Such beauty as we enjoy can sometimes take our minds from more serious matters. Spring is here with great profusion of growing, blossoming landscapes. But it was also thought by old timers that May was a difficult month, one that required attention to practices of good health to get through the month. Two sayings characterized the month: For those already ill with some critical disease, the prediction was, “Ah, he (or she) will never get up May-hill.” Another had a brighter aspect: “If he can climb May-hill, he’ll do.” Well, we “climbed May hill” again this year, and I hope we are another year wiser as well as having reached another milestone in years accrued. Let us consider some blessing we too often take for granted.
In a review of American history, we see that a new, struggling America following winning of the Revolutionary War set the second Monday in May as a time to have delegates from the thirteen independent states (no longer colonies under the King of England) meet in Philadelphia in 1787, “for the sole and express purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation.”
The Convention was convened on May 14, 1787. Rhode Island declined to send delegates. From the other twelve states, seventy had been selected to go to Philadelphia. Only fifty-five of the seventy delegates elected to go ultimately attended, and of those fifty-five, only thirty-nine ended up signing, not the revised Articles of Confederation, but the brand new document, the Constitution of the United States. It took from May 14 until May 25 to get a quorum of the delegates together to revise the Articles of Confederation.
Many of the arguments, proposals, objections, revisions and adoptions are a matter of record, and can be accessed if anyone is an avid student of how our Constitution came about. However, that group of fifty-five delegates from twelve states represented the citizens, and was truly a “think-tank” for America’s document that has stood through the years.
Georgia’s elected delegates to the Convention were Abraham Baldwin, William Few, William Houstoun, and William L. Pierce. Of the four, only two went to Philadelphia and participated in that May conclave in 1787. These two were Abraham Baldwin and William Few who eventually signed the Constitution after it was circulated in Georgia (and other states). It met with general approval, following the addition of the first ten items in the Bill of Rights. It took from May 14, the day of convening of the Convention to revise the Articles of Confederation, until September 17, 1787, four months, for the new Constitution to be passed. One of the primary arguments was that states’ rights be assured, with the federal government not being all-powerful over the states. Considering the means of communication and transportation in 1787, the passage of the document in four months was indeed a spectacular feat.
It was to the wise, elderly Benjamin Franklin, that final success of the Convention is due. He rose, and reading from a prepared speech which has been preserved for later generations to read, he stated: “Mr. President, I confess that there are several parts of this Constitution which I do not at present approve, but I am not sure that I shall never approve them…The older I grow, the more apt I am to doubt my own judgment and to pay more attention to the judgment of others…I think a general government necessary for us…what may be a blessing to the people if well-administered…On the whole, sir, I cannot help expressing a wish that every member of the Convention, who may still have objections to it, would, with me, on this occasion, doubt a little of his own infallibility, and make manifest our unanimity, put his name to this instrument.” Benjamin Franklin then introduced the motion to have the delegates sign the document.
And to that document, thirty-nine men set their signatures, enough to give the newly formed United States of America a document, which, though amended numerous times throughout its more than two-century history, still stands as a beacon to democratic governments world-wide. One of the major responsibilities of the president of the United States is to “uphold the Constitution.” Now, we as citizens must be discerning that whatever person is president will honor and uphold the document that was formed in the month of May so many years ago. As citizens of a wonderful nation, we have to “climb May hill” all over again to assure that those things which are vital to the fabric of our freedom are not ripped out, torn apart, misinterpreted and cast aside. On Memorial Day, may we give these “May summits” and all who worked on, stood for and died for them some very serious thought and thanks.
c 2010 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published May 27, 2010 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.