"Don't interfere with anything in the Constitution. That must be maintained, for it is the only safeguard of our liberties." Abraham Lincoln, speech at Kalamazoo, Michigan, August 27, 1856

We the People...


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"Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other." John Adams             

The Mount Vernon Statement
Constitutional Conservatism: A Statement for the 21st Century

We recommit ourselves to the ideas of the American Founding.  Through the Constitution, the Founders created an enduring framework of limited government based on the rule of law. They sought to secure national independence, provide for economic opportunity, establish true religious liberty and maintain a flourishing society of republican self-government.

These principles define us as a country and inspire us as a people. They are responsible for a prosperous, just nation unlike any other in the world. They are our highest achievements, serving not only as powerful beacons to all who strive for freedom and seek self-government, but as warnings to tyrants and despots everywhere.

Each one of these founding ideas is presently under sustained attack. In recent decades, America’s principles have been undermined and redefined in our culture, our universities and our politics. The selfevident truths of 1776 have been supplanted by the notion that no such truths exist. The federal government today ignores the limits of the Constitution, which is increasingly dismissed as obsolete and irrelevant.

Some insist that America must change, cast off the old and put on the new. But where would this lead — forward or backward, up or down? Isn’t this idea of change an empty promise or even a dangerous deception?

The change we urgently need, a change consistent with the American ideal, is not movement away from but toward our founding principles. At this important time, we need a restatement of Constitutional conservatism grounded in the priceless principle of ordered liberty articulated in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

The conservatism of the Declaration asserts self-evident truths based on the laws of nature and nature’s God. It defends life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It traces authority to the consent of the governed. It recognizes man’s self-interest but also his capacity for virtue.

The conservatism of the Constitution limits government’s powers but ensures that government performs its proper job effectively. It refines popular will through the filter of representation. It provides checks and balances through the several branches of government and a federal republic.

A Constitutional conservatism unites all conservatives through the natural fusion provided by American principles. It reminds economic conservatives that morality is essential to limited government, social conservatives that unlimited government is a threat to moral self-government, and national security conservatives that energetic but responsible government is the key to America’s safety and leadership role in the world.
A Constitutional conservatism based on first principles provides the framework for a consistent and meaningful policy agenda.
  • It applies the principle of limited government based on the rule of law to every proposal.
  •  It honors the central place of individual liberty in American politics and life.
  •  It encourages free enterprise, the individual entrepreneur, and economic reforms grounded in market solutions.
  •  It supports America’s national interest in advancing freedom and opposing tyranny in the world and prudently considers what we can and should do to that end. It informs conservatism’s firm defense of family, neighborhood, community, and faith. If we are to succeed in the critical political and policy battles ahead, we must be certain of our purpose.

We must begin by retaking and resolutely defending the high ground of America’s founding principles.

February 17, 2010

Edwin Meese, former U.S. Attorney General under President Reagan

Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for America

Edwin Feulner, Jr., president of the Heritage Foundation

Lee Edwards, Distinguished Fellow in Conservative Thought at the Heritage Foundation, was present at the Sharon Statement signing.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council

Becky Norton Dunlop, president of the Council for National Policy

Brent Bozell, president of the Media Research Center

Alfred Regnery, publisher of the American Spectator

David Keene, president of the American Conservative Union

David McIntosh, co-founder of the Federalist Society

T. Kenneth Cribb, former domestic policy adviser to President Reagan

Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform

William Wilson, President, Americans for Limited Government

Elaine Donnelly, Center for Military Readiness

Richard Viguerie, Chairman, ConservativeHQ.com

Kenneth Blackwell, Coalition for a Conservative Majority

Colin Hanna, President, Let Freedom Ring

Kathryn J. Lopez, National Review 



What Is the Constitution? [Orrin Hatch]

On this day, 222 years ago, 12 state delegations approved the new Constitution of the United States and 39 of the 42 convention delegates signed it. They sent it to the states for ratification, the act that would make it the supreme law of the land. It is worth focusing on just what the Constitution actually is.

The Constitution opens by saying: “We the people . . . do ordain and establish this Constitution.” Nearly all Americans say the Constitution is very important to them and it requires that virtually all legislative, executive, and judicial officers, both state and federal, “shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this Constitution.” But what is this thing called the Constitution that the people established, that Americans say is so important, and that public officials swear to support?

The Constitution is the oldest written charter of government in use in the world today. Anyone who can read knows what the Constitution says. But words alone are just inkblots, and ordaining and establishing the Constitution was much more than simply putting some words on a page. Constitution Day would hardly be worth the name if it celebrated nothing more than a collection of words with no meaning. The Constitution we recognize today is more than an empty shell, it is more than what it says. The Constitution is what it means.

Think about judicial review, perhaps the most powerful thing that federal judges do in our system of self-government. In an appropriate case, judges must determine whether a statute is consistent with the Constitution. If they conflict, the Constitution wins. As Alexander Hamilton put it in The Federalist No.78, it is the duty of judges “to declare all acts contrary to the manifest tenor of the Constitution void.” But here we are back to the same question — what is “the Constitution” that judges use to conduct judicial review? What is “the Constitution” to which statutes must yield?

Charles Evans Hughes, who would later become Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, famously said about a century ago that the Constitution is “what the judges say it is.” Since judges cannot change the words of the Constitution, Hughes was really saying what today seems to be widely accepted, that the Constitution means whatever judges say it means. But if Hughes was right, then judges in effect become the Constitution and judicial review means that statutes must yield to judges.

But Hughes was wrong. The Constitution does not mean, it cannot mean, whatever judges say it means. If it does, then Hamilton’s reference to its “manifest tenor” makes no sense. A century before Hughes, Chief Justice John Marshall offered the opposite view in Marbury v. Madison, the case often credited with establishing judicial review. Marshall wrote that we have a written Constitution so that the limits on government power “may not be mistaken, or forgotten” and that the Constitution is “a rule for the government of courts, as well as of the legislature.” Judges are part of the government. If the Constitution means whatever government says it means, then government determines the limits on its own power. That would render the Constitution impotent and hardly worth the effort expended at the Constitutional Convention.

Marshall wrote that the Constitution represents “the intention of the people.” Intention is expressed through the meaning, not merely the form, of words. The Constitution cannot be the intention of the people if all the people did was choose some words without meaning. The Constitution could not continue to be the intention of the people if its meaning could be changed by anyone but the people. Quoting George Washington, the Rhode Island Constitution declares that “the constitution which at any time exists, till changed by an explicit and authentic act of the whole people, is sacredly obligatory upon all.” Empty words oblige no one. To be the Constitution, it must not only say what they said but it must mean what they meant.

The Constitution – its words and their meaning – was established by the people, can only be changed by the people, and is sacredly obligatory upon all of government, including judges. This is why the debate over judicial selection is really a debate over judicial power. It is a debate over whether the Constitution controls judges or judges control the Constitution, over what the Constitution really is, with nothing less than liberty itself at stake.

— Sen. Orrin G. Hatch is a former chairman of both the Senate Judiciary Committee and its Subcommittee on the Constitution.


For an overview of the Constitution of The United States, please go to the following URL: http://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/constitution.overview.html.

Page last updated 10/06/11