'Let us raise a standard'

George Washington, in 1787, was president of the Constitutional Convention.

That is, he presided over that convention whose purpose it was to prepare a constitution for the then 13 states of the former British colony.

The nation's new name was The United States of America.

The Declaration of Independence was then just two years old.

Some 39 men signed the final document; 55 were alleged to have participated in the framing of the laws.

Often the men disagreed strongly, and this gave rise to many compromise suggestions.

It is recorded that George Washington seldom participated in the debates.

But one day, after several suggestions had been watered down by compromisers, he rose to his feet and, according to observers, changed the course of history.

''If, to please the people, we offer what we ourselves disapprove, how can we afterward defend our work?

''Let us raise a standard to which the wise and honest can repair; the event is in the hand of God.''

According to some historians, this ringing statement caused the framers of our Constitution to be more radical and to avoid compromising statements.

Charles C. Nott, writing in the 1903 edition of the Americana encyclopedia, predicted that the US Constitution, written with both speed and care in 1787, would endure for some time to come.

''To foretell the future of the Constitution,'' he wrote, ''is to foretell the future of the American people. They will change before it is changed.''

Then he made a fascinating analogy:

''As with Washington and Lincoln, the more we know of them the better they appear; so of the Constitution, the more we contemplate its trials the better it appears adapted to our national needs.''

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