On Sept. 17, the Constitution of the United States has its 205th birthday, still a vital foundation for the world's oldest republic.

The 55 delegates who met in Philadelphia in 1787 to draft this durable document faced what appeared to be a seemingly insurmountable task. The Articles of Confederation had shown itself to be a weak instrument, and a stronger, more flexible approach was needed. Most Americans agreed on that.The framers wanted an intricate balance without giving too much power to any single branch of government. They wanted to carve out divisions of authority so pronounced that it would be impossible for any one person or branch of government to subvert them.

Considering all the differing points of view, it was a miracle that a document was created that not only worked, but survived for 205 years.

Interestingly enough, it did not work exactly as the framers intended. The instrument they produced was a static one that would work perfectly only if every balance wheel behaved properly, much like the balance wheels in a watch.

Instead of a perfect, constant balance in which none of the three branches was ever more powerful than the others, we got a system that varied, based on who held office.

If the president was a powerful, aggressive figure, he might exert more power than the Congress. If the Congress was made up of a few powerful, aggressive members, they might exert more power than the president.

Even the court has been occasionally composed of strong, aggressive justices who might dominate both the president and the Congress on certain issues. Power inevitably slips back and forth between the branches, depending on the nature and personality of the people who are elected or appointed to office.

This is worth thinking about during this election year, as we contemplate the election of both a president and members of Congress. In recent years, some have complained of "governmental gridlock," in which it seems decisive action is impossible because the branches refuse to either agree or cooperate. When that occurs, we should remember the Constitutional Convention itself and its "bundle of compromises."

The branches can work together effectively only if they are open to the spirit of conciliation and compromise. They can reach solutions to the nation's accelerating problems only if they are willing to downplay partisanship at crucial times.

The people of the United States need to elect reasonable people to office who will work together in the spirit of the framers to solve the problems before us.