By Clinton Gill
Glade Sun editor
“We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, 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.”
So begins the introduction, or preamble, to the document that outlines our founding principles. The Preamble to the Constitution was written by the founders so their intentions in establishing our government would translate through many generations. It establishes the framework of our system of governance, which is not a democracy but rather a constitutional republic. In a democracy, the government runs off of majority rule; meaning whatever the majority of the people want is how things will be done. A constitutional republic, on the other hand, has an established rule book, or constitution, that protects the rights of the minority. For instance, if 90 percent of the country voted to abolish religion in the United States, the First Amendment would prohibit that law from ever taking effect, in theory at least. In truth, many laws have been passed and many actions have been taken throughout the course of our history that have violated the Constitution. Over the past 100 years, that practice has become increasingly more frequent, seeming to become the rule rather than the exception.
“We the people” is one of the most important lines in the Constitution, as it sets the stage for everything else to follow. It reminds us that the government did not create the people, the people created the government. The Constitution was not created to limit the freedoms of the citizenry, rather, it was created to restrain government from becoming tyrannical. Many years ago, when I enlisted in the Army, I swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. However, it recently occurred to me that, at the time, I had never actually read the document. I wasn’t required to do so before taking the oath, nor had I read it in school – they stopped teaching civics long ago. No one in the military is required to read it, though everyone who joins the military takes that same oath.
It may surprise you to know that neither our representatives in Congress, nor our president, or even the Supreme Court justices are required to read the Constitution. Though it’s pretty much a given that anyone on the Supreme Court has read the Constitution, doing so is not a specified requirement; neither is a law degree for that matter. So how do you support and defend something when you don’t know what’s in it?
I did a little more research and found that less than one-third of Americans say they have actually read the Constitution – about the same amount of people who watched the series finale of M*A*S*H – though two thirds of Americans say they understand at least part of it. This confabulation has led to the idea that the United States is a democracy and that “separation of church and state” is part of the Bill of Rights, among other falsehoods. Preying upon this ignorance are those who seek to gain power and control over people, contrary to the vision we were founded upon. Recently, an op-ed in the New York Times, written by a professor who supposedly taught constitutional law for 40 years, suggested that all of our current problems stem from our adherence to archaic rules and that we should rid ourselves of the Constitution. He defends that point of view by stating the following: “No sooner was the Constitution in place than our leaders began ignoring it.” He then goes on to point out how politicians subvert the provisions of the document in order to impose their will, all while supposing that doing away with the Constitution will somehow make men less abusive of their power and that by taking away the limits on government we will somehow be more free. If these men acted with impunity with a Constitution intact then what kind of reasoning produces the thought that an imaginary Constitution would protect rights? This is just one example of the idiocy that is being taught to the next generation.
Our current problems exist solely because our leadership circumvented the rules for so long. For example, if the government had adhered to its constitutionally enumerated functions, there would be no $1 trillion deficits, no $16 trillion national debt and no $84 trillion in unfunded liabilities for the major entitlement programs and other federal commitments.
Our society is based on the rule of law. Nothing exemplifies that better than a written constitution. Neither longstanding traditions nor accepted modes of procedure are sufficient to restrain the nature of man, which is to seek power over other men. It is for that reason that, beginning next week, I am starting a new series on the Constitution, where I will attempt to explain the history and context behind each amendment. This will require a great deal of research but it is a journey that I look forward to. Our future depends on understanding the past.