Most folks weren’t aware that Thursday was a special day in the United States. As a day of commemoration, it got less attention than the typical annual celebration of National Cheeseburger Day. Hot dogs weren’t thrown on the grill in recognition; most small towns didn’t hold parades. And yet the annual recognition of “Constitution Day,” lowkey as it may be, celebrates the most fundamental and important document in the history of the nation.
It has been 233 years since a “Who’s Who” of the nation’s founding fathers affixed their signatures to the document that created the government under which we live and, though badly battered and bruised, it still survives as the cornerstone of the nation.
In typical American fashion, we revel in the annual July Fourth celebration of the Declaration of Independence, that rowdy and radical document that spurred a war resulting in our separation from the rule of Great Britain, and yet the more tranquil, cerebral musings upon which our nation’s government sits has far less public appeal and appreciation.
It is particularly important that we pause to pay homage to the U.S. Constitution this year, as it is under assault from many different directions at once with no end in sight for the challenges posed to our most basic governmental structure.
Times editorial board
Norman Baggs, general manager
Shannon Casas, editor in chief
- The roles and responsibilities of the three branches of government are more blurred and poorly defined than ever in modern history. We have a legislative branch that is so divided along partisan lines as to be an embarrassment; an executive branch hungry for power that refuses to accept that there is supposed to be a balance of power among the three branches of government; and a politicized judiciary that feels the need to create rather than to interpret laws.
- We have daily, sometimes hourly, high-profile conflicts between the various rights and privileges guaranteed by the Constitution and its amendments, the first 10 of which constitute our Bill of Rights. The right to peaceably assemble runs head on into the right to bear arms; the right to a free press gives birth to an abundance of irresponsible media; national security fears steamroll the rights of people to be protected from unreasonable search and seizure; the right to religious freedom is routinely threatened by religious bias.
- The roles of the federal and state governments are increasingly being blurred. While the Constitution provides broad, sweeping authority to the states, the modern federal government does not always recognize that authority and feeds upon the power it takes for itself.
There are those who think the Constitution no longer serves the nation well as a blueprint for government and that it should be abandoned for something newer. Others revere the basic principles contained in the document and envision a return to the sort of strict interpretation of its meaning that has fallen out of favor in recent years.
Lost in the chaos of debate is how incredibly powerful and insightful the original document remains, and the fact that in a nation where individual laws can often be thousands of pages and millions of words long, the foundation upon which they rest is a concise compilation of rules for governance that, with all of its amendments, has fewer than 8,000 words and can be easily printed on 15 pages of standard copy paper.
The beauty of the U.S. Constitution is that no one had to pause to celebrate its existence on Thursday. Thanks to that document, we have the freedom to do so, or not, as we please. We also have the freedom to fight over it, argue about it, change it, revere it, and support it, as we please. If there is one overriding, repetitive theme, it is that the citizens of the United States are empowered by broad personal liberties that are not to be denied by any form of government.
As a nation, we’ve squandered some of those liberties in recent years in a misguided swap for security; we’ve abandoned others out of a lack of personal responsibility. We are often too eager to give up the power given to “the people” by the nation’s Constitution.
“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 the Constitution for the United States of America.”
Those words in the preamble to the Constitution should resonate with all Americans as we navigate the difficult social and political times in which we find ourselves. They should be on our minds when we cast a vote, when we speak out against the rights of others, when we allow our governments to take more power, when we refuse to make our voices heard.
We are the “posterity” that enjoys the “Blessings of Liberty.” Will we pass those blessings along to the generations to follow?