Editor’s Note: This is one in a series of guest commentaries marking Constitution Week.
This week, we celebrate the 226th anniversary of the signing of the United States Constitution, the oldest written constitution of any national government in the world. Understanding that government can be the enemy of liberty, our founders crafted a document that sets forth an enduring framework of limited government, provided that we understand its foundational principles and demand that those in power once again adhere to it.
Historically unique, the United States was established on the ideal that men are created equal and in the image of God, who granted them certain unalienable rights. Our founders understood that rights granted by God cannot be taken away by man but that rights from man can be. Thus, the U.S. Constitution serves as the supreme law of the land, structuring a civil government that protects those unalienable rights, not claims or controls them.
In business terms, the preamble of the Constitution serves as a mission statement. The rest of the document and the Bill of Rights set forth the objectives, policies and procedures to achieve the mission, namely structuring a system for securing liberty while ensuring that its powers are limited by defining and distributing them among three branches of government and incorporating checks and balances for accountability.
Essential to the Constitution are the principles of representation and consent of the governed, separation of powers, federalism or the relationship between federal and state sovereignty, and a supreme law that limits the exercise of sovereign authority. Also important, the Constitution includes a process for amendment meant to ensure that the people from whom it derives its authority consent to any changes.
Until the early 20th century, most leaders understood that an ordered society required balancing the authority and consent of the governed with individuals’ natural rights of life, liberty, property and the protection of each from government. That changed with the election of FDR. He set the stage for pitting group rights over individual rights, valuing classes of people over individuals. Evading the Constitution and its inherent Amendment process and under the guise of promoting economic recovery, he significantly expanded federal government intrusion into most areas of life. This departure from the Constitution allowed civil government to begin reshaping society according to the whims of those in power rather than allowing individuals the liberty to shape their own lives.
With a tortured interpretation of the Constitution and Congressional abdication of its legislative authority, a shift in power to the executive and judicial branches of government began to take place. Administrative agencies now have legislative, executive and judicial power. Courts now claim authority to create rights and legislate. Presidents now ignore the law without consequence. Impotent states now scrap for crumbs thrown from the federal trough to those who bow.
As the ultimate authority of civil government, the people have regressed. With rights come responsibilities, and we have a choice. We can idly sit while an illegitimate concentration and distribution of unbridled power leads us to a path of destruction from within. Or, we can fight to reclaim our heritage of a limited civil government that gave rise to the most prosperous nation in history, recognizing that people exercising their God-given rights — not government — best determine the course of their own lives.
Tina J. Benkiser is a local attorney.