The Constitution of the United States of America is an amazing document. From the stories of those who created it all the way up to modern times and those who have tried to minimize its importance as an “out of date” document, somehow unsuited to the modern pursuits of a 21st century civilization.
Of course, when you read the document you begin to realize that it was created – and designed – to be timeless. There are no principals laid down in that document that are unique to a time. In fact, all it really does is lay down the most basic understanding and acknowledgment of the rights we are born with. Which brings us to the first important thing to remember about the Constituion.
That’s right. The Constitution does not grant you a single right. The founders were truly brilliant. The way they put together the Constitution serves as a testament to their understanding that men are capable of great good and great evil. The entire architecture of the document provides for both. The Constitution does not give you any rights, it simply states the rights that you are born with. These rights exist, whether the Constitution does or not – the Constitution simply states the fact of their existence. In creating the document in this way, they make clear that no document or government can give you these rights or take them away – because you already have them by virtue of being born. They are your birthright. For those that believe in God, as our founders did, you are endowed by your creator with certain inalienable rights (as was stated in the Declaration of Independence). At the time, there was a great deal of debate as to whether or not there should be a Bill of Rights included. The fear was not that the people would have too much power, but rather that by stipulating the acknowledgement of specific rights of freedom, the government might see that as a chance to exert power in any areas not specifically spelled out. The preamble of the Bill of Rights makes it clear that they were not worried about the people, but the government (Italics and underlining added by me):
THE Conventions of a number of the States, having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added: And as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government, will best ensure the beneficent ends of its institution.
So the document puts the power in the hands of the people. As long as you do not infringe on my rights or I with yours, all is good with the world. That is the acknowledgment of the goodness in men.
Implied in the text of the Constitution is an understanding that man has a dark side. After all, why else is there an extensive checks and balances system put in place? The message from the Constitution to every American is, DON’T TRUST GOVERNMENT! The Constitution was written with an understanding that power must rest with the people. When a power must be delegated to the government, it must be done with the assumption that it will be abused. Therefore, the exercise of that power must have an involved process involving all the branches of government to fully exercise those powers. The big lesson we learn from reading the Constitution is the idea that no power should be given to the very best in government that we are not also willing to give to the absolute worst in government.
Our founding fathers lived in a time where rights were abridged regularly. They understood the best and worst of what government and men could do. As you read and re-read the constitution – and other works by the founders, it is amazing how they seem to have anticipated the kinds of challenges we face with our government today. Say what you like about the Constitution and the framers, but if they are anything, they are relevant today.
This is just the first of many articles that I hope to write that discusses the relevancy of the Constitution. I look forward to hearing from readers regarding their thoughts on the subject.