Today is Constitution Day 2010 and I wonder how many Americans will notice. The first thing a Senator does once elected, is to swear to uphold and defend the Constitution, “against all enemies foreign and domestic”. Just how does a Senator or an American take a leadership position in the defense of the Constitution?
The Constitution begins by forming the structure of the government. Note that the separation of power and the checks and balances are all on the government. There are no such limitations on the individual.
As I read the Bill of Rights, I notice the two most striking things about the Constitution. The first is the amount of negative language with clear commands. Look for phrases such as “Congress shall make no law…”, or “…the right of the people to…, shall not be infringed.”. These make it clear that “We the people” are dictating to the government, not the other way around. We tell the government what to do in a commanding tone. The second thing is the way the Constitution discusses rights. Specifically it never states the word “right” without preceding it with the word “the”. This is a clear acknowledgement of the framers recognition that our rights preexist government.
However, the Constitution does not enforce the law all by itself. It cannot take action to stop a Congress from enacting laws that violate Constitutional principles. That action has to begin with a proper understanding of what our rights really are and how important a limited government is to the preservation of those rights. Words written on a piece of paper won’t enforce law or stop tyrants. Individual people do that. Without action by the people of the United States, the Constitution is meaningless.
The responsibility is clearly upon us. Will we read the actual words of the Constitution ourselves our sit passively while others do the work for us? Will we accept slick marketing that delivers self-serving interpretations of the Constitution? Should we accept ideas like those of Alexander Hamilton who suggested we read “between the lines” of the Constitution looking for expanded government powers, or will we remember Jefferson’s retort that he had checked very carefully between the lines and found only, “blank space”?
My challenge to you is to pick one day a year that you set aside to read our beautiful Declaration of Independence and Constitution. These documents are the envy of the world. The least we can do is spend a little time each year, maybe Constitution Day or maybe July 4th, and read the words that make some of the best things in our way of life possible.
Knowing the words and the message of our founding documents will not just keep them alive, but will keep them alive in the most important place where the Constitution must reside – in our hearts and minds. This is the best defense we can give our law, our country, and our fellow Americans, “… against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”