By John McClaughry
It has probably escaped most people’s attention, but today, September 17, is Constitution Day.
The Founders strongly believed that of all the things that can corrupt man’s nature, the worst is the temptation to illicitly use political power. Keeping government free depends on the preservation of public and private virtue and morality. “Corruption” to the Framers meant not merely stealing and bribing, but anything that undermined the constitutional consensus.
A written constitution is the rulebook for the ordering of political society. It must set forth the powers of the government and define the rights that government is called into being to secure.
It must be clear enough for all citizens to understand, limited in its reach and authority, and written to keep government as close and responsive to the people, acting through their elected representatives, as possible. It should maintain a balance of governmental power among legislative, executive and judicial branches, and between the national government and the constituent states.
And finally, once adopted by the people, the Constitution was never, never to be amended or undermined by “usurpation.” As President George Washington said in his Farewell Address, “If in the opinion of the people, the distribution or modification of the constitutional powers be in any particular wrong, let it be corrected by an amendment in the way in which the Constitution designates; but let there be no change by usurpation… it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed.”
Thank you for that, Mr. President.
John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute. Reprinted with permission from the Ethan Allen Institute Blog.