Hat tip: Tenth Amendment Center
by Rob Natelson
May 22, 2010
It is a document designed to protect our freedom by imposing law on those who wield political power. Without such law, Americans would be under the constant threat of tyranny.
The word “constitution” did not always refer to a particular document. The word is based on the Latin verb constituere, which means to arrange or decide. In its original English sense, a “constitution” was how a political system was set up. People spoke (and sometimes still speak) of the unwritten and evolving “constitutions” of Britain and of the ancient Roman republic.
As I explain in The Original Constitution, the American Founders acknowledged a huge debt to the British and Roman traditions, but they consciously rejected the British and Roman approach to constitutions. Specifically, they rejected the “evolutionary” and “unwritten” constitutional idea in favor of a written document that would lay out the rules in an clear and organized fashion.
There were only a few precedents for this approach: Sweden’s “Instrument of Government” was probably the first. Under Oliver Cromwell (1649-58), the English adopted a short-lived “Instrument of Government,” and then a short-lived “Humble Petition and Advice.” The name of the latter English constitution suggests how little those documents tempered Cromwell’s autocracy.