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Great Stories in American History-


Celebrating U.S. Constitution Week - A Story About its Beginnings

By Rebecca Price Janney, Sep 15 2017 02:16PM

The Signing of the United States Constitution

As you know, I’m a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution (Valley Forge Chapter.) Every year, the DAR commemorates America’s most important document, the United States Constitution, with a Constitution Week. This celebration began in 1955 when the Daughters petitioned the U.S. Congress to set aside September 17th-23rd each year to observe Constitution Week. In 1956, President Eisenhower signed into public law the resolution adopted by the Congress.

A few years ago, I wrote a story about the Constitution’s origins, which I'd like to share with you.

When the United States was born on July 4, 1776, a temporary government existed under the Articles of Confederation. By the end of the conflict, the new nation was struggling with war debt, and some states refused to shoulder their share of the burden—determined to promote their own interests at the expense of the new union. Those who had seen the thirteen former colonies through the perils of revolution gathered one again in Philadelphia, in May 1787 to fix what was wrong with the existing government. A new arrangement was clearly in order.

A great deal of animosity developed as arguments took place around issues such as representation. The more highly populated northern states, for example, argued that it should be based on population, but the more sparsely occupied southern states cried “unfair!”

At one low point, the union seemed about to break up because various sides were so deeply entrenched. At a critical moment, elder statesman Benjamin Franklin addressed his fellow delegates:

In the beginning of the contest with Great Britain when we were more sensible of danger, we had daily prayers in this room for Divine protection. Our prayers, Sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a superintending Providence in our favor . . . And have we now forgotten this powerful Friend? Or do we imagine we no longer need His assistance?

I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth: “that God governs in the affairs of men.” And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probably that an empire can rise without His aid?

We gave been assured, Sir, in the Sacred Writings that except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it. I firmly believe this. I also believe that without His concurring aid, we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel; we shall be divided by our little, partial, local interests; our projects will be confounded; and we ourselves hall become a reproach and a byword down to future ages. And what is worse, mankind may hereafter, from this unfortunate instance, despair of establishing government by human wisdom and leave it to chance, war, or conquest.

I therefore beg leave to move that, henceforth, prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven and its blessing on our deliberation be held in this assembly every morning before we proceed to business.

On September 17, 1787 the new Constitution was signed, a document that began, “We, the people of the United States . . .” On that day as George Washington rose from a chair that carried the design of a half-sun on the back, Franklin observed, “I have often and often in the course of this session. . . looked at that . . . without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting; but now at length I have the happiness to know that it is a rising and not a setting sun.”

(Great Events in American History, pp. 27-29; AMG Publishers, 2009)

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