Constitution Day—the anniversary of the signing of the US Constitution—was September 17, yesterday. But I’m going to continue celebrating for a few days.
|The US Constitution|
from the National Archives
The Constitution is the basic law of the land. It is NOT what grants us rights; it is the tool we use to protect our rights, which God gave us. If we could identify that difference, it would make a huge difference in how people approach public policy.
The Constitution is a legal document, not a philosophical statement—after the preamble. So it’s not poetic or exciting. But it is profound. If you don’t admire it, you either don’t understand the Constitution’s meaning, or you don’t understand the principles that lead to freedom, prosperity, and civilization.
So let’s take this day to honor and better understand the Constitution.
Here’s the basic outline: Preamble, Articles, and Amendments.
The Preamble, which lays out the proper role of national government, is short, and beautiful, so here’s the whole thing:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
The body of the Constitution is made up of seven articles, most of which are divided into several sections. Here’s a brief summary.
Article 1 lays out the powers of the legislative branch. There are 9 sections, vesting all legislative powers for our federal (national) government in Congress, which is divided into a Senate and House of Representatives, outlining who can serve in the House and Senate, and such things as elections, revenue bills, and other legal details.
Article 2 lays out the executive powers vested in the President. It has four sections, talking about how the president will be elected (the Electoral College), the president’s powers concerning the military, making treaties, and representing our country on the international stage; informing Congress of the State of the Union, and impeachment (removal from office) of the president or vice-president.
Article 3 lays out the judicial powers in the Supreme Court and inferior courts. There are three sections, detailing their powers and the kinds of cases they will cover.
Article 4 covers interstate rules, and guarantees for citizens going state to state. There are four sections, including information about how new states may be admitted, and how the federal government guarantees protection to each of the states.
Article 5 offers ways to amend the Constitution: amendments can be proposed by either two-thirds of both Houses, or two-thirds of the state legislatures can propose an amendment. This option has been talked of more in the past few years, and about a dozen states so far have voted to go ahead (including my state of Texas).
Article 6 talks about paying debts incurred by the national government, and that the federal government shall be the supreme law of the land.
Article 7 talks about ratification of the Constitution, and signatures from representative of the states at the Constitutional Convention, where the document was written and revised.
Then come the Amendments. There are 27. But the Constitution wasn’t ratified until the first ten were included. These are what we call the Bill of Rights. They weren’t originally included, because they were understood by all as a given. But there were those—Virginia led in this—who were afraid if at least some of these rights weren’t spelled out, later generations might try to abridge them (violate them, pretend they didn’t exist).
They were prescient. Not only did that forgetting happen, but even with these rights spelled out, people argue whether or not the government should grant those rights—forgetting that government doesn’t grant them; it only protects them. Think about current riots, from people claiming no one should be allowed to speak things they find offensive, or that they do not approve of. Or claims that religious freedom should be subjugated to popular beliefs about sexuality.
And there has been a great deal of government overreach—taking on authority that is not granted in the Constitution.
We need to return to our Constitution. That is the path back to freedom, prosperity, and civilization. We need all good people to learn the truths our founders knew, and then stand up as our founders did.
We’ll need to start with learning.
I came across a video (see it here) over the weekend, meant for students—probably aimed at upper elementary through middle school. But it’s worth a watch with the kids. The hosts, which include a 10-year-old girl, touring the capitol, and interviewing two senators from the judicial sub-committee on the Constitution: Ted Cruz and and Richard Blumenthal.
If you want something aimed at a little higher education level, try testing your knowledge with Hillsdale College’s quiz on the US Constitution: (here).
And maybe that will lead you to take their Constitution 101 course, which I’ve recommended before. High school students shouldn’t be scared off by the college label; it’s what everyone graduating from high school should know and understand. In fact, every voter ought to know what’s in this course.
Hillsdale College also has an annual Constitution Day celebration going on, with live streaming on various topics, starting tonight and going through tomorrow. [Schedule here.] I’m especially interested in the “Roundtable on The Political Theory of the American Founding: Natural Rights, Public Policy, and the Moral Conditions of Freedom,” at 9:00 AM EDT Tuesday.
If you’re not ready to dive into a college level course, but could handle something about the length of a movie, I recommend A More Perfect Union, produced by Brigham Young University. It’s a beautifully done dramatization of that hot summer of 1786, and the extraordinary men who came together to create our Constitution.
After you’ve done a bit of study, you might want to reward yourself with a bit of humor. Here is Studio C’s frat house version of the founders.