Jackie Gingrich Cushman

We are used to flag-waving in this country, but we have moved to Constitution-waving as well. Small reprints often inhabit the jacket pockets of men and pocketbooks of women. My desk holds a 3.5-inch by 5-inch copy of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.

Some might view this as a bit much, but not I. These two documents represent the creating document and the operating manual for our federal government. It is useful that they be readily accessible and easily referenced.

When eight Republican presidential candidates met this past Monday night for the CNN/Tea party debate in Tampa, Fla., they invoked the words "Constitution" and "unconstitutional" 12 times. The top spot went to Rep. Michele Bachmann, who used the words five times (including in her close, where she mentioned she would take "a copy of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights," to the White House." FYI, the Bill of Rights is part of the Constitution).

The Constitution was not drafted overnight, nor was it our first attempt to govern ourselves as a new nation (that honor goes to the Articles of Confederation). The Constitution was approved by the delegates at the Philadelphia convention on Sept. 17, 1787, 12 years after the war had begun, 11 years after we declared our independence, four years after the end of the Revolutionary War and 224 years ago this week.

The background leading to the writing of the Constitution is worth reflecting on more than two centuries later for context and understanding of today's political debate.

The Battle of Lexington and Concord, on April 19, 1775, marked the first battle of the American Revolutionary War. Slightly more than a year later, on July 4, 1776, we declared our independence from British rule. That Christmas, Gen. George Washington led the American forces across the Delaware and attacked the British forces at Trenton. Almost a year later, on Nov. 15, 1777, the Articles of Confederation were adopted by the Second Continental Congress.

The Articles of Confederation were our first attempt to set up a national government structure. This is where our name, "The United States of America," was introduced. There was no president or presiding national figure identified, there was no ability to tax on a national level, states could contribute whatever they wanted for "the common good." The national government would handle foreign diplomacy and declare war, but would rely on the states to raise a militia as needed.

Jackie Gingrich Cushman

Jackie Gingrich Cushman is a speaker, syndicated columnist, socialpreneur, and author of "The Essential American: 25 Documents and Speeches Every American Should Own," and co-author of “The 5 Principles for a Successful Life: From Our Family to Yours”.