Constitution 101, Lesson 2 – Is The Constitution A Foundation?

Posted By on June 21, 2010

In our continuing study of the Constitution, and after establishing how we must interpret it strictly, I now turn our attention to a very key subject regarding it. In the last 30 or so years, I have only heard one other person discuss this, and that only briefly. In fact, I heard such a brief portion of his comments as to say only a seed was planted within my thoughts regarding this issue. The seed sprouted, took root and over the years has grown in my own thinking. So, while the initial concept was not mine, the resultant structure finds its basis in the course of study I have followed.

So, the question before us is, “Is the Constitution a foundation?” Or, “Is the Constitution the foundation upon which the United States is founded?” With only few exceptions in the past, others have answered either of these questions with a, “Yes.” If this were the obvious answer, then why is it being asked here? Is this a trick question? No, this is not a trick question, rather it is a question which reveals a basic weakness in our understanding, and education.

Let’s look at the dictionary’s definition of “foundation”:

1 : the act of founding
2
: a basis (as a tenet, principle, or axiom) upon which something stands or is supported <the foundations of geometry> <the rumor is without foundation in fact>
3 a : funds given for the permanent support of an institution : endowment b : an organization or institution established by endowment with provision for future maintenance
4
: an underlying base or support; especially : the whole masonry substructure of a building
5 a
: a body or ground upon which something is built up or overlaid (See end note 1)

By looking at the definition we can see the Constitution definitely does not fit #1 or #3. With those eliminated we must carefully determine if the other definitions apply. Considering #2,  it may be stated the Constitution is the foundation for the Federal Government, BUT is it the foundation for the United States? Similarly, the same may be said about #4 and #5. So, again, is the Constitution the “basis” of the United States? Is it the “underlying base or support”, or the “body or ground upon which” the United States is built?

I would state emphatically, “No,” it is none of these things. Just how can I make that assertion, you may ask. I base this on the wording of the Constitution itself, in fact, the very first sentence. Let’s take a look:

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. (Emphasis added)

All of you should recognize this as the Preamble to the Constitution. In the above quotation I emphasized two phrases. It is these phrases which reveal to us the fact that the Constitution is NOT the foundation of the United States; rather the Constitution flows from the fact that the nation already exists. So, if the nation predates the Constitution, then it follows that the Constitution cannot be the foundation of the nation.

From this I would even go so far as to state the Constitution is not even a fundamental document for the United States. “Now just wait a minute, David.” No, let’s consider this in the form of a question, “Is the Constitution fundamental for the United States?” Once again we go to the dictionary, the primary definition for “fundamental” as a noun:

of or relating to essential structure, function, or facts : radical <fundamental change>; also : of or dealing with general principles rather than practical application <fundamental science> (Emphasis added) (See end note 2)

From this we see to be fundamental deals with “general principles rather than practical application.” Yet, the Constitution is all about “practical application,” or just how the government is to be constructed, how it is to practically function and how these can be changed by the citizens.

There will be those who say this is being too nitpicky, but I assert words have meaning and it is these meanings which give the words power and efficacy in communications. If we are to communicate effectively, then we must utilize the same definitions, otherwise our communication will lead only to misunderstanding, lack of true understanding or even confusion.

It is my firm opinion that if something is foundational it can stand by itself, and this forms the basis of our standard teachings regarding the Constitution, i.e. it stands alone, by itself. Yet, from within the Preamble we have seen this is not the case. The Constitution flows from the preexistence of the union.

Let me see if I can illustrate this to bring better understanding. When there is a desire to form a corporation the first document which must be submitted to the Secretary of State is the Articles of Incorporation. “Articles of Incorporation” is defined as:

n. the basic charter of a corporation which spells out the name, basic purpose, incorporators, amount and types of stock which may be issued, and any special characteristics such as being non-profit. (Emphasis added) (End note 3)

Often the Articles of Incorporation will include the shareholders, directors and/or the corporate officers.

From this we must now discover what is the “basic charter” of the United States? What sets out its (the United States) basic purpose? Who are the “stockholders” and the “corporate officers” of this union?

I submit this “basic charter” and the document containing the answers to the above questions is none other than the “Declaration of Independence.” Within the body of the Declaration of Independence we find the basic reason for the establishment of the United States, the purpose of the union and its independence and its “officers/shareholders.” The Declaration provides us with the fact of the States being the primary functionaries of the “corporation,” or union, as it is called “the United States.”

Following our illustration, once a corporation has properly filed its Articles of Incorporation the new corporation now files its constitution and by-laws. This document provides the specifics in how the corporation will operate. The corporation is not subject to the laws of the State and if it is found to be in violation of either its Articles of Incorporation OR its constitution and by-laws the State can take legal action against it, even to the point of revoking its ability to conduct business within the State.

I submit the US Constitution parallels this. Where the Declaration of Independence establishes the union, the Constitution provides for the operation of the union’s government. The Declaration of Independence can stand on its own merits, as nothing precedes it within the United States. On the other hand, the Constitution cannot stand alone as it relies on the Declaration of Independence for the very existence of the nation which issued it, the Constitution.

Therefore, I present it is irregular, at best, and misleading to attempt to interpret the Constitution without the input of the Declaration of Independence. Both of these documents must be taken together as a unified whole, this is due to the fact that many of the principles established by the Declaration are assumed by the Constitution. Yet, to reach these assumptions within the Constitution alone is improbable, if not impossible.

For instance, it is often said that God is not mentioned within the Constitution, and therefore religion and government must be kept separate. Yet, when the Constitution is placed in context with the Declaration we find God, Providence or “their Creator” specifically mentioned.

We are further able to identify the source of the rights called out within the Bill of Rights; i.e. “…they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights…” Unalienable has become inalienable in modern times, but what does it mean? Again, we turn to the dictionary:

incapable of being alienated, surrendered, or transferred

These are, therefore, rights which cannot be transferred to any government, given by any government OR taken away by any government. It is amazing how today we are subject to a government consisting of people who think it is their prerogative, or within their power to alter the rights secured, not granted, by the Constitution and established as existing by the Declaration.

So, as we continue to move forward with our study of the Constitution we will do so walking hand-in-hand with the Declaration of Independence. For as we have seen, the Constitution cannot stand apart from the foundation upon which it was built.

_________

End Notes

1. “foundation.” Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2010.
Merriam-Webster Online. 20 June 2010
http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/foundation

2. “fundamental.” Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2010.
Merriam-Webster Online. 20 June 2010
http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fundamental

3. “articles of incorporation.” Copyright © 1981-2005 by Gerald N. Hill and Kathleen T. Hill. All Right reserved. Cited on http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/Articles+of+Incorporation

4. “inalienable.” Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2010.
Merriam-Webster Online. 21 June 2010
http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/inalienable


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