The United States Constitution had a birthday Sunday, and while she still looks great, she is showing every bit of her 236 years. However, that sacred document is holding up much better than the current occupant of the Oval Office.
Our founding document of course laid out the framework for the power that the citizens of the United States were granting to those who sought and won elective office. Even from the very beginning, the magnificent concept of three co-equal branches of government battling it out to make sure that not one branch became too powerful was a struggle. Unfortunately, the document has been denigrated over the past 50 years to where the Executive Branch has gained so much power — ceded to it by the Legislative Branch — I shudder to think what the founders would think.
That story is for another time.
So let’s do a little background on why we celebrate this every year. One of our local universities here has a bit of background on such an amazing document.
Constitution Day celebrates the signing of the Constitution of the United States, which occurred on Sept. 17, 1787, in Philadelphia at the end of the Constitutional Convention. Over the course of four months, 55 delegates from 12 of the original 13 states (Rhode Island did not send any delegates) debated, strategized and compromised to create what we now know as the U.S. Constitution, creating the basic structures and delineating the powers of the national government.
Unlike the Fourth of July or even Presidents Day (which is officially known as Washington’s Birthday), there was not much of an official observance of Constitution Day before the 20th century. In the 1930s and 1940s, there was a movement to have a day commemorating American citizenship, and by the end of the 1940s, many states were issuing proclamations in honor of Constitution Day. In 1953, Congress and then-President Dwight Eisenhower designated Sept. 17 to 23 as “Constitution Week.”
But the modern celebration of Constitution Day did not come into being until 2004 when former Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia pushed for legislation officially designating Sept. 17 as Constitution Day. That legislation mandates that all schools that receive federal funding — including universities like Michigan State, as well as federal agencies — must hold an educational program about the Constitution on Constitution Day, unless it falls on a weekend like it does this year, in which case it can be held the week before or after.
The thing that is absolutely an amazing part of that overview is that the former senator from West Virginia, Robert Byrd, who loved to dress up as a Confederate soldier and was a former leader in the Ku Klux Klan, ever wanted to celebrate the United States Constitution. The not-amazing part is that, of course, he had to support passing a bill that had strings attached to it to receive federal money which was what Byrd was all about.
Federal strings with federal dough.
I’m not even going to go into the fact that Byrd was a mentor to Joe Biden, but you probably knew that.
So now that I have all that laid out let’s get to the meat of this post.
There have been many depictions of the debate in Philadelphia at Independence Hall of both the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the meetings to hammer out and pass a federal framework for the colonies, which eventually became the United States Constitution. Most, I imagine, have been by American citizens who felt a connection to our founding document and were able to project a passion for this nation’s beginning.
Yet none of them stand a chance or hold a candle to the portrayal of William Shatner as Captain James T. Kirk of the USS Enterprise and his explanation of the piece of paper that starts off with WE THE PEOPLE.
Shatner, who is Canadian by birth, became a legend for his portrayal of the fictional Captain in Star Trek: The Orginal Series, and in the clip below he tipped the Shatner Ham O’ Meter at full blast.
The Enterprise crew discovers a parallel world where the United States lost a nuclear war to Communist China. Centuries later, the descendants of the Americans cherish the documents of their ancient heritage but have forgotten their meaning. Kirk explains it to them.
It’s really kind of creepy when you think about it.
In 1968, a sci-fi show had imaginary characters going to visit a planet that mirrored Earth and the Communists in China who eventually beat the superpower that had the exact same document as the United States Constitution. Was this predicting the future here?
This clip is pure Shatner at his over-the-top best, and it absolutely should inspire anybody who doesn’t know much about the United States Constitution to go and at least read a little bit about the document, if not the document itself.
If it doesn’t, you might hate America or think that Jean-Luc Picard is a better fictional captain and quite frankly both of those options suck.
So do yourself a favor, rewatch this clip, and go read up on the founding document that laid the foundation to make this country awesome — and which politicians of all stripes would like to dismember.