Simply put, laws are rules that in democratic societies derive from a majority’s agreement on certain accepted social standards. It serves to maintain peace and tranquility while also supporting individual and societal progress. The more inclusive and rehabilitative laws become, the more they succeed in protecting the public’s interest and fostering social progress. The more prohibitive and restrictive they become, the more societies crumble around the fringes.
Social standards develop from history and tradition over thousands of years. In immigrant societies like the United States that history and tradition evolves over time because of its fluid and diverse demographic. To that purpose, American history shows that its people – through the legislature – and its courts – by interpreting legislated laws – have always broadened the meaning of liberty for all. Though, nothing can deny the hypocrisy of owning slaves while forming an egalitarian government. I have pondered this for as long as I have studied American history; how could its slave-owning Founding Fathers reconcile owning slaves while drafting the Constitution? Either they viewed slaves as property and did not intend them to become citizens or they believed the Constitution and the government it formed would compel the Nation to abolish slavery. If the former were true it would render futile the very document they drafted.
The American Constitution is an open-ended document. While scholarly debates still continue over its flexibility, the document itself is a charter that vests future power in three branches of government to create, operate and interpret laws in keeping with its ratified liberties. In fact, it vests upon its government the power to amend the Constitution itself, making way for the Bill of Rights and the seventeen other ratified Amendments. Had our Founding Fathers intended a static social paradigm, the Constitution would not provide for Amendments, nor the creation of new laws, nor interpretation of such laws by its judiciary. It would not operate on a system of checks and balances between its three branches of government to ensure all branches upheld the best interest of its People rather than one rise above the rest and bring with it the reign of tyranny. After all, America began with a departure from tyranny and autocracy.
Invested in the power of its People, in due process of law and a balanced administration of justice through enacting, enforcing and interpreting procedurally and substantively sound rule of law. Rule of law formed by representative consensus of evolving social standards that broadens over time to ensure justice, prosperity, tranquility and security for all. Our Founding Fathers understood the inevitable nature of change and evolution better than we ever will. That a time would come when evils of slavery, misogyny and bigotry would become obvious and their dangers to democracy would create the urgency to outlaw prejudice; that change would happen incrementally and it required patience and process. They had faith in our better angels. They ratified the inherence of equality when they began their great experiment, to guide future generations ‘to form a more perfect Union.’ Surely enough, within 250 years we abolished slavery, gave women the right to vote, passed the Civil Rights Act, and expanded the scope of America’s promise. So not only did they intend that future generations would one day abolish slavery, they designed the government to ensure it happened.
Now that responsibility continues with us, the bearers of their promise to humanity. American citizens have a sacred duty to participate in their democracy; to study, learn and strive to understand its dynamics. To accept that the very object of America was to create a more perfect Union, not separate states bartering, squabbling and trudging through time. That had our Founding Fathers intended bigotry to be endemic, their consolidated expression wouldn’t have been exactly the opposite. Times like now seldom arise when circumstances test our faith in the fundamental truths of free society – we mustn’t forget that these truths are self-evident in our Nation’s foundations.
E Pluribus Unum