September 19, 2012

Senator Joe Manchin Honors the Byrd Center and Shepherd University | Robert C. Byrd Center for Legislative Studies

Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) visited the Byrd Center on September 18, 2012, to present director Ray Smock with a framed copy of his remarks on the floor of the Senate. Senator Manchin, praised the memory of the late Senator Byrd and his love of the U. S. Constitution. Senator Byrd launched the Byrd Center’s annual Constitution Day lecture in 2005. The annual lecture, the Tom E. Moses Memorial Lecture on the U. S. Constitution is named in honor of the late Tom E. Moses, a veteran of World War II, a lifelong champion of civil liberties, and the founder of the West Virginia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Here is the full text of the Senator’s remarks in the Senate on September 17, 2012.

Mr. President, in his long life, Senator Robert Byrd had two great loves – the United States Senate and the state of West Virginia.  But in that long life, his two great passions were his wife – “fair” Erma, he called her – and the document from which this great country sprang, the United States Constitution.

Perhaps that is why he always kept a copy of the Constitution in his coat pocket – it was easy to reach for quick reference, but in his coat pocket, it also was close to his heart.

Senator Byrd often said that our freedom is “set forth and realized” in our Constitution.  And he felt it was vital that Americans study it, honor it, and revere it.  That’s why he wrote the law that created “Constitution Day” – to be celebrated every September 17, the anniversary of the “miracle in Philadelphia,” the signing of the Constitution in 1787.

Senator Byrd gave the inaugural Constitution Day address in 2005 at Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, West Virginia.  And in that address – which I recommend to my Senate colleagues on both sides of the aisle – Senator Byrd explained the reasons for his actions.

He said – and I quote – “Not a day has passed in the history of this great Republic in which the Constitution has not been important … and certainly not today, as religiously inspired terrorist groups strike from wild dark places at the way of life that our Constitution guarantees for us.”

How wise he was – as we see again by the tragic murder of four Americans in Libya just this week, including U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, and the violence of anti-American mobs in Egypt.

Mr. President, since that first speech, the Robert C. Byrd Center for Legislative Studies and Shepherd University have continued the fine tradition of Constitution Day lectures, so that generation after generation of Americans can understand and appreciate what a masterpiece the U.S. Constitution is.  And I commend the Center and the University for their efforts because the ideals of freedom, as “set forth and realized” in our Constitution, are what makes America the beacon of light in those “wild dark places” of the world.

As law goes, the U.S. Constitution is remarkably clear and brief.  Its full text, including amendments, runs less than 8,000 words.  It takes only about a half an hour to read. And yet, it is the supreme law of our great land.

It is also one of the most important texts in world history because it contains an idea that in 1787 was quite remarkable – the idea that ordinary citizens would govern themselves under their own rules, not those of monarchs or despots.

This breathtakingly novel idea, of democracy on a scale not dreamed possible, is right there in the Preamble, the beginning of this great document – “We the people.”  No liberty was more central than the people’s liberty to govern themselves.

It says, “We the people,” not “We the parties.” Nowhere in the words of the Constitution will you find the words “Democrat” or “Republican.”  The authors of the Constitution anticipated a system of government that was “dependent on the People,” as it is described in the Federalist Papers.

But the excessive partisanship we see today has drowned out the voices of the People, preventing “the People’s business” from getting done in Congress, the central institution of our democracy.

In his Constitution Day address in 2005, Senator Byrd told the story of how Benjamin Franklin, emerging from the Constitutional Convention in 1787, was asked what kind of government had been created.  “A Republic,” Franklin replied, “if you can keep it.”

That is ever the challenge, one well worth considering on this Constitution Day. But I am fully confident that “we the people” of the United States of America, if we are faithful to ourselves and to each other, will “secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity” that we ordained and established by our Constitution.

And I thank Senator Byrd, the Robert C. Byrd Center for Legislative Studies, and Shepherdstown University for giving us a chance to stop at least once a year to examine our Constitution and to think about what it has meant to the cause of freedom, not just in America, but everywhere in the world. Mr. President, I yield the floor.

By:  Marc Levitt