This week is Constitution Week, and today is Citizenship Day. I am eternally thankful that I am a citizen of the greatest country on earth. Despite its limitations, its failings, I know for a certainty that I am truly blessed.
Why is it such a great gift to be an American citizen? Let's test our memories. Prone to forgetfulness simply because of our humanness, we forget birthdays, we forget why we walked into the kitchen, or we forget someone's name.
Not always are these lapses important, but what if we were to forget who we are and where we have come from? This is not about dementia of varying kinds. It is about a very important fact that if we were to lose it from our memory bank, we would have lost a great part of ourselves as Americans. And let's face it, we probably do not call to mind often enough what it means to be a citizen of the United States of America and remember what our Constitution and its Amendments have bestowed on us as citizens.
The British statesman William E. Gladstone described the Constitution as "the most wonderful work ever struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man."
I am certainly not a historian (which is aptly demonstrated by what I write), but I do love and admire the foundations of our country. What could be more meaningful than the preamble to the U.S. Constitution? "We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."
James Madison was instrumental in formulating the Constitution of the United States, which was designed to serve the interests of the people -- rich, poor, north and south. He recognized that they must have a system that would last for ages and be able to meet the demands that time would produce.
The delegates met this challenge with the process to amend the Constitution. Additions would require careful consideration before adoption as amendments to the Constitution.
An amendment could be proposed by two-thirds of each house of Congress, or by a national convention called by Congress in response to requests by two-thirds of the state legislatures. After being ratified either by the legislatures of three-fourths of the states or by conventions in three-fourths of the states, it becomes part of the Constitution. Congress decides which form of ratification should be used and how much time the states have to consider each amendment. In many cases, Congress might require a seven-year period for such consideration. Some amendments were not ratified for many years.
The first 10 Amendments are known as the Bill of Rights. They were necessary for some states to approve the Constitution. Proposed on Sept. 25, 1789, they were ratified on Dec. 15, 1791.
Today, there are 27 Amendments that have met the changing needs of our nation. From the First Amendment ratified in 1791 thru the 27th Amendment ratified in 1992, "The Constitution has continued to develop in response to the demands of an ever-growing society through all these methods. Yet the spirit and wording of the Constitution have remained constant. People of each generation have applied its provisions to their own problems in ways that seem reasonable to them." (The World Book Encyclopedia and Learning Resources www.worldbook.com).
Hoyt Canady, editorial page editor of the Knoxville, Tenn., News Sentinel wrote, "And so the Constitution survives what we say about it, ways we try to work around it and our occasional attempts to amend it. It survives because it established 'We the people' as its sovereign base, and we consent to it, much as Franklin did when he signed it, 'because I expect no better and because I am not sure that it is not the best.' "
Yes, citizenship in the United States of America is a wonderful gift, but it requires us to be active participants, for it is we the people.
Ruth Moriarity, Hays, is a member of the Generations Advisory Group.