Wednesday, October 3, 2001
Today we remember our constitution makers. This new state office building is on the site of the old Lansing Civic Center. It was on this site, exactly 40 years ago today, that 144 delegates from around the state convened for the first time.
A number of the delegates are with us this afternoon. Their charge was to draft a new constitution for the State of Michigan. The 1908 Constitution that was then in effect was in reality just a light revision of an even older document, the 1850 Constitution.
The old constitution could not accommodate the rapid pace of change that Michigan and America were experiencing after the Second World War.
The delegates had to set aside partisan differences as best they could, and modernize our basic framework of government.
Seven and a half months later - after countless hours of meeting, caucusing, studying, listening, debating, cajoling, writing, and rewriting - the delegates submitted to the people of Michigan a document that would either be approved or rejected at the ballot box.
A majority of the people voted to approve the Constitution of 1963. And we are glad they did, because it is one of the finest state constitutions in the United States.
This magnificent new building is being named "Constitution Hall" to commemorate the good work that was done at the Con-Con. The delegates actually met in a big room called the old Veterans Section of the Civic Center.
During the time they met, that part of the building was renamed "Constitution Hall."
And that explains the name of this new building, to commemorate the significant events that took place here in 1961 and 1962.
The hall was open to the people and to the press - there was a public gallery and a press box so that any citizen who wanted could observe the proceedings.
We were then, as now, proud of this nation's constitutional form of government.
We were not afraid to let the sun shine in on democracy.
This was quite a contrast to what was happening elsewhere in the world in those days.
Recall that the early Sixties were the height of the Cold War.
Cuba had been lost to Castro.
The space race was on.
The Berlin Wall was going up.
The Soviets boasted that they would bury the West.
Here in Michigan, these delegates said "No!" to the Totalitarians in a most eloquent way.
They met and did the work of a confident people.
Acknowledging the sovereignty of our citizens.
Abiding by the rule of law.
Affirming freedom and justice for all.
The Constitution they drafted is an elegant summation of our legacy of liberty, a determination to prevail against the lawlessness and hostility of our enemies.
Throughout the public areas of this building, permanent displays are being set up to explain the Con-Con. You can see the voting board that was actually used in 1961 and '62. In the lobby are the podium and Great Seal that were in the old Constitution Hall, as well as the desk of delegate John Hannah. Also in the lobby are the words of the Preamble.
In the display case are Michigan's three previous constitutions - of 1835, 1850, and 1908.
As you walk around, you will notice that many of the conference rooms are named after delegates.
It is our hope that the people of Michigan - especially our young people - will familiarize themselves with the Constitution of 1963.
It is the framework of government that has served our state well these past 40 years, and will no doubt continue to do so for many years to come.
Ultimately, our constitution is a great tutorial in freedom.