Published July 1987 — Download PDF of the original newspaper column
Byrd's-Eye View By U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd Liberty's Two-hundred-year-old Charter During the summer of 1787, delegates from the Thirteen Original States assembled in Philadelphia to discuss problems of mutual concern. When the delegates adjourned, they left our country with one of the greatest political documents ever written; the Constitution of the United States of America. We are this year celebrating the 200th anniversary of the Constitution. Without that Constitution, our country could have hardly achieved the greatness that it has, and it is questionable that Americans would enjoy the liberties and the way of life that are ours today. The Constitution was conceived and adopted in a world largely ruled by Divine Right monarchs who claimed absolute authority over their subjects. In effect, the Founding Fathers were launching an experiment in democratic rule that many in Europe expected to fail. The Founding Fathers, however, believed that free people should decide for themselves the questions that shaped their own destiny. Likewise, the Founding Fathers distrusted unbridled power in the hands of anybody. For that reason, the Constitution put into place a feature unique to American government: a system of checks and balances. The Constitution gives immense powers to the federal government. But the Constitution divides and shares that power among the three branches of our federal system: the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial to ensure against the rise of tyranny, the abuse of power by high officials, and the violation of the legal and constitutional rights of the American people. That system of checks and balances can never be taken for granted. Several times in our history, even in the defense of democracy and freedom, government figures, often unelected, have overstepped the limits of their authority and power. Again and again, threats to our republic were neutralized because of the checks on power written into the Constitution.
The Founding Fathers did not create a perfect government. But they were wise enough to give us a practical framework by which to govern ourselves, and by which to correct mistakes and injustices when they arose. We stand ever indebted to the men of that Philadelphia summer two hundred years ago for authoring the great charter of liberty the anniversary of which we celebrate this year. July 22, 1987