University of South Carolina

Occupy 1787: USC to celebrate Constitution Day Sept. 17

By Peggy Binette, peggy@mailbox.sc.edu, 803-777-7704

Whether it is the Occupy movement or the Tea Party, opposition to popular government is as relevant today as it was in 1787 when the U.S. Constitution was debated intensely.

The value of that dissent and the role early critics of the Constitution played in forming America’s democratic culture will be the topic of the University of South Carolina’s annual Constitution Day lecture Sept. 17.

Robert W. T. Martin, a political science scholar from Hamilton College, will deliver this year’s lecture, at 7 p.m. in Gambrell Hall auditorium. Titled “Occupying Philadelphia in 1787: the Constitution’s Critics and the Birth of the American Democratic Culture,” the event is free and open to the public.

“Our current political culture is very much the outgrowth of earlier struggles, developments and set-backs. The Occupy and Tea Party movements are just a couple of examples of this continued tradition,” Martin said. “Questions of who is in a position -- politically, economically and practically -- to speak and be heard, as well as what is acceptable to say, are just as relevant now as they were in 1787.”

While 18th-century debate over the proposed Constitution was rarely bitter, Martin said it was serious, intense and heartfelt.

“The very future of popular government, both in the new country and across the globe, seemed at stake. And it probably was,” he said. “In the end, ratification was a close call, with even supporters unsure of the likely outcome well into mid-1788. Even with formal ratification in late June of 1788, prospects were unclear, since without New York’s still-pending ratification, the new country would have been left split in half geographically.”

Martin, professor and chairman of the political science department at Hamilton, has written books on Alexander Hamilton and the freedom of the press. His lecture at USC will draw largely from his forthcoming book, “Government by Dissent: Protest, Resistance, and Radical Democratic Thought in the Early American Republic,” which will be released next spring by New York University Press.

Originally from Connecticut, Martin says he always has been interested in politics, philosophy and teaching, but that his passion for history, particularly in early America, was ignited by his study of politics today.

“Research into our current political debates convinced me that the roots of these issues were all in the Founding era,” Martin said.

The proposed U.S. Constitution was signed by delegates at the Philadelphia convention on Sept. 17, 1787. In 2004, the late Robert Byrd of West Virginia led an initiative to make Sept. 17 a national day of observance. Constitution Day was first celebrated in 2005.

The university’s annual commemoration is sponsored by the Office of the Provost, the College of Arts and Sciences and its department of political science and the School of Law.

For more information, contact Dan Sabia, chairman of the department of political science, at 803-777-3109.

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Posted: 08/28/12 @ 1:20 PM | Updated: 09/17/12 @ 10:31 PM | Permalink