Constitution Center marks 225th anniversary of the constitution

Jesse and Maggie Taylor of Center City leave the National Constitution Center Sunday with their children.TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
Jesse and Maggie Taylor of Center City leave the National Constitution Center Sunday with their children.TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer (TOM GRALISH / Staff)
Posted: September 18, 2012

The Founding Fathers might have been surprised to see who showed up Sunday just before the 225th anniversary of the U.S. Constitution.

In Philadelphia to dip themselves in Americana were 24 government ministers from Afghanistan.

"It's inspiring," said a 32-year-old Afghani who withheld his name for security reasons. "To see the document that has given the freedom and the justice to the people, it's exciting."

The U.S Constitution, which begins with "We the People," was adopted on Sept. 17, 1787 by the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. The document went into effect on March 4, 1789.

The product of compromise, it lays out the central principles for a democratic government and the rights its citizens can expect to enjoy.

To mark the 225th anniversary Monday, the National Constitution Center will offer free admission to visitors from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. The center is at 525 Arch St.

Programs director Mark Kehres said the center would provide staff-led interactive programs on topics such as the Bill of Rights and the separation of powers.

On Sunday, the center's lobby was festooned for the occasion with bunting and arches of balloons in patriotic red, white, and blue.

Scott Dorsey, 43, was in town from Washington to make arrangements for the Afghan officials. Asked if he knew their visit would coincide with the 225th anniversary, he answered, "Not until I got here."

Dorsey said he felt it was important for the visiting Afghans, all young adults, to learn about the American model of government.

"They don't have that structure going on," he said.

The government of Afghanistan consists of the Council of Ministers and the National Assembly, with a president as commander in chief.

The country's Constitution was passed in 2004, but forces within are attempting to destabilize it.

As a way of strengthening Afghan leaders, the Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies at the U.S. Department of Defense/National Defense University in Washington arranged the two-week trip for the foreigners, center officials said.

"Our seminar is about the different parts of the government, to learn to work together," said the Afghan official with the security concerns. "We will take these experiences home and try to practice [them]."

The Afghanis weren't the only visitors to the Constitution Center Sunday. There were tour groups from Asia and Germany, and couples from Quebec and France. All waited patiently for the center to open at noon.

The Taylors of Center City were there, too, with children Betsy, 2, and George, 5 months, who was asleep in a sling on his father's chest. They have lived here for two years, but were just getting around to touring Philadelphia's historic sites.

Jesse Taylor, 38, said seeing the Liberty Bell brought him to tears. The Constitution, he said, is a blueprint of what a government should do and be.

"It's still a relevant document to guide other countries," Tayor said. "It's a symbol of hope for the Afghan and Iraqi people."

His wife, Maggie, 36, was struck by the contrast between the statesmanship that was used to draft the Constitution and the bipartisan flavor of recent negotiations over issues like the U.S. budget.

"It's interesting to see what Congress can't get done today," she said. "It's amazing the Constitution did get done."

Three retired nurses in their 70s, part of a 14-member party in town to see the historic sites, said they feared the Founding Fathers might be upset if they knew what the U.S. "has come to." They too cited the bipartisan bickering over the budget.

"I think the basic values have been lost," said Karen Marietti, of Michigan.


Contact Bonnie L. Cook at 610-313-8232 or bcook@phillynews.com. Read her MontCo Memo blog at philly.com.

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