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My Turn 9-17
Constitution Day reflections
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Today is Constitution Day in the USA. On Sept. 17, 1787, 39 delegates to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia signed the United States Constitution.
Getting 39 delegates to sign the new Constitution was hard enough, down from the 55 who came to the convention in May, 1787. Getting the Constitution ratified would be even harder.
Ratification of the newly proposed Constitution would require the consent of popularly elected conventions in at least nine of the 13 states. “To Adopt or Not to adopt?” That was the question that framed the heated debates to follow.
Supporters of the new Constitution were called Federalists, their opponents Antifederalists.
The Federalists advocated a strong national government, but they also favored retaining state prerogatives as well. This stance refuted charges that they “were trying to destroy the states and establish an all-powerful central government.”
The Antifederalists’ most compelling criticism of the proposed Constitution was its “failure to include a bill of rights.” Hence, the absence of a specific bill of rights for “We the People,” to be clearly stated in the Constitution, dominated the struggle for and against ratification. The Antifederalists’ battle cry was “No Bill of Rights, no Constitution!”
Despite the Antifederalists’ opposition, ratification of the Constitution began with Delaware in December, 1787, followed by Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, and Connecticut. Then came Massachusetts, Maryland, South Carolina, and New Hampshire. By June 21, 1788, the requisite number of nine states was reached. Virginia and New York ratified soon after. North Carolina and Rhode Island were the last two states to ratify the Constitution.
Signing the Constitution 230 years ago was made possible by a series of critical compromises.For example, the Connecticut Compromise called for a bicameral national legislature, with a lower house based on state population and an upper house with two senators from each state. This concession resolved the issue of political representation for large and small states.
Other contentious issues were debated and  resolved during the convention. After three months of work well done, the delegates repaired to the nearby City Tavern to celebrate.
  The politics of ratifying the Constitution also required the “art of compromise.” James Madison “promised that a bill of rights embracing the freedoms of religion, speech, and assembly would be added to the Constitution as soon as the new government was established.” On Dec. 15, 1791, the first ten amendments to the Constitution, known as the “Bill of Rights,” were ratified. And that’s cause for celebration, too.
The story of getting our Constitution signed and ratified should be cause for cerebration by our political leaders. They could learn a lot by thinking about, and acting on, the spirit of compromise that helped make those historic events happen.
Retired Army Col. Thomas B.  Vaughn can be reached at