Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Legacy of "We the People"

Last November, Fox News reported on a recent poll taken at New York State University. The headline read: “NYU students would sell their right to vote for free tuition.” According to this survey, 66% of those polled said they would trade their right to vote in the next presidential election for one year’s tuition. 20% percent of them said they’d make the swap for a new iPod touch. To finish out the results, the poll found that half of the students would give up their vote forever in exchange for a million dollars.

What has happened in America? How have we gone from fighting and dying as nation to ensure these precious rights of freedom and liberty, to believing it’s more beneficial just to sell our vote for an iPod and forget the trouble? John Dickinson, a noteworthy Founding Father of this great nation and signer of the US Constitution, provided profound insight into the very problem we now face over 200 years later. He warned: “Let us take care of our rights and we therein take care of our prosperity. Slavery is ever preceded by sleep.”

Our culture reflects the fact that many in the United States today have grown apathetic toward the foundation of this country and as a result, we are becoming enslaved through our sleep. We have neglected our duty to know the philosophy, the vision, the intent, the passion, and the principles behind our cornerstone document. Ultimately we have neglected to know “We the People” of our US Constitution.

It is only through again coming to know and embrace our Constitution as “We the People,” the Founders of this country intended, that we can awake from our slumber and be worthy of the responsibility entrusted to us. It is our duty to know these Founders and the way that they so uniquely constructed our Constitution, which provides our generation the ability to preserve the intent of our founding and the principles that led us into greatness.

The framers of our Constitution vividly recognized the imperative of its citizens being educated and informed as to the intent and principles that fashioned this country. Founding Father Daniel Webster knew that our country’s greatest enemy was not some foreign army, but rather an ignorance and apathy to our own Constitutional foundation. He said that: “I apprehend no danger to our country from a foreign foe…our destruction, should it come at all, will be from another quarter. From the inattention of the people to the concerns of their government, from their carelessness and negligence.”

Our second president, John Adams, also noted an important responsibility of the people to their Constitution when he said: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” Think with me for a moment: we just had two of the most prominent founders of this country prove that if we the people became apathetic to our government and the moral principles of natural law that sustained it, our Constitution would become essentially worthless and ineffective in American society.

How then did the founders intend to allow its citizens to be informed and educated in the continuing matters of our Constitution and government? An often overlooked segment of our Constitution, yet priceless in its importance, is Article 1 Section 5 Paragraph 3, as it establishes a strong response to that very question when it notes: “Each House [of Congress] shall keep a journal of its proceeding, and from time to time publish the same.” You see, our founders knew that the preservation of original Constitutional thought was so vital to the strength of the United States that they considered this provision necessary enough to insert into the very document itself! Government could not sustain good government alone – it needed the ability to be reviewed by the prudence of an educated people.

Another well-know founder, Thomas Jefferson, very eloquently explained that: “I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power.”

How apt and timeless this advice is for the predicament America finds itself in today. Is it possible that we have in fact forgotten these warnings of those that shaped the greatness of our nation and left these principles for an easier, more commonplace path? William S. Lind of the Marie Corps Gazette points out the simple truth: “In the United States of America, our traditional, Western, Judeo-Christian culture is collapsing. It is not collapsing because it failed. On the contrary it has given us the freest and most prosperous society in human history. Rather, it is collapsing because we are abandoning it. Starting in the mid 1960’s, we have thrown away the values, morals, and standards that define traditional Western culture…” Yes, our own apathy is causing us to neglect even these basic standards of Constitutional truths.

The lack of dedication to our nation’s Constitutional principles can also be clearly witnessed in the realm of the judicial system today. Former Attorney General Meese reveals the true state of our country’s courts when he stated that “Under the old system the question was how to read the Constitution; under the new approach the question is whether to read the Constitution.”
Chief Justice Warren asserted in Trop v. Dulles in 1958 that rather than holding to history or Constitutional precedent, the court must now instead: “draw it’s meaning from the evolving standard…of a maturing society.” It is interesting to note that in Warren’s 16 year tenure, the Court put an end to long-standing cases and practices, all the while acknowledging it was doing so completely without precedent.

In 1975, in the case of Erznoznik v. City of Jacksonville, the Supreme Court struck down a ruling that would restrict adult movies shown at a public drive-in theater that faced a church across the street where young children were frequent. The decision was based not on the intent of Constitutional law, but the Court’s reasoning that it could not “be justified as an exercise of the city…for the protection of children.” This flew in face of the 1815 Supreme Court decision of Commonwealth v. Sharpless that followed Constitutional intent much closer. It read: “The destruction of morality renders the power of the government invalid…the corruption of the public mind, and debauching the manners of youth, in particular, by lewd and obscene pictures exhibited for view, must necessarily be attended with the most injurious consequences….No man is permitted to corrupt the morals of the people.”

Is this where the “evolving standards” of Justice Warren have left us? It seems clear that we have forgotten those words of John Adams, George Washington, and other Founders that warned against trading our Constitutional morality for the whim and precedent of popular culture.

So where do we go from here? We must recognize first and foremost that our Constitution is still one of the greatest documents ever written, superior to any other in the world today. It is not our Constitution that has failed us, but rather we have failed our Constitution. We must respond by being a people responsible with the greatness and freedom that has been entrusted to us through this document. President of Hillsdale College, Dr. Larry Arnn, powerfully and succinctly observed that “The question of what is to be done is a simple answer: it is not enough anymore to rehearse by rote the Constitution or to celebrate it in vacuous observances. Both our statesmen and our citizens must return first to it study, with depth and intensity, and then to its sustenance, with eloquence and resolve. Nothing else will do.” To some, the efforts to again become responsible to our duty of knowing and understanding our Constitution may seem trivial or unnecessary. I am convinced however, that our culture cannot afford to loose the precedent of that which is the very essence and cornerstone of our country. If we through apathy allow the greatness of our Constitution as well as the men and principles that protected it, to slip into extinction; our foundation will most assuredly crumble and all else will be lost.

Have we really become so ignorant that we would be disposed to forever give up our Constitutional right to vote for a million dollars? If everyone was willing to trade in liberty for wealth, would we not only end up as poor beggars trapped under the rule of a dictatorship; slaves as such? What price tag do we place on our Constitutional responsibility and freedom? Let us purpose to awaken from our slumber and passionately resolve to carry on the legacy of “We the People” by being a people that casts off apathy through education and as such are responsible to the original intent of our Constitutional greatness.


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