How well do you know our Constitution? Read on and you may be surprised. First off, it is the oldest charter of government in force; the next oldest is Norway’s, 38 years younger. Over 50% of constitutions fail within 20 years; ours is 232 years old Tuesday. It is pure genius because it embodies a fundamentally correct understanding of human nature and includes effectual checks and balances on the use of power. It is the best document ever created to define the relationship between man and the state.
The Declaration of Independence established the moral foundation of our nation by asserting that governments are instituted to secure the rights of the people; the Constitution’s raison d’etre is to protect those rights. Since man first walked upright, fewer than 1% of the 115 billion humans who have trod this earth lived in liberty. Here are ten things you may not know or fully appreciate about the Constitution.
1. We the people: The most extraordinary words in the Constitution are the first three, which are the only ones in supersized script. In an era of monarchs and despots, nothing was more radical than the notion that all power flowed from we the people.
2. Coining money: Article I, (section 10) authorizes states to coin money provided it is in gold and/or silver. Private banks and even individuals can issue currency; hence, cryptocurrencies and private currencies like Libra pass constitutional muster.
3. Impeaching justices: Justice Kavanaugh cannot be impeached for conduct before his confirmation. Article III (section 1) states judges hold their office during good behavior. They can be impeached only for crimes committed in office. Moreover, Congress has no constitutional oversight over the judiciary except for impeachment.
4. Counting slaves: The Constitution always refers to slaves as “persons“, not 3/5 of a person. Southerners wanted to count 100% of slaves to achieve equal representation in the House. Northern abolitionists didn’t want to count any – hence, the three-fifths compromise; it had nothing to do with the putative human worth of a slave.
5. Firing government workers: Article II (section 2) implicitly gives the president power to remove executive branch employees. This does not conflict with civil service laws, none of which challenge a president’s powers. Madison said: “If any power whatsoever is in its nature executive, it is the power of controlling those who execute the laws“. Recall that President Reagan once fired nearly all air traffic controllers.
6. Trump and treason: Article III (section 3) specifically defines treason as “only in levying War against [the United States], or in adhering to their enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort“. This constitutional definition rules out treason by Trump.
7. Electoral College: The founders established an Electoral College to: (1) reduce fraud by containing it within small jurisdictions; (2) reduce federal power over elections; and (3) discourage regionalism. They created it to achieve stable government that protects our liberty. They well understood that a popular vote can better actualize the people’s will – just like in the French Revolution. How did that work out for the French?
8. No debt default: The 14th amendment (section 4) forbids any default on federal debt. In the recent past, a president and treasury secretary (neither of whom I will name) threatened to default – disregarding their oaths to uphold the Constitution.
9. Constitutional republic: The United States is a constitutional republic. The word “democracy” appears nowhere in either the Declaration or the Constitution. We don’t pledge allegiance to the USA and to the democracy for which it stands; we don’t sing the Battle Hymn of the Democracy; and we don’t have a Statue of Democracy. Article IV (section 4) guarantees every American “a republican form of government”.
10. Unamendable: There is only one part of the Constitution that cannot be amended. Article V states: “No state without its consent, may be deprived of its equal suffrage in the senate.” This means there is no way to change the structure of the senate – despite the babbling of certain young congresswomen and other know-nothings.
After signing the Constitution, Franklin was asked what form of government had been established; he famously quipped, “A republic, if you can keep it.” And so it remains today. The Constitution is 232 years old but it will survive only if it remains in the hearts and minds of the American people. Happy Constitution Day!
Next week, we present our first ever plan for peace in the Middle East.