I have now come to the end of the clauses and provisions of the Constitution of the United States and its Bill of Rights. Along with my readers, I have studied the Constitution clause by clause and provision by provision for nearly six years. Over that period of time we have studied nearly 300 provisions as I have picked them apart and tried to make them more easily understood. I am appreciative of W. Cleon Skousen (The Making of America – The Substance and Meaning of the Constitution) and The Heritage Foundation (The Heritage Guide to the Constitution) for helping us in our studies.
The Constitution of the United States was written over two centuries ago as a follow-up to the Declaration of Independence. After declaring independence, our Founders understood that they needed to form a government to maintain that independence. Most Americans feel a sense of awe and reverence for the Constitution, and citizens of other nations admire it.
Edwin Meese III wrote a chapter in The Heritage Guide entitled “The Meaning of the Constitution.” He began his chapter by explaining, “Part of the reason for the Constitution’s enduring strength is that it is the complement of the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration provided the philosophical basis for a government that exercises legitimate power by `the consent of the governed,’ and it defined the conditions of a free people, whose rights and liberty are derived from their Creator. The Constitution delineated the structure of government and the rules for its operation, consistent with the creed of human liberty proclaimed in the Declaration” (p. 1).
There are several principles contained in the Constitution that form the foundation for its greatness. One principle is the diffusion of power. Government power on the federal level is divided between three equal branches of government – executive, legislative, and judicial. The power of government is also divided between the federal government and the states.
Mr. Meese stated that by this diffusion of power, “the Constitution’s Framers devised a structure of government strong enough to ensure the nation’s future strength and prosperity but without sufficient power to threaten the liberty of the people” (p. 1).
According to Mr. Meese, there are “several important themes” in the Constitution: (1) The first theme reflects “the mandate of the Declaration of Independence” and recognizes that the “ultimate authority of a legitimate government depends on the consent of a free people” or “We the People” (p. 2).
(2) A second theme is the “concept of checks and balances.” James Madison wrote in The Federalist No. 51, “In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: You must first enable the government to controul the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary controul itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary controul on the government; but experience has taught mankind necessity of auxiliary precautions.”
Mr. Meese continued, “Thus, the separation of powers frustrates designs for power and at the same time creates an incentive to collaborate and cooperate, lessening conflict and concretizing a practical community of interest among political leaders” (p. 3).
(3) A third theme is the concept of federalism. Reacting to problems in the Articles of Confederation, the Framers created “a government that was neither wholly federal nor wholly national but a composite of the two….
“The institutional design was to divide sovereignty between two different levels of political entities, the nation and the states. This would prevent an unhealthy concentration of power in a single government….
“But institutional restraints on power were not all that federalism was about. There was also a deeper understanding – in fact, a far richer understanding – of why federalism mattered….
“It is this understanding, that federalism can contribute to a sense of political community and hence to a kind of public spirit, that is too often ignored in our public discussions about federalism. But in a sense, it is this understanding that makes the American experiment in popular government truly the novel undertaking the Framers thought it to be” (p. 4).
Concluding his chapter, Mr. Meese wrote, “The Constitution – the original document of 1787 plus its amendments – is and must be understood to be the standard against which all laws, policies, and interpretations should be measured. It is our fundamental law because it represents the settled and deliberate will of the people, against which the actions of government officials must be squared. In the end, the continued success and viability of our democratic Republic depends on our fidelity to, and the faithful exposition and interpretation of, this Constitution, our great charter of liberty” (p. 6).
The Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of our land. We must protect and preserve this law in order to remain free and independent. The Constitution has proven itself for over 200 years. As we remain true to its provisions, it will continue to protect our liberty.