Sept. 17, 1787, is one of a handful of dates that have changed the world. It was the day a group of men, representing colonies that had recently won independence from England, put forth a rather short and simple, yet dynamic, document that prescribed how their new nation would be run.
People today, distanced from that monumental event by 220 years, might not fully appreciate the power of our nation’s Constitution.
After all, we have always known this country to be the greatest on Earth. We have also heard, and many times spoken criticisms of our country, those who run it and the system under which it is run.
America’s greatness, and the success and prosperity we enjoy, is no accident, and it has everything to do with the document that was hammered out by our country’s founders two centuries ago. Had they taken another route in defining our government, had they chosen to pattern themselves after any of the major countries at the time, our development as a nation certainly would have been much different — and most likely would have been less fruitful.
The dominant countries of the day concentrated power in the hands of few people — indeed, most were active monarchies. And many people in the newly independent Colonies argued for a similar form of government — a system they were familiar with, and one they as members of the constitutional committee most likely would control. Competing groups formed and heated debate was frequent in the two years it took to forge a final document that the majority of the colonies’ residents would accept.
Members of the Constitutional Congress eventually recognized that a strong government violated many of the primary premises under which they fought for independence: that all people were created equal, and were entitled to equal treatment under the laws. With that in mind they drafted a system under which the people governed themselves.
The structure is simple, but ingenious. Citizens elect people from their midst to represent them in government. That government is divided into three equal branches — executive, legislative and judicial — which support and control each other.
It has since become the model for the world. More new countries pattern their constitutions after ours than any other single document.
Our Constitution has directly contributed to our development and success. The individual rights and freedoms we enjoy encourages individual achievement, which fosters invention, investment and information. Those building blocks contribute to our advancement as individuals, and as a community as a whole.
The magic of the document — which is both its strength and its weakness — is that it depends entirely on the people to carry it off.
That’s worth considering now, as the executive branch fights for greater power than the other branches and battles over immigration and trade suggest that many people still don’t consider us all to be equals.
Congress in 2005 passed a resolution creating Constitution Day, which many Americans will observe Monday by reciting the Preamble to the Constitution in schools, halls and other venues.
We encourage everyone to take a look at the Constitution. Chances are that most people have a copy at home, whether in an encyclopedia, history book, or through access to any of countless Internet sites. A review of our key founding document can remind us of just how great this nation is, and how we are responsible for maintaining that greatness.