Sunday, September 17, 2006

Constitution Day Thoughts

Here it is Constitution Day, the 219th anniversary of that great document. Our constitution has earned a prominent place in the history of governments. A quick look at the Wikipedia entry adds some important perspective.

Written codes of law are not uncommon. It appears that soon after writing was invented a code of laws was written down. For the most part these were a list of offenses and punishments. There was no hint of a limitation on government power. Until the new ideas from the reformation and the renaissance, a mandate from heaven was the only limit on a rulers power. How could you impose limits when the kings had a divine right?

Early steps at limiting government power, such as the Magna Carta, were aimed at reigning in a particularly difficult ruler or settling some regional dispute. Most legal documents and "constitutions" were governments imposing laws and limitations on subjects until we changed that in 1789.

Our Constitution is unique. It started from a radical premise that government is a man made creation that is not all powerful. The Constitution is based on the idea that governments should be limited. Everything up to the Bill of Rights is a plan for a government with limited, narrow powers with a check and balance system to help maintain the limits. The Bill of Rights was not added as a complete list of rights, but a list of examples. The ninth and tenth amendment are there to make it clear that people have rights not in the list, and the federal government is not all powerful. The idea that people have fundamental rights, and governments should only have delegated powers is still unique.

We are in trying times, where the fundamental principles of the Constitution are being challenged both at home and abroad. Our government officials and the military take an oath to "“protect and defend" the Constitution from "“all enemies, foreign and domestic"”. Lets ensure they remember that oath.

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