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Our Constitution

Chapter One: Why Was the Constitution Necessary?

"I doubt . . . whether any Convention we can obtain, may be able to make a better constitution; for, when you assemble a number of men, to have the advantage of their joint wisdom, you inevitably assemble with those men all their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinion, their local interests, and their selfish views. From such an assembly can a perfect production be expected? It therefore astonishes me, Sir, to find this system approaching so near to perfection as it does."

Benjamin Franklin, addressing the Constitutional Convention September 17, 1787

Chapter Two: What Kind of Government Did the Constitution Create?

"Constitutions should consist only of general provisions; the reason is that they must necessarily be permanent, and that they cannot calculate for the possible changes of things."

Alexander Hamilton, addressing the New York ratification convention June 28, 1788

Chapter Three: What Rights Does the Constitution Protect?

"The First Amendment does not speak equivocally.  It prohibits any law 'abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.'  It must be taken as a command of the broadest scope that explicit language, read in the context of a liberty-loving society, will allow."

Justice Hugo L. Black, majority opinion in Bridges v. California (1941)

Chapter Four: How Has the Constitution Expanded over Time?

The powers of the legislature are defined and limited; and that those limits may not be mistaken, or forgotten, the constitution is written.To what purpose are powers limited, and to what purpose is that limitation committed to writing, if these limits may, at any time, be passed by those intended to be restrained? The distinction between a government with limited and unlimited powers, is abolished, if those limits do not confine the persons on whom they are imposed, and if acts prohibited and acts allowed, are of equal obligation.”

Chief Justice John Marshall, majority opinion in Marbury v. Madison (1803)

Chapter Five: How is the Constitution Interpreted?

Those who put their names in the Constitution understood the enormity of what they were attempting to do: to create a representative democracy, with a central government strong enough to unify a vast, diverse, then and now politically fractious nation; but a government limited enough to allow individual liberty and enterprise to flourish. Well, 213 years later, we can say with thanks, they succeeded. Not only in keeping liberty alive, but in providing a strong, yet flexible, framework within which America could keep moving forward, generation after generation, toward making real the pure ideals embodied in their words.”

President Bill Clinton, dedicating the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia on September 17, 2000