The Challenges of Constitutional Conservatism

The Mt. Vernon Statement is a noble call to bring our country back to its founding principles. At a time when the size and scope of the national government is exceeding its constitutional limits by leaps and bounds, a return to the Constitution is certainly needed more than ever. And, as the authors of the statement note, the Constitution rallies economic, social, and national defense conservatives around the shared principles of limited government, liberty, and virtuous citizenship.

The challenge is communicating this to a public more familiar with the Simpsons characters than the five freedoms of the Bill of Rights, that does not even know how many branches of government there are, or how many amendments. Sadly (but perhaps not surprisingly), even our current President confused the Declaration of Independence with the Constitution in his recent State of the Union Address, when he alluded to ‘the notion that we’re all created equal.’ One poll shows that 84 percent of Americans make this same mistake.

There was a time when Americans looked to the Constitution for inspiration and guidance. Just read George Washington’s Farewell Address, when he urges Americans to ‘sacredly maintain’ their ‘free Constitution.’ Or Abraham Lincoln, when he compared the Constitution to a setting of silver around the Declaration of Independence. It is hard to image any public figure speaking in such moving and reverent words of the Constitution today—much less, Americans understanding what the heck they are talking about.

So, while there are many merits to this whole idea of constitutional conservatism, we first need to work a bit educating Americans about the Constitution. Here at OSPRI, we are doing our part to educate Rhode Islanders about constitutional principles. Check out our Founders Project for more information.

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