The words written by the forefathers of the North American nation known as the United States of America were something that attracted people from the world over. For the longest time, it was the place to go, the place to prosper. What better place to live than a country that celebrated freedom and opportunity, that protected your right to live in peace and free from the violations of abusive governments, be they monarchies, dictatorships, or totalitarian democracies. It was the envy of the world, a democracy with checks and balances built in to protect minorities, in fact a democracy built by minorities.
That time has faded now, and has followed a steady and silent decline for a hundred years. Though many might claim that it began with the way the U.S. constitution was written, and how the faults could be and have been exploited, the truth is that it was written over two hundred years ago, for a particular time and circumstances. The forefathers were visionary in taking that into consideration, and designing a system to amend and correct those faults, allowing the constitution to adapt to future circumstances and developments maintaining the basic spirit of "We the people" well into the future. Two such developments were communication and education.
The Undemocratic Democracy
When the constitution was written, communication was difficult and a very slow process. Education amongst the people was poor, with a high illiteracy rate. They took these factors into consideration when writing electoral law, providing a system that would be efficient in expediting the selection of the people's representatives in government, while at the same time protecting citizens with a safeguard that would not allow the uneducated into positions of power that could disrupt their newly formed haven. It was not as democratic as it could be, but it was functional, practical, and protected the people's interests.
Unfortunately, that same electoral system hasn't been amended since, and what were once necessary safeguards, have become major flaws that have reared their ugly face time and time again, most recently in the 2000 Gore vs. Bush elections. In those elections, the people voted for Democratic Party candidate, Al Gore, and yet, due to the constitution's electoral provisions, democracy was not possible, giving Republican Party candidate, George W. Bush, the presidency. In the age of information, where the entire world is highly informed and communicated, where the illiteracy rate in the U.S. is less than 10% and the public is well informed of candidates, their stance on different issues and foreign policy, the people were unable to select and have the candidate they wanted.
This exploded in the media, with news channels reporting the issues and problems with the archaic system, and congressmen speaking about and promising electoral reform to better reflect the current state of affairs, technology, and the need to set a democratic example to the world, particularly in view of the "America's" position as the banner for democracy around the planet. Five years and another election later, the world's leading democracy continues as the least democratic of all democracies. Corruption and electoral discrepancies aside, this is an issue whose resolution is not only nowhere in sight but the process is in danger of becoming even more disconnected from the people and the checks and balances necessary to guarantee a fair outcome.
For those of you who don't know what I'm referring to, I'm going to touch a bit on the U.S.'s electoral process a bit. In the U.S. constitution, when voting for the President, each state elects a number of electors, or electoral representatives of that state, equal to the whole number of Senators and Representatives of that state in congress. Those already serving in office cannot serve as electors. These electors are the ones who choose who the president shall be among the available candidates in accordance to the wishes of the people of that state, but an elector is supposed to but doesn't have to vote for the candidate the people of the state wanted, which is problem number one. Also, because of the number of electors assigned to each state and the fact that you only need a one-vote majority to win all the electoral votes of each, a candidate can lose the election and still end up as President. This is the example of the 2000 election.
The reason I mention that the process is in danger of becoming even more disconnected and possibly even less fair to the people's wishes, is that the age of computers is taking away the accountability of having physical evidence of a person's vote. In the 2004 election, a number of electoral colleges adopted computers for the vote. There was a lot of controversy surrounding this issue for a number of reasons. One was the fact that there was no accountability. Second and in many ways more worrisome was the fact that the company producing the software and terminals for the vote was active in the ruling Republican Party and very vocal about wanting to ensure their party won the election. This was seen as a major conflict of interest, but the cry went to deaf ears. The end result was an election that had major discrepancies between the votes and the exit poll reports. This is something that in any other nation would have been investigated and possibly invalidated the electoral process.
The Inalienable Rights
The U.S. Constitution was written by some of the same men involved in the Declaration of Independence, men who were quite familiar with the civil rights violations by the British before and during the "Revolution." When first written, it still allowed the possibility of tyranny by the central government, so they addressed these issues by proposing a number of amendments, of which ten were ratified and are collectively known as "The Bill of Rights."
