Constitutions Secure Freedom!
Commissioner Tommy Adkisson
May 9, 2006
Fighting for freedom is fine but it ultimately requires a constitution to secure it.
Last Sunday the Polish American Center celebrated the 215th Anniversary of Poland's Constitution. On May 3, 1791, Poland became the second nation in the world and the first in Europe to adopt a constitution! According to Wikipedia, "[I]t was designed to redress long-standing political defects of the federative Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The Constitution introduced political equality between townspeople and nobility (szlachta) and placed the peasants under the protection of the government, thus mitigating the worst abuses of serfdom."
From ancient times to the present, humanity has witnessed attempts made by various rulers to subject the governed to bad government. The constitution is the written agreement or social contract between the governing and the governed within a nation as to what is acceptable or required on a fundamental basis. Many of us remember one of the first accounts of certain Englishmen's attempt in the year 1215 to rein-in King John from a list of unacceptable or repugnant practices in England. This classic showdown at Runnymede between the governing and the governed is a mere reflection of the age-old challenge that dogs mankind in its attempts to govern itself, democracy or not.
Will and Ariel Durant tell us in their classic work, "The Lessons of History" spanning 3,000-plus years of written history, that monarchies have been the most common form of government. On the other hand, democracies have been but hectic interludes between monarchies. Abraham Lincoln said in his Gettysburg Address, "Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated [as ours is] can long endure."
Are we inclined to be "subjects" of some king? Are we not inherently capable of self-governance? It is said that Benjamin Franklin stated in response to a young boy's query just after the 1787 U.S. Constitutional Convention as to whether we had a democracy or a monarchy: "A democracy, if you can keep it".
Our Responsibilities in a Democracy
Perhaps the first duty of a democracy is to adequately educate its people. Jefferson said, "A nation in a state of civilization that expects to be both ignorant and free expects what never was and never shall be". President Lyndon B. Johnson said, "Today no nation can be both ignorant and great." I believe that without informed voters registering their views and preferences at the ballot box, we will struggle to produce great leaders at all levels of government.
All of this serves to remind us that without education and participation in our own governance by voting and other forms of civic involvement, we may not only have no constitution, we may not sustain a democracy or much of country as you and I know it today!