Yesterday, Tuesday, Sept. 17, was Constitution Day, arguably the most forgotten designated day in America. The mainstream media says nothing of it. There are no parades or city council proclamations; and there are no three-day weekend, beer busts or barbecues in its favor. It is as though it never happened. Probably not one in 10 can tell what happened this day in 1787; it has been forgotten so long!
Still, on this day the Constitutional Convention ended and the Constitution was sent to the states for ratification, thus institutionalizing liberty in America more fully. This positively affected everyone in the United States and is probably the most important day in our history -- so special that millions flood our borders illegally to benefit from it.
For nearly six thousand years of recorded history, governments, best described as regimental, dominated mankind. Only for a few fleeting moments in the past has individual man had anything to say concerning the restrictions leveled on him. Under an occasional benevolent monarchy or an unconcerned king, man has, in rare instances, been left to himself and thus been somewhat free. And, even rarer were the instances when as in Athens, Rome or at Runnymede, the people, sometimes through persuasion and often by force, instituted changes allowing individual freedom to flourish for a brief time. Our experiment with liberty was one of them.
Still, until 1787 man did not know how to harness government. Liberty is, in fact, freedom from excessive government and the biggest enemy to individual liberty is and always has been government. But the Constitutional Convention, ending on Sept. 17, 1787, did just this.
We abolished kings forever in favor of presidents selected by the states through the Electoral College for a short, but defined period of time. We took away the president's power to make decrees (even laws or rules) over us, allowing him, in a state of the union address, to merely suggest changes and otherwise to sign or veto law made by the legislative branch.
The legislative branch, consisting of representatives for the states -- the U.S. Senate -- (elected by the state legislatures prior to the 17th Amendment) to protect states' rights from federal intrusion, and the peoples' representatives -- the House of Representatives -- to protect the people from federal intrusion, made all the law. Both legislative branches, from different perspectives, had to approve every law imposed upon the people, and all law had to adhere to the constitutional list (Article I, Sec. 8, Cla. 1-18).
Historically, the two areas most sensitive to the people were excessive taxation, because all monies expended were extracted from the people, and unpopular wars, because all injuries, deaths and suffering were absorbed by the people. Under the Constitution, there can never be an unpopular war because the peoples' representative (the House of Representatives) have total power over raising and funding the army. It must consent to the war by declaration (because the people provide the blood and brawn for it) and it alone authorizes the treasure for it (Art. 1, Sec. 8, Cla. 11). "All bills for raising revenue shall originate" with the House of Representatives (Art. 1, Sec. 7, Cla. 1). The Constitution, if followed as designed, ended for all time both unpopular taxes and war. We became the first nation in history placing the people in charge of both. Moreover, funding for war could not be extended for more than a two-year time period, thus requiring that the war remain the will of the people (Art. I, Sec. 8, Cla. 12).
The Constitution is marked by four divisions of power: the first -- and most important -- being between the states and the federal government with fear of national government dominance. Our Founders, under a new concept called federalism, allowed two governments to coexist as equal partners, neither to be over or under the other, with primarily external issues governed by a federal government and internal issues by the states -- like a marriage. All power not specifically listed in the Constitution remained with the states. The federal government's powers were listed in Article I, Section 8, Clauses 1-18, or what the states agreed to give the federal government later, but anything thereafter added by amendment required three/fourths of the states to approve (Article V). It was decidedly a limited government from the outset with few federal laws restricting the individual.
The other three divisions divided power at the federal level. Separation of powers is basic to the Constitution with one body, the legislative branch, making federal law; another, the executive branch, enforcing it; and a third, the judicial branch, adjudicating it. But none of these branches were to legislate, execute or adjudicate in a manner to erase or undermine the first division of power between the states and the federal government. No Founding Father supported this.
The Bill of Rights, demanded by the states as a condition of their ratification of the Constitution, further restricted the federal government. The amendments thereafter, Numbers 11-27, approved by three-fourths of the states, altered some parts of the Constitution. Still, the federal government remains limited and on notice to remain subservient to the people.
The Constitution remains an enemy of big government -- which is now largely supported by both political parties and by liberals and conservatives alike -- because big government is an enemy to individual liberty. Perhaps this is the reason so few wish to honor or bring attention to it on Constitution Day. If the Constitution were celebrated, Americans might wake up to their extensive loss of liberty!
Harold W. Pease, Ph.D., is a syndicated columnist and an expert on the United States Constitution. He has dedicated his career to studying the writings of the Founding Fathers and applying that knowledge to current events. He taught history and political science from this perspective for more than 30 years at Taft College. To read more of his weekly articles, visit www.LibertyUnderFire.org.
Editorial on 09/18/2019
Print Headline: Constitution Day is a forgotten holiday