Constitution Serves Our Country Well
By Congressman Michael Turner
At the top of the staircase leading to the visitor’s gallery in the House of Representatives, is a painting depicting the signing of the Constitution of the United States on September 17, 1787. The huge 18-by-26-foot canvas, painted by the artist Howard Chandler Christy, was completed in 1940 and it is the largest framed painting within the United States Capitol. This outstanding artwork illustrates the scene inside Independence Hall in Philadelphia, the site of the Constitutional Convention, where delegates from each of the newly independent states met to form a new government. Our nation’s founding document is the world's oldest written constitution. This month marks the 221st anniversary of this significant historical event.
George Washington, the hero of the American Revolution who would soon be elected as our first President, presided over the Constitutional Convention. Benjamin Franklin, the world-renowned scientist, inventor and diplomat, is seen in the painting seated in the center, with Alexander Hamilton leaning toward him. James Madison, known as the “Father of the Constitution,” appears farther to the right. At age 81, Franklin was the oldest of the 55 delegates. Of particular interest to Ohioans is a delegate from New Jersey, Jonathan Dayton, the man for whom the City of Dayton is named. At age 26, Dayton was the youngest delegate.
The Constitution of the United States of America created a framework of self-government grounded in the rule of law. Its basic structure, as conceived by the Founders, remains intact. Delaware became the first state to ratify the Constitution on December 3, 1787, and it was subsequently ratified by each of the original 13 states. The Founders understood that it would be necessary for the people, through their elected federal and state representatives, to amend the document to accommodate changing conditions in American society. The First Congress adopted a set of amendments in September 1789, and these ten amendments became known as the Bill of Rights when the states ratified them in 1791. The Bill of Rights specifically protects some of our most basic, fundamental rights, including religious freedom and freedom of speech. Over the next two centuries, our Constitution has been amended a total of 27 times.
Our Constitution has provided the means and the structure for the United States and its citizens to achieve an unparalleled level of freedom, security, and prosperity for over two hundred years. In 2004, Congress enacted a law with my support that designates September 17th as Constitution Day and Citizenship Day. The annual observance of this significant historical milestone provides an opportunity for all Americans to become better informed about our rights, freedoms and responsibilities as citizens of the United States.
When the Constitutional Convention completed its work, a woman anxiously approached Ben Franklin on the street and asked him what kind of government our new nation would have—“a republic or a monarchy?” Franklin replied: "A republic—if you can keep it." Our Constitution has served us well for over 200 years. It is a powerful document that all Americans should read. My office has complimentary pocket-sized editions of the Constitution of the United States available to residents of Ohio’s Third Congressional District. If you would like to receive a copy, I encourage you to visit my website at: www.house.gov/miketurner.