The American Revolution was one of the great events in world history. Not only did it provide the foundation for our great country, but it provided lots of inspiration to other people around the world. The idea the all men are created equal and that the ultimate good is to live in liberty and pursue your own version of happiness has slowly but surely expanded across the planet. It has done so largely through the example of the Constitution. But why was it necessary for the constitution to be created? The underlying philosophy of the constitution can be found in the Enlightenment and the many new philosophies of the 18th century that were opening up people’s minds and allowing them to see freedom and self-determination as great things. It was this philosophical climate, combined with the British oppression of Americans, that made it necessary for the constitution to be created. This period of the Enlightenment was centered on the idea that Reason was more important than religion, for example, and that people should not follow the word of a god or a king, but should follow their own lights and try to be happy with their own lives. Instead of serving a master and being a slave, they should take charge themselves. Some philosophers like Voltaire and David Hume doubted that God had much control over the world and suggested the church had to much say in the running of countries. These ideas were very controversial, but they began to take hold as the century progressed. Rousseau was also a famous philosopher of the period. He argued that common people should have a social contract together and they shouldn’t be forced to submit to an arbitrary power—especially one far away from their home like King George III in England at that time.
Many of Rousseau’s ideas came to be included in the Declaration of Independence and the American Constitution. It was felt that leaders needs to be reigned in or they would assume too much power. Many believe that there is a natural tendency to seek power among human beings and to take too much personal power. The writers of the constitution recognized this fact. They didn’t want a monarchy—they wanted a republic. That’s why Congress provides a check on a president’s power. At the time this was a very unique idea. These checks and balances work because they are legally enforced and because each of the branches of government have their own roles to play. They also are effective because the American people demand that they be so. They will not accept interference with the judiciary or the president ordering the Congress to do something. That is not how America works.
Why is the constitution still relevant? Because it codifies the “better angels” of the American political soul. It is an announcement of freedom. It makes America a republic, gives Americans rights, and lets them pursue happiness. This makes it a very different founding document than many others which were written by kings or dictators. This one was written by the people. The checks and balances aspect is also vitally important to the whole enterprise. Voters continues to demand this form of constitutional government and are proud of it. Politics may have changed since the 18th century, but the constitution survives it all.
Few constitutional rights have shaped American culture or inspired so much debate as the Second Amendment: the right to bear arms. For opponents of this constitutional right, the Second Amendment is an anachronism whose interpretation has been profoundly abused over the years. It has been stretched to mean things it was never intended to mean. It has led to an unpleasant and dangerous national gun fetish. But for proponents, the second amendment is an upper tier constitutional right intended to affirm personal freedom and protect people from the tyranny of a state that monopolizes the use of force. They argue that it forms the backbone of the intrepid frontier spirit that built America and provides for American citizens’ right to defend themselves. The fact that the second amendment has been so bitterly debated may indicate that the freedom it guarantees is a contentious one; nevertheless, this proves it is a site upon which much is at stake. Indeed, where freedom is involved there is always much to discuss and much at stake. This essay will take a look at this issue in more depth.
For many years, the debate about the second amendment went back and forth, with the courts offering many different interpretations of exactly what sort of rights this amendment actually provided to the American people. That has changed a little recently as the definition has become clearer. This is an interesting constitutional right to discuss especially because of the Supreme Court ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) which for the first time in a long time finally clarified how the Second Amendment should be interpreted. Because there are two version of the amendment and because the punctuation is somewhat ambiguous, the amendment has been able to support different interpretations for many years. As well, people tried very hard to import their own political opinions into the brief sentence that makes up the amendment. A liberal interpretation of the clause allowed places like the District of Columbia to make sweeping laws that implemented hand gun bans, for example. In their recent ruling, however, the Supreme Court decided that such a ban would be unconstitutional.[T]he Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home [and] that the District’s ban on handgun possession in the home violates the Second Amendment, as does its prohibition against rendering any lawful firearm in the home operable for the purpose of immediate self-defense.
A large part of this debate centres around the question of what kinds of infringements to the right to bear arms are constitutional and which are not. This is indeed a difficult subject, but one the Constitution is well-suited to answer.