Celebrating a most remarkable document on Constitution Day

By Deseret News Sep 17, 2015, 12:10am MDT

In Our Opinion, For the Deseret News

Nearly 230 years ago today — 228 years, to be exact — 39 delegates to the Constitutional Convention signed a document that is now the oldest written constitution in the world. That document serves as the blueprint for a government that has proven to be robust enough to withstand attacks from both foreign and domestic sources but also flexible enough to apply timeless principles to timely circumstances.

Indeed, the most remarkable thing about the United States Constitution is that it dared to imagine a nation built around the power of ideas. Historically, nation states had been built around people who shared a common geography and ethnicity, regardless of what they believed. Ideas were superfluous. Government was usually the product of wealth and heredity, and the individual was entirely subservient to the state with no hope of redress or social mobility.

The Constitution changed that entire paradigm with three simple words: “We the People.”

Those three words that begin the Preamble forever redefined the relationship of the individual and the state. Rather than proceed from the assumption that the people are subjects of a king or other ruler, the Constitution affirms that the government is a product of the people, and that those who wield power do so because they have been given express permission for same by the people they are elected to serve. It’s easy to forget that this was quite a radical concept back in the 18th century, especially because so many countries have since co-opted this concept in their own constitutions. Today, tyrannical governments that entirely ignore the will of the people are becoming the exception rather than the rule, and we have the Constitution to thank for that.

At the same time, it’s also important to realize that while the Constitution provides an inspired framework for representative government, it does not offer magical solutions for all of the policy problems we currently face. Those who would use the Constitution as a weapon to bludgeon partisan opponents into silence misunderstand the purpose of this remarkable document. It was not written to stifle opposing points of view; it was written to allow competing points of view to forge compromise and consensus. This is the primary reason that constitutional government is inefficient by design — the goal of the Founders was to prevent power from being collected in the hands of a privileged few. The result is a government that is messy, frustrating and often deeply divided, but one that is vastly preferable to the dictatorial tyranny the Founders were fleeing.

On this Constitution Day, let us reflect on what a remarkable legacy our Founders have left us as well as look to a future directed by the same profound ideas that have guided so many generations past.