Intention of nation’s Founding Fathers remains a hot topic

The Colorado Statesman

The anniversary of the signing of the United States Constitution will be celebrated on Sept. 17, and members of Colorado’s congressional delegation are planning events and offering statements surrounding the day.

The federal observance, known as Constitution Day and Citizenship Day, recognizes the adoption of the U.S. Constitution and those who have become U.S. citizens. A federal law established the holiday in 2004, and requires observance on Sept. 17, the day members of the U.S. Constitutional Convention signed the Constitution in 1787.

Under the 2004 law, all publicly funded schools — those that receive federal funds — must provide educational programs about the U.S. Constitution to mark the day.

The story of the signing of the U.S. Constitution is perhaps one of the greatest stories of political compromise in American history. It is so remarkable, in fact, that politicians to this very day refer to it in their campaigning and lobbying for legislation.

The intention of the nation’s Founding Fathers remains a hot topic even today, as Republicans, Democrats, third parties and political organizations debate ideologies over government authority based on the tenets of the famous document.

One example is the 2012 presidential election, in which President Barack Obama has found himself defending his federal health care law, or Obamacare. Republicans believe the law runs afoul of the intent of the Founding Fathers and the constitution they drafted, suggesting that it oversteps the authority of government. The U.S. Supreme Court has mostly settled the controversial issue by ruling the law to be constitutional, but the debate still rages on.

One reason the intent of the Founding Fathers is still a topic of debate is because the constitution they drafted in Philadelphia was so filled with compromise that it didn’t really please anyone. Still, the document divided powers of government among three independent branches — legislative, executive and judicial — empowering each one to check and balance the powers granted to each of the others.

It wasn’t so much what the government could do that made the Constitution so critical, but really what government could not do, thereby intending to protect the freedoms of the people.

Just as politics plays out today, there was never full agreement on the Constitution more than 200 years ago. In fact, of the 54 delegates from 12 states who attended the Constitutional Convention, only 40 signed the document.

But it has become the nation’s guiding document, and for that, it is celebrated on Sept. 17.

Several members of Colorado’s congressional delegation have accepted the National Education Project’s invitation to join its Honorary Congressional Advisory Committee for Constitution Day and Bill of Rights Day, 2012. Their role on the committee is mostly symbolic. The delegates include Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, and U.S. Reps. Mike Coffman, R-Aurora, Diana DeGette, D-Denver, and Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado Springs.

Coffman will celebrate the day by offering a free pocket size copy of the Constitution to any constituent who comes by his office to get one. Coffman’s Colorado office is located at 9220 Kimmer Drive in Lone Tree.

The congressman held a similar event last year for Constitution Day, which was quite successful, with parents bringing their kids by, and adults old and young coming in, according to a Coffman staffer.

For his part, Coffman said of Constitution Day, “The principle of limiting the power of the federal government requires constant vigilance to protect the rights that are guaranteed to us under the United States Constitution. I hope everyone will pause on Sept. 17 to consider what an extraordinary document our constitution is and to never take it for granted.”

Bennet’s office is still finalizing Constitution Day activities, but a staffer said events will revolve around social media activities on Facebook and Twitter.

“On Sept. 17, 1787, our Founding Fathers forged a document establishing our government and affirming our individual rights and freedoms,” Bennet said in a statement. “As we celebrate the anniversary of the signing of the Constitution, we should take this opportunity to remember and appreciate these liberties, which generations of Americans before us have fought to protect. Constitution Day is an opportunity to learn more about our founding document and our system of government it established as well as to hold a conversation about civic engagement and participation in our democracy.”

DeGette’s office doesn’t have any activities planned, but the congresswoman said, “I have always supported programs that teach students and others about the Constitution, and I’m happy to serve on this honorary committee. In fact, I joined with my Republican colleagues in reading the Constitution on the House floor in January at the beginning of this Congress. Everyone should have the opportunity to see up-close the value of this visionary document.”

Lamborn’s office is likewise not planning any formal events this year, but the congressman offered this statement: “We must return to the guidance provided by the Constitution, which wisely grants limited powers to the government to ensure that individual liberties and freedoms would not be trampled. Please join me in renewing our appreciation for the Constitution of the United States… Let us all take time on Sept. 17th to read and ponder those words that have allowed us to persevere as a nation for over two centuries. Take time and discuss it with a young person in your life, because our liberty depends just as much on their understanding of America and its rich history.”

Peter@coloradostatesman.com