Tomorrow is the big rivalry game between Brigham Young University and the University of Utah. But before we head out to enjoy the great spectacle of the so-called “holy war” (a misnomer, by the way), we might all pause for a moment to reflect on a significant milestone that also occurs tomorrow – the 224th anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution.
Having fought a bloody war to gain their independence, representatives from the colonies gathered at Independence Hall in Philadelphia to design a framework of government that would secure the “blessings of liberty” for themselves and their posterity. These men embarked on a four-month journey that John Adams would later call “the greatest single effort of national deliberation that the world has ever seen.”
After much debate and compromise, 39 of 55 delegates signed the Constitution on September 17, 1787. The Constitution was not perfect and still is not; and yet, for more than two centuries it has been a bulwark of liberty and justice for Americans and is a pattern for most governments worldwide. Though oft misinterpreted and abused, the Constitution has withstood the test of time.
What makes the Constitution so valuable? It recognizes the American people – rather than a king, queen or dictator – as sovereign. It secures for us the right to life, liberty and property and, specifically, freedom of religion, speech, assembly and the press. The Constitution limits government by separating its powers into three co-equal branches and by creating a delicate balance of authority between national and state governments.
[pullquote]Our happiness, and the continued existence and prosperity of this nation, depend upon our capacity to be a people of moral and virtuous character.[/pullquote] Most importantly, these provisions and others establish a framework of liberty, justice and order that allows men and women to pursue happiness, or, in other words, to fulfill the measure of their creation as human beings. With this freedom and opportunity comes immense responsibility. While the Constitution protects our ability to live and work and pursue happiness, it does not force or require us to choose the good. Our happiness, and the continued existence and prosperity of this nation, depend upon our capacity to be a people of moral and virtuous character.
As John Adams said, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” And George Washington, in his farewell address, declared, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them.”
Finally, in a 1993 speech, LDS apostle Neal Maxwell made the following bold observation: “Our inspired Constitution is wisely designed to protect from excesses of political power, but it can do little to protect us from the excesses of appetite or from individual indifference to great principles or institutions. Any significant unraveling of the moral fiber of the American people, therefore, finally imperils the Constitution.”
While many of us will enjoy a great rivalry game on Saturday, let there be no rivalry in our support for the Constitution or in our efforts to be a people fit for the freedoms it safeguards for us. On this Constitution Day, let us all remember the significance of this invaluable document and those who sacrificed to produce and ratify it.