In 1987, I spent the summer working in D.C. as a college intern for the Commission on the Bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution. The purpose of the Commission was “to plan and develop activities appropriate to commemorate the signing of the U.S. Constitution on September 17, 1787, the formation of the three branches of government, and the Bill of Rights.”
I worked in the media department, and it was typical college intern work. The highlight of my summer and the memory that remains was attending one meeting of the Commission. I sat around a long table with political powerhouses from the left, right, and center of the political spectrum. Chief Justice Warren Burger chaired the Commission (PDF) (incidentally, his voice sounded exactly like Gregory Peck), but other members of the Commission included Lynne Cheney, Phyllis Schlafly, Senator Strom Thurmond, and Senator Edward Kennedy, who sat across from me.
It was intimidating to say the least.
Why did these people choose to volunteer their time on this Commission? I’m sure they had enough to keep them busy. What resonates most with me is the noble idea that what brought all these people together to serve on the Commission was not just their belief in the Constitution as an important document in shaping our history, but in the importance of history itself.
Everyone in that room participated in the Commission because they recognized the relevance of the U. S. Constitution to the American way of life. Accomplishments of the Commission included sponsoring scholarly and educational programs all over the country, interviewing presidents Nixon, Ford, Carter, and Reagan on their insights into the Constitution, and creating the Trust for the Bicentennial of the United States Constitution to continue the mission of civic engagement.
For the next few days, the news media will recount the legacy of Ted Kennedy with his great accomplishments in the Senate (PDF), but Kennedy did a great deal to preserve U. S. history. Notably, he helped secure the passage of legislation that preserved historic sites in Massachusetts, resulting in the expansion of the Minute Man National Historic Park, the National Trails System, and Lowell National Historical Park (more of his accomplishments are in the “accomplishments” link above).
Whether or not you choose to celebrate any number of anniversaries from Lincoln’s birthday to Oregon’s sesquicentennial to the Pony Express, history museums and heritage sites throughout the nation could use your help and participation.
Besides, you just never know when you sit at a table who might also be a fan of history .