This particular group of amendments is what guarantees "American" citizens the life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness that the founders were so adamant about having. This is the core value of the U.S.'s advanced citizenship, yet throughout its history, the government has often been at odds with these rights, looking to change or eradicate through different means. Congress has passed amendments in conflict with the constitution. They have passed laws that violate your right to live without fear of the government searching and seizing your property without proper cause and due process of law. They have passed laws in direct violation of the first amendment (See Religious Freedom Act) and the fourth amendment (See Patriot Act).
In fact, because the constitutional text is so clear and direct, it leaves no room for interpretation. Thomas Jefferson was more than specific on this subject when he and the other writers sat down to compose the constitution. The limitations are there in simple terms that are not to be interpreted or distorted. I mean, what could be clearer and more direct than, "Congress shall make NO law." It's pretty clear to me. It says no law, none, zilch, zero in regards to religion, freedom of speech, press, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances (See Amendment I).
The entire Bill of Rights is being violated today, as we speak, as I sit here writing and you reading. The Republican Form of Government set forth by the founders of the Republic of the United States of America is dying, for, the people, which is the foundation of that government, have allowed their not quite democratically elected leader along with his representatives, to take away the very rights laid down in the constitution to protect their life, their liberty, and their capacity to pursue their happiness (See Patriot Act).
The Terrorist Threat
I'm willing to bet that most people would have never thought Thomas Jefferson wrote about terrorism. Ah, but he did. He was worried of the possibility of the government "opening on our peace of mind or personal safety the sluices of terrorism" and "violating our dearest rights." Jefferson wanted to protect the people and their power in the republic, and knew that the government could easily take advantage and abuse their power by opening the terrorism floodgates, instilling fear and worry about one's own safety and that of the nation. It was an easy path to the removal of constitutionally guaranteed rights.
What Jefferson didn't know is that after two-hundred years, "Americans" would live in constant fear of the colors yellow and orange, (is it ever totally green?), all due to the "war" on an enemy that neither expires or is ever revealed. It is exactly the "sluices of terrorism" as described by "America's" forefather. The waters of terror have made "Americans" color blind to the removal of their basic principles of freedom, equality, and justice. The "war" serves to justify scores of violations, in fact, to question has become a violation.
So where is the freedom so many "Americans" died for throughout the 20th century? If that freedom, if in fact the Bill of Rights no longer stands as the undisputable law of the land, then their death is meaningless, and this ghost of an enemy called "terrorism" has already won. The enemy is not the organizations that fight to protect the constitution. The enemy is not the group that asks the government for accountability, or for a redress of grievances. The only enemy, as Churchill so brilliantly put it, "is fear itself." And in the end, the worst fear "Americans" seem to have is of each other.
One can almost see the ghost, sitting in his cave, laughing at the rainbow of fear, enjoying his victory over freedom, over the republic.
And back to the beginning
You amend only that which can diminish the rule of law and of the people as stated and intended by those who founded the great American nation. That is the basic reason for allowing amendments to the constitution, making sure that the power is in the hands of the people, now and into forever. The end of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is intimately tied to that basic thought.
Only by regaining their rights, their freedoms, their power as a people, will the United States of America regain its previously enviable position as the place to go, to be, to grow. So celebrate and protect the constitution "America," and the Republic for which it stands, with liberty and justice for all.
More Resources for the interested reader (links open in a new window):
•The National Archives Experience - here you can learn about the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
•The Bill of Rights - this page from Cornell University's Legal Information Institute will list the ten amendments without decor.
•American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) - Take part in defending the constitution by supporting the ACLU. Many resources can be found here as well.
•Redress of Grievances - this link will take you to a site currently fighting to protect the first amendment right to a redress of grievances. Learn more by visiting or by seeing another effort in 1998 in this link.
•The Army's Version of the Bill of Rights - visit this link to see a U.S. Army study guide and find how thorough their knowledge of the first amendment is.