The American Legion High School Oratorical program â€œA Constitutional Speech Contestâ€? 2010
The Constitution: The Men, the Story, the Forgotten Legacy
Timothy Lachapelle 87 White Sail Drive Southington, Connecticut 06489
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” Some people don’t realize how much of an affect the words of the Constitution have on our lives. Some people don’t realize that the words that I have just spoken are part of a document that makes us who we are today. Through every inch of the Constitution, from the preamble to the Bill of Rights, to the amendments that were added afterwards, there is no doubt that the Constitution is the root of all our American values of freedom. In order to understand the Constitution we would have to start at the beginning. But what is the beginning? Many people believe that 1776, the year of the Declaration of Independence and the war for our freedom was the birth of our country. Others might argue that the beginning of our country was in 1789, the year the Constitution was drafted. I, however, believe that our country’s birth is not defined by one year, but many men. These men incited a revolution against the tyrannical British Empire, and worked tirelessly to draw up a document to establish a more perfect union. The time before The Constitution was one of great turmoil in the 13 colonies. It began with the British waging a war on American soil during the French and Indian war. The French and Indian War led to taxes on the 13 colonies to pay for war damages. Our founding fathers and the colonies decided that these taxes were unfair, and the rest was history. A bloody war was fought on our soil where thousands of lives were claimed all in the name of freedom. And let it be known that if we failed to defeat the British,
George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Ben Franklin would have all been hanged for treason. Our founding fathers put their lives and their pride on the line for freedom that we often take for granted today. After the War came the Articles of Confederation. Though the Articles were a passable document, it had many problems. Under the Articles the states were making their own laws and printing their own money because there was a weak central government, and the state governments were too strong. It was clear that in order to save the country from becoming a collection of separate unions, much like the Europeans whom the colonies sought to break free from, a change would have to be made. But the Articles of Confederation was not a complete failure. In fact, some of the shortcomings of the Articles led to the development of possibly the greatest document ever written, The Constitution of the United States of America. This is where we get our hero, James Madison the Father of our Constitution. Madison, along with the 55 delegates of the Constitutional Convention, worked tirelessly debated heatedly, and left their families for an entire summer, all to draw up a document that has only been revised 17 times in over 200 years. The Constitution set up what the Articles of Confederation lacked; a strong central government with three branches: an executive branch, a judicial branch, and a bicameral legislative body. Each of these branches was responsible for checking and balancing each other so that no branch would become too powerful. Yet the most innovative part of the constitution was Article V and the elastic clause. The elastic clause made all the rights given to the government in the Constitution necessary and proper so that they can be adjusted to fit situations that our founding fathers did not foresee. Article V gave the opportunity to the government to
propose new amendments to the constitution with a two thirds vote and ratify those amendments with a three fourths vote. Our founding fathers knew that the Constitution was not perfect and they knew that the need for new amendments would come. For example, the word slavery was not mentioned once in the constitution, yet it was still a very controversial part of American life in Colonial times. Maybe such a time of infancy in our country was not the right time to engage in a debate over slavery. But when the time did come the government was able to abolish slavery thanks to Article V. Yet there was still something missing. Many delegates led by Virginiaâ€™s George Mason, believed that a Bill of Rights was needed to establish the rights of the people. Masonâ€™s men eventually won the battle and a Bill of Rights was added in 1791. The Bill of Rights gave the people of the United States a written document of their personal freedoms. The Bill of Rights over time became a document that was almost as revolutionary as the war for our freedom. In the past our ability to speak out for what we believe is right has moved our country forward in ways that were at one point unimaginable. Yet some of the changes that occurred now seem to be the only way. For example, Martin Luther King Jr. on August 28th 1963, one man, stood up against the toils and turbulence of racial discrimination and delivered a speech that would change America and affect future generations. It has even changed the way we see the past and influential writers like Langston Hughes and Marcus Garvey. This speech did so many great things for America, yet it is overlooked that in other countries those who speak out against their government are arrested, put in jail and sometimes even killed. 200 years ago, our founding fathers gave us the opportunity to speak out to change our government.
But why are we talking about the past. It is 2010. Our economy is suffering. There is constant debate about war, about healthcare, and about immigration. How can 55 men in powdered wigs affect the way we live today? The answer is not simple. One can infer that our founding fathers foresaw the turmoil that consumes our nation today. The solutions to these problems are addressed in Article V and the 1st amendment. The first amendment gives us the opportunity to speak out against our government, and Article V gives the responsibility to the government to change the Constitution for the betterment of the people. This is why it is our right, duty, and responsibility to speak out for what we believe is right. Unfortunately for our country that duty has not been fulfilled. Every year, every adult in our country is presented with the opportunity to choose an official to run their town, state, or even our country. Not enough people are taking time out of their day once a year to exercise that right. Not enough people take time out of their day to send a letter to their congressmen, or go to town hall meetings to express their opinion. Few people realize that in the defining moments of our country, it was those rights that were the catalysts for our desire to fight on and remain the beacon of freedom around the world. Our founding fathers had so many better plans for us, yet today we are in a sharp economic downturn, the worst one since the great depression. Yet there is a feeling that lingers that we are in more danger than we were at the time of the great depression. In the time of the great depression people were willing to speak out and offer input to their Senators and state officials so that their opinion could be heard. But now apathy has taken its toll. The inability for the people to choose whatâ€™s right for their government has the potential to bring about the downfall of the values that our founding fathers held dear.
I urge every one of you to be vigilant, to be involved in your local governments, participate in elections on all levels, because we are the lucky few with the right, duty, and responsibility to speak out for what we believe is right; because the U.S. government is a government for us. Abraham Lincoln said it best in his Gettysburg Address when he said that the U.S. government is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, and I believe that we the people have not only the right but the civic duty to stand up for what we believe in.