Presented by history and global studies teacher Peter Gunn during The Williston Northampton School’s all-school meeting on September 19, 2012.
Good morning. A few of you have already heard what I am about to share, but I believe the two anniversaries of this week deserve a wider audience—and a moment of silent reflection and appreciation in our community.
On September 17th, 1787 thirty-seven American delegates signed the US Constitution and sent it to the states for ratification by convention. Rarely are countries born out of and built upon a set of ideas. The United States is one such country. While less familiar to our ear than Thomas Jefferson’s affirmation in the Declaration of Independence “that all men are created equal”, the preamble written by James Madison includes a sweeping expression of American ideals:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
Over the past 225 years this document has served our nation well and contributed to positive political developments around the world.
Some 75 years later on the same date in 1862, over 23,000 Americans suffered casualties, including over 6,350 who gave their lives, on the battlefield at Antietam Creek, near Sharpsburg, Maryland—in a conflict testing whether the nation based on that Constitution would continue to exist. This remains the single bloodiest day, not only of the Civil War, but in all of US and American history.
Significantly, President Abraham Lincoln used this battle as the moment to change the purpose of the Civil War and the course of US history forever. On September 22, 1862, Lincoln issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation giving Southern states until January 1, 1863 to renounce secession and rejoin the Union—or all of their slaves would be free by Executive Order. In so doing, Lincoln shifted the course of this great conflict from reunification of the severed states to the emancipation of over three million Americans.
It seems appropriate that we take a moment to quietly reflect on our debt to those who here before us sought with both the pen and with the sword to make this country a better place to be.
Both the Constitution and the Emancipation Proclamation reflect the struggles by American people to make the best of American values.