OPINION — Thousands of county and state delegates throughout Utah will be keeping busy over the next two weekends as their respective nominating conventions take place.
There will be political speechifying and flags and banners aplenty as various candidates vie for the opportunity to be placed on the ballot for the upcoming primary and general elections. It’s also likely that there will be deep regard expressed for the U.S. Constitution and its blueprint for the American republic.
With this in mind, I’d like to remind these delegates, and anyone else so interested, what our Constitution is and why it remains relevant in our time.
The story of the U.S. Constitution begins with understanding why those who framed it chose to declare their independence from Great Britain and were willing to fight and die to secure their self-determination.
In the Declaration of Independence – the legal document that underlies the Constitution – we find the moral, philosophical and political basis for what would become the American system of government. It began with the assertion of “self evident truths” that our natural rights do not originate from government but are endowed upon “all men” by “their Creator.”
It also states that, “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. …”
Did you catch that? The rights of the people come from God. The powers of the government come from the people.
This principle is key to understanding the Constitution that would follow.
At that time, the powers exercised by the king and by Parliament were only limited as far as they were willing to limit themselves.
In a nutshell, the 18th century British system the Americans went to war to free themselves from rested on a living, breathing constitution. The government itself defined and enforced whatever limits it might have. Essentially, it was unlimited in power and authority.
The American founding generation emphatically rejected this belief in government supremacy. They believed that justice, according to natural law or right, served to limit all political power.
Once the 13 states had secured their independence from Britain, they set about instituting a system that would define and limit the powers of government for the purpose of defending rather than threatening our freedoms. This means that liberty permitted government power to exist rather than power grudgingly allowing the exercise of liberty.
Even so, that power was to be strictly limited to protecting freedom with the voluntary consent of the governed.
The result of their efforts was the U.S. Constitution, which called into existence a federal government with clearly enumerated and limited powers delegated to it by the people. Those powers were deliberately separated and broken up to prevent the mischief that inevitably follows the consolidation of power in the hands of the few.
Alexis de Tocqueville, visiting the newly formed republic observed:
The attributes of the federal government were carefully defined [in the Constitution], and all that was not included among them was declared to remain to the governments of the individual states. Thus the government of the states remained the rule, and that of the federal government the exception.
The framers wisely refrained from handing the new federal government a blank check and then trusting it to do the right thing. They locked it down and spelled out the upper limits of its power.
They understood the temptations that accompany all power.
We see this in our day whenever something bad happens and politicians clamor to enact new legislation without regard as to whether it is moral, rational or actually within their legitimate scope of authority. The limits the Constitution imposes on government power weren’t meant to be observed only in good times.
They were to remind us of the foundational reasons why our government exists during those times when politicians are clamoring to centralize power out of fear, anger or desperation.
Rather than giving us a so-called “living, breathing” Constitution that bends and twists with every shifting political fad, the framers gave us a framework of principles to which we could turn whenever questions arose.
No president, Supreme Court justice or legislator is above the Constitution. It created them, not the other way around.
In this sense, the Constitution serves as a sort of political scripture to keep us on track when we’re being tempted to go astray.
There is a mechanism within the Constitution by which it can be amended, when necessary. Thankfully, the framers set the bar high enough that we wouldn’t be tempted to change it for every little issue that arose.
Although the focus for the near future will be on candidates and personalities, the battleground on which our attention should be focused is in understanding and upholding the principles of our Constitution.
Our freedoms cannot exist when we allow ourselves to become subservient to government. That is why government power must remain within its proper Constitutional boundaries.
Bryan Hyde is an opinion columnist specializing in current events and liberty viewed through what he calls the lens of common sense. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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