This article was written and submitted by Cath Kestler, resident of Silver Creek, NY
‘As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live them.’ — John Fitzgerald Kennedy
Today as we all celebrate the 4th of July I thought we might think about the Constitution of the United States and why they were written in the first place. So as you are with your family and friends grilling the hamburgers, hots and brats enjoying a cold one (whether it be a beer or lemonade) while the table is laid out with potato salad, macaroni salad, chips and Bison dip, refreshing slices of watermelon and other delicious delicacies of our WNY background; think about what freedom means to you.
Our Constitution (the Law of the Land) is a written statement that describes the core principles of the American government. It lays out the structure of the federal government, clarifies the relationship between the government and the states, explains which powers the government does (and does not) have, and guarantees certain rights and freedoms to the people. It is the blueprint for American democracy.
It consists of four handwritten pages which took fifty-five of America’s most intelligent, powerful and influential men a total of 116 days of hard work in the hot Philadelphia summer. These four pages have organized our government, protected our freedoms, and even defined us as a people.
These core ideas of American democracy are as vital today as they were the day they were written in 1787. It is a living document—as the authors intended it to be. It belongs to all of us and it can stay alive as long as We the People continue to take it seriously by understanding its principles and force our leaders to follow them.
We currently believe that the government’s power derives only from the consent of the people being governed which is called popular sovereignty. The Constitution’s first three words—“We the People…”—establish from the very start that the United States government draws its authority and legitimacy directly from the people. This differs from the old monarchial belief in the divine rights of kings (in which the monarch was directly said to draw his rights to rule directly from God) and from the British principle of parliamentary sovereignty.
The Bill of Rights restricts the government’s ability to infringe upon certain rights of the people, thus limiting the government’s ability to exercise powers not listed in the Constitution. I’m not going to dive into this too deeply—you should have learned this from Civics in school.
The Framers of the Constitution worried about the dangers of concentrated power (sounds familiar right about now). Their experience dealing with the British before and during the Revolutionary War led them to believe that concentrated power will lead to tyranny, causing them to be careful upon creating the Constitution so that no one individual or institution could acquire tyrannical power over us. This lead to the three branches of government that had coequal powers was designed with the power of checks and balances to keep one another in line with the laws. The legislative branch which was Congress had the power to make laws, the executive branch which is the president has the ability to enforce and administer laws, and the judicial branch is the Supreme Court has the power to judge and interpret the laws.
The core idea of the system of checks and balances was that no one branch of the government should be able to get too far out of control without being put in check by the other branches. If a president starts to act like a despotic king, he can be impeached by Congress. If Congress starts trying to pass a series of laws that are blatantly unconstitutional, those laws can be overturned by the Supreme Court. And so on.
The system in place encourages compromise.
Americans often complain about gridlock and inefficiency in their government which was expected by the Framers when they wrote the Constitution, thus the checks and balances system is supposed to come into play…and we wait.
Things are changing in our current political climate and it seems like our elected officials have forgotten that they are supposed uphold the Constitution. Laws are being crafted that are clearly giving the shaft to “We the People” in lieu of corporations and wealthy individuals. I fear our Forefathers would be cringing at the actions our current administration and the expected outcome and how it will affect us all. The words of the Constitution are being twisted to benefit a certain part of the populace—the part the Framers were trying to protect us from.
As the day rolls on into the evening and the fireworks are exploding in the sky in glorious colors amongst the “ooo’s and aah’s” coming from all of us. Celebrate in the freedoms you have now, for if the Republicans have their way our freedoms won’t last long and our lives will look much different in the near future.