Georgia AmLegion Post 304

This Weblog is for the exclusive use of members of Post 304 of the Georgia American Legion in Kennesaw/Acworth, GA. It may be used for numerous purposes but will be primarily a site for communicating information to our members.

If you wish to post a "blog" on this weblog, please contact me at: dburdette488@bellsouth - I will either post it for your or advise you how to do it yourself.

Snail mailing address for the Post: American Legion Post 304, P.O. Box 15, Kennesaw, GA 30156-0015.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Here's the winning speech for the 2006 National Oratorical Contest. Perhaps it will inspire some of us to get involved in next year's contest with our local High Schools.

Constitutional Democracy is not a Spectator Sport

Nick Elledge The American Legion of (Knoxville) Tennessee

Welcome to our show, "The Active American, Live." Today, I'm on the street to ask the average American citizen, "What is the biggest problem in America today? And what are you doing to help fix this problem?"

Gasoline Prices (Texan) "Uhh, I been really busy lately."

Health care costs (elderly lady) "I'm a senior citizen on a fixed income ... what can I do?"

The environment dude(Californian) "I'm just hangin'. I'm not really doing anything."

It seems that everyone can name something wrong in America, yet most people remain uninvolved and uninformed. A recent poll by the National Constitution Center found that only one in three Americans could name the three branches of government, and that just one in four could name a single first amendment right. We’ve all heard it said that, freedom comes with responsibility. This is because constitutional democracy is not a spectator sport.

In this speech, I'd like look at some background behind the constitution.

Then explore some of the ideas found in our system of government.

And then, in light of these two, look at the duties and obligations of American citizens.

The framers of the constitution lived in a time of socioeconomic crisis. There were trade wars between Britain and the United States and even between the states themselves. The farmers revolt of 1786 showed that the federal government under the Articles of Confederation was weak. It was more like a fragile league of friendship than the United States of America. Surrounded by British and Spanish colonies, The States were threatened by foreign adversaries. On top of it all, the states began issuing their own currencies, which would have lead to unimaginable economic problems, had not a little document come along we now call, the constitution. What was its purpose? To establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty. At only 4,543 words, it is the shortest, oldest, and first written national constitution. It was both evolutionary and revolutionary. James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, acquired ideas from John Locke, Montesqieu, Blackstone, and even some ancient Greek philosophers. The concepts that went into the constitution were nothing new.

They came from a gradual evolution of ideas. Yet putting them all together into a written national constitution was revolutionary. It had never been done before. This was the creation of the first true constitutional democracy, or as Plato would have termed it, a republic. The founding fathers wanted a balanced government that derived its power from the consent of the governed. In fact, the word democracy comes from two Greek words, demos (which means, the people) and kratos (which means, power or authority). Therefore, democracy literally means government by the people. In the United States, this is accomplished by the free election of public officials. As the colonies found out from Britain, taxation without representation is unjust. Although, I've been told by my parents that, while preferable, taxation with representation isn’t so great either. The constitution also guarantees a balance of power, which is assured in 4 ways: The separation of powers, checks and balances, federalism, and the bill of rights.

The separation of powers shows itself through three, separate but equal branches: the legislative, the executive, and the judicial. Checks and balances are multi-faceted. For example, congress enacts laws, but the president can veto them. The Supreme Court can declare a presidential action unconstitutional, but the president appoints federal justices, with the senate's approval. Federalism refers to the authoritative distinction between the federal and state government. And, the Bill of Rights restricts any government action that would infringe upon a citizen’s individual liberty. The more I study history, the more I am thankful for the freedoms guaranteed in the bill of rights.

I look at an event like Tienimen Square in China, and then reflect on the first amendment, which guarantees the right of the people peaceably to assemble. I learn about religious persecution all over the world, and then see in our constitution that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. I read about the Soviet Union and their secret police, and then see in Amendment 4, the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures. We can rejoice that the Constitution protects our individual rights, but the catch is, freedom comes with responsibility. Constitutional democracy is not a spectator sport. Just look at the beginning of the constitution, "we the people." We have a government that is of the people, by the people, and for the people, that derives its power from the consent of the governed.

Constitutional democracies are not merely founded upon the consent of the people; they are also absolutely dependent upon the active and informed involvement of the people. This past summer, I met a person I will never forget. She was a middle-aged woman with a thick Russian accent and a PhD in history. I sat down to talk with her and noticed she had several scars and marks on her arms. She told me her story, how she was born in the Soviet Union, how as a child she had watched smuggled American movies and been in awe of the all the clothes and cars and food; how she had been involved in protests and marches to change the oppressive Russian government, how she had stood in front of a tank, and how she had been mercilessly beaten. I asked her, "Why did you want to come to America and why would you risk being beaten or even killed?" She looked straight at me with eyes filled with a mix of sorrow and unspeakable happiness, and said "Freedom".

Whenever I hear someone complain about being involved in politics or having to go out vote, I think of that woman from the Soviet Union, who was beaten within an inch of her life trying to have a say in her government, so that she might have constitutional rights, so that she might be free. If my freedom is the envy of the world, and if countless patriotic Americans have died for it, how much more ought I to be active in civic affairs and informed about our founding documents?

The freedoms guaranteed by our constitution are precious, but they are put at risk when we treat government like a spectator sport. At the close of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, Benjamin Franklin was asked by local townspeople what sort of government had been created in the constitution, and he replied, "A Republic, if you can keep it." I don't know about you, but I say, let's keep it.


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