The Importance of Our Constitution
By Jason Harper of Pleasanton, CA
The Constitution does not necessarily seem to be a revolutionary document. In fact, it seems extremely conservative. As we took back from our modern era, it appears strange that the Constitution did not allow for direct election of senators until this century, still makes mention of slavery and overall seems incomprehensible, written in a forgotten tongue. In reality, the Constitution represents one of the most important steps in the political history of the world. During an era of monarchs, a small group of people dared to experiment in republicanism and democracy, forms of government absent since antiquity. Their actions ultimately shaped one of the most influential documents in recorded history.
The government described in the Constitution seems similar to the other governments of the time. For instance, our legislative branch was modeled almost exactly on the British Parliament, as it consists of two houses, equal in power, yet one much larger than the other. The first major divergence from the norm with our Constitution is the inclusion of a balanced executive branch. The Founders recognized the need for a strong central figure to lead and direct the government, and yet, thanks to their experience with King George, they also realized the possibility of corruption in investing so much power in one person. Thus, they made our president powerful enough to be effective, yet at the same time, made it so that Congress could wield great power over the executive. This was a sharp departure from the monarchs of Europe, who commanded almost absolute power in their states. The American President, though not a figurehead, was engineered to truly lead government in a certain direction, but in order to do so, needs to have a good rapport with the other branches of government, which brings up another important point about the Constitution.
The separation of powers is integral to our system of government, and was put in directly to prevent corruption at the highest levels. As compared to Britain's unitary and parliamentary system, where in essence all power is vested in the legislative central body, our government is federal and divided. The first major division occurs between the national and State governments. The ultimate power is vested in the central government, but the Constitution narrows down much of what the central government can actually do. The State governments have always been given a good amount of legislative leeway as to their internal functioning. That has made this nation so unique – the fact that fifty different States can preserve their individual flavors and mannerisms, and yet form a country, is special. Within the central government, another level of division exists between the executive, legislative and judicial branches. By assuring that the power is spread evenly between the branches of government, corruption can be prevented. For instance, the Congress must send every piece of legislation to the President, who can either authorize it or veto it. In turn, Congress can override the President’s veto. Finally, the judicial branch has jurisdiction over the constitutionality of any law enacted. Separation of powers has insured that our government operates fairly and judiciously.
Finally, our Constitution has been revolutionary in that its Bills of Rights, despite its shortness of length, has protected the rights of its citizens better than almost any other government in history. Our most basic and unalienable rights have been strongly protected by the first ten amendments, and later amendments, such as the Fourteenth, continue to expand upon those original protections. Our Bill of Rights has formed a society of relative freedom in all arenas: Americans are free to speak, worship, associate, and petition whomever or whatever they please. We are protected against a capricious government by due process and set procedure, as established in the Constitution. The Bill of Rights exists as the model around the world for true freedom. It was the United States that spearheaded the drive for the Universal Declaration of Rights because of our long-standing tradition of the enumeration of basic civil and political rights.
After the Constitution of the United States was written, the French and Latin American people rebelled. In the aftermath of their revolutions, new constitutions were drafted – all looked to ours for inspiration. Yet, our Constitution itself remains distinct. It is the shortest, yet most concise constitution ever written. That is the ultimate genius of the Constitution: it is a living document, capable of being interpreted in a thousand different ways. Our Constitution is an amazing piece of art and it will continue to be so for as long as people continue to respect its significance.