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Alicia Cunningham: Teaching history of Constitution on secular level belittles the miracle

By Alicia Cunningham

For the Deseret News

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 19 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

Teaching a class the history of the Constitution on a purely secular level belittles the miracle that document represents.

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It makes sense that this Constitution Day I will wrap up teaching my American Government class at a local university. The date is highly appropriate, and I feel that the class could not have a more symbolic send-off.

For the last several weeks we have memorized amendments, dissected articles and dug into inherent versus implied powers.

But we have not done one thing: We have not marveled.

Because I teach at a public institution, I taught my class the Constitution on a purely secular level. During many class lectures, this was fine and even appropriate. At other times, it felt restrictive as we were discussing true miracles that were belittled by not discussing them as such.

I could only pause and ask the class to consider how amazing it all was.

My thought was that perhaps if I used the word "amazing" enough, the class would understand that there was a higher power involved in this process. More than likely, the class missed the hint and instead just thought that I had a rather limited vocabulary.

There are truly great miracles involved in the writing of the Constitution that I wish I could have discussed with my class.

United in purpose

While the Constitutional Convention took place from May 14 to Sept. 17, 1787, delegates to the convention actually decided within just a few days that the new government would be made up of a legislative, executive and judicial branch. The main outline of this new government only required a few days to put into place. When was the last time our Congress resolved a completely new and critically important issue in a matter of days?

George Washington also expressed amazement in a letter written to his dear friend Lafayette in 1788:

“It appears to me, little short of a miracle, that the delegates from so many different states (which states you know are also different from each other in their manners, circumstances, and prejudices) should unite in forming a system of national government, so little liable to well-founded objections.”

These men, absolutely inspired, were able to quickly come together and be united in purpose.

Right place — right time

I wish I could have explained better that the delegates chosen to be in Philadelphia during that very hot summer were also part of the larger miracle. The Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776, and the Constitutional Convention met in 1787. They were only separated by 11 years, but of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence, only eight of them participated in the Constitutional Convention. This is an ignored blessing as the men who shook off a tyrant in 1776 were simply not the same men needed to create a strong federal government eleven years later.

James Madison wrote of the process later, applauding the leaders who came together at the right place and the right time: “There never was an assembly of men, charged with a great and arduous trust, who were more pure in their motives, or more exclusively or anxiously devoted to the object committed to them.”

One man — one miracle

While the delegation supported the idea of an executive authority, they did not agree until June 1, 1787, that this authority would be limited to just one person. It helped that everyone already had someone in mind: George Washington.

As the president of the Constitutional Convention, Washington oversaw the writing of the Second Article of the Constitution. He remained absolutely silent as his future job description was formed. Who does that? Who would not argue for a few more powers — for a little more authority? George Washington was truly a man of God, one of the largest miracles bestowed upon this country.

I could not discuss these miracles, but I saw a few occur in my classroom. Many of my students who cared little for government and politics — only signing up for the class because it was required — actually registered to vote during our short time together. Will wonders never cease?

Alicia Cunningham is a graduate of Brigham Young University and George Mason School of Law. A mother of four, she teaches American Government and Intellectual Property Law at Neumont University. Follow her blog at http://bloggingonbooks.wordpress.com

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