While perusing Eric Alterman’s Altercation blog yesterday, I came across the premiere publication of a tremendous speech, very appropriate for Independence Day, by E.L. Doctorow. That’s a person I’ve heard of — his name tends to stick in the mind — but knew nothing about. Well, that’s been my loss. This guy is terrific. And the speech is elegant, powerful, really hits home today. Here’s an excerpt from near the end of the speech:
I summon up the year 1787 when the Constitutional Convention had done its work and the drafted Constitution was sent out to the states for ratification. The public’s excitement was palpable. Extended and vigorous statehouse debates echoed through the towns and villages, and as one by one the states voted to ratify, church bells rang, cheers went up from the public houses, and in the major cities the people turned out to parade with a fresh new sense of themselves as a nation. Everyone marched — tradespeople, workingmen, soldiers, women, and clergy. They had floats in those days too — most often a wagon-size ship of state called the Union, rolling through the streets with children waving from the scuppers. Philadelphia came up with a float called the New Roof, a dome supported by thirteen pillars and ornamented with stars. It was drawn by ten white horses and at the top was a handsome cupola surmounted by a figure of Plenty bearing her cornucopia. The ratification parades were sacramental — symbolic venerations, acts of faith. From the beginning, people saw the Constitution as a kind of sacred text for a civil society.