A speech I wrote for a competition!
|This was written for a speech competition on a part of the Constitution of the United States of America. Not being incredibly interested in law or all those articles, I chose something different: the signatures! I made it all the way to the state competition, and then recieved 3rd place.
This is a speech, so please imagine it being read outloud. Or, if you wish, read it aloud to yourself!
We, the people. The who? The people! We, the people. This is how our forefathers chose to begin the Constitution of the United States of America. We all know it, at least, part of the preamble to the Constitution. But do we know what’s at the end of the Constitution? Article VII? No, after that. Their conclusion? No, even after that. At the very end of our nation’s Constitution are our forefather’s signatures! 39 of the 42 men in the Constitutional Convention signed what is our nation’s law, on September 17, 1787, after 16 long, hot weeks of debate. They didn’t all agree with everything, and they weren’t sure about the direction of a country that was barely a country. Still, they signed.
Maybe it was signed because they were tired of the heat. Maybe it was because they were tired of the debate. Or maybe it was because they were just plain tired. But I don’t think so. I wonder what drove those men for 16 weeks. Not arguing for the sake of arguing, but arguing for our sake. They strove for something better than what they had before. They wanted to ensure, then reinsure, that America would not end where it began.
55 men met in Philadelphia in horrible heat, in a crowded room, that did not have air conditioning, and they argued. For us.
I wonder what they were like. If they had families they were leaving behind, in order to secure future families of America. I wonder if they had jobs they had put on hold, in order to secure the future jobs of America. I wonder if they had dreams they had stopped momentarily, in order to secure the future dreams of America. I wonder. Would we sacrifice nearly as much for something we believed in? We might give our signature on a check for a paltry amount to a charity. Or we might give our signature on a petition, just to get the “fanatics” to leave us alone. Or we may even give our signature to a sign-up sheet to volunteer for a few hours one Saturday at a hospital or aid organization. But are any of these things a major sacrifice, compared to the sacrifice made by those signers of the Constitution?
Take, for instance, Thomas Mifflin, who was born to a Quaker family in 1744. The older he grew, the more he began to sympathize with the Patriot cause. He helped raise troops for the war and in May of 1775, he became a major in the Continental Army. The Quakers, of course, were known for their anti-war sentiments and cast him out of their church. That must have been painful to be thrown out, not only of your childhood religion, but also of your family. Nonetheless, he continued as major and later became quartermaster, and was able to talk many men into staying with the war effort, when morale was low. After the war, he was in the Pennsylvania state assembly, was governor for a time, and even succeeded Benjamin Franklin as the president of the Supreme Executive Council.
But Mifflin isn’t the only one who sacrificed. For example, William Few was a delegate from Georgia, who received very little schooling. His father owned a farm in Maryland, where he was born and raised. Few became disgusted with the British royalty at an early age. His father and brother opposed the royal governor of Maryland, for which his brother was hanged and his father’s farm destroyed.
Perhaps you have never heard of Few or Mifflin. There were many famous men that were a part of the Constitutional Convention, as well. Men that are actually in your history book. George Washington, James Madison, Jr., Alexander Hamilton, and of course, Benjamin Franklin. Ben Franklin was the oldest man there, and he had to have someone carry him in a sedan chair to all of the meetings. But if Franklin, at age 81, was the oldest delegate, then Jonathan Dayton, of New Jersey, was the youngest. He was 26 years old, and had been a captain in the Revolutionary war, who served under his father, General Elias Dayton, and the acclaimed Marquis de Lafayette. He was even taken prisoner by the British, for a time. Before the war, he had graduated from what is now Princeton University. After the war, in the 1780’s, he speculated land, was a lawyer, and was actively involved in politics. And all of this before age 26! I can see why he was appointed a delegate.
But it wasn’t just the famous men who signed. If every man who signed the Constitution was in our history books, why, we would never get through the class! There were many men whose lives weren’t as exciting as Mifflin’s, Washington’s, or Dayton’s. Men such as Rufus King, Daniel Caroll, or William Livingston, yet these men spent just as much time actively involved in civic duties.
So what can 39 men-some famous, some not-teach us about serving our country? They were from all walks of life: ministers, farmers, lawyers, doctors, yet they left these professions for a summer to debate. These men have a lot to teach us about servitude. They well knew the meaning of JFK’s statement, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” They were there representing some group. Some representing businessmen, some representing farmers. Some representing big states, some, small states. Some representing Federalists, and some, Antifederalists, yet they did their job, and did it well. They were willing to serve someone besides themselves for a time, because they knew if this country was ever going to work, it would have to be run by the people, not the people with the power. And in order for that to happen, the people would have to place their trust in the people with the power.
They also teach us about humility. Imagine if our Constitution opened with this statement: We, the people of the Constitutional Convention, in order to form a more tyrannical union, establish power, insure governmental supremacy, provide for ourselves, promote the government, and secure the blessings of command to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for us. Sound a little selfish? Well, as it is, the Preamble states, We, the people of the United States of America. They realized that they were speaking for an entire nation, a task they did not take lightly. If they had, the debate would have lasted less than a month. As it is, it lasted 4 months. And with an opening like that, you must realize that they, too, knew they were American citizens like anyone else. No more, no less.
They also showed us sacrifice. I gave examples earlier of the men who lost their families, homes, and even freedom for a time, because of what they believed in. They did not care how much it cost, freedom for all people was what they wanted, and what they were more than willing to die for. George Mason, who was a delegate from Virginia, said it this way: “When the last dutiful & humble petition from Congress received no other Answer than declaring us Rebels, and out of the King’s protection, I from that Moment look’d forward to a Revolution & Independence, as the only means of Salvation; and will risque the last Penny of my Fortune, & the last Drop of my Blood upon the Issue.”
These men can also teach us about loyalty. Even when faced with death, they persevered. They believed in this country. They were not favored to win the war. In fact, the whole world thought they would lose. Still, they fought with pride, determination, and with a firm reliance on the Protection of Divine Providence. And they won! The king of England may not have thought them very loyal, but they were loyal to themselves and what they believed in, and is that not true loyalty and true determination?
We, as American citizens, are now faced with a daunting task. We must put aside our differences and come to one accord, as our forefathers did. We must take up these dying American values that our forefathers put into play. We owe to our government everything the government gives to us. Service, whether you are in the army or you sign up for volunteer work. Humility, knowing that we, as Americans, are all equal, and no one person is better than the other because of race, religion, or social status. Sacrifice, whether it be money or time. And yes, that even means taxes or tax-deductible services. No one likes to hear that, but it is necessary to keep this country going. We owe it loyalty, standing by her, even when it looks like she may not come out on top. We may not agree with everything our government does, but we could show it in a deferential manner, and use our first amendment rights respectfully.
These men had an obligation to the government, as well, and many of them went far above and beyond the call of duty. They were asked to draw up and sign a document that would be the foundation of America’s law. And they did. Today, America is among the largest and most powerful nations in the world. I wonder if those signers of the Constitution knew that would happen. I doubt it. All they knew was they had faith in “God and country,” and that was enough. It was enough to make them sign.
Now it is our turn. We must sign to keep the American values of servitude, humility, sacrifice, loyalty, and resolve. Not just to our country, but in our everyday lives, for America is, like the Constitutional Convention, composed of everyday people, like you and me. The pen has been passed on, from generation to generation of Americans. We must dip the pen of our ancestors into the ink of devotion and sign our names proudly. Not with a tiny scribble, but with a large flourish. So, here’s the pen. Will you sign?