We the People

In this election year, it’s hard to watch or read any news that doesn’t devolve into rancorous partisanship. Yet while politicians publicly debate the role our government must have in our lives, as citizens we should all know a little bit more about our rights and responsibilities in a representative democracy. What better way to learn about America’s “grand experiment,” than to go to the source: The Constitution.

Beginning next Tuesday, visitors to the Minnesota History Center will have the opportunity to see a rare first printed copy of The Constitution dating from 1787; only eight copies still exist. An even more rare draft of the Bill of Rights also will be included in the display. Original editions of two state of Minnesota Constitutions also will be on display through July 4, 2012. These historic documents provide a unique “first-hand look at how our government came to be,” says Stephen Elliott, Minnesota Historical Society director and CEO.

The final draft of U.S. Constitution was signed on Sept. 17, 1787, and sent to the printing house of Dunlap & Claypole, according to information provided by The Minnesota History Center. Working through the night the printer created the first official printing of the six-page document—a copy of which is on display.

Why two state constitutions in this exhibit? In 1857, territorial residents elected delegates to a state constitutional convention. Democrats and Republicans couldn’t get along. (Sound familiar?) While a conference committee was able to create language for the Constitution that was acceptable to both parties, delegates refused to sign a document containing signatures of the other faction’s members. And you thought today’s politics … I’m not going to finish that sentence. So there are two documents. And while they were intended to be identical, according to the History Center a close examination will reveal more than 300 punctuation, grammatical, and wording differences. No substantive differences in meaning exist.

It’s stories like these that remind us that our current political climate may not be that different from our past. At times it seems we haven’t come that far at all. Nonetheless, we’ve prevailed. And as these documents show, our grand experiment has helped forge a more perfect union that’s lasted for more than 200 years. If you are a history buff like me, you will definitely want to plan your trip.

The U.S. Constitution and Draft Bill of Rights Exhibit
Minnesota History Center
651-259-3000, minnesotahistorycenter.org

Exhibit is open during History Center Hours: Tuesday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Wednesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.

Admission: $11 for adults; $9 for seniors and college students; $6 for children ages 6 to 17; free for children age 5 and under, and for members. Free for all ages on Tuesday evenings from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.