It has been said that we are a nation of laws, not of men. This principle is perhaps best encapsulated in our beautifully crafted Constitution.
It has been said that we are a nation of laws, not of men. This principle is perhaps best encapsulated in our beautifully crafted Constitution. Last week marked the anniversary of the original signing of this document on September 17, 1787.
Known as Constitution Day, this occasion gives us an opportunity to remember the precious freedoms we have inherited and to reflect on how such liberties are to be secured.
Nearly 225 years later, the simplicity and genius of our founding document – which is surprisingly brief – is still a marvel. To put it in perspective, the nearly incomprehensible federal health care bill is almost 2,500 pages and yet the U.S. Constitution succinctly establishes a representative form of government and guarantees the essential liberties of all citizens (important amendments were added over time to recognize the inalienable rights of women and minorities) in just over 4,500 words.
Central to the success of the Founders’ effort to craft a workable Constitution was a realistic view of human nature. Throughout history, as a king or a select group of individuals rose to prominence, they repeatedly proved the adage, “power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
The Founders were well-aware of mankind’s tendency toward selfishness, abuse of power and corruption. To counter this reality, they created a government with three co-equal branches. The beauty of this Constitutional framework is that each branch naturally balances the others, keeping anyone from becoming too powerful. The legislative branch passes laws, the executive branch must approve and put them into effect, and the judicial branch interprets laws and sorts out disputes among private parties as these laws are implemented.
In a further act of genius, the Founders guaranteed in the Constitution that each state must also adopt a republican (representative) form of government, further dividing power between the federal government and the state governments.
This hard-wired tension between the states and the federal government in Washington is designed to keep the national government from becoming too powerful and ultimately oppressive to its citizens.
Though the Constitution is a masterful document and quantum leap forward in terms of political theory, its true strength lies with an enlightened and informed citizenry. Next week, this column will look at the sacred charge given by our Founders to “we the people” to ensure that our own freedoms are protected and preserved.