A great Chief Justice once said, "the Declaration is the promise, the Constitution, its fulfillment," and nothing could be more true. To fairly apply the Constitution and its structure to contemporary problems, one must never travel very far from the "self-evident truths" that men and women are "created equal;" that unalienable human rights flow from the "Laws of Nature and Nature's God;" and that the purpose of any government, including the one established under the American Constitution, is "to secure these rights.
In the Constitution as originally drafted, our "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" were secured in two essential, but structural ways: first, by the careful division and enumeration of power, and second, by the reservation of authority to the governmental entities closest to us-the States. As reflected below, the Declaration's triad of unalienable guarantees would later be made explicit by amendment in a "Bill of Rights" affirming among other matters that the federal government lacks power to abridge particularly sensitive matters of religion, speech, due process, and the capacity to own property and engage in related economic activity.
The very important Fourteenth Amendment following the Civil War resolves to protect "privileges or immunities" and the equality of all persons under the law. But before our "rights" were listed, the Constitution enumerated or allocated power among those that make policy judgment the legislative , those that implement and propose new initiatives the executive , and those that resolve dispute and render interpretation the judicial. Aided by the best of ancient and modern philosophy, the Founders understood that tyranny can only be avoided if no one person or group comes to possess the power to make, enforce, and interpret the law.
Even more insightfully, the powers separated by the Constitution are predisposed to remain separate. Political abuse is avoided because to a carefully limited degree, governmental power is "blended" or made overlapping. A foolish law enacted by Congress can be vetoed by the President, but an obstinate President can be overcome by a two-thirds majority of both Houses of Congress.
We are a nation of "dual sovereigns"-the federal government is given specific responsibilities to coin money, raise armies, and regulate interstate and foreign commerce, for example, but as Madison reflected, these powers are ". Those which remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite.click here
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This vertical division of authority reflects the healthy variation and diversity of the American people. Coming from many lands, races, ethnicities, and perspectives, our dreams and aspirations can be differently stated.
One single, uniform view is seldom enough for all of us, and "federalism"-or the reservation of power in the States-allows these different approaches to be tried with less imposition of view on others. The federal Constitution envisions unity where it is necessary as a people to speak with one voice-for example, where our national security or trade interests are jeopardized by a foreign power, but it allows countless voices to be heard on matters pertaining to the day-to-day general welfare.
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And lest it be overlooked, dividing power between federal and State governments also protects liberty by giving States an incentive to check federal abuses, and vice versa. As important as the structural aspects of the Constitution are, when Americans are asked what the Constitution means to them, they will likely invoke some of the phrases and ideas inscribed in the celebrated Bill of Rights-freedom of speech and of the press, religious liberty, freedom from unreasonable searches, jury trials, and due process, to name a few.
But as noted above, this Bill of Rights did not appear in the original Constitution that emerged from the Philadelphia Convention. The original document did not think these "rights" unimportant-far from it. Rather, as Hamilton wrote, "the Constitution is itself, in every rational sense, and to every useful purpose, a bill of rights.
The federal Constitution envisions unity where it is necessary as a people to speak with one voice Americans may sometimes do business on a handshake, but more often than not, they believe that good governments, like good personal relationships, can also be assisted by "putting it in writing.
Two things about this "Bill" might surprise present-day Americans.
First, these early amendments emphasized "States" rights and majority rights alongside those of the minority. The Bill limited the newly created federal government, but imposed no express restrictions on the States. Thus, the First Amendment barred Congress from creating a national church, but many States at the Founding openly promoted particular religious belief.
The Second Amendment protected local militias like the Minutemen who had fought at Lexington and Concord , and several other amendments protected local juries. No phrase appeared in more amendments than the phrase, "the people"-echoing the Preamble's famous opening words, "We the People," and reaffirming the Constitution's basic idea of popular sovereignty.
This emphasis on localism and populism becomes less surprising when we remember that Americans had recently fought a War of Independence against a British government seen as distant, undemocratic and oppressive. Local communities had mobilized citizens against central tyranny, and in many Americans still feared central authority and linked liberty with local direction.
Constitution and of constitutional governance, stressing both mechanical and organic conceptions of constitutional development over time. Kammen was active in organizations advancing the study of history, and served as president of the Organization of American Historians for the year. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
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This article is about the professor of American cultural history. For the composer, see Michael Kamen. Washington Post. Retrieved 15 November Pulitzer Prize for History — Kennan Bray Hammond Leonard D. Boorstin Dumas Malone