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The Constitution: Unique in all history

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We continue with our series on the Founders’ views on government, with particular emphasis on the historic importance of a written Constitution, taken from clips from my latest book, “Liberty’s Secrets: The Lost Wisdom of America’s Founders.”


What of the power of enforcing laws? If the ability to make and enforce laws were made completely independent of each other, Adams argued they would “oppose and encroach upon each other until the contest shall end in war, and the whole power, legislative and executive, be usurped by the strongest.” To avoid this problem, Adams suggested “giving the executive power a negative upon the legislative, otherwise this will be continually encroaching upon that.” This would later become known as the veto power under the Constitution, the ability of the president to reject an act of Congress if he felt it unwise or unconstitutional. The Framers at the Constitutional Convention would go one step further and arm Congress with a similar power to override such a veto, although it would require a supermajority to do so. And what of the application or interpretation of the law? Adams suggested a separate and independent judicial branch be constituted for that very purpose, and for the same reasons as the other two branches: checks and balances.


But how did the Founders actually put these theories of government into practice? How did they codify them in the Constitution? This is the subject to which we now turn.


The creation of the United States Constitution was a singularly unique event in man’s quest for self-government. Never before had an entire society created a form of government through reason, debate and the application of ideas rather than the application of force. The signing of the Magna Carta (Latin for “Great Charter”) in 1215, though incredibly important, was in no way comparable. The Magna Carta was signed by an English king who was being forced by feudal lords and vassals to sign a document primarily concerned with recognizing their ancient rights, and codifying that recognition in law. In retrospect, it was an enormous step forward, but it fell far short of peacefully forming a new government from the ground up. Indeed, as significant as it was, the Magna Carta was the result of the use of force, or at the very least, the threat of it. Perhaps the only other possible contender was the English Bill of Rights, passed by Parliament in 1689 after the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688. While this parliamentary statute enshrined many of the rights that would also find their way into the American Bill of Rights, it was but one law passed by an ancient assembly that had evolved very slowly over centuries, not the formation of an entirely new government.


James Madison aptly summarized the phenomenon of the Constitution when he wrote that “in Europe, charters of liberty have been granted by power. America has set the example … of charters of power granted by liberty.” In other words, the American people were telling the government of their own creation what its powers were, not being told by that government what their liberties were.


The way this constitution was formed thus proved to be unique in the annals of history. Before 1776, the colonies had largely governed themselves with little British interference for nearly 150 years. Consequently, local governments were highly developed at the time of the Constitutional Convention, and each state was essentially its own country. This quirk of history would turn out to be yet another twist of Providence, as the Constitution that organically emerged from such a context was, in sharp contrast to Europe, constructed from the ground up. Tocqueville observed: “In European nations, the initial movements of power resided with the upper echelons of society and passed gradually and always in a partial manner to the other sections of society. By contrast, in America, we can state that the organization of the township preceded that of the county, the county that of the state, the state that of the Union.”


Joshua Charles’ popular new book is now available at the WND Superstore: “Liberty’s Secrets: The Lost Wisdom of America’s Founders”


Media wishing to interview Joshua Charles, please contact media@wnd.com.


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