By 1786, defects in the post-Revolutionary War Articles of Confederation were apparent, such as the lack of central authority over foreign and domestic commerce. Congress endorsed a plan to draft a new constitution, and on May 25, 1787, the Constitutional Convention convened at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. On September 17, 1787, after three months of debate moderated by convention president George Washington, the new U.S. Constitution, which created a strong federal government with an intricate system of checks and balances, was signed by 38 of the 41 delegates present at the conclusion of the convention. As dictated by Article VII, the document would not become binding until it was ratified by nine of the 13 states. On this day in 1788, New Hampshire became the ninth and last necessary vote to ratify the Constitution of the United States, thereby making the document the law of the land.
The Constitution was put into operation on March 4, 1789. Since then, Congress has considered 11,539 potential amendments, only 33 of which ever came into law. The document has endured the test of time and continues to guide policy and practice in the United Sates.
In light of current debate on such issues as life, foreign policy, the economy, guns, and terrorism, what matters most is not where legislators end up, but where they begin. When you hear that the Constitution is a “living, breathing” document, cringe. That is code for “We can change it according to the whim of the day.” Apart from Scripture, it is hard to find a more inspired document. It serves to protect us and we need to protect it. The next time you hear your favorite politician make a new proposal, ask yourself, “How does this square with the Constitution?” That’s always a good place to start.