I've kept thinking about this as time has gone on and as I've read more about the early years of the Revolution. Unlike now, every one of those early patriots had to go to bed with the fear that he would wake not to another day of controversy in America, but to a new day of no country at all. Anarchy and chaos were real possibilities. No matter how terrible things get -- and yes, they've been pretty terrible of late -- I have never gone to sleep thinking that, perhaps, tomorrow, there will be no more United States.
Maybe that's terrible optimism. Governments rise and fall all the time in the world, in countries small and large, and people survive. I'd like to think that I'm not so blindly tied to my nationality that I could survive in a world without America, where an American identity was meaningless -- but I'm not sure it's true.
Thus today is of special import for me. It's Constitution Day. Two hundred and twenty-two years ago, on September 17, 1787, the new Constitution of the United States of America was adopted by the Constitutional Convention, signed by the 39 delegates, and sent out to the states for ratification. The National Archives, where the original text still lives, headlines it as "a model of cooperative statesmanship and the art of compromise," and that has continued to be true throughout its history. We may not agree upon its meaning, always, or its deployment, but Americans almost to a person seem to agree upon its value. Our stability as a country -- and we are a shockingly stable union -- rests most firmly upon the survival of this document.
That's not to say that the Constitution is a stony, implacable thing. In fact, for all the stability it's inspired, it's hard to mark even a concrete date of its birth. It would take another three years before the Bill of Rights were added, in 1791, and it's been amended another 17 times since then. Even now, there are several proposals for amendment before Congress, and 11,000 amendments have been proposed over time. Sure, it's been used for good and for ill, to justify moments of greatness and horrible errors, but it's still there, binding us to a common set of purposes. Is it outdated? Moldy in language and, certainly, in its descriptions of who should be a citizen? Absolutely. But what do you expect from the oldest written national constitution in the world? Perfection? No -- never in our Constitution. It is a document notable for its mistakes, but also for its ability to rise above them, to amend its own content without changing its real purpose. It is a truly American thing.
So -- go forth and celebrate like it's 1787. Lift an ale (Sam Adams, maybe?), try the Which Founding Father Are You? quiz (I'm James Madison), take a stroll about your free and enduring country, and meditate on the meaning of the document still holding us together: