Why the Constitution Matters
The collection of papers included in this work follow the model of the original Federalist papers, written in New York in late 1787 and early 1788, and later published under the title, The Federalist. That work was addressed “To the People of the State of New York” and written to persuade and convince them to ratify the Constitution produced by a convention of the states in Philadelphia.
Like the original Federalist, the following collection is intended to explain and defend the American Constitution, now two hundred and thirty-four years of age, and including twenty-six amendments to the original document. That explanation and defense is addressed to more than one audience, but one in particular should be identified in this introduction. It should be recognized beforehand that there are skeptics, hardly small in number nor feeble in their skepticism, who would gainsay the relevance of a founding document of such age, or at the least propose that ongoing interpretation of it (the ‘living’ Constitution) must supersede any perception of the ‘original intent’ of its authors.
In identifying these skeptics at the outset, we want to recognize explicitly that the reasoning contained in these new Federalist papers must address their arguments and doubts if this is to be more than an exercise in preaching to the choir. Essentially, the question to be addressed is, does the original Constitution (plus, of course, its amendments) still matter in the 21st century? The original Federalist was a long argument that it did indeed matter for the late 18th century and for the survival of the new form of government going forward. Among other objectives, the present work will show that the Constitution matters at least as much now as it did at the outset in 1788.
What makes it so? What are the attributes of this document that underlie its veneration (by some, but not all)? The following is a brief list, in no particular order.
The Constitution is, and was intended to be, the essential political contract of the nation. The parties to this contract were the People who “ordained and established” it and the Government it instituted. It provided a framework for governing and a common reference for all, a unifying charter along the lines of the ancient Magna Carta and the subsequent Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of 1789 in France.
It established the four pillars of the American system: a) a federation of states (formerly colonial governments); b) a republic, with democratic characteristics; c) a structure based on the separation of powers among the three branches—legislative, executive and judiciary; and d) a limited government, with certain powers reserved to the states and others to the People.
It is the ultimate protection of the enumerated rights of the citizen, particularly in the first ten amendments (Bill of Rights).
It defines a government of laws, rather than of men. At its inception, this was a novel concept, in practice if not in theory. The need for its defense has not waned ever since.
Perhaps of most importance in the context of the present day, the Constitution is a bulwark against the arbitrary exercise of government power, against the temporary passions of the citizenry or its representatives, and against reducing the law to a process of making it up as you go along.
All these invaluable gifts were contained within a mere four pages of parchment. Over more than two centuries, it has been defended at the cost of the blood of patriots. It has been amended; its few shortcomings have been corrected, by mutual consent. It even provides for (via a new convention) its own replacement if that is the will of the People. No other attempt by another entity (the U.S.S.R., the United Nations, the multiple French Republics, etc.) to improve upon it has approached its wisdom or longevity.
In the end, it matters because without it, there is no United States of America as we know it. While there are some who would see that disappearance as a good thing, we offer the following essays as ammunition in the ongoing battle to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution, to help to ensure that will never happen.“In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.”