For years now, my wife and I have been counting the days until we were finally able to move from the suburbs of Philadelphia, PA to the outskirts of Charleston, SC. Both of us love it down there. We love the the people, we love the city, we love the weather. But today, roughly four months before our big move, an article in The Philadelphia Inquirer has reminded me what I may miss most of all about the area in which I grew up.
Sure, there are the varied haunts of my childhood. Sure, there are the professional sports teams. And sure, there are the tremendous sandwiches, best of all the “mushroom cheese wit” from Pat’s at 9th & Wharton and the prosciutto hoagie from Salumeria in the Reading Terminal Market. But what I’ll miss is the history.
Of course, Charleston is not devoid of historical import by any means, but there’s something about walking by each day the site of the house in which Thomas Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence, there’s something about knowing who walked those same streets and knowing what was happening at that time which is so deeply wondersome to anyone interested in the founding of our great nation.
In today’s Inquirer is the story of how a researcher looking through documents in the reading room at the Historical Society of Philadelphia stumbled upon an early draft of the United States Constitution.
On the back of a treasured draft of the U.S. Constitution was a truncated version of the same document, starting with the familiar words: “We The People. . . .”
They had been scribbled upside down by one of the Constitution’s framers, James Wilson, in the summer of 1787. The cursive continued, then abruptly stopped, as if pages were missing.
A mystery, Toler thought, until she examined other Wilson papers from the Historical Society’s vault in Philadelphia and found what appeared to be the rest of the draft, titled “The Continuation of the Scheme.”
On Facebook this morning, a great friend of mine of 25 years–and husband to “Katherine,” the well-read and well-written liberal who comments here at America’s Right from time to time–posted in jest (I hope) that the early draft “[c]ontains a right to privacy, unitary executive clause, and a doodle of a cross-eyed James Madison.” I wondered aloud whether it had been signed by Sen. Robert Byrd. I think he and the late Strom Thurmond had just reached the 30-year-old constitutional threshhold for serving in the Senate at that time.
Thankfully, I’m not so certain we’ll be finding any such tidbits. I don’t think we’ll be seeing a right to homeownership or universal health care, or see any surprising names scribbled at the bottom. Byrd and Thurmond weren’t to be born for at least another twenty years (wink, wink) after the Constitution was drafted, signed and ratified, and contemporaneous writings of our founders tell us most of what we need to know about any questions into original intent.
Anyone concerned, for example, about possible ambiguity with regard to the individual right preserved by the words “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed” can look to John Adams’ A Defense of the Constitution, in which he wrote that “[a]rms in the hands of individual citizens may be used at individual discretion … in private self-defense,” or James Madison’s note that the Constitution preserves “the advantage of being armed which Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation … [where] the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms.”
Nevertheless, that an early draft of the United States Constitution, in James Wilson’s own handwriting no less, has been just stumbled upon here in Philadelphia only reaffirms what the City of Brotherly Love does well and what it unfortunately does even better — remind us of what happened during the time of our nation’s founding, and remind us of how far we’ve fallen from those ideas and ideals set forth by our founders.