Guest opinion: Renewing America’s unwritten Constitution
Many of the founding fathers were originally quite skeptical of establishing a Bill of Rights. They were concerned that enumerating certain rights would lead to removing protections for those self-evident natural rights that could be left out of such an enumeration.
James Madison was one of the framers of the Constitution who had such concerns, but in discussing the question with Thomas Jefferson, he eventually came to believe that “The political truths declared in (a bill of rights) acquire by degrees the character of fundamental maxims of free Government, and as they become incorporated with the national sentiment, counteract the impulses of interest and passion.”
This “national sentiment” on the “fundamental maxims of free government” is what constitutional scholars call a society’s unwritten constitution, the norms, mores, values and aspirations that constitute a society’s political and civic culture.
The ideals illuminated in such documents as the U.S. Constitution and its Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence and other founding documents such as the Federalist Papers provide the cornerstone of America’s unwritten constitution, the maxims upon which our political and civic culture are built. This American corpus of free society informs, establishes and binds us to America as an idea, as a project of liberty and justice, rather than merely another nation built only on blood and soil.
Without this unwritten constitution, without a political and civic culture commensurate to the values and provisions of America’s written constitution, the latter becomes little more than what Madison called a parchment barrier, insufficient “against the encroaching spirit of power.”
While we at The Freemen Foundation, one of Utah’s newest civic nonprofit endeavors, are concerned with the things we see in electoral politics and interested in who obtains political office and the values they hold, our greater concern is in renewing and conserving the principles and precepts of the U.S. Constitution, and assuring that America’s unwritten constitution is commensurate to valuing and defending those principles and precepts.
The fact of the matter is that it doesn’t matter what the Constitution says, it doesn’t matter what promises are offered by various political campaigns, and it doesn’t matter who holds political office if America’s civic and political culture has moved beyond reflecting or even valuing the ideals the American Republic was founded upon.
This is where the mission and vision of The Freemen Foundation come into focus. We are chiefly interested in rekindling the flame of liberty in American hearts and the knowledge of and gratitude for our system of government in American minds.
If you’d like to learn more about our efforts as we try to grow from our humble beginnings into something that we hope can provide a spark for a new American enlightenment, please visit our website at TheFreemenFoundation.com.
Justin Stapley is a recent graduate of Utah Valley University, where he studied political philosophy, public law, American history and constitutionalism. He is the executive director of The Freemen Foundation and editor-in-chief of the Freemen News-Letter.