What does it mean to you?
To me, it stands as the shield against tyranny. Where the Declaration announced the intention to engage in a truly free and open society, the Constitution extended just enough power to a federal government to protect that free and open society.
The framers of the Constitution understood the need for a common, centralized, government entity to provide for those things the state and local governments and individuals could not provide for themselves. Things such as a defense against other nations hostile to us, an overreaching or tyrannical state imposing it’s will and infringing upon it’s neighbor’s freedom, a common representation of the states for other nations to negotiate and treat with, and to protect the individual against abuse of power.
However, the framers also understood that giving too much power to a centralized government could result in it’s own kind of tyranny, something they had fought a war to be free from. So, the Constitution was written as a “granting” of powers to the central government, in effect, and intention, limiting the federal government to only those powers. This “limiting” of powers is the shield to the states and individual from central government tyranny.
The thing is, though, that a shield is only as good as the person holding it. In the case of the Constitution, it’s use as a “shield” is only as good as we, the people, allow it to be. To have the Constitution be a strong shield against tyranny, one must believe in it and hold it inviolable. As a people, we have not done so. We, as a people, have let politicians, since the ratification of the Constitution, twist meanings and words, propose their own definitions of terms, and insert their own viewpoints of the framers’ intentions. In effect, the Constitution is no longer the “Supreme Law of the Land” as envisioned by people such as Jefferson, Hamilton, Madison, etc.
We, the people, like to believe that we are a nation ruled by laws, and that those laws stem from the granted powers and the limitations of that power, to the federal government. However, when the standard describing what powers are granted, and what limitations are imposed on that power, is continually changing based on the people’s current viewpoints, we no longer can stand as a “Nation of laws”, but rather, we become a nation of “Rule by men”, where the only limitation on the federal government’s power is entirely dependent upon the morality and benevolence of the person(s) holding that power.
“Rule by men” leads to completely arbitrary ideas on what “freedoms” we, the people, can enjoy. It leads to completely arbitrary ideas on what constitutes a “right”. When these arbitrary ideas are involved, one man’s “freedom” or “right” becomes another man’s enslavement, infringing on his “freedoms” and “rights”, and the arbiter over the conflict depends entirely upon the people in power at that time. And when the people in power are able to arbitrarily change the “rules”, tyranny is the result.
We have become a nation where “rule by men” is commonplace, where we extend “rights” to every manner of people, groups, and entities, based not on a standardized rule of law, but rather, on which person, group, or entity is most politically expedient. Because of this, equality has become an arbitrary idea, and used as the reasoning behind which person, group, or entity will be favored. And, since the arbiters of the “standard” and the arbiters of “equality” are not limited in their power, and are the ones who decide exactly what the “standard” is, and what “equality” means, what may be protected for a person, group, or entity today can be just as easily infringed upon tomorrow.
And this is what people do not understand. About the Constitution, or about what, exactly, constitutes a “right”. And why? Because of dependency upon government, specifically, the federal government, in which they place the responsibility over their lives. It is easier to place ones life at the hands of another than to bear the responsibility themselves, and to do so, they depend on government not only for the handouts, but also the “protection” of those things they wish to engage in, and to get the handouts, they arbitrarily label them as “rights” and falsely claim the Constitution “protects” that “right”, even at the expense of inviolable rights specifically delineated by the Constitution, simply because they want it.
I urge everyone to read The Federalist Papers. In it, Hamilton, Madison, and Jay offer the arguments FOR the Constitution. They argue for the extending of powers, by the states and people, to the Federal government. And to do so, they address the counter-arguments and reservations of the critics to the Constitution at the time, explaining both the need for the granted power, and the limitations on those powers. By them, the meanings of the clauses, phrases, and sections within the Constitution can be defined, more clearly than anywhere else.
Without the understanding of the original intent of the Constitution, there can be no standard of law. Without the standard of law, we, the people, are entirely dependent upon the benevolence of government to protect us from tyranny. And given the history of the world, dependence upon government benevolence leads, almost invariably, to tyranny.