September 17 is Constitution Day, commemorating the signing of the United States Constitution in 1787. In over two centuries, countries around the world have seen revolution, coups, turmoil and chaos in which governments and constitutions are remade, discarded and remade again.
Yet with only 27 changes, the same crinkly four pages of parchment have served as the basis of one of the most successful democracies in history. It stands as one of our “holy trinity” of founding documents, including the Declaration of Independence and the United States Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments to the Constitution).
Today more than ever, students need to understand the development, tenets and underlying beliefs of our system of government in order to be productive citizens.
The following are quotes about our Constitution. Many are celebratory, some offer sage advice, and others give sharp critique. Whatever the point of view, it stands to reason that one crinkly set of papers caused so much commotion.
Happy Constitution Day, everyone!
“The Constitution only gives people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself.” – Benjamin Franklin
“The United States Constitution has proved itself the most marvelously elastic compilation of rules of government ever written.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt
“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” – John Adams
“The American Constitution is the greatest governing document, and at some 7,000 words, just about the shortest.” – Stephen Ambrose
“In matters of Power, let no more be heard of confidence in men, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.” – Thomas Jefferson
“The strength of the Constitution, lies in the will of the people to defend it.” – Thomas Edison
“As the British Constitution is the most subtle organism which has proceeded from the womb and long gestation of progressive history, so the American Constitution is, so far as I can see, the most wonderful work ever struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man.” – William E. Gladstone
“A constitution is not the act of a government, but of a people constituting a government; and government without a constitution is power without a right. All power exercised over a nation, must have some beginning. It must be either delegated, or assumed. There are not other sources. All delegated power is trust, and all assumed power is usurpation. Time does not alter the nature and quality of either.” – Thomas Paine
“Constitutions should consist only of general provisions; the reason is that they must necessarily be permanent, and that they cannot calculate for the possible change of things.” – Alexander Hamilton
“Don’t interfere with anything in the Constitution. That must be maintained, for it is the only safeguard of our liberties.” – Abraham Lincoln
“Our constitution protects aliens, drunks and U.S. Senators.” – Will Rogers
“The government was set to protect man from criminals — and the Constitution was written to protect man from the government. The Bill of Rights was not directed against private citizens, but against the government — as an explicit declaration that individual rights supersede any public or social power.” – Ayn Rand
“I think there are only three things America will be known for 2,000 years from now when they study this civilization: the Constitution, jazz music, and baseball.” – Gerald Early
And lastly, the birthday document itself:
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, 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.” – Preamble, Constitution of the United States of America