Everyone knows the significance of July 4 when we celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. This formed the basis of principles for the Constitution, which was signed on September 17, 1787. I will speak to that more later in this post. But first, I want to bring out the significance of the Declaration. First, realize that the Declaration was written in a time when it was widely believed that the only way to have governmental stability was to have family appointed rule. When the son of King George III wanted to marry a lady of lower station, he was forbidden. This was happening the time of the Revolution.
Next, consider that the signers of the Declaration were marked men. General Gage had an order to find and detain them as traitors. Many of them paid the price they had outlined in the last clause of the Declaration, “we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”
Finally, note that the Declaration opens by speaking of universal principles. It does not portray the Founding era, people, or law as unique. “When in the course of human events” means any time. The phrase “it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands” means any people. The Declaration appeals to a law that is beyond English law. It cites obedience to the “Laws of Nature and Nature’s God” and certain principles that “all men are created equal with certain unalienable Rights.”
Now the Constitution does not represent a break from the Declaration or a second founding of the United States. If the founders had decided those principles in the Declaration were not needed anymore, they would have noted that. So, the Constitution is a continuation, a building on those ideas.
And the Constitution has lasted. Do you know what is the oldest government that is based upon a constitution? Ours is!
The Constitution begins with an acknowledgement that the ultimate source of power is not with the government, it is with the people. It starts with “We the people”. Nowhere does it cede all power to rule to a government. It places limits on what the federal government can do. The founders knew that without these limits, people are subject to their own passions which will eventually lead them to make rule over others for their own benefit. The Constitution outlines powers that are allowed by the Federal Government and the Tenth Amendment leaves all other powers not delegated to the United States nor expressively prohibited by the States, is reserved for the States respectively, or to the people. The Bill of Rights (Amendments 1-10) is also sets important boundaries of areas that the government cannot infringe upon certain individual rights.
Representation is another important guide the Constitution establishes. This is who or how government officials are chosen. House of Representatives and Senators are selected by popular vote (thought the Senate was originally chosen by State legislatures until the 17th Amendment). The President is selected by the Electoral College which electors are chosen by popular votes. Federal judges are appointed by the President with the consent of the Senate.
The third principle is the separation of powers. The Constitution is not set up where the President can make laws that stand beyond his administration without Congress, or the Supreme Court can legislate from the bench. Article 1 outlines the legislative branch. Article 2 outlines the executive branch. Article 3 outlines the judiciary. Each of these outlines what the branches can and cannot do.
The separation also comes with a series of checks and balances. The president can veto a bill from the legislature and the legislature can override the veto. The legislature can impeach a president or judge and remove them from office for certain crimes. The judiciary can declare laws as unconstitutional. The president appoints judges with the consent of the Senate. Each of these are designed again, to prohibit an amassing of power with one branch or individual. If that were to occur, based upon human nature, it would eventually lead to tyranny.
In my opinion, Constitution Day should be celebrated as much as Independence Day. At a minimum, all citizens should be required to read the Constitution annually. This should cause all of us to be thankful we live in our country.