On September 17, 1787, the Founding Fathers, or rather that special subset now known as “the Framers,” signed the most influential document in American history, the United States Constitution. This document established the framework of our government and the rights and freedoms that “We the People” enjoy today. This will be the 225 anniversary of that founding and fundamental charter of rights and duties and structure and power, but how many people really care, or even know what it is all about?
Many people, in and out of government, blab with often faux reverence about the Constitution, and trumpet about constitutional rights, but how many have bothered to read or understand the Constitution? I have found that a far higher percentage of people from foreign lands [students, immigrants, naturalized citizens] know the Constitution than do citizens born here. Too many take the Constitution for granted, which is why absurd things can happen and be said on the political and judicial plane without shrieks of outrage and demands for change and correction.
The Republic was established “by the people,” introducing for the first time in recorded history the notion of popular sovereignty – the doctrine wherein all governmental power derives from the people, not from an anointed, divinely installed monarch: the people are the masters, and the government the servant. But one would not know that from observing some of the things government does to its people – or that the people’s government does to its masters.
Government gets away with indignities toward the masters because the masters have remained happily ignorant of the founding premises of this Republic.
The upcoming election, or the rhetoric surrounding the campaigns, is emblematic some of the more critical, or pivotal, concerns facing the founding generation. There are two basic models for the relationship of people to their government. Government can operate as the perpetual nanny, making fundamental choices for the people, taking care of the people, deciding how much of the fruits of their labor the people can keep while taking an enormous percentage for the “service” of that nannyism, deciding what that labor should be, practicing costly paternalism so that all are safe, even if also individually repressed. That was the view of King George III and of the Obama-ites, and of the Democrat Party: they know better than you what you should do about fundamental matters, and they will seize as much power as necessary to have their will be done, because the role of government is to make choices for you that serves their view of the public interest. That is the big government, small liberty model.
The other model is one of small government and big liberty, with choices being made by individuals, with the fruits of their labor being largely kept by those who produced it, with the nature of the labor being a product of free choice acting on a free market-determined economy, with individuals rising or falling based on their own choices and efforts, with power limited to specific and enumerated areas, and with boundless and growing individual liberty. That was the view of the Framers and of the founding generation, and of certain elements in the Republican and Libertarian Parties, and of originalists like me, and of [to varying extents] the challengers to the Obama-ites: they do not know better than you what you should do with the fruits of your own efforts, and even if some of them think they do, they concede they do not have the power to decide such – the making of those choices is not a government function. That is the small, limited government, big liberty model.
Between now and September 17, we will have more discussions here about the Constitution, so that when the big day comes, people can finally realize that it is a big day and celebrate it accordingly. We would not have some of the idiotic comments I hear daily about what the government is doing and should do, and what the two sides of the presidential contest claim they will do if elected, if the people were really educated about what their government was, and was not, empowered to do.
It is interesting that in 2004, federal legislation was passed that requires all schools receiving federal benefits [which means virtually all schools, and all public schools] have an educational celebration about the Constitution on September 17. How many of you or of your kids are exposed to that event every year? I have rarely found a school that honors that federal command.
In her retirement speech, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the first female supreme court justice [appointed by Reagan], warned that we will lose the Republic unless the people educate themselves about what their Republic is all about – or supposed to be. I shall try to correct part of what is lacking.