Timeless Thoughts on Constitution Day from the 40th President

This column by ACRU Senior Fellow Robert Knight was published September 16, 2016 by The ACRU.

On Sept. 17, 1987, President Ronald Reagan delivered a speech commemorating the 200th anniversary of the Constitution of the United States.

Here are some of the concluding passages:

“If our Constitution has endured, through times perilous as well as prosperous, it has not been simply as a plan of government, no matter how ingenious or inspired that might be. This document that we honor today has always been something more to us, filled us with a deeper feeling than one of simple admiration — a feeling, one might say, more of reverence.

“One scholar described our Constitution as a kind of covenant. It is a covenant we have made not only with ourselves, but with all of mankind. As John Quincy Adams promises, ‘Whenever the standard of freedom and independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will be America’s heart, her benedictions, and her prayers.’ It is a human covenant, yes, and beyond that, a covenant with the Supreme Being to whom our founding fathers did constantly appeal for assistance….

“And it was perhaps from that divine source that the men who came together in this hall 200 years ago drew the inspiration and strength to face the crisis of their great hopes and overcome their many divisions.

“After all, both Madison and Washington were to refer to the outcome of the Constitutional Convention as a miracle; and miracles, of course, have only one origin.….

“During the summer of 1787, as the delegates clashed and debated, Washington left the heat of Philadelphia, and with his trout fishing companion, Gouverneur Morris of Pennsylvania, made a pilgrimage to Valley Forge. Ten years before, his Continental Army had been camped there through the winter. Food was low, medical supplies nonexistent, his soldiers had to go ‘half in rags in the killing cold, their torn feet leaving bloodstains as they walked shoeless on the icy ground.’

“Gouverneur Morris reported that the general was silent throughout the trip. He did not confide his emotions as he surveyed the scene of past hardship. One can imagine that his conversation was with someone else — that it took more than the form of prayer for this new nation, that such sacrifice be not in vain, that the hope and promise that survived such a terrible winter of suffering not be allowed to wither now that it was summer.

“One imagines that he also did what we do today in this gathering and celebration, what will always be America’s foremost duty — to constantly renew that covenant with humanity, with a world yearning to breathe free; to complete the work begun 200 years ago, that grand, noble work that is America’s particular calling – the triumph of human freedom – the triumph of human freedom under God.”

We here at the ACRU wish you and yours a blessed and safe Constitution Day, seven weeks ahead of the most consequential election in our lifetimes. May Americans choose wisely and elect only those men and women who honor our Constitution both in word and deed.