September 17 marks 233 years since the signing of the U.S. Constitution in 1787, the document that sets up our form of government. It is the most impactful government charter in the modern world and is a model for many others.
The final major battle of the Revolutionary War happened in 1781 at Yorktown, Virginia. That year, U.S. citizens officially began their post-colonial government under the Articles of Confederation. Under the Articles, the closest we had to a chief executive was the president of Congress. We had 10 of those in a seven and a half year period, none of whom were George Washington. It became the general consensus that the Articles needed revision.
In the summer of 1787, delegates from all states except Rhode Island met in Philadelphia with a mandate to revise the Articles. Instead, they produced a new document that set up a new form of government. The Constitution was ratified the following year. In early 1789, Washington was elected our first president and took office on April 30.
The Founding Fathers knew that the Constitution needed amendments. Twelve were proposed initially and 10 of those were adopted, becoming the Bill of Rights. Interestingly, the first two proposed amendments were not ratified at that time. What we know today as the First Amendment was actually the third amendment proposed. What was the second proposed amendment was not ratified until 1992 as the 27th Amendment.
The Constitution and its amendments provide for a government “of the people, by the people, for the people,” according to President Lincoln. We have the most guarantees of freedom of any citizens in any country at any time in history. We are a blessed people. Our Founding Fathers brilliantly left us with a republic that has persevered and that can persevere. Our duty backward to them is to honor their commitment to their descendants by recognizing and implementing our common cause, a cause in common with them and with one another, to ensure Jefferson’s, and America’s, vision of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
But our duty “to make a more perfect union” is greater still at present and looking forward. We owe it to one another to have the best, most informed, most efficient government possible. We owe it to our descendants to leave our government in a better condition than it was delivered to us. In other words, we have a duty and an obligation to be involved in the government that has our collective consent. We have a duty to be active citizens.
There are several ways for us to fulfill this duty: military service and first responder service rank among the highest ways. Jury service, a subject dear to me, is a rewarding, and taxing, way to contribute. This year, we have two additional ways: responding to the Census and voting.
The Constitution provides for an “enumeration” to be made “within every subsequent Term of ten years.” In other words, we are to have a census every 10 years. We do this in order to accurately determine how to allocate members of the House of Representatives among the states. The Census is also used to determine the allocation of federal funds for grants and various appropriations. It is important, vital even, to the efficient operation of our government that each of us responds appropriately to the Census before the end of September.
Voting needs no description and to do so should require little convincing. You may see it as your duty to those who have defended our freedoms with their lives. You may see it ensuring your “right to complain” so long as you voted. I see it as my duty as an American to continue, for the present and for the future, the advancement of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” The “new nation conceived in liberty” that was brought forth in the late 18th century embodied ideals citizens strived to achieve for thousands of years.
The nation did not arise as a superpower and its place in the world was not assured. We ought to consider the ambition of those who worked to create the country we have and be inspired by their commitment to advancement. Let us make that same commitment and act with that same ambition in many ways as active citizens. The first steps are to educate ourselves about candidates and issues and then, with planning and intent, to cast our vote.
I encourage you this fall, as citizens with access to resources and knowledge unparalleled in history, to answer the Census and cast your vote. And if you should receive a jury summons, help out our justice system as well.
Jeremy S. Taylor serves as Circuit Judge for the Ninth Judicial Circuit of Alabama, which includes Cherokee and DeKalb Counties