A constitution serves to convert abstract political theory into concrete governmental reality. For Americans, the issue between theory and reality has been stated best in the question Lincoln posed at Gettysburg: Whether a “nation conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal… can long endure.” By any measure of history, the Constitution, hailed by Gladstone as “the most wonderful work ever struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man,” has had a remarkably successful run. It is not, as some have said, a document of Thermidorean reaction to the ideals of the Declaration of Independence or simply an interest-driven document of the dominant classes. Rather, it has endured for 200 years as the most radical and most democratic document of the Revolutionary era.
The Constitution’s radical nature becomes clear when it is put in the context of what it was meant to do. In the words of the Preamble, the Constitution was ordained and established “to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and serve the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity . . .” Those who gathered in Philadelphia in the summer of 1787 drafted a written constitution establishing a government founded upon re- publican ideas in a federal system. In order to achieve this, their deliberations were guided by three overriding principles which provide a basis for the Constitution. . .