The Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights have inspired the world. Perhaps the greatest contribution the U.S. has made to humanity is American political philosophy and ideals.
A Foundation of a Written Constitution
The U.S. government is built on the bedrock foundation – the supreme law of a written constitution.
James Madison, the “Father of the Constitution,” called the Constitution “a miracle and example.” The inspired and inspiring Constitution has withstood the test of time.
No other country had a written constitution at the time the United States was founded. Presently, most countries have written constitutions, and almost all are modeled after the U.S. Constitution.
“We have the oldest written constitution still in force in the world, and it starts out with three words: ‘We, the people.” (Ruth Bader Ginsburg)
Every government official and naturalized citizen take the same “Oath of Allegiance.” They swear “to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” and “bear truth faith and allegiance” to the Constitution.
A Democratic Republic
People argue whether our government is a democracy or a republic. They are both right and they are both wrong. James Madison envisioned a “democratic republic.”
Madison was opposed to a direct democracy where everything is decided by the vote of the majority like in ancient Greece. He called this “excessive democracy.” Public opinion is easily swayed. It is fickle. Plus, the majority often tramples on the rights of the minority.
Madison also opposed a republic, like ancient Rome, where the representatives are appointed by the elite, and often serve for life. The common folk had no influence or input.
Thus, Madison argued that the best form of government is a democratic republic, a representative government where the representatives are democratically elected. The “democracy” and the “republic” check and balance each other.
Separation of Powers and Checks and Balances
The Framers believed in limited government. “The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield, and government to gain ground.” (Thomas Jefferson)
Therefore, they divided governmental powers into three separate, independent, and co-equal branches: legislative, executive, and judicial.
The Founders also established a system of checks and balances between the federal government and the states. For example, the “Supremacy Clause” gives power to the federal government, while the Ninth and Tenth Amendments reserve power to the States and the People.
Essential to maintaining this balance is an independent judiciary which, relying on the rule of law, can determine whether the actions of government are illegal or unconstitutional.
Inalienable God-given Rights and the Bill of Rights
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of happiness.” (Preamble)
Americans believe that governmental decisions should reflect the will of the majority. However, we also believe that the fundamental rights of minority individuals and groups should be protected against the “tyranny of the majority.”
“The Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, the constitutions of the several states … all alike propose to protect the people in the exercise of their God-given rights.” (Susan B. Anthony)
The Constitution gave enumerated powers to the federal government. However, the states would not ratify the Constitutional unless the power of the federal government was limited to protect the rights of the states and their citizens.
Thus, James Madison, a key opponent of a bill of rights, became its chief advocate, and the “Father of the Bill of Rights.” The Bill of Rights listed explicit rights to guarantee life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
These rights include:
- Freedom of religion
- Freedom of speech
- Freedom of press
- Freedom of peaceably assembly
- Freedom to petition government
- Protection against unreasonable searches seizures
- Right against self-incrimination
- Right to a fair, speedy, jury trial
- Protection against cruel and unusual punishment
- Right to counsel
- Protection against forfeiture of life, liberty, or property without due process
- Equal protection of the law
Liberty and Freedom -Rugged Individualism
One of the supreme American ideals is freedom and liberty. “Give me liberty or give me death.” (Patrick Henry)
Rugged Individualism is the quintessentially American. We are responsible for our own lives and ultimately must rely on ourselves.
Equality: Equal Protection and Opportunity
The Declaration of Independence states that “all men are created equal.”
“Our fathers brought forth … a new nation … dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” (Abraham Lincoln)
Equality does not mean we are all created the “same.” No one is actually the same. We are all different. “Equality” means:
- Equal opportunity to succeed
- Equal justice
- Equal protection of the law
- Equal rights
- Equal responsibilities
The Rule of Law
“A government of laws, and not of men.” (John Adams) We believe in “liberty and justice for all.” No one is above law. Even the president, “the most powerful person in the world,” is not above the law and can be impeached (Andrew Johnson, William Clinton, Donald Trump) or forced to resign (Richard Nixon.)
Diversity and Unity
Since its inception, the de facto motto of the country has been “E Pluribus Unum.” This means, “From Many, One.”
The U.S. is often called a “melting pot” because its people come from many different countries, cultures, backgrounds, religions, and races. We are the most diverse nation on earth. But we are united. We are “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
American political ideals have had an enormous impact domestically and internationally. American ideals of liberty, equality, private property, inalienable rights, and limited government have inspired, and continue to inspire, the world.
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