Lessons from our Founding Fathers on Constitution Day

On May 15, 1787, fifty-five men entered the Pennsylvania State House to discuss necessary revisions to the Articles of Confederation. Sensing the document was inadequate to address the needs of a fledgling nation, these men intended to address numerous areas of concern, including: the need for a centralized government, necessary restrictions on commerce, and means to resolve disputes between states. After a few weeks of debate, it became apparent that a revision would not suffice. Rather, these men needed to review the works of great political, legal and philosophical leaders and create a new document - a document that would guide their young nation to maturity. After several months of debate, the men emerged from the state house on September 17 with the Constitution of the United States of America. Two hundred twenty-six years have passed, but I believe we have much to learn from America's Founding Fathers and their approach to creating the Constitution:

  1. Let's study the past. The Founding Fathers were well-versed in numerous theories of government, law and citizenship. They studied the great thinkers of their time and times past to learn from them. As leaders, we need to be willing to do the same. All knowledge wasn't created in the last twenty years (though we sometimes act like it was) and there is much to be learned from generations that have gone long before us.
  2. Let's know what we value. The Founding Fathers did not agree on all legal, economic, and political matters, but they shared common values that trumped those division points. When debates about methods arose, they resolved those matters in light of their shared values. As leaders, we should encourage our teams to identify our core values so that when difficult decisions arise, we have a strong foundation for our discussion.
  3. Let's aim for consistency. The Founding Fathers reached a difficult point in their discussions in mid-August as economic matters became tied to the issue of slavery. While many of the Founding Fathers were slave owners themselves, others recoiled at the idea of creating a nation based on equality and then having an entire class of men excluded from liberty's blessings. In the end, the Constitution did not provide equality for all in that moment, but great leaders who have followed have sought to have action be consistent with principle. As leaders, we have a responsibility to act consistently with our values and to demand the same of our teams.

Food for thought on Constitution Day! Becky