Roger Carlton, columnist for Graham Starr newspaper
This week the Constitution of the United States is 232 years old.
The Constitution is the governing document that establishes the form our federal government takes and the powers and limitations on those powers. The original document was not meant to be rigid and was amended in a 10 Amendment Bill of Rights in 1789 two years after the Constitution was adopted.
We are still arguing about the meaning of these rights such as limiting freedom of speech, the right to bear arms and the limitation on establishing an official religion. We even tried to ban alcohol in the Eighteenth Amendment and the failure of that approach to create a better world was mercifully repealed thirteen years later in the Twenty-first Amendment.
Thirty-three amendments have been proposed by Congress and sent to the states for ratification and twenty-seven have passed. Just to show how our Congressional representatives think things need to change, there have been 11,770 proposed amendments during the past 232 years, and thank goodness, less than one-fourth of one percent have passed. Perhaps all these attempted amendments show why we have such busy courts.
Remember that the Declaration of Independence got the ball rolling in 1776 which has come to be known as Independence Day or the Fourth of July. I read that marvelous document in its entirety while writing this column. It is worth 15 minutes of your time to do this as well.
Here are a few conclusions from my reading.
The bulk of the document is a long list of grievances against British King George II. Perhaps the most important grievance is embodied in the words, "A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people."
Of equal importance are the words, "We hold these truths to be self evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness."
Well, to further prove that the Constitution is a living document, it took a Civil War and the Thirteenth Amendment to end slavery and women were not given the right to vote until the Nineteenth Amendment which was approved by Congress in 1919 (100 years ago} and ratified by the States in 1920.
So, if we declared independence in 1776, won the Revolutionary War in 1783 and adopted the Constitution in 1789, how were we governed during those years?
There was an interim document called the Articles of Confederation which established an interim form of government. This document was adopted in 1777 but not ratified by the states until 1781. It is nothing short of a miracle that reasonable people could come to a series of compromises that carried us through the the Revolutionary War and the brief period until the Constitution was written during a long hot Philadelphia summer. There were 55 Framers and 39 were signers. The youngest was Jonathan Dayton (26) and the oldest was Benjamin Franklin (81). The average age was forty-two.
Please join me in celebrating the birthday of the Constitution of the United States.
The democracy for which it creates guidelines and the fact that the basic document cannot be changed without an amendment process has kept us together through the Civil War and numerous crises. The Preamble to the Constitution says, "In order to form a more perfect Union." The word "more" says it all.
If the Framers wanted a static document, they would have left the word "more" out of the document. There were approximately 2.5 million people in the 13 colonies in 1776 and there are 330 million people in the United States today. We have a lot "more" work to do to figure out how to preserve and enhance democracy in today's complex times, but we have the foundation to do that in the Constitution.