September 17, 1787

The greatest political document ever devised by man, The United States Constitution, was ratified two hundred twenty four years ago today. We must protect it or else it cannot protect us.

“It is the common fate of the indolent to see their rights become a prey to the active. The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt.” –John Philpot Curran

An excellent essay here from Big Government:

When Ronald Reagan proclaimed in his first inaugural “We are a nation that has a government—not the other way around,” he was not taking off on some libertarian tangent or making an obscure philosophical point. He was following in the footsteps of the Founding Fathers who erected a frame of government that began with the words “We the People.” He was also trying to return government to its important but limited role in people’s lives—a role that both political leaders and the people understood until 1912 but has been mostly misunderstood and abandoned since then. At Philadelphia in 1787, the Framers of the Constitution created a national government that would be effective—even energetic—in its functions but also limited to those functions. The people were to be the ultimate guardians of both the effectiveness and limitations of government. The only way such a republic—unprecedented in modern history—could work would be if the people acted as a vigilant and constitutionally-minded sovereign jealous of their rights.

The authority of the people is made clear in at least three respects in the Constitution, and their vitality is powerfully suggested in a fourth. First, the Constitution holds both the lawmakers and the executive accountable to the people through elections, whether direct or indirect. The foremost depository of the people’s will is obviously the House of Representatives, whose members are directly elected every two years. According to James Madison writing in The Federalist, every constitution is designed to find rulers with the wisdom and virtue to pursue the common good and to make sure those rulers remain virtuous while holding the public trust. Elections are the means to both of those ends. In other words, if those in office lose their virtue, they can be thrown out of office by the people through regular elections. The people are the true source of term limits.

Second, the Constitution embraces, indeed creates, the system known as federalism. Not only can the people exert their authority through elections at the federal (national) level, they can also throw their support behind the state governments against federal encroachment. The chief means of doing so in the original Constitution was through the Senate, whose members were elected by state legislatures. Indeed, the Framers of the Constitution originally thought that the people’s loyalties would lie overwhelmingly with the states, not the remote national government. Their opinion owed to the history of the Revolution—in which the states were extremely jealous of their powers; the confidence that men of great talents and ambitions at the national level would devote their energies to the high pursuits of “commerce, finance, negotiation, and war,” to quote Hamilton in The Federalist, not with local concerns; and the general tendency of human nature to prefer the things closest to us. (Not many people living in Dallas root for the Steelers.) To this end, should the national government extend its powers beyond those enumerated in Article I, section 8, the Senators—whose loyalties lie, and whose careers are made, not in the national capital but in the state capitals—would defend the prerogative of the states and thereby the liberties of the people. […]

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