“We the people, in order to form a more perfect union…” They are words most of us are familiar with.
Akhil Amar, a Yale professor and constitutional expert, says these words were “the most democratic deed the world had ever seen” in his book America’s Constitution: A Biography.
Tuesday, September 17th, marked Constitution Day, the 226th anniversary of the signing of our nation’s Constitution. But there’s a question worth asking – why is our Constitution so special? What distinguishes our government from other similar democracies? The answer provides a wonderful glimpse into not just a document, but a revolutionary theory of governance and mankind that took the world by storm.
The story begins with the Declaration of Independence, published two days after America officially declared its independence from Great Britain. The Declaration was meant to be a longer justification of the ideas put forth in America’s official resolution to declare independence on July 2, 1776.
The Constitution created a government based on two central axioms demonstrated by the Declaration. The first, natural human equality, recognized that no person has the right to rule over another without his or her consent. The second asserted that we are “endowed by [our] Creator with certain unalienable rights…”. Our right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are inherent within us, not conditional on the whims of those in power.
Though we may take these ideas for granted now, the opposite was true 250 years ago. “The Declaration’s two axioms, though self-evidently true, are by no means obvious. In fact, no other country had ever recognized them before, none at the time did, and most today only pay lip service to them,” argues David Azerrad of The Heritage Foundation, in an article on Public Discourse.
The Constitution followed these ideas and solidified the structure of the American federal government. With the system of checks and balances, the Founders ensured that these two axioms presented in the Declaration could never be suppressed.
Perhaps the best perspective on the Constitution comes through the Federalist Papers, written in New York to help support the ratification efforts. The Federalist Papers serve as a public defense of the principles enshrined in the Constitution. “Happily for America, happily we trust for the whole human race, [Americans] pursued a new and more noble course. They accomplished a revolution which has no parallel in the annals of human society,” said Publius in Federalist No. 14.
According to Anthony Peacock, author of The Heritage Foundation’s How to Read the Federalist Papers, “No other country can claim to be built upon the self-evident truths of equality and God-given natural rights.” America was founded on universal principles of liberty and consent of the governed, not religious or ethnic pride.
Our Constitution is truly unique. It’s worth celebrating such a momentous transformation of government and the inspirational leaders who dedicated their lives to ensuring our future as a nation.