Thursday March 17 , 2016
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The Constitution and American Exceptionality

The Constitution of the United States of America is arguably the greatest single document ever penned related to freedom, government and goverance.  The Constitution was no accident and was the product of an evolving set of principles that was finally crystalized during that hot summer in Philadelphia in 1787.  The government outlined in the Constitution clearly drew lines of distinction between not only the levels of government (state and central) but also among the branches of government at the national level.  This system of separation of powers and the checks and balances codified in the Constitution was, in theory, established to keep power from being concentrated in a single branch or at a single level of government.  Though there have been severe strains to the Constitution throughout the nation's history, the document remains the absolute cornerstone of American exceptionality.

Johannes Althusius, writing in the early 17th century, described a set of ideas that would eventually be captured in the Constitution.  Althusius believed that individuals were part of a system of communities and that those communities were to be governed by prudent magistrates.  Those magistrates were to govern in accordance with the desires of those that were members of the community--governing at the behest of the governed.  This approach to governance is called popular sovereignty.  Althusius went on to describe the relationship between the people--citizens--and the magistrates as something more than a simple arrangement.  He viewed these arrangements as being part of a covenant--a solemn promise to be kept among each citizen and between the citizens and the magistrates.  He uses the Latin word "foedus" to describe this arrangement.  Foedus means covenant.  Thus, foedus is the root word for Federal, the system of government found uniquely in America.

The idea of covenant was reinforced by the Pilgrims coming over in the Mayflower.  All the adult men on the ship decided upon and signed the Mayflower Compact.  The aim of the compact was to gain the promise from each man to serve God, develop a social structure based on common law.  These men and their families considered the compact a covenant--that solemn promise that compels each member to do their part to support and defend the agreed upon structures.

Consistent with the ideas advanced by Althusius and the Mayflower Compact were the ideas associated with connectivity between natural law and common law.  Natural laws were those that were visited upon mankind by a supreme being--God.  These laws are universal and cannot be taken away or tempered by man.  In the Declaration of Independence, we find the words concerning our unalienable rights.  The notion of unalienable rights was carried into the preamble of the Constitution.

Common laws are those that allow for the orderly organization of socieity.  The common laws are those that outline the behaviors that are acceptable and unacceptable in society.  Each individual, in order to uphold his or her role in society, must adhere to these common laws.  When common laws are written down, they become public law.  Thus, the Constitution is the written record of the common laws that were meant to provide structure to the American society.

The Constitution clearly establishes the social, political and economic structures of America.  To that end, our Founders codified their beliefs in limited government, a separation of powers, the rule of law, checks and balances, the protection of private property and the protection of individual liberty.  Our Founders feared the concentration of power in "imprudent magistrates" and worked to establish that power, if it is to be concentrated, must be held by the "community of souls," the people of the United States.

The Constitution is not an inconvenient set of rules that are to be interpreted by each generation that comes along.  The Constitution is enduring and perpetual and should be considered the bedrock of American exceptionality.




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