Being an Apolitical Collection of Musings about our Exceptional Constitution
On June 21, 1788, the Constitution of the United States was officially ratified. And doggone it, I wish we had a “Constitution Day” every year to celebrate it, because in my opinion, the Constitution is the most glorious, remarkable, world-changing law in human history. And we are lucky ducks to be living under it.
Power to the People
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
Prior to the Constitution, people – regular folks like you and me – were “subjects” to be subjugated – ruled. Once in a blue moon the ruler may have been a kindly, “benevolent despot”. But because “absolute power corrupts absolutely,” far more often the ruler was a nasty S.O.B. who used his (or her) subjects for megalomaniacal or downright greedy purposes. It made no difference to the poor peons if the ruler went by the title of king, queen, emperor, pharaoh, tsar, shah, caesar, dictator, fhrer or my favorite – “the great”; the common folks were subject to whim, not law. And millions of people today in many nations of the world remain vulnerable to the caprices of their own “Dear Leader” as Kim Jong-Il likes to be called.
But we, as Americans, do not swear our allegiance or loyalty to any duke or other individual, not to any religion, nor political party. When I joined the U.S. Army way back in 1967, I was deeply moved when I swore to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.” That oath was powerful to me then and I have never forgotten it. Those first three words of the Constitution are monumental, (and are even writ large in the original document) because we Americans who enter the military or public service take an oath to the people, to each other. As the popular phrase expresses, “What a concept!”
A Ship of State
The U.S.S. Constitution is the oldest commissioned ship in the United States Navy. Named by George Washington and launched in 1797, “Old Ironsides” still floats on the waters of Boston Harbor where she was built fewer than 10 years after the Constitution was ratified. Throughout the more than 200 years of her illustrious career, the U.S.S. Constitution – like the document for which she is named – has undergone numerous “amendments”. A few times in her life, the heroic frigate was nearly lost to deterioration. But each time – in 1833, 1925 and 1995 – the love and respect of the American people for her took the helm and steered her into dry dock for major restorations and refitting. Today, the magnificent ship inspires visitors and instills tremendous pride with her valiant and indomitable history, her beauty and enduring strength.
Could there be a parallel?
Hmm. Maybe. Just maybe. Here we have a ship that fought courageously and victoriously in many battles. A ship nearly as old as our nation itself. A ship that has navigated the entire globe and paid diplomatic visits to many countries. A ship that has suffered storms and serious breakdowns at sea. A ship whose crews have been disciplined and courageous, but at times were wild and ill-behaved, and sometimes, seriously ill. A ship that has run aground, been blockaded and once was classified as “second rate”. A ship that has nearly been scrapped more than once due to neglect.
But, the U.S.S. Constitution still floats. She has been towed, patched, restored and refitted. Children, the public, Congress and corporations have rallied to her aid to insure that she stays strong and afloat as a symbol and inspiration for ourselves and our posterity.
Over the years, our Constitution has needed some refitting as well, and the people have rallied to it, amending it so that slavery was abolished, so that all adults were granted the right to vote regardless of race, color or gender, so that poll taxes were abolished, and so on.
Two hundred twenty-three years ago, They the People did ordain and establish the Constitution of the United States of America and added an astonishing Bill of Rights that guarantees us freedom of speech, religion, the press, peaceful assembly, trial by jury, security from unreasonable search and seizure and other rare and precious rights. Possibly most remarkable of all are the ninth and 10th amendments that declare, in effect, “Hey, by the way, if we didn’t specifically mention certain rights and powers, the people have ’em.”
Today, we the people, must diligently preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. And it wouldn’t be a bad idea to pay a skosh more attention and respect to it while we’re at it. After all, we don’t want it to run aground, right?
Ed. Lange writes “Guy Stuff” monthly for Capital Region Living. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.