If you can remember Constitution Day, you weren't really there

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If you were partying too hard in honor of the feast of St. Sophia yesterday, you missed the 219th anniversary of the signing of the United States Constitution. You've still got time to listen to former secretary of state Colin Powell read the preamble at 2 p.m. EDT. (My favorite line about the preamble comes from some forgotten anti-federalist of the ratification period, who detected creeping federal power in the opening "We the people of the United States" and said, "Entering the house, I stumble at the threshold.") Pro Libertate sends us this handy-dandy Constitution database, searchable by keyword, topic and major court case.

Why does our constitution kick all other constitutions in the ass? Because: a) it's slightly less expensive than the other constitutions; b) it's much shorter than the other constitutions, which allows for flexibility and reasonable governance (though sadly it doesn't guarantee either); c) it doesn't contain any soggy language about the national character, the vision of the country, national languages or religion, or similar stuff that makes other constitutions suck; d) it's mostly about limiting the scope of government and the power of individual parts of the government (see "doesn't guarantee" language above); e) when it's working properly it makes it difficult to pass laws; f) the first ten amendments are way better than the ten commandments; g) I strongly object to having troops quartered in private homes in times of peace without the consent of the owners, or in wartime except in a manner prescribed by law—and the constitution opposes that in no uncertain terms.

If you're an Articles of Confederation holdout like me, learn more about the AntiFederalists, those now-universally deplored gadflies who were instrumental in getting the Bill of Rights added to the Constitution (and who, confusingly, referred to themselves as the real Federalists, claiming the Constitution was an anti-federal document).

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  1. I agree that the success of our Constitution can be found in its directness and relative simplicity. It isn’t a hodgepodge of laws but is a document with one overarching theme: Limiting government.

    Compare the U.S. Constitution with a number of state constitutions, and the elegance of the national version really stands out. States like Florida and Texas, for example, have allowed their constitutions to become Super Codes, as opposed to documents dedicated primarily to defining and limiting the structure of government. Inserting too many non-structural laws in a constitution dilutes its effectiveness, in my book.

    Clearly, the Constitution has flaws; otherwise, we’d have a much more limited government today. However, it remains relevant and is the rallying point for Americans of every stripe. As much as the major parties seem to care little for limited government as a policy, the fact remains that most citizens share a profound distrust of government (albeit for different reasons) and will resist attempts to completely remove the shackles with which our Founders so wisely encumbered the behemoth.

  2. My favorite line about the preamble comes from some forgotten anti-federalist of the ratification period

    I bet that line has gotten countless guys laid at the bars of Adams Morgan.

  3. Jeffrey Rogers Hummel rehabilitated the Anti-Federalists in an article apparently written near the Constitution’s bicentennial: The Constitution as Counter-Revolution: A Tribute to the Anti-Federalists [PDF]. In his history, the so-called Federalists are the villains:

    The alleged “critical period” [between the Revolution and the Constitution] was not one in which independent survival of the American experiment was jeopardised. Those who assembled at the Philadelphia convention were not disinterested demigods, nor did they intend to establish a federal system of divided government powers. The Constitution did not have the support of most Americans. And finally, rather than representing the culmination of the previous Revolution, the Constitution represented a reactionary counter-revolution against its central principles.

  4. The US Constitution even got a shout-out from Frederic Bastiat in his essay “The State”:

    The Americans formed another idea of the relations of citizens to the state when they placed at the head of their Constitution these simple words:

    We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain, etc.

    There is no mythical creation here, no abstraction from which the citizens demand everything. They expect nothing save from themselves and their own efforts.

    http://www.econlib.org/library/Bastiat/BasEss5.html

  5. Because: a) it’s slightly less expensive than the other constitutions;

    If only it came with the words “Don’t Panic” written in large, friendly letters on the cover.

    Or possibly a clear definition of ‘commerce’.

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