By Col. Deborah B. GraysSeptember 10, 2009
Fort McPherson & Fort Gillem
"We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union . . ."
These familiar words are the preamble to what may be the most important legal document in modern world history - the Constitution of the United States.
This document provides the basis for the protections that we sometimes take for granted - freedoms that are not enjoyed in other nations. Sept. 17, we celebrate its 222 birthday.
Let us take a moment to examine and reflect on the historical and practical importance of the United States Constitution and how it affects our daily lives.
To be sure, our Constitution is a most remarkable document. It is amazingly short, yet undeniably resilient and flexible. Our Constitution is the oldest - and shortest at 4,400 words - written constitution in the world and is used as a model by more than 100 other countries.
Our Constitution is the product of the Constitutional Convention held in Philadelphia in 1787. This convention convened for the purpose of creating a new form of government to replace the Articles of Confederation, which had been adopted at the end of the Revolutionary War and were widely considered unworkable.
The delegates from the existing states assembled in the Pennsylvania State House in Philadelphia, known today as Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence had been created and signed.
There, they set to work on a radical new concept of government. Debate was intense, and the resulting Constitution was controversial. June 21, 1788, New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify the Constitution.
By agreement, the Constitution went into effect in all of the states, including those that had not ratified the Constitution. The votes within many of the state delegations were quite close.
Ratification of the Constitution was achieved once the delegates reached an agreement regarding a listing of individual rights. These rights are contained in Amendments I through X and are collectively known as the Bill of Rights.
It is this part of our Constitution with which most Americans are most familiar. Amendment I guarantees freedom of speech, press, religion, peaceful assembly, and the right to petition Congress for redress of grievances. Amendment IV guarantees the right of the people to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.
Amendment V guarantees the right against self-incrimination, the guarantee against double jeopardy and the right that all criminal process will include due process of law. Amendment VI guarantees the right to speedy and public trials by an impartial jury and requires confrontation of witnesses against the accused.
Other amendments deal with the scope of federal power and authority. Among the most significant, but least known, is Amendment X.
This amendment provides that the powers not expressly granted to the United States are reserved to the states or to the people. In 1787, that a government would exercise only those powers granted it by the people was a very novel concept.
Even today, in countries with democratic governments that value protection of individual rights, these rights are granted to the people by the government. In the United States, our freedoms and rights were reserved by the people when the people created the government.
Each member of our Armed Forces has taken an oath to protect and defend - not a person, or even a nation - but our Constitution.
This incredible document memorializes and protects the fundamental ideals of liberty, equality and a government of and for the people. It serves as a model for foreign governments and a beacon of hope to oppressed individuals in other parts of the world. It is the embodiment of the freedoms we hold dear as Americans and inspires the sacrifices of all who serve, whether in uniform, as Civilian employees or as Family members in support.
As we celebrate the 222nd birthday of our Constitution, I encourage all members of our community to reflect upon and appreciate the role our Constitution plays in guarding our individual freedoms - not just today, but for generations to come.