On September 17, 1787, the Founding Fathers signed the United States Constitution, laying the foundation for the first nation in history based on the recognition of the inalienable rights of man. The Constitution begins:
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.
The Founders, well versed in the canons of the Enlightenment, saw the individual as a sovereign being with the right to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness; and recognized that the only proper purpose of government is to secure these rights. Prior to the founding of this new country, the individual’s life typically was regarded as subordinate to the king, the church, the tribe, the collective.
The Founders formed a constitutional republic, not a democracy; they were vehemently opposed to unlimited majority rule. In a speech in New York, urging ratification of the Constitution, Alexander Hamilton stated, “The ancient democracies in which the people themselves deliberated never possessed one good feature of government. Their very character was tyranny; their figure deformity.”
The Constitution united the thirteen states of America under a single, federal government—a government of laws, not of men. In Tully No. III, Hamilton observed, “A sacred respect for the constitutional law is the vital principle, the sustaining energy, of a free government.”
Was the Constitution fully consistent in its recognition and protection of rights? Unfortunately not. It contained some contradictions, none greater than its allowance of slavery. Almost eighty years and a Civil War would pass before the Thirteenth Amendment would be ratified, establishing official recognition that slavery is contrary to the spirit and essence of both the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.
The Constitution is such a profoundly important, life-serving document that its creation says almost as much about man as man can say about its creation. Ayn Rand captured this fact with her usual eloquence:
If a drought strikes them, animals perish—man builds irrigation canals; if a flood strikes them, animals perish—man builds dams; if a carnivorous pack attacks them, animals perish—man writes the Constitution of the United States.
On this historic day, let us celebrate this vital document and the remarkable men who conceived and signed it. This document and these men enabled Americans to transform this country from a vast wilderness into the greatest nation in history, a nation so prosperous and amenable to human life and happiness that, to this day, people risk their lives from every corner of the globe to move here and live the American dream.