Keeping the Constitution Alive

Among the “long train of abuses and usurpations” perpetrated under color of British authority, the Declaration of Independence lists one whose phrasing is downright curious: “the present King of Great-Britain” has “combined with others to subject us to a Jurisdiction foreign to our Constitution, and unacknowledged by our Laws.”

To what constitution are the colonials referring? Certainly not the one drafted eleven years later, under the color of which we are once again being subject to a long train of execrable abuses.

No. The constitution they here invoke is not the one whose opening lines are “We the People.” In fact, it is not a written document at all. It is instead the “unwritten constitution” of the English People.

Despite their textual invisibility, these men were willing to stake their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor on the proposition that the principles of that constitution, rooted in “the laws of Nature and of Nature’s God,” constrained their government to secure the rights of its members.

Any governor refusing to comply with these standards, they concluded, is “unfit to be the Ruler of a free People,” who therefore, following the dictates of prudence, are authorized to “dissolve the Political Bands which have connected them with” such a fraudulent figure.

Fast forward a few years, to 1795. The Supreme Court of the United States, in Chisholm v. Georgia, had erroneously declared that Article III of the People’s new Constitution stripped their state governments of the “sovereign immunity” granted under common law to all legitimate governments, protecting them from nuisance lawsuits.

In the Eleventh Amendment to said Constitution, the People do not demean themselves by reinstituting a rule their highest Court had pretended to rescind. No. They simply clarify that “The Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity” in violation of that inviolable principle.

In other words, they say to the Supreme Court: “Hands off our Constitution!” Sovereign immunity need not be reinstituted, since it was never abolished, the Court’s incompetent act notwithstanding.

What conclusion do I draw from these more than merely historical anecdotes?

Written or unwritten, a Constitution lives nowhere unless it lives in the hearts of its People. That life will never survive the delicate ministrations of society’s elites, unless the latter are held in check by the people themselves. And the people will not succeed at holding their leaders in check, unless they know and love their Constitution—enough to die for it if necessary.

On this Constitution Day, I ask Dear Reader: It’s September 17th, 2021—do you know where your Constitution is?

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