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'It's an invitation to an argument'

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FOUNDERS:Leonard Williams, professor of political science at Manchester College,speaks on Tuesday, Sept. 10.
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PROCLAMATION: The cities of Wabash and North Manchester issued proclamations commemorating Constitution Week.
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COUNTRY:The DAR initiated the observance in 1955, when the organization petitioned the U.S. Congress.

by Rob Burgess - rburgess@wabashplaindealer.com

As Leonard Williams, professor of political science at Manchester College, explained it Tuesday, Sept. 10, the idea of a written constitution dated back to Aristotle.

Williams told the attendees of the monthly meeting of the Frances Slocum Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) at the Grandstaff-Hentgen Activity Room that Aristotle had two definitions of the word “constitution.”

Williams said the first was a plan of government, and the second was a form of life complete with norms and customs of a community. He said our current conception of the term has more to do with the first definition.

Williams was invited to address the group to commemorate the start of Constitution Week, which lasts from Tuesday, Sept. 17 to Monday, Sept. 23.

The DAR initiated the observance in 1955, when the organization petitioned the U.S. Congress, stated Barbara Amiss, chapter regent.

Williams said when the authors of the nation’s founding document met in the summer of 1787 in Independence Hall in Philadelphia, they met in secret, with no press allowed. Future President James Madison took notes, which were not to be published until after everyone in attendance was deceased.

“The Constitution represents a number of compromises,” said Williams.

Williams said these compromises were motivated partially by financial self-interest, but also by nationalism and a sense of republican ideals. (The lowercase idea of popular government, not the upper case political party.)

Williams said the founders were statesmen. He then paraphrased a quote attributed to President Harry S. Truman.

“A politician is a man who understands government. A statesman is a politician who’s been dead for 15 years,” said Truman.

Williams said despite what President Donald Trump has said about Article II, the founding document does not give the executive branch unlimited power.

“That’s not quite true,” said Williams. “It’s a government of limited power. … We have a government of separate institutions that share power. We often lament gridlock, but we forget the founders set it up.”

Williams said the cryptic nature of some of the document’s language was left intentionally vague.

“It was written in such a way that we have to interpret it like any other text,” he said. “As a result, we quarrel constantly over how to interpret the Constitution. It’s an invitation to an argument.”