 years. He served on the Lynnwood City Council for 16 years, including eight as Council President. He remains active in the community by serving on the Parks and Recreation Foundation Board, Civil Service Commission and the Snohomish County Planning Commission. He believes that volunteerism sows the seeds of community. Loren is semi-retired and works as a writer, speaker and leadership coach.