by John Schachter. This post is part of an ACSblog Constitution Day Symposium.
Wanna know whom I feel sorry for? William Hill Brown, Sir William Herschel, and Father John Carroll. Each chalked up a noteworthy achievement, yet none receives the appropriate attention or accolades because of unfortunate timing. Students across this country – even students of history – would be hard-pressed to recognize any of these three gentlemen.
Brown published the first American novel, “Power of Sympathy," in January 1789. In August and September that same year, Herschel discovered Enceladus and Mimas, Saturn's respective moon and satellite. And Carroll, in November 1789, became the first Catholic bishop in the United States thanks to his appointment by Pope Pius VI.
But do we celebrate these fine achievements? Are we preparing to celebrate the anniversary of the first American novel, first Catholic bishop or discovery of Saturn’s orbits? No. Because 1789, in American books and minds, belongs to the U.S. Constitution. To the exclusion of other worldly events, 1789 is all Constitution, all the time. (Francophiles may note that French Revolution garners some worthy attention.) Thanks to the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) we actually celebrate 1787 -- when the Constitution was written and adopted by the Constitutional Convention -- more so than 1789 -- when the Constitution took effect. So this year is big, what with it being the founding document’s bicenvicenquinquennial. Or is it the quinta-semicentury? Or maybe the sesquicentennial-semicentury-quarterquell? OK, let’s just stick with the 225th anniversary.