James Madison's Montpelier We The People Fall 2013 - Page 8

We The People continued from page 7 8 A turning point i n w o r l d h i s t o ry the blessings of liberty When the Federal Convention began, Madison’s ideas, with the help of the other Virginia delegates, were articulated in 15 resolutions now known as the Virginia Plan. By making these proposals, Madison successfully set the agenda for the debates that followed. For nearly the next four months, the 55 delegates, all with their own strong convictions, intensely debated a myriad of issues raised by the Virginia Plan. On September 17, 1787, 39 delegates signed the United States Constitution, their plan for a new federal government. By their own design, however, the implementation of the Constitution as the highest law in the land required the consent of the governed, meaning ratification by the people of the states. Madison’s work was not done, and he continued laboring tirelessly to achieve the public’s consent through his contributions to the Federalist Papers and his leadership at the Virginia Ratifying Convention. The average written constitution survives just 17 years, but the U.S. Constitution has been in effect for more than two centuries. The U.S. government, despite all its problems, inefficiencies, and history of injustices, is an example to the world that a free people can govern themselves without the heavy hands of dictators or aristocracies. America demonstrates that liberty and stability are not mutually exclusive. In creating our democratic republic, Madison and the other framers entrusted a tremendous amount of power to “we the people,” the common citizenry. But, power demands responsibility. Self-government means that we are ultimately our own governors. It is our responsibility to understand how our government works and to maintain those checks on power which are the best defenses of our liberties. If we want to pass on those same liberties to future generations, we must ensure that each generation understands the roles and responsibilities of American citizenship. As Madison said, “the advancement & diffusion of Knowledge… is the only Guardian of true liberty.” (Madison to Thompson, June 30, 1825). Before the U.S. Constitution, the world’s populations had been dominated by kings, czars, sultans, and emperors. Democracies had existed only for brief moments in tiny corners of the world before being overtaken by tyrants or swallowed up by large empires. When our Constitution was finally ratified on June 21, 1788, it represented a turning point in history. Before the U.S. Constitution, the world’s populations had been dominated by kings, czars, sultans, and emperors. Democracies had existed only for brief moments in tiny corners of the world before being overtaken by tyrants or swallowed up by large empires. Today, almost half of the world’s population lives under some form of democracy. American success under the guidance of the U.S. Constitution is the reason for this dramatic change. But, power demands responsibility. Self-government means that we are ultimately our own governors. It is our responsibility to understand how our government works and to maintain those checks on power, which are the best defenses of our liberties.