Dedicate yourselves to thankfulness. Colossians 3:15

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Public monument no place for opinion

Published in Cumberland Times-News Thursday, October 1, 2009.

"Our local leaders will do best to reject any inscription, other
than a quote from the Constitution. Our Founding Fathers’ legacy -- not Jeffrey Davis’ wish -- echoes through the ages."

To the Editor:

The county commissioners and their monument committee do well to reject Jeffrey Davis’ (and his Citizens for a Secular Government’s) viewpoint, as an inscription for a courthouse lawn tribute to the U.S. Constitution. As Justice Samuel Alito summarizes (Pleasant Grove City, Utah vs. Summum), a public monument is no place to post a personal opinion.

Our local leaders will do best to reject any inscription, other than a quote from the Constitution. Our Founding Fathers’ legacy -- not Jeffrey Davis’ wish -- echoes through the ages.

Signed Sept. 17, 1788, the U.S. Constitution united 13 states into one nation and established a framework for growth and stability. Over the summer months, at Philadelphia’s Independence Hall, 55 educated and distinguished patriots, men of influence and integrity, esteemed lawyers, judges, governors, theologians, military officers, merchants from New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, deliberated and debated and negotiated.

General George Washington chaired the convention. Gouverneur Morris penned the document. Benjamin Franklin, 82, was the eldest delegate; Jonathan Dayton, 26, the youngest.

William Pierce, delegate from Georgia, says of General Washington, in his Character Sketches of Delegates to the Federal Convention (Library of Congress): “Having conducted these states to independence and peace, he now appears to assist in framing a Government to make the People happy.”

In their Soldier-Statesmen of the Constitution (U.S. Army Center for Military History), Robert Wright and Morris MacGregory say that, as a soldier and member of the Continental Congress, Gouverneur Morris was “convinced” that “a strong central government was needed” to preserve liberties and expand opportunities won in the Revolution: “In an age when most (early Americans) still thought of themselves as citizens of their sovereign and separate states, Morris was able to articulate a clear vision of a new and powerful union.”

Facing opposition that seemed likely at times to extinguish the assembly’s efforts, Washington placed his trust in God. In an Aug. 31, 1788 letter to Annis Boudinot Stockton (University of Virginia) -- a Revolutionary War patriot in her own right and widow of Richard Stockton, Declaration of Independence signer and Continental Congress delegate -- Washington expresses his awe and gratitude for the graces and great gift bestowed upon our nation by the benevolent Being: “I can never trace the (interconnection) of causes, which led to these events, without acknowledging the mystery and admiring the goodness of Providence. To that superintending Power alone is our retraction from the brink of ruin to be attributed. A spirit of accommodation was happily infused into the leading characters of the Continent…for the reception of a good government.”

Of Gouverneur Morris -- graduated from King’s College (named Columbia University in 1784) and buried at St. Anne’s Episcopal Churchyard in the Bronx -- Wright and MacGregory say: “During the Convention debates, he defended ideas that had been associated with him ever since he had helped write the New York constitution in 1776: religious liberty, opposition to slavery, the right of property as the foundation of society, the rule of law, and the consent of the governed as the basis of government. His aims were ambitious and reflected his vision of a government that would serve as an example to the rest of the world.”

Especially now, as efforts seem under way to circumvent the framework of our Constitution and to deny its source and sense, if a monument is to be erected in its honor, then we must urge our commissioners to accept only a quote from the Constitution, to enshrine the inspired vision of our faithful forefathers -- not the skewed view of Jeffrey Davis.

Nancy E. Thoerig
Mount Savage

copyright Sept. 25, 2009, Nancy E. Thoerig