Welcome to USC Aiken’s virtual Constitution Day in which we celebrate the signing of the Constitution on 17 September 1787! Read, think, and learn about the Constitution on this important anniversary.
Referring to the United States Constitution and the powers it allocates to the national government, James Madison wrote in Federalist No. 41:
“In every political institution, a power to advance the public happiness involves a discretion which may be misapplied and abused. They will see, therefore, that in all cases where power is to be conferred, the point first to be decided is, whether such a power be necessary to the public good; as the next will be, in case of an affirmative decision, to guard as effectually as possible against a perversion of the power to the public detriment.” (1)
One of the main concerns for those who designed the U.S. Constitution was how it allocated power. In a brilliant way the world had never seen before, they constructed a series of checks and balances in their proposed government that limited itself from perverting the very powers the Constitution granted it. For almost a quarter of a millennium, the U.S. Constitution and the government it created has stood serving as an example to the nations around the world that representative democracy and freedom are possible under the proper government.
Generations of Americans have revered the Constitution. It defines the structure of our government while determining the extent of its power. Furthermore, it is one of the oldest documents to list specific rights and liberties, both in the original document and in the amendments that have been added.
As with everything made by human hands, the U.S. Constitution has not been perfect, whether it allowed the exclusion of women from all basic political participation or tolerated the unjust enslavement of African Americans. Some of those imperfections have been corrected by amendments (XIV and XIX).
Americans also change the way we see our Constitution by interpreting its meaning. Interpreting the document remains critical. Some see it as a “living document” whose words remain essentially the same, but its meaning must be sought in evolving cultural standards. Others read it as a fixed text believing that the intentions and meaning of the original authors’ words remain the same regardless of how much time has passed.
Despite its flaws, the Constitution is integral to American political life. We study it, attempt to discern its meaning, and try to adhere to its provisions, even though we as imperfect humans sometimes rationalize meanings to fit our various conflicting self-interests.
However, it is more than a legal document to us. It is the center of American civic culture. Our vastly diverse population of 300 million has almost universal admiration for this document. It has undoubtedly provided a framework within which Americans have successfully expanded their freedom, and, in its own words, “secured the blessings of liberty.”
USC Aiken hopes that this web site and the links to more information, such as the South Carolinians who were at the convention and signed the document, will contribute to a greater appreciation and understanding of a document whose significance and longevity are without parallel in human history, the United States Constitution.
By Patrick Long, USC Aiken Political Science Honor Graduate, class of 2009.
Edited by Professors Robert Botsch, Carol Botsch, Steven Millies, and Tom Wood
(1) – Madison, James. Federalist No. 41,