The United States Constitution, born 227 years ago, is one of the most profound documents ever written. It was centuries in the making and created government that let individuals act in their own best interest. Fifty-five men in Philadelphia presided over its birth and presented it to a watchful world on September 17, 1787.
The pattern for America’s government came through Christianity to Moses and ancient Israel. Our Constitution translates inalienable rights from God into formal government; rights such as freedom of worship and speech, privacy and property ownership, self-defense and fair treatment by the law.
America gives self-government because we choose our lawmakers. Ancient Israel also had representative government under Moses. This was not history’s norm: people have traditionally fallen into two groups—those who make rules and those who follow them. The long path to self-government wound its way to Runnymeade, England in 1215 AD when English barons demanded rights from King James, and insisted he sign the Magna Carta to guarantee them. With their demand for recognition, they stepped onto a long road to independence that inched its way to the United States Constitution.
Good government has a mandatory element: it must control power. Humans are prone to grasp and abuse power. Some claim it for worthwhile things—with power, they could do much good. Others begin and end with dishonorable intentions that bring havoc and misery. Regardless of intent, power rarely remains uncorrupted. As Lord Acton of Britain said, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
Our gifted original Constitution controls power by dividing it between the branches of government. Isaiah explained it to the Founders: “For the Lord is our judge; the Lord is our lawgiver; the Lord is our king” (Isaiah 33:22). The checks and balances in the Constitution created a balanced, working whole to divide power so everybody got some but nobody gets it all. Congress was to make the rules, the executive would enforce them, the courts would stabilize them.
Three methods to select leaders further brokered power: the people selected the House of Representatives, the states selected the Senate, and the very workable electoral college, which is not understood today, gave us a chief executive. Citizens held veto power because they chose those who wrote state and federal laws.
The Constitution is profoundly more than political rules. It is human nature in writing—a control on man’s greed for power. While they were optimistic about America’s future, our Framers were also realists. They knew man’s duality—the good and evil in each of us. In the words of James Madison: “As there is a degree of depravity in mankind which requires a certain . . . distrust, so there are other qualities in human nature which justify . . . esteem and confidence.” Their intent was to encourage virtue and restrict vice. The Constitution did so brilliantly; it is genius in written form.
As further protection against mayhem, changes to the system would require time, effort and broad support. Flippant, wanton destruction of inalienable rights would undo their inspired plan, so change was made deliberately difficult. Those who crave power accuse the Constitution of being slow and antiquated. It is not antiquated but it is, indeed, slow, and for a very good reason—your protection.
America created what most of Earth’s travelers have clamored for: personal liberty. Our system worked beautifully. It produced the greatest prosperity in modern history. After little more than a century under the Constitution, America produced 50% of the world’s goods with only 5% of her land mass and 6% of her population. That is success!
Enemies have set their sights on America. They say our founding document is unwieldy, outdated, unworkable. They smugly applaud their piecemeal chop job that has damaged our founding document. Yet history proves the durability of the Founders’ system. We just need to get back to the original principles and follow them.
Unfortunately, we haven’t been paying attention. We’ve been distracted while the division of power has been scrambled like eggs in an omelet. Presidents are writing laws by executive order, which they aren’t supposed to do, the court system is full of itself, and Congress is locked into sibling rivalry and can’t remember why it’s involved. We are badly in need of restoration.
Most of today’s young people don’t “get” the Constitution because the public schools no longer teach it. Yet it underlies everything we hold dear, and without it, America would be an unfriendly place. We must teach the Constitution in our homes and demand its return to the schools. (FYI, Common Core appears to have never heard of our founding document and a good share of our history.)
If we choose to refurbish liberty and redecorate the halls of national pride, we’ve got to study our founding document. We are losing it partly because we don’t understand it, and we rarely prize what we don’t understand. Again, Isaiah nails the concept: “Therefore, my people are gone into captivity because they have no knowledge.” (Isaiah 5:13) When we “get it”, we value it—the Constitution of the United States. Spend time with it; it needs our attention.