Here’s one important thing to know about the United States Constitution, which turned 225 this week:
Most constitutions around the world enumerate rights: the right to work, to health care, and to ecologically sustainable development and use of natural resources while promoting justifiable economic and social development. In these constitutions, “rights” is just another word for free stuff government gives you.
But in the U.S. Constitution, the government doesn’t distribute rights; it secures them. Therefore, the word “right” is barely mentioned in the Constitution. It appears once in the unamended document: The Patents Clause in Article I, Section 8, Clause 8: “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” The Bill of Rights further secures rights by limiting the powers of the federal government.
Expanding on that last point, notice how the First Amendment begins with the words “Congress shall make no law …” So even the Constitution’s most well-known provision relating to rights is written as a prohibition on what government may do.
For more little understood facts about the Constitution, see Julia Shaw’s “The Forgotten Constitution,” at The Foundry, September 17, 2012.