The Bill of Rights, now in many ways the core of the relationship between American citizens and their government, was a happy accident of political necessity, brought about finally by the voters in a congressional race in the Commonwealth of Virginia in 1788.
To the Republic: Rediscovering the Constitution
About the project
In her nearly 250 years of independence, America has endured brutal wars, catastrophic natural disasters and ravaging economic depressions. Through every challenge, she has survived because of a singular focus on the founding principles that launched one of the greatest experiments in human history and that tested the very boundaries of the capabilities of man.
Can a free people govern themselves?
Today, America faces a crisis unprecedented in her history. Not that we are more hopeless than we were during the frozen winters of the Revolution. Not that we are more riven than during the Civil War. Not that we live with a greater injustice than slavery. Not that we are more frightened and hungry than we were during the Great Depression. Not that we are more outraged than we were after 9/11.
What makes this troubling time unlike any other is the full-scale assault — from the criminal class to the highest levels of governmental power — on the very principles of our Founding. The simple yet powerful ideas of equal justice under law, of self-governance, of rights given by a Creator, not a man or a king, and of freedom of speech and religion have come under open attack from every level of society.
So the time now is ripe to revisit those principles. Remind ourselves how the Founders grappled with every question. Test their answers. Reevaluate their thinking for a modern world that, at least on the surface, looks different from the ink-quilled days when those principles were set to parchment and made into history.
The Washington Times has laid that challenge at the feet of some of the country’s pivotal thinkers. Each week in the coming months, we will present their findings and arguments to you as we rediscover the Constitution.
Since the state of Florida dissolved the Reedy Creek Improvement District, partly in response to Disney's opposition to legislation precluding teachers from talking about sex and gender with kindergarteners, there has been a steady drumbeat from those who contend that Disney's freedom of speech has been violated.
In considering the Constitution, it is essential to remember that there were two factions involved in the discussion -- the Federalists, who prioritized liberalism, and Anti-Federalists who prioritized democracy -- and one dead French aristocrat and political philosopher who helped them both find their way.
"I'm president, I'm not king.... There's a limit to the discretion that I can show because I'm obliged to execute the law. I can't just make the laws up myself.
In a March 1789 letter to James Madison, Thomas Jefferson wrote: "The tyranny of the legislatures is the most formidable dread at present, and will be for long years. That of the executive will come in its turn, but it will be at a remote period."
When we think of our constitutional rights, we often think solely of the U.S. Constitution. It is a magnificent freedom charter. But state constitutions are too.
Alexander Hamilton's relentless insistence on a set of national institutions - a commercial economy, a navy of respectable weight and a central bank -- laid the foundation for modern American global hegemony.
The Chevron doctrine is on a deathwatch.
No text is more celebrated as a guide to the genius of our nation's founders than The Federalist, and no single essay from The Federalist is more celebrated than James Madison's No. 10. In it, Madison offers the promise of the "well-constructed union" that tends "to break and control the violence of faction."
The preamble to our Constitution was a last-minute addition to the document that, according to the courts, has no substantive legal meaning. Yet it contains the noblest articulation of the mission statement for our country.
The health of our citizenry has traditionally been a matter exclusively within the purview of the states.
The Constitution sometimes seems out of sync with the spirit of our times. This is troubling for those of us who value individual rights, federalism and institutional safeguards against tyranny.
Who gets to interpret what statutory provisions mean in certain circumstances? That question was as pointed and as important during consideration of the Constitution as it is today.
The framers of the Constitution would not have been surprised by the recent failure in Afghanistan. Nor would they have been surprised by the failure in Vietnam two generations ago.
When thinking about the Constitution, we often focus on what has gone sideways or just plain wrong. It is useful, from time to time, to reflect on how our constitutional processes and limits have resulted and can result in a government that is better, more responsive, more adaptable, and more likely to be able to repair itself if something is broken.
Humans assembled to make laws for thousands of years before the American Constitution was created in 1787, yet its revolutionary and transcendent influence on human history is difficult to comprehend this side of its formation.
One of the more troubling evasions of constitutional protections in the arena of environmental issues is the use of supplemental environmental projects in settlements of government enforcement actions.
The Biden administration's slow, weak response to protests in Cuba is nothing if not predictable.
The Constitution gives me as a federal judge the power to preside over certain cases and controversies. This isn't much, as federal cases make up only a tiny fraction of the millions of cases filed in American courts each year, with the overwhelming majority presided over by state and local judges.
