Remarks at the ``We the
People'' Bicentennial Celebration in
Thank you all very much. With so many distinguished guests, I hope you'll excuse me if I single out just one. He has devoted a lifetime of service to his country, and occupied one of the highest offices in our land. And recently he stepped down to lead the nation in our bicentennial celebrations. Well, by a happy coincidence, this day that marks the 200th anniversary of the signing of our Constitution, also happens to be his birthday. Today, Chief Justice Warren Burger is 80 years old. [Applause] And Warren, we of the younger generation salute you. [Laughter] Congratulations!
we stand here today before Independence Hall, we can easily imagine that day,
To look back on that time, at the difficulties faced and surmounted, can only give us perspective on the present. Each generation, every age, I imagine, is prone to think itself beset by unusual and particularly threatening difficulties, to look back on the past as a golden age when issues were not so complex and politics not so divisive, when problems did not seem so intractable.
we're tempted to think of the birth of our country as one such golden age, a
time characterized primarily by harmony and cooperation. In fact, the
Constitution and our government were born in crisis. The years leading up to
our Constitutional Convention were some of the most difficult our nation ever
endured. This young nation, threatened on every side by hostile powers, was on
the verge of economic collapse. In some States inflation raged out of control;
debt was crushing. In
disputes between the States were bitter and sometimes violent, threatening not
only the economy but even the peace. No one thought him guilty of exaggeration
when Edmund Randolph described the perilous state of the confederacy. ``Look at
the public countenance,'' he said, ``from
Articles of Confederation, all could see, were not strong enough to hold this
new nation together. But there was no general agreement on how a stronger
Federal Government should be constituted -- or, indeed, whether one should be
constituted at all. There were strong secessionist feelings in many parts of
the country. In
No, it wasn't the absence of problems that won the day in 1787. It wasn't the absence of division and difficulty; it was the presence of something higher -- the vision of democratic government founded upon those self-evident truths that still resounded in Independence Hall. It was that ideal, proclaimed so proudly in this hall a decade earlier, that enabled them to rise above politics and self-interest, to transcend their differences and together create this document, this Constitution that would profoundly and forever alter not just these United States but the world. In a very real sense, it was then, in 1787, that the Revolution truly began. For it was with the writing of our Constitution, setting down the architecture of democratic government, that the noble sentiments and brave rhetoric of 1776 took on substance, that the hopes and dreams of the revolutionists could become a living, enduring reality.
All men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights -- until that moment some might have said that was just a high-blown sentiment, the dreams of a few philosophers and their hot-headed followers. But could one really construct a government, run a country, with such idealistic notions? But once those ideals took root in living, functioning institutions, once those notions became a nation -- well, then, as I said, the revolution could really begin, not just in America but around the world, a revolution to free man from tyranny of every sort and secure his freedom the only way possible in this world, through the checks and balances and institutions of limited, democratic government.
Checks and balances, limited government -- the genius of our constitutional system is its recognition that no one branch of government alone could be relied on to preserve our freedoms. The great safeguard of our liberty is the totality of the constitutional system, with no one part getting the upper hand. And that's why the judiciary must be independent. And that's why it also must exercise restraint.
our Constitution has endured, through times perilous as well as prosperous, it
has not been simply as a plan of government, no matter how ingenious or
inspired that might be. This document that we honor today has always been
something more to us, filled with a deeper feeling than one of simple
admiration -- a feeling, one might say, more of reverence. One scholar
described our Constitution as a kind of covenant. It is a covenant we've made
not only with ourselves but with all of mankind. As John Quincy Adams promised,
``Whenever the standard of freedom and independence
has been or shall be unfurled, there will be
It is an oath of allegiance to that in man that is truly universal, that core of being that exists before and beyond distinctions of class, race, or national origin. It is a dedication of faith to the humanity we all share, that part of each man and woman that most closely touches on the divine. And it was perhaps from that divine source that the men who came together in this hall 200 years ago drew the inspiration and strength to face the crisis of their great hopes and overcome their many divisions. After all, both Madison and Washington were to refer to the outcome of the Constitutional Convention as a miracle; and miracles, of course, have only one origin.
people,'' said George Washington in his Inaugural Address, ``can be bound to
acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more
than those of the
the summer of 1787, as the delegates clashed and debated,
One can imagine that his conversation was with someone else -- that it took more the form of prayer for this new nation, that such sacrifices be not in vain, that the hope and promise that survived such a terrible winter of suffering not be allowed to wither now that it was summer. One imagines that he also did what we do today in this gathering and celebration, what will always be America's foremost duty -- to constantly renew that covenant with humanity, with a world yearning to breathe free; to complete the work begun 200 years ago, that grand, noble work that is America's particular calling -- the triumph of human freedom, the triumph of human freedom under God.
have, a number of times, said that you may call it mysticism, but I have always
believed that this land was put here to be found by a special kind of people.
And may I simply say also, a man wrote me a letter, and I would call to your
attention what he did to mine. You could go from here to live in another
I think a moment ago I was given a cue, and I can think of no more fitting tribute to the Constitution's bicentennial than ringing the Centennial Bell, and with it, will be rung bells all over the Nation. Maybe that's all they were going to ring it.
Note: The President
spoke at in front of
Independence Hall. In his opening remarks, he referred to former Supreme Court
Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, Chairman of the Commission on the Bicentennial