With midterms approaching and the whirlwind of political rhetoric intensifying, it is easy to forget the core values of the United States. Where can we find this? Some people use religious texts, stump speeches, and news blurbs as the foundation of their political ideology, but these are not enough. While it is impossible to isolate your personal beliefs from your political philosophy, a read through of the Constitution can reveal where your core ideas come from. Before you hit the polls and mindlessly vote down party lines, you need to re-read your Constitution.
The Constitution is not a long document. It is shorter than a New York Times article or a course reading, for it was printed on four sheets and contains only 7,591 words. I am not asking you to read a book — but a key text that affects our lives daily. We often take our rights and liberties for granted and it is imperative that we know the roots to our beliefs as a nation. Truisms and mantras people spew as Constitutional truths often appear nowhere in the text. Therefore, it is crucial for people to critically examine long-standing beliefs about what the Constitution expressly dictates and implies. There is no requirement for you to follow my personal interpretation or anyone else’s. Many people, civilians and public officials alike, already have their views set in stone, but you can take the time and reassess your long-standing positions. Like a complicated movie or book, different intricacies and nuances will reveal themselves each time you read.
James Madison and Abraham Lincoln viewed the Constitution as a civil religion. Lincoln defined this as a “reverence for the laws” and the “political religion of the nation.” Madison, a member of the Constitutional Convention, saw the American political system as deserving of “more than common reverence for authority.” He commonly refers to the text as a member of the “political scriptures” of the United States. There is not a state-sponsored religion, but framers argued that following the Constitution comes close. I say this as an earnest truth: all laws are given power through the Constitution.
The guiding text for our country is beautiful and its applications are ever-changing. It is extremely exciting and must be viewed as such. The Constitution was written centuries ago but remains contemporary, for the Founding Fathers created this document to stand the test of time and adapt to the evolving beliefs of the American people. As an exercise, I will insert the preamble of the Constitution below:
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
I guarantee some of you had to memorize this in elementary school, and some still know it. But now that we are older, these words have not only meaning but illustrate values that we hold the government responsible for protecting. Each article, clause, word, and punctuation mark of the Constitution was placed there for a reason. A careful reading can provide the foundational principles for why people believe what they believe in all facets of American political life.
The Constitution is beautiful; like art, it is open to interpretation and changes after each reading. Every single person will read it and have different opinions on what the words mean or what powers are truly granted to the federal and state governments. I urge every single person in America tonight, or at least before voting, to read the Constitution. Whether you love or hate it, the Constitution is the reigning rule of law and impacts our lives day in and day out. If you do not like something in the world and want to change it, then look no place but toward the Constitution.