We all have a direct stake in protecting federalism, even if we don't always like what it produces.
The Fifth Amendment specifically mandates that owners receive "just compensation," which the Supreme Court has long interpreted as the "fair market value" of the property.
Despite the deep polarization of American politics right now and the concurrent divides on a wide range of constitutional issues, there is at least one issue on which there is considerable cross-ideological agreement: limiting the power of eminent domain.
State sovereignty is at the heart of the election system. The Constitution places responsibility for success squarely on the shoulders of state legislators. The Founders' decision to place elections in the hands of states followed months of debate about the proper balance of power between the states and the national government.
Our federal government has become powerful enough to enact a train of abuses against the American people and the states through both action and inaction.
Elizabeth Powell was a leading woman in Philadelphia and a political thinker who hosted salons during sessions of the Continental Congress. It did not surprise Benjamin Franklin, then, when Powell approached him at the end of the Constitutional Convention and asked: "What have we got, a republic or a monarchy?" Franklin's answer: "A republic, if you can keep it."
One of the most important components of the constitutional scheme of checks and balances is an independent judiciary.
With the possibility of a more interventionist foreign policy approach looming, questions will inevitably resume over which branch of government actually is responsible for sending U.S. troops abroad.
Americans in pursuit of the American dream have helped create a global superpower, and in turn, a more prosperous future for themselves and their families.
The House of Representatives, otherwise known as the "People's House," was designed by the Framers to be the body of the federal government most sensitive and receptive to voter opinion. That's why almost all members represent fewer voters than senators do, and it's why each member represents as equal a number of constituents as is possible and practical.
With the Democrats holding a slimmer-than-expected majority in the House and a 50-50 split in the Senate, the next two years will represent an almost equal tug of war between Republicans and Democrats in Congress.
The Senate is starting a most unusual impeachment trial. For only the second time in its history, it is likely to proceed to trial to consider articles of impeachment against a former government official.
The 2020 presidential election felt surreal. U.S. elections typically end with certainty and acceptance as a new president is inaugurated and a new phase of American political life opens.
The word "federalism" does not appear in the Constitution, yet it is the guiding principle that preserves the United States from the defects of unitary governments, like Great Britain, in which all power flows from one central government, and the defects of confederation, in which power is dispersed and consequently attenuated beyond usefulness.
The "To the Republic" series has primarily addressed the original Constitution rather than the subsequent amendments. However, there has been much discussion of the suddenly popular 25th Amendment during the Trump administration, particularly since last week's riot at the Capitol.
Many Americans still have serious concerns about the integrity of the vote in this election, and rightly so.
Most Americans believe that the Senate ratifies treaties, but that is the president's function and is one of many brilliant checks and balances in our system of government, as noted by Alexander Hamilton in the Federalist Papers.
Before republics fall -- from ancient Rome to modern America -- their legislatures show signs of dysfunction. They avoid tackling the tough challenges facing their societies, defer to other branches of government, and fail in their basic obligation to represent the popular will.
In Federalist 51, James Madison noted the difficulties of loaning power to a government-run by men and not angels. A degree of government is necessary to maintain order and protect liberty, but too much of it can quickly devolve to tyranny.
As we head toward the Electoral College's vote on Dec. 14, it would be useful to think about the risks posed by direct democracy.
If the Founders came to Congress tomorrow and saw the diminished role the legislative branch plays in the function of the federal government -- the degree to which the legislature really is vanishing -- it would be a mystery to them.
In "The English Constitution," Walter Bagehot compares and contrasts the unwritten English Constitution with the written U.S. Constitution.
Is a standing army a good idea? Is it necessary? Is it wise? Thirty-six countries do not have armies.
The Constitution is designed to ensure that the president represents all Americans: The majority and the minority, urban communities, rural communities, big states, small states, and every region.
The Constitution, as solid as it is, ultimately relies on those who make and execute the laws to do so faithfully and with good intention.
This project reminds me of the day I arrived at West Point as a cadet, when I was issued a copy of the 85 essays penned by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay.
In his renowned 1785 pamphlet "Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments," James Madison described religious liberty as not only "a right towards men" but also "a duty towards the Creator," and a "duty ... precedent both in order of time and degree of obligation, to the claims of Civil Society."