Posted: Sept. 17, 2013
SEPT. 17: 226 YEARS AND COUNTING
By Celia Cohen
No other state celebrates the Constitution the way Delaware does.
Naturally nowhere else has Delaware Day, which so proudly is hailed on Dec. 7, to mark the date in 1787 when the state became the first of them all to ratify.
More recently, it has latched onto Constitution Day, arguably also known as Jim Soles Day.
Constitution Day commemorates the "Miracle at Philadelphia," as the drafting was over and the signing was done on Sept. 17, now 226 years ago.
It has also been turned here into the time for giving the James R. Soles Lecture on the Constitution and Citizenship at the University of Delaware to remember the political science professor who for so many years was the state's own patron of politics.
Jim Soles, who died in 2010, was part John Kennedy and part Tom Sawyer in the way he inspired, entreated or plain charmed a generation of Delawareans into public life. Whatever it took, he did, always in knowing cahoots with Ada Leigh Soles, his late wife who was a state representative. They were Democrats, but they were equal-opportunity enticers.
Among the disciples: Tom Carper, the senator who got into politics as the treasurer for Jim Soles' unsuccessful congressional campaign in 1974; Leonard Stark, a federal judge who was a student; and Ed Freel, a teaching assistant who became a secretary of state, now carrying on Soles' mission at the University of Delaware.
The speaker at the third annual Soles lecture, given Monday on the Newark campus to about 130 people, was Chris Coons, the Democratic senator elected just days after Soles died and weeks after Soles had hosted a fund-raiser for him.
Coons called what the Founders did in Philadelphia the "Goldilocks Constitution."
It was the sort of insight Soles would have loved. Coons explained, "The genius of the Founders [is] that they crafted compromises that were just enough."
In other words, the Constitution resolved the competing tensions of a free society not by resolving them but by creating a framework for resolving them. It worked then. It is still at work today.
A prime example is the mounting debate over the proper balance between privacy and security.
"How could the Founders in a quill pen, wig-wearing age have imagined communications that would not be letters sealed and delivered but would be electronic and would be searchable in ways that would be invisible to you? If a revenue agent came busting down the door, if a British soldier was stationed in your home, you knew it," Coons said.
"I cannot imagine the Founders resting easily with the idea that the privacy of communications of hundreds of millions of Americans is being determined in courts that are non-adversarial, where there is no one standing up and fighting for privacy, where the only advocate is the government, where the court's decisions are unknown and largely unknowable, and where the Congress charged with its oversight is -- let's be complimentary -- disengaged."
Along with the privacy/security tension, Coons mentioned war making. No doubt the turmoil over what to do about Syria was unavoidable with the Constitution giving the power to declare war to the Congress but making the president the commander-in-chief.
Coons did nothing to slow the growing recognition that he is one of the state's finest speakers, except for one thing. As part of his tribute to Soles, he mentioned sharing a Scotch together.
People winced. Anybody who drank with Soles drank bourbon with him.
It is an American drink, older than the Constitution, fit for an American original like Jim Soles, remembered on this most American of days.