We Appreciate the Wrong Part of Our Constitution.
What is the most significant part of our Constitution?
Most Americans would probably default to the Bill of Rights. After all, these enumerated rights are by and large heralded as the most important legacy of our Constitution.
I would disagree. The seven articles, an often underlooked backdrop, are what we have to thank for the country we have today.
Wait a minute, you might think to yourself. Isn’t it the Bill of Rights that gives us freedom of speech and the right to trial by jury? Well, yes. But those rights only exist if the government values them.
After all, every government has a constitution that grants “rights.” Venezuela has one, and so do the likes of China and North Korea. It seems that the sole prerequisites of a “legitimate” government are a constitution and a façade of democracy. Surprisingly, authoritarian countries often offer much more explicit rights than those provided in our Bill of Rights.
Whereas our Fourth Amendment only provides nebulous security in our “persons, houses, papers, and effects,” the Russian Constitution expanded privacy to phone calls. While we struggle to pass the equal rights amendment to guarantee equal protection of the law regardless of sex, the Russians had the provision sewn into chapter 2 of their founding document.
As Jeff Daniels in “The Newsroom” famously dictated to a crowd, we are far from the only ones in the world that have freedom.
What’s remarkable about the U.S. Constitution lies not within our Bill of Rights but the articles themselves. The first three articles outline the powers and limitations of the executive, legislative and judicial branches. In a world of monarchies, the founders established a novel machine that prevents the ambitious from pursuing their lust for absolute power. Evident in the last presidential administration, a gifted demagogue may sway populist sentiments to achieve any goal necessary, constitutional or not. Fortunately, the articles allow Congress and the judiciary to check back against such stratagems.
Of course, our Constitution is not flawless. I refuse to think that of a document that counted slaves as three-fifths of a person. Thankfully, our framers had enough foresight to recognize their limits and inserted an amendment process to Article V should subsequent generations deem the document as not cohesive with evolving times. The Fourteenth Amendment — which revoked the three-fifths compromise — passed by this very process.
Our rights are synonymous with our culture. Yet, we ought to realize that without the rest of our Constitution outlining a responsible government, the Bill of Rights would fade away in history as an empty promise. Fellow citizens, let’s cherish separation of power as we would with freedom of speech, and be thankful we have the former to preserve the latter.