Without a set of laws that limit the influence of government, the rules and institutions that we live by are left to the whims of the powerful or influential. The founders understood this and integrated institutions such as the separation of powers, federalism, and the Bill of Rights into our framework.
The Constitution is the protector of the rule of law, but it has come under attack many times in the last century. To protect the Constitution, we must first understand the Constitution.
Even a simple children’s game cannot exist without rules. The Constitution is the set of rules for governing the United States of America, and the foundation of our system “of laws and not of men.” Its antecedents are found among the Ancient Greeks and Israelites. As a written document with a defined process of amendment, it represents a dramatic improvement on the British system of constitution by tradition. Its worth is indelibly linked to We the People’s willingness to understand and to defend it.
The original Constitution protected liberty by establishing institutions, structures, and processes that limit government power. The design holds the powers separate yet intertwines them with checks and balances. Rather than claim to solve the problem of human nature, the Founders accepted the inevitability of conflict and sought to constitutionalize it, that it might not play out in the streets. They further innovated in creating a system of federalism that has redefined the very meaning of the word.
The moral legitimacy of American independence rests on the truth that all men have certain inalienable rights. From that truth flows the right of revolution as well as an explanation of why government is possible and what are its rightful limits and purposes. To protect these natural rights, certain civil rights are found in our federal and state constitutions. And yet some say that these are not enough and offer to the people new “rights” as consideration for the acceptance of leviathan government.
“All that progressives ask,” said Woodrow Wilson, is “to interpret the Constitution according to the Darwinian principle.” And interpret it they have, from expanding the interstate commerce power into backyard gardens to discovering new rights in “emanations from penumbras.” These misadventures in interpretation challenge not only our Constitution but the very ideas of constitutionalism and the rule of law. To restore limits on government and revive liberty, we must have a revival of constitutional fidelity.