For a 225-year-old document, the U.S. Constitution comes up for discussion an awful lot. Professing one’s devotion to it is practically a daily affirmation on the campaign trail these days, and any time a politician wants to cloak themselves in moral superiority, all they need to do is declare something “un-constitutional.”
But for all we hear about it, few people bother to read the Constitution, and far fewer ever get the chance to see it. We the People: The First Official Printing of the U.S. Constitution, which opens this month at the Minnesota History Center, offers the opportunity to do just that. It’s not the Constitution, but it’s the closest you can get to it without going to the National Archives in Washington, D.C.
“There’s been a ton of talk in our political environment about the Constitution,” says Dan Spock, director of the History Center Museum and the exhibition’s organizer. “Everyone feels they have a claim to it,” he says. “We thought it would be a really interesting consciousness-raising exercise to bring it here and discuss what it’s all about.” To get the conversation going, the center will host a series of discussions and events around the exhibition, including a visit from an official James Madison reenactor direct from Montpelier.
Also on display will be a rarely seen early draft of the Bill of Rights—a working draft, or “slip bill,” with 17 amendments, including an amendment that was never ratified prohibiting the alteration of compensation to members of Congress before an election.
Original editions of Minnesota’s two state constitutions will be included as well. Why two copies? In 1857, Republicans and Democrats were so divided that they each developed their own draft, and neither side would sign the other’s version. (Some things never change.) Both drafts were sent to Washington, D.C., for ratification, but the Democratic copy became the “official” version. The Republican version is essentially the same, but it is two pages longer and, due to some sloppy copying, contains some 300 differences, mostly in spelling, syntax, and punctuation. April 3-July 4.
Minnesota History Center
345 Kellogg Blvd. W., St. Paul