The United States Constitution: a new order for the ages
On this week, 225 years ago, the Constitution of the United States was adopted by the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on September 17, 1787. It is important for modern day American patriots to know exactly what they are conserving, and that should be the values and ideas that helped found this country.
In his farewell speech, President Ronald Reagan spoke of “informed patriotism” and said that simply loving America was not enough. Patriotism to Reagan had to be, “grounded in thoughtfulness and knowledge.”
Americans this week should heed Reagan’s words and take the time to learn about the timeless ideas of this country’s founding. This is in large part what the rise of the Tea Parties in April of 2009 were all about, returning this country to its principles and away from politicians like former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D.-Calif.), who, when asked which part of the Constitution grants the federal government the authority to enact the individual mandate in ObamaCare, said dismissively, “Are you serious?”
According to many scholars the Constitutional abuses of this presidential administration are “historic”. This should worry every freedom-loving citizen.
Americans of today must be wary of politicians and political advocates who talk of nebulous “rights” mentioned nowhere in the Declaration of Independence or who, in fact, entirely dismiss the Constitution as a governing document.
The writing and adoption of the Constitution was a pivotal moment in not only American, but world history, and it is the bedrock of American liberty. It was the first time that a formal Constitution was made by the people and for the people. American government would not be doomed to be formed organically and simply by whoever was the strongest, but was instead carefully crafted by delegates chosen by the states. It was designed to work as a functional framework for American government, “Partly national; partly federal,” as the great delegate from Connecticut Oliver Ellsworth once said, a line repeated by James Madison in Federalist 39.
Besides being a practical framework for American government operation the Constitution was also designed to protect the rights of citizens that had been stated in the Declaration of Independence.
James Madison, who in his late twenties found his calling in life and dedicated himself to learning about creating governments and a constitution, is often called the “Father of the Constitution”. Madison once said, “The Constitution preserves the advantage of being armed which Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation where the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms.”
Madison then, of course, wrote the Bill of Rights, containing the Second Amendment, which guarantees that “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”
An armed populace is the last defense of a populace if a government or segment of the population chooses bullets over ballots to impose its will.
While Madison was perhaps the greatest Constitutional scholar in a generation of great thinkers, it is unfair to attribute the creation of the Constitution to him alone. It was the product of the men in attendance at the Constitutional Convention, the patriots who brought victory in the American Revolution, the great thinkers of modernity and antiquity, as well as the successes and failures of great civilizations of the past.
The Constitution had many fathers, and fortunately many sons and daughters who came to defend it thereafter. One of the Constitution’s greatest champions was Joseph Story, who was also born on this week and was turning 8 years old when the Constitution was adopted. Story became one of the greatest Supreme Court Justices in American history and laid much of the groundwork for the Constitutional ideas of his friend, Daniel Webster, and for Abraham Lincoln.
Story, besides just being an influential Supreme Court Justice, was a great teacher of the Constitution and believed that to be good citizens Americans had to understand and uphold their founding documents. He also venerated the men of his parents’ generation who created it.
Story said in A Familiar Exposition of the Constitution of the United States , “To those great men, who thus framed the Constitution and secured the adoption of it, we owe a great debt of gratitude, which can scarcely be repaid… Many of them went to their graves, without the soothing consolation, that their services and sacrifices were duly appreciated.”
Americans today must get better acquainted with the history and principles of the constitution or as Story said of free citizens who fail to learn about the foundations of their institutions: “The people… have been sometimes cheated out of their liberties by servile demagogues; sometimes betrayed into a surrender of them by false patriots; and sometimes they have willingly sold them for a price to the despot. They have disregarded the warning voice of their best statesmen.”
Story continued, “Patronage and party, the triumph of an artful popular leader, and the discontents of the day, have outweighed…all solid principles and institutions of government. Such are the melancholy lessons of the past history of republics to our own.”
A good place to start learning about the Constitution is the Federalist Papers. They were written by John Jay, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, who were trying to get the Constitution ratified in the state of New York. If you wish to get a brief sketch of some of America’s greatest Founding Fathers, pick up The Founder’s Almanac, edited by Matthew Spalding of the Heritage Foundation. And finally, if you wish to learn specifically about the men who attended the Constitutional Convention and the intellectual origins of the document, read Novus Ordo Seclorum: The Intellectual Origins of the Constitution, by Forrest McDonald.