One of the pivotal keys to understanding our nation and our government is a clear, basic understanding of our Constitution. To our own shame, most Americans know little or nothing about the document that established the relationship between the citizenry and our government. That relationship had, throughout most of history, been undocumented, because those in power held power through force, or divine right, or both. If one has a secure right to rule, no discussion or documentation is needed.
Understanding why the U.S. Constitution was written, and what it set out to accomplish is much simpler when we consider the mind-set of those who wrote and passed it. It makes little difference who wrote the words… 38 representatives of 12 states accepted it and signed it, and not without a lot of disagreement. Remember, the people of the colonies uniting to form the United States had been British subjects, who, for reasons we might consider trivial today, had denounced their King and declared themselves independent. They were willing to take on their own powerful nation to form their own. What they wanted was quite specific… a government that was subservient to the will of the people. That the Preamble of the Constitution begins with “We the People”, written oversized, is of immense significance.
The Constitution established how the new government would be organized, and places restrictions on what that government could do, but the great significance of it, and what made it unique in the history of man was that RELATIONSHIP… that we, the people, are voluntarily establishing a government of our design and choosing… a government that is to be controlled by the citizens of our nation.
That was a radical idea, as expressed in the Declaration of Independence, and then carried over into the Constitution:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness – That to secure these Rights, Government are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it…
Unalienable rights… “incapable of being alienated, surrendered, or transferred”… rights that PRECEDE government of any kind… natural rights of men, whether there is government or not.
Then, the single purpose of our government is stated… “to secure these Rights”, we the people are creating a government. The government is being created simply as a means to PROTECT the rights the people already have. It goes on to be very clear that government has powers only with the “Consent of the Governed”, and that we retain the natural right to alter that government or to abolish it.
These early founders of our nation were very suspicious men. They understood the downside of government… the natural tendency toward corruption and power-mongering. Their clear intent, in the Declaration and Constitution was to try to insure that this new government would never get out of the control of the citizenry.
These founders were not perfect but certainly wise. They could have written a Constitution that contained a list of actions prohibited to government, but they knew that would not prevent new actions not on the list. They took a different approach. They wanted a limited government, so they specified what that government could undertake. These things, and no more. That was further emphasized in the 8th and 9th amendments:
The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage other retained by the people.
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
An unfortunate number of Americans are ignorant of how revolutionary and significant the foundation of our government was. It inspired freedom movements around the globe. If I had to choose one single criticism of our school systems, it would be the complete failure to present the wonder and uniqueness intended for our citizen/government relationship. But then, to be fair, should we expect schools increasingly controlled by our bloated governments to teach that there is nothing in the Constitution that authorizes public education?
Thus, the relationship between the citizens and their government has been so distorted that we have come to think of ourselves again as “subjects”, at the mercy of that which was created to protect our natural rights. Almost all that occurs in Congress and the White House is far beyond the limitations imposed by the Constitution. Those we’ve elected understand that they’re ignoring the Oath of their offices, and they don’t give a damn. They’re not eager to concede limitations on the power they’ve acquired.
This article was triggered by an email from a reader, incensed by the misrepresentation tossed into a StarTribune editorial to justify a position I happen to agree with, that the “Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act” was unconstitutional:
There’s nothing especially mysterious about the U.S. Constitution. Written by James Madison and a host of fellow geniuses a few centuries back, it simply spells out the guarantees to which all Americans are entitled –including, as the preamble plainly declares, the “blessings of liberty.”
The purpose of the Constitution was not to “simply spell out guarantees”, but to define and limit the government. The “Bill of Rights” the first 10 amendments, added later as further protection, specifies some rights, but to characterize that as the purpose of the Constitution is to ignore the real purpose.
The editorial goes on to say:
Thanks to the “blessings of liberty” bestowed by the U.S. Constitution –and the wisdom of a San Francisco judge — the question remains where it ought to be: in the hands of women and the doctors they consult.
The “blessings of liberty” are not bestowed (gifted) by the Constitution. Again, those “blessings” existed before the Constitution, and, as the Preamble clearly says – “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity”.
We were not gifted with rights by the founders of the United States; on that point they are exceedingly specific. The rights we hold, we hold independent of government, prior to government, and those rights are inalienable. The distinction makes all the difference in the world. Our government cannot legitimately attempt to define and grant rights of any kind. It’s purpose is to secure and protect the rights we had before government was created by us.
Got comments? Email me, dammit!