Hauenstein director takes closer look at 1787 Constitutional Convention

Hauenstein director takes closer look at 1787 Constitutional Convention

Anya Zentmeyer

When the framers of the United States constitution came together for the 1787 Constitutional Convention, they were, in the words of Grand Valley State University’s Gleaves Whitney, “terribly argumentative,” and almost broke up the convention on grounds of disagreement.

“Sometimes Americans get discouraged and think that the logjam in Washington these days is the worst it’s ever been,” said Whitney, director of GVSU’s Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies. “Not true.”

However, he added, they eventually decided there was more that held them together in common than that separated them – so they stayed, and the foundations of American government were born. That lesson, one of the importance of bipartisan compromise, is what Whitney hopes to bring to the discussion during his presentation “The Untold Story of the Constitutional Convention” tonight at 7 p.m. at the Ford Presidential Museum.

“The lessons of the founders are extremely relevant today,” Whitney said, referring to the November presidential elections. “I always say the easiest thing in the world is for republicans to run back to their (Republican National Convention) talking points and democrats to run back to their (Democratic National Convention) talking points – leadership is harder than that.”
True leadership says ‘we have a responsibility to find common ground, common solutions to our problems, to our challenges as we build a stronger America. And I think the American community deserves that kind of leadership. “

Leadership that will eventually be in the hands of the very people Whitney is encouraging attendance at the event from – students.

“Grand Valley is fortunate to have many student leaders,” he said. “There is so much to learn from the framers – the lessons that we can learn and apply today can benefit our student leaders as they seek to build better communities locally and at the state and national level. “

Though Whitney will hit on a number of issues surrounding the creation of the constitution, and the challenges the framers faced back in 1787, he said during his presentation he will emphasize that the imperfection of our leaders does not necessarily mean hopelessness is warranted from the American people.

“We had as sitting vice president that killed a former treasury secretary – and the joke there is “no, I’m not talking about Dick Cheney” – we had slave owners, we had adulterers, we had people who defied the conventions of their day; we had one vice president who went to trial on charges of treason; we had alcoholics at the convention – these were flawed human beings,” Whitney said. “They’re opinions differed greatly depending on their regional and economic interests, but they overcame their separateness and worked together to create the strongest frame of government in the modern world.”

And if there’s one thing Whitney hopes students walk away with, it’s a simple sense of optimism.
“Don’t give up hope,” he said. “We deserve leaders who can roll up their sleeves and find common ground. American history provides the examples.”

RSVP is requested for the event, and can be done up to the moment doors open at 7 p.m. online at www.allpresidents.org. For more information on the Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies, visit hauensteincenter.org, or call (616) 331-2770.
[email protected]