Giving Thanks for the Constitution
Often we forget how much we have to be thankful for.
What a great, glorious holiday this is.
Each year, Thanksgiving rings in the season, and rings out whatever hardness and pettiness was in our hearts. Or at least it should. Woe is our condition, woe is our lot in life, until this holiday stops us, tells us to take stock, forces us to consider just how good we really have it. Then we humble ourselves and give thanks to God Almighty.
We as Americans have much to be thankful for, and one of those things is a piece of parchment — our Constitution. It’s so much more than just parchment, of course; it’s the codification of Liberty in a system of government that is still the best in the world. Think for a moment: Where would we be without it?
“Each Thanksgiving calls to mind early Thanksgivings,” write Yuval Levin and Adam White in National Review. “At Plymouth in 1621, of course, but perhaps also in the nation’s capital in 1789. In October of that year, just months into the nation’s new constitutional government, President Washington issued a Thanksgiving Proclamation. Its words of gratitude to ‘the beneficent Author of all the good’ in our world, ‘for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us,’ would ring familiar around American tables today, even in the most difficult of years.”
Prior to his decree, though, Washington had been challenged about the need for it — specifically, as he said, the need to give thanks for having been “enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted.”
Representative Thomas Tucker of South Carolina was one critic, and his point was that the jury was still out on that new Constitution of ours. People “may not be inclined to return thanks for a Constitution until they have experienced that it promotes their safety and happiness,” as he put it. “We do not yet know but they may have reason to be dissatisfied with the effects it has already produced.”
Washington had in mind a reason. As Levin and White explain, “The mere fact that the newly independent American people had gathered in their capitols and towns, to write and ratify new constitutions, was an immense achievement; the fact that they eventually wrote and ratified a new constitution for the United States, an unprecedented document for a contested form of federal republic, was astounding.”
Americans today take the Constitution for granted. Perhaps we can’t help but do so. But they didn’t back then. To the founding generation, and to the rest of mankind, that arduous undertaking produced a document like nothing else before it. As Alexander Hamilton wrote in the opening lines of Federalist No. 1, “It has been frequently remarked that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force.”
Two-hundred and thirty-three years after Hamilton pondered those two possibilities, we can be thankful that our Founders were able to rise to the challenge of establishing that good government.