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Still A Great Country

This Independence Day, let's all thank God for our country and its Constitution. Let's also commit to living within that framework that has made the United States a leader in freedom and innovation for 246 years.

We all agree that we have problems within the United States of America. But we also have incredible resources available to correct those problems, if we will use them properly. Chief among those resources is a form of government designed by people who understood human nature. Our founders realized that we are sinful creatures who can’t be trusted to always do the right thing. So, they defined a “government of the people, by the people, for the people” 1 that:

  • Includes checks and balances
  • Provides ways to keep a majority from simply imposing their will on the minority
  • Insures balanced representation between both highly-populated urban areas and sparsely-populated rural areas
  • Avoids putting too much power into any one person, place, or group
  • Forces disagreements to addressed, resulting in consensus and compromise
  • Affirms free citizens as the ones in charge, and government as subordinate with only specific delegated powers
  • Most importantly, acknowledges that rights come from God, and are to be protected by government

Because we can easily forget all of our founding documents and precepts, we don’t always appreciate them as we should. At the time, they were totally radical. No other nation had ever before put so much power into its citizens’ hands. I’m using this post to present a summary of our precious heritage as a reminder to us all. So below, you will find words from the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and a couple of other foundational statements. God Bless the USA!

Table of Contents

Declaration of Independence 2

I added some white space and bullet-list formatting to make this easier on the eyes via computer screen, but otherwise this is the exact original wording.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,

That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.

But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

[…Followed by a long list of the charges against the British king…]

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare,

  • That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States;
  • that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and
  • that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and
  • that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to
    • levy War,
    • conclude Peace,
    • contract Alliances,
    • establish Commerce, and
    • to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do.

And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

Bill of Rights 3

This is exact wording, with no paraphrasing.

  1. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
  2. A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
  3. No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.
  4. The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
  5. No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
  6. In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.
  7. In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.
  8. Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
  9. The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
  10. The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

Preamble to the Constitution 4

I added some white space and bullet-list formatting to make this easier on the eyes via computer screen, but otherwise this is the exact original wording.

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.

Pledge of Allegiance 5

I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Oath of Office

This is the Presidential oath, but most other government and military positions have a similar one.

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

Summary of the Constitution 6

Note: The Constitution is not as long and mysterious as it is made out to be. The entire document (linked in the footnote in this heading) is only 4500 words and 11 pages when dropped into a Google document. For reference, my usual posts are around 1000 words; this one is my longest ever at 2100. I was able to do the paraphrasing below in just an hour or two. I will be forever grateful to the 8th-grade teacher who had us spend a semester hand-writing the entire Constitution, one section per day. It was not as difficult an assignment as you might think!

  • Article I: The Legislative Branch
    • Section 1: Congress has two Houses: Senate and House of Representatives.
    • Section 2: House Representatives have 2-year terms, minimum age 25, citizen for at least seven years, resident of State, number proportionate to population.
    • Section 3: Senators have 6-year terms, 1/3 elected every two years, minimum age 30, citizen at least nine years, resident of State, two Senators per State.
    • Section 4: State legislatures control election procedures.
    • Section 5: Each chamber (House and Senate) handles their own rules, quorums, minutes, etc.
    • Section 6: Representatives and Senators are paid from the U.S. Treasury, and can’t simultaneously be employed in any appointed civil position.
    • Section 7: Bills for raising revenue originate in the House, but the Senate can propose amendments. All Bills passed by both houses go to the President for signature; he can veto but they can override.
    • Section 8: Congress shall have Power To….
      • Collect taxes
      • Borrow money
      • Regulate commerce with other nations, between states, and with Indian nations
      • Establish rules for Naturalization, and for Bankruptcy 7
      • Coin money; set standardized weights and measures
      • Punish counterfeiting
      • Run the Post Office
      • Maintain patents
      • Institute lower courts (below Supreme Court)
      • Punish piracy and violations of international law
      • Maintain army, navy, and “militia” 8
      • Manage its non-State district (Washington, D.C)
      • Make laws relevant to managing the above
    • Section 9: Import/Export rules…
      • Immigration is allowed “as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit”
      • Habeas Corpus (no unlawful imprisonment 9) can’t be suspended (except in rebellion or invasion)
      • No Bill of Attainder (punishment without conviction 10) allowed
      • No Capitation Tax (tax per person rather than other criteria 11) allowed
      • No tax on exports allowed
      • No commerce preference allowed for one State over another, or any duties for commerce between States
      • No money may be spent from Treasury without proper Appropriation law; Regular accounting must be given
      • No title of nobility
    • Section 10: States not allowed to do what the Federal government does, so no…
      • Treaties
      • Coining money
      • “pass any Bill of Attainder, ex post facto Law, or Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts”
      • Granting titles of nobility
      • Imposing import/export duties
      • Maintaining their own standing military
  • Article II: Executive Branch
    • Section 1: President and Vice-President elected every four years; Electoral College; natural-born citizen, minimum age 35; paid from Treasury but no other simultaneous office; oath of office spelled out
    • Section 2: President is commander-in-chief of armed forces, and has power to make treaties if approved by Senate.
    • Section 3: President gives State-of-the-Union address to Congress; meets with ambassadors, “shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed”; and commissions all Officers of the United States.
    • Section 4: President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.
  • Article III: Judicial Branch
    • Section 1: Supreme Court, and lower courts as needed
    • Section 2: Courts judge…
      • Constitutional Law
      • Cases involving ambassadors and other foreign ministers
      • Maritime cases
      • Controversies between States, or citizens of different States
    • Section 3: Trials by jury, in the State where the offense occurred
  • Article IV: Relationships between States
    • Section 1: States respect one another’s laws
    • Section 2: Citizenship respected across all States; Criminals returned to their State for processing
    • Section 3: New States may join the union, but not by breaking up or combining existing States without consent of all legislatures involved.
    • Section 4: Every State guaranteed a Republican (representative) form of government, and no invasion or violence between States.
  • Article V: Constitutional Amendments can be proposed by 2/3 of both Houses or 2/3 of the States, ratified by 3/4 of the States
  • Article VI: Constitution and related laws and treaties are the supreme law of the land; Elected officials bound by oath to support the Constitution but no religious test allowed.
  • Article VII: Constitution effective when ratified by nine (of the original 13) States

Constitutional Amendments (after the Bill of Rights) 12

This is my paraphrasing from the document linked in the heading.

  • 11: No lawsuits against States from another State or country’s citizens (only their own)
  • 12: Replace parts of Article II Section 1 (Presidential elections) to redefine the election process 13
  • 13: No slavery 14
  • 14: Civil Rights for former slaves 15
  • 15: Voting Rights for former slaves 16
  • 16: Income Tax 17
  • 17: Senators elected by popular vote (instead of by legislatures) 18
  • 18: Prohibition (of alcohol)
  • 19: Women’s Voting Rights 19
  • 20: Reducing time between election and taking office (“Lame Duck” time) 20
  • 21: Prohibition repealed
  • 22: Presidential term limits (two terms)
  • 23: Washington, D.C. (non-State District) allowed electors in the Electoral College
  • 24: No poll tax (right to vote not voided due to unpaid taxes)
  • 25: Allowance for removal of President due to death or incapacitation 21
  • 26: Voting age to 18
  • 27: No pay change for Senators/Representatives until after another election

Footnotes and Scripture References

  1. Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address, dedicating the Civil War battlefield on November 19, 1863
  7. Seems strange to put those two together!
  8. “provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions”