The men who met in Philadelphia in 1787 to draft a new Constitution for the United States were utterly realistic about the corrupting effects of unchecked power. “A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on their government,” wrote James Madison, “but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.”50 The Framers wrote such “auxiliary precautions” into the Constitution to prevent our national experiment in human liberty from collapsing into tyranny.
Yet the threat of authoritarian government is always with us. Widespread ignorance of the Constitution, efforts to dissolve the separation of powers, attempts to ignore the plain meaning of the constitutional text—all of these factors are undermining democracy. The need to renew our national commitment to the Constitution has never been greater. Former Attorney General Edwin Meese has put the matter this way: “At a time when more and more Americans are searching for a cornerstone of principle in the midst of calls for fundamental change to the structure of our government, The Essential Constitution is a timely countermeasure against threats to our basic foundation of ordered liberty.”
The Framers would agree. “[U]nless we can return a little more to first principles, & act a little more upon patriotic ground,” warned George Washington, “I do not know…what may be the issue of the contest….”51 The contest to preserve both freedom and order is in our hands—exactly where the Framers intended it to be.
50. Federalist No. 51.
51. George Washington, letter to James Warren, March 31, 1779, National Archives, Founders Online, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-19-02-0651 (accessed May 22, 2021).