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Happy birthday, America

Why today - Constitution Day - is the real birth date of the nation.

Today, Constitution Day, celebrates the signing of the Constitution here in Philadelphia in 1787. It is the most important date in U.S. history and the nation's true birthday - more significant even than July 4, 1776.

So let's wish our nation a very happy 222d birthday. Isn't it always nice when you can shave 11 years off your age?

My guess is that many Americans, taught to recognize the Fourth of July as the nation's birthday, might want to go to war over my contention that today is our nation's real birthday. And some may argue for two other hallowed dates in American history: Sept. 3, 1783, when the Treaty of Paris ended the Revolutionary War; and April 30, 1789, when George Washington was first inaugurated.

So, OK, it's a free country. Let's examine the facts and decide how old the nation is today - 233, 226, 222, or 220.

As to the Fourth of July, not to be disrespectful of a brave, important, and eloquent document, but the Declaration of Independence is mainly a list of complaints about Great Britain and King George III. Little if anything in the document outlined the form of government we planned to employ.

Ask most people for their wedding date, and they will name it easily. Ask for their engagement date, and in most cases you will get blank looks. Why? Because the engagement announces an intent. More significant is the fulfillment of that intent - the wedding.

Applying that logic to American history, we announced to the world that we intended to become independent on July 4, 1776. But on Sept. 3, 1783, the Treaty of Paris formally acknowledged our independence. So, Sept. 3, 1783, is the wedding date to the Fourth of July's engagement date.

But is it our birthday? The Treaty of Paris signified an amazing victory over arguably the strongest nation in the world. However, virtually all the energies of the colonies had been dedicated to winning the war, not how to govern themselves once they won it. The words united states were used in the declaration, but so were the words united colonies.

After the war, the states adopted the Articles of Confederation as their system of governance. But the 13 states could have been more accurately described as 13 nations. Each had its own currency, laws, taxation system, and trade agreements. Several even had their own navies. The articles were not up to the task of unifying the young nation.

It was not until almost six years after the Treaty of Paris, on a balcony of Federal Hall overlooking Wall Street in New York City, that Washington swore allegiance to the Constitution as our first president, and the great democratic saga began. So, surely, April 30, 1789, also demands consideration as our nation's most important date - even as its birthday.

But, again, consider Sept. 17, 1787. The United States of America has one of the oldest and most stable democratic governments in the world today. Why? Look to the Constitution.

The Constitution is America as we know it today. And the day the brilliant, forward-looking document was signed deserves the honor of being recognized as the date of our nation's birth.

So happy birthday, America. You are 222 years old and, thanks to our Constitution, looking as strong as ever.