In an essay published only a few years after the ratification of the Constitution in the nascent American Republic, James Madison noted a distinctive feature of this document. "In Europe, charters of liberty have been granted by power. America has set the example … of charters of power granted by liberty."
This seemingly subtle, but important distinction illustrated the novelty of the American Republic and its new form of constitutional government. No longer would a nation be under the rule of an emperor or monarch, instead the government’s power arose from its citizens. In other words, "the consent of the governed" became the new standard.
On Thursday, the 231st anniversary of the ratification of the Constitution of the United States, we should all mark this day by reflecting on the enduring power of this document which has served as an anchor of our nation. While speakers from Abraham Lincoln to Martin Luther King, Jr. have referred back to the eloquence of the Declaration of Independence in making their arguments for a particular cause, it is the more prosaic Constitution which has truly held the country together in difficult times.
The Constitution has proved to be a remarkably resilient framework for the republic democracy it serves. In over 200 years, there have only been 27 additions through Constitutional Amendments. When we consider the fact that 10 of these Amendments followed quickly after ratification, known as the Bill of Rights, the durability of the Constitution is even more remarkable.
In 2020 political partisanship is higher than ever. While I do have legitimate concerns about our Executive and legislative leadership, I balance these concerns with my strong faith that our Founders formulation of this system of checks and balances can and will preserve the union of these United States.
My first semester teaching AP US Government and Politics commenced on same date as the inauguration of President Donald Trump. Several of my student professed strong anxiety over the election of President Trump. While it was challenging to attempt to keep my own political views out of my response to these concerns, I did my best to tell my concerned students that no leader, whether it was Donald Trump, Barack Obama or George Washington, governed independently from the Constitution and our governmental system.
My faith has been borne out by the legislative and judicial actions that have occurred under the Trump administration. Legislative injunctions prevented President Trump from instituting some of his policy decisions. In one of his last acts as a U.S. senator, John McCain famously defied his own party and the President to vote against the repeal of the Affordable Care Act better known as Obamacare.
Sen. McCain said: "I’ve stated time and time again that one of the major failures of Obamacare was that it was rammed through Congress by Democrats on a strict party-line basis without a single Republican vote. We must now return to the correct way of legislating and send the bill back to committee, hold hearings, receive input from both sides of the aisle, heed the recommendations of nation’s governors, and produce a bill that finally delivers affordable health care for the American people. We must do the hard work our citizens expect of us and deserve."
Governance should be hard work and the U.S. Constitution reminds us why it is worth the effort.
Nicolas Shump is a longtime educator and writer in northeast Kansas. He can be reached at email@example.com.