Our Exceptional Constitution
When our nation’s founders agreed to meet in Philadelphia between May and September 1787, the original intent of the conference was to improve the existing Articles of Confederation. However, the delayed arrival of several delegates and James Madison’s presentation of the “Virginia Plan” put into motion a series of events in favor of a new Constitution that would ultimately establish the desired effect of a republican Union. Many Americans remember the Philadelphia convention and its historic signing as one of the most momentous events in American history. I believe this is because most of us are familiar with Howard Chandler Christy’s famous painting of the signing. How did our framers actually get to the point of having a “final” document? How did the writing and secret publication of documents known today as The Federalist Papers attempt to influence the state ratification process, while also working against the inclusion of any Bill of Rights in the Constitution? Most people don’t know the answers to those questions. Given the controversy, the fact that our framers ultimately did get it right, is an exceptional takeaway.
If someone actually takes the time to read and research each section of the Constitution of the United States, I’m sure that he or she will wonder how such a spectacular document was created. Unlike our Creator, our framers were not able to make something out of nothing in six days while resting on the seventh day. However, in just under one hundred working days, our framers wove Christian language into their writings, which influenced the ultimate outcome.
Following the War of Independence and the subsequent waning of any European threat, individual states began to squabble among themselves in the absence of an established federal government. The original intent of the convention was to amend the Articles of Confederation, not to reject it in favor of a new Constitution establishing a federal government. I find this change in direction fascinating, especially given the extreme mistrust of centralized government that prevailed at that time. However, both the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists contributed greatly to the inclusion of specific verbiage into the new draft of the Constitution in order to ensure that the dangers from European monarchies and democracies did not find its way into such a unique new document.
The Constitution of the United States is a unique document that has not only survived, but has guided our nation for more than two centuries. The Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers have also survived and are exclusively used by the United States Supreme Court in reaching their decisions.
On February 6, 2012, when speaking to Egyptian revolutionaries, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said that she would not recommend the use of a U.S. Constitution model to develop a new constitution on the heels of the Arab Spring, and instead favored a South African model. Further, Justice Ginsburg said, “That [the South African Constitution] was a deliberate attempt to have a fundamental instrument of government that embraced basic human rights, have an independent judiciary…”
I think that Justice Ginsberg’s comments reflect the view of the progressive judiciary, where no country or framework is exceptional. She continues, “Why not take advantage of what there is elsewhere in the world? I’m a very strong believer in listening and learning from others.” This is more progressive lingo that pushes the narrative that America, the framers of the Constitution, and the Constitution itself, are not exceptional. I strongly disagree.
I think most Constitutional scholars would agree that that the Three-Fifths Compromise led to misunderstandings and misbeliefs regarding the fundamental protection of human rights when it came to the practice of slavery and the vote for women. In fact, a closer look reveals that the Constitution did not mention either issue. The individual states were responsible for erecting the barriers and enacting the practices that ultimately led to our nation’s Civil War. Interestingly, during the Convention of 1787, there was a deliberate effort to maintain the republican Union, which led to many compromises before the signing. Seventy-four years later, in order to preserve that Union, the country would nearly be torn apart in a bloody civil war. Americans’ fundamental urge to fight for the preservation of the Union, the nation, and the rights of others manifestly demonstrates the spirit of exceptionalism that our framers embedded into our Constitution.
I have been a student of the Constitution for some time now. Every time I immerse myself in the study of one of the seven Articles, I am awed by the simple, yet dignified and direct wording that has stood the test of time. “We the People” is a most exceptional and bold statement. One knows immediately that the document is a reflection of the will of the people and not the direction of a larger, centralized federal government. The fact that it reflects the will of the people and that it is intentionally linked to the Declaration of Independence of 1776 is, in and of itself, exceptional.
There are many things that make our Constitution exceptional. For me, two specific things stand out, one of which is the Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights, surprisingly, was not part of the original draft of the Constitution. It is likely that our framers didn’t think it was necessary to spell out these rights—they believed that these rights were automatically conferred upon all men [and women] by the Creator through the exercise of natural law. It was not until the first session of Congress that James Madison agreed to draft the Bill of Rights. I believe this was at the behest of the Anti-Federalists who were concerned about governmental intrusion into people’s lives. From this first session of Congress came the first ten Amendments, which were ratified in December 1791. As a result, not only did our nation have a Bill of Rights at the federal level, but the procedure through which adjustments could be made was successfully tested. This demonstrated exceptional flexibility and commitment on the part of our framers to get it right.
The second thing that stands out for me is the astonishingly broad scope of Constitutional authority that our framers covered, ranging from judicial, to religious, to individual and collective security. Sadly, our Constitutional clauses rarely get the attention they deserve as examples of exceptional works. When was the last time you heard anyone in academia give a lecture on these clauses? How about the media? In my view, such clauses such as the “Due Process Clause,” the “Full Faith and Credit Clause,” the “Equal Protection Clause,” and the “Establishment Clause,” to name a few, reflect the level of detail and specificity our framers considered when drafting our Constitution, including later proposals to amend it. Since that time, no group of leaders, legislators, or ideologues have produced anything close to what our framers produced in the City of Brotherly Love back in 1787.
I believe that the United States Constitution is the most exceptional document ever crafted by a group of free people on behalf of all the free people of the world. It has served as a beacon for freedom and a hallmark for the protection of individual rights for over two hundred years. Around the world, the U.S. Constitution is the standard by which all others in the free world evaluate their governing documents. Whether they have tasted freedom or not, our Constitution is the one thing that amazes most foreign visitors. It encapsulates who we are as a people and it summarizes what we stand for as a nation. That, my friends, is exceptional.