The hour was late and only a few of us were left in the newsroom. We were waiting for the final edition to come off the presses.

Naturally, the small talk with which we killed time was very profound.

One man said, "This country will be celebrating another birthday soon, and I find myself wondering how much success the Founding Fathers thought their project would achieve. Did they suspect that some day their wilderness would be replaced by the greatest industrialized nation in the world? Could they have conceived of hundreds of jobs and professions and inventions that didn't even exist in their day?"

"I think so," another man said. "Franklin and Jefferson and some of those other people were wise old birds. Take that paragraph of Jefferson's that's chiseled into the marble on his memorial -- something about how you can't expect people to live under old-fashioned laws any more than you can expect a man to continue to wear a coat that fit him when he was a boy."

A young man in his 30s said, "You mentioned jobs that didn't exists when the nation was founded. I can give you the reverse of that: a list of jobs that have disappeared in the few years since I was a kid. I used to be a golf caddie. I used to deliver groceries. I used to deliver telegrams on a bicycle. I used to set pins in a bowling alley. All those jobs are gone now. Anything that couldn't be automated has been eliminated."

The final edition arrived, and I started for home. En route, I thought about what I would be writing on the next day, for this July 4 column.

"Has everything really changed?" I wondered. Could men who lived in 1776 have foreseen that in 1979 people would need guidelines for coping with inflation, human rights, runaway taxes or the delicate balance between war and peace? Could they have anticipated today's frar that Big Brother in Washington will soom run every detail of every person's life?

Take 10 minutes to reread the Constitution and get the answers. Refresh your memory -- and your faith in the American ststem.

Recall, if you will, the preoccupation of the Founding Fathers with coinage, credit, sound money and control of the nation's purestrings.

Review the debates that preceded the human rights compromise: In principle, all men were created equal; in fact, women were not as equal as man, but were more equal than blacks [each of whom counted for only three-fifths of a person], or Indians [who didn't count at all].

Keep in mind that taxes on tea and other imported staples were as irritating and burdensome to the colonists as the income tax is to us.

War and peace? The Constitution was much preoccupied with the conduct of foreign affairs. And in Article 1, Section 8, it spelled out the powers of Congress to provide for an army and navy, to call forth the militia in time of emergency, and to declare war.

What seems the most modern problem of all, the frar of an all-powerful central government, was the issue that more than any other persuaded the colonists to break away from Europe's straitjacket. The immigrants had come here to escape from Big Brothers who tried to tell them how to live and what to believe, and they fought a bloody war of revolution to underscore their determination to be free.

Yes, many things have changed since 1776. Rutted post roads have become swift superhighways. Jet planes fly so high they can barely be seen or heard. We communicate more by telephone, radio, television and satellite than by letter. Computers do our thinking and our calculations while nuclear energy supplies the power. We send men to the moon, talk to them while they're there, watch pictures of what they're doing and then bring them safely and routinely back to earth.

Wise and prescient as they were, Franklin and Jefferson would probably be astounded to see the changes that only 203 years have brought. But I think they'd also be pleased to see that some things remain the same.

We are still one nation, indivisible. We remain committed to liberty and justice for all. We continue to try to perfect a democratic system that is imperfect but better than any visible alternative. We are still working to provide peace and prosperity for all. And we are more firmly resolved than ever before to accept the principle that every citizen enjoys equal status in the eyes of the law. .

That's not a bad record for a ragtag bunch of radicals and revolutionaries who had to hang together in the dark days -- because the alternative was that they'd all hang separately. So pappy birthday, Uncle Sam. I pray that God will grant to you, as he does to AA members, the serenity to accept the things you cannot change, the courage to chage the things you can, and the wisdom to know which is which.