Editor's note: The Free Press opinion page will feature commentaries on the U.S. Constitution this week in observance of Constitution Week.
Nowadays there seems to be little interest in the founding of our country on the part of people who think that what happened in 1776 or 1787 has little bearing on issues of today. Let's look at this concept.
This week 226 years ago, the Constitutional Convention, after much debate, approved the United States Constitution. Subsequently, the required states ratified it, and Gen. George Washington was inaugurated as president of the United States.
Ben Franklin was asked what kind of government the convention created. He replied, "A Republic, if you can keep it." Many of the founders understood that it is the responsibility of the people to keep the government in compliance with the Constitution. Now, over 200 years later, we are still trying to do that, and it is becoming more and more difficult.
What exactly is a Republic? A Republic is a form of government where representatives are elected by the people who represent our interests in the halls of government. Well then, what is a Democracy? A Democracy is the form of government where the majority rules. We have what is best described as a constitutional republic, a representative government that is governed by a written Constitution that is considered the law of the land. The founders intended that America was to be a nation under the rule of law rather than the arbitrary rule of men.
Some folks say that the Declaration of Independence is not connected to the Constitution and should not be a part of this discussion. I say there would be no Constitution if there was no Declaration, for it represents perhaps the biggest decision in the history of the world - that being to break away from the bonds of the tyrant king of England.
Listen to the wording of the Declaration, penned by Thomas Jefferson:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal (as decreed by the laws of nature and nature's God), that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness....."
What a statement about slavery and liberty! If only the cotton picker, cotton gin, and a few other pieces of mechanized equipment had been in existence, the founders could have done away with slavery then and avoided the Civil War. Even after the horror of the Civil War, we still have women in the United States who can legally exert a slave-master's death sentence over their own offspring, in the form of abortion.
The Declaration continues: "to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." This was a revolutionary concept at that time and is seemingly more revolutionary each day.
The Declaration also says: "That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to those ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government."
Finally, let's look at the end of the Declaration of Independence. There were 56 signers representing 13 states who pledged, "And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor." And many of them did lose their lives and their fortunes, but not their sacred Honor, at the hand of the tyrant King.
These founders, beginning the journey to a nation with liberty, equality and justice for all, were true patriots. We can do no less than protect the legacy that has been given us by the blood of these patriots.