The U.S. Constitution
Significance: Separation of powers is necessary to prevent a government abuse of power. Most powers are retained by the states and individual citizens. Laws mostly protect the people from a potentially tyrannical government.
“We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
These fifty-two words set the stage for the document that was to usher in most significant advancement in the history of how human beings relate to one another – and to a completely new form of government; in the words of Abraham Lincoln, a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” Read the full text of the the U.S. Constitution.
Since America’s founding, those elected to public office, from president to Senators to those who serve in uniform, must swear an oath to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States“against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”
Unfortunately, recent surveys show that the vast majority of American adults, including college graduates and elected officials, have little to no idea of what is contained in the U.S. Constitution, or of its overall structure, or of the rationale for why it was worded as it is. Worse, many harbor egregious misconceptions about it.
One thing is certain: we cannot save the West until the substance and structure of the U.S. Constitution becomes firmly implanted in the minds of a growing, vocal swath of Americans.
This page contains a variety of text and video resources to be used as an introduction to some, and a reminder of others, of what distinguishes America from all other nations, and what enabled us to go from a habscrabble outpost of outcasts, to the freest, most prosperous nation in world history, in less than one hundred and fifty years.
Contents of this page
“The Constitution Explained”: A generic description of the major components of the Constitution, and summaries of each element of it, with links to the segmented passages.
“Explore the Constitution”: Detailed analysis by the National Constitution Center.
“The Development of the U.S. Constitution”
(54:00, by PBS; part of the documentary “Liberty! The American Revolution”).
An excellent dramatic documentary about the need for a new legal framework to replace the Articles of Confederation, and the struggles that the Founders went through to construct this document. Of particular importance is the implicit references to the citizens’ involvement in the debate over ratification, and the debate over the need for a Bill of Rights. From Wikipedia:
Liberty! The American Revolution is a six-hour documentary miniseries about the Revolutionary War, and the instigating factors, that brought about the United States’ independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain. It was first broadcast in 1997.
The series consists of six hour-long episodes. Each episode is introduced by Forrest Sawyer and narrated by Edward Herrmann. Period photographs and location filming are intercut with stage and screen actors in appropriate period costume reading as figures of the time, including Campbell Scott (Thomas Jefferson), Philip Bosco (Benjamin Franklin), Alex Jennings (King George III), Roger Rees (Thomas Payne), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Joseph Plum Martin), Terrence Mann (Gen. John Burgoyne), Colm Feore (Alexander Hamilton), Sebastian Roché (The Marquis de Lafayette), Donna Murphy (Abigail Adams), and Peter Donaldson (John Adams). Stephen Lang read the words of George Washington, but is not seen on camera.
“Creating a Constitution”
(62:00, by the Annenberg Trust)
Description (by Annenberg):
This documentary begins by introducing the Constitution and why it was created. These three 20-minute videos examine key constitutional concepts. The first explains why the nation’s framers created the Constitution. The second describes the protection of individual rights by highlighting the Supreme Court case of Gideon v. Wainwright, affirming the right to an attorney. The last explores the separation of powers by examining the Supreme Court case of Youngstown v. Sawyer, a challenge to President Truman’s decision to take over steel mills during the Korean War.
“The Meaning and History of the U.S. Constitution,” by Hillsdale College.
Description: A free, ten-lecture video course offered by this legendary American college, which has been a champion for liberty since its founding in 1844.