Constitutions limit the government, not the people

The government is trampling our rights, and just about everyone knows it.  The conservatives want it stopped, and to have changes made according to constitutional rules.  The Democrats don't think the Constitution is as relevant and say it should be reinterpreted as necessary.  I'd like to see someone do that with simple traffic law and get away with it.

"Gee, officer.  There was no other traffic for, like, two blocks, so I viewed that stop sign as more of a flashing yellow light."


Laws are (or should be) carefully worded to ensure no ambiguity.  Contrary to misinformed opinions, the Constitution is not ambiguous.

The Founders carefully debated the principles of the future Constitution in great detail over a period of years, before settling upon the version we have (see The Federalist Papers).  They paid serious attention to how it was ultimately written to ensure that it was clear.  Furthermore, they made no bones about the fact that if they did not specifically assign governmental responsibilities to federal or state governments, those matters were left for the people to decide.  In other words, the Constitution is a government-limiting, not a citizen-limiting, document.

For the most part, there are two reasons why people find this confusing today.  The first reason is that we don't teach our citizens about how our government is supposed to operate.  Civics and American government instruction have left our public schools to make room for victimology, sex education, identity agendas, distorted history, and many other topics.

The second reason, which the left aggressively abuses, is that the Founders wrote in the language of their day.  They stated things in ways that were obvious to Americans at the time but have since evolved out of our everyday lexicon or common understanding.  The truth is, we know exactly what they meant at the time they drafted the Constitution because the Founders also provided us with thousands of documents giving the details and reasoning behind each principle or rule in the Constitution.

Recall that we have 50 state constitutions, too, but even fewer people have spent time understanding them than our federal documents.  It is worth noting that many of the earlier state founders not only amplified the principles of the federal documents, but regularly expanded on them to make those principles and rules even clearer!

Many people are confused about the Second Amendment because of the "militia" statement.  They assume that the word "militia" means army or national guard.  It does not.  The Founders clearly meant that males over 16 years old should be ready to form a militia and protect the nation in accordance with the Constitution.  This is clear by the written records they left behind.

Pennsylvania's constitution declares: "The right of the citizens to bear arms in defense of themselves and the State shall not be questioned."

Indiana's 1851 Constitution states it more plainly. "The people shall have a right to bear arms, for the defense of themselves and the State."

Unfortunately, governments violate state constitutions at least as often as (and likely more often than) the federal government violates the U.S. Constitution.  Indiana and Pennsylvania both currently require an application for and granting of a permit to carry a pistol, and they abide by federal background check requirements for sales.

People do not need a permit in either state to take advantage of their right to free speech (yet).  There are hundreds of examples of regular violations of state constitutions ranging from bearing arms to how laws are made.  Yet most citizens remain blissfully unaware as more restrictions, fees, and taxes are laid upon them to fund larger and more powerful federal and state governments — all of which the Founders did not want and the Constitutions were written to prevent.

All of the constitutions have mechanisms for amending them, and these were made purposely difficult to prevent temporary passions or powerful sub-groups from changing them without careful debate and the support of the people — not to mention the fact that politicians take advantage of complexly worded and documented laws to make it much more difficult and time-consuming for the average citizen to stay informed.

Until we teach Americans what these binding legal documents say, they can never know whether the government is obeying them.  The supreme law of the land clearly states that the government is of and for the people and that the documents exist to control — that is, to limit the power of — the government.

Power implies the ability to do violence, like forcing citizens to pay taxes upon threat of arrest and even to cause death from resisting a government that may be violating its own laws.  Shouldn't it be obvious, then, that it is in our best interest to know whether our governments are acting in accordance with our laws?  To change how our government behaves, we must first know the law and then take action to ensure that our governments follow that law.

Image: Washington at the Constitutional Convention of 1787 by Junius Brutus Stearns.  Public Domain.