2014 American Legion Boys Nation senators listen to a speech by David Azerrad on the U.S. Constitution. Photo by Lucas Carter/The American Legion

Boys Nation senators receive advice on the Constitution

Boys Nation guest speaker David Azerrad of The Heritage Foundation out of Washington, D.C., told the program’s 98 senators on July 19 that he wanted to focus on the U.S. Constitution’s “big picture, something that is very easy to lose sight of once you start looking at the particulars.” His doctoral dissertation is on the foundations of John Locke’s political thought.

The federal government, Azerrad said, derives its authority from the people; the first three words of the Constitution are “We the People.” The document doesn’t begin by mentioning the government but “it begins with us, the free people of America. This is absolutely key. You can’t understand our Constitution, you can’t understand our country until you grasp this fundamental presupposition upon which the entire government and country rests – the claim that the people are sovereign.”

Every single American, Azerrad said, simply by the virtue of being born, is entitled to the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. “Let me put it to you in terms that resonate more with us in the 21st century. You can say that they are seared into our DNA. No one gives us these rights. If you’re born, you possess them. It’s that simple. We are all equal, we are all free, and we all possess the exact same rights. This is the fundamental key that undergirds the Constitution.”

Government derives its just powers from the consent of the governed, Azerrad said, and the task of the federal government “is to secure your rights. It’s to create the conditions at home of peace and order that allow you to enjoy your rights. It means that the task of government is to uphold laws that protect your life, liberty and property – not to distribute goodies.”

The Constitution has seven articles, 27 amendments and adds up to about 500 words. So what does this document do? “The Constitution creates a framework of government for a free people to confront the political questions of their times,” Azerrad said. “The Constitution isn’t about ‘what,’ it’s about ‘how.’ The Constitution doesn’t tell us what we’re supposed to do, it tells us how to go about doing it.”

The overwhelming majority of issues are supposed to be dealt with at the state and local levels, Azerrad told the senators. Congress should only deal with a “restrictive” range of issues such as the armed forces, foreign relations and interstate commerce. “According to the Constitution – not to what goes on in D.C. today – this is pretty much what Congress is supposed to do.”

To the Boys Nation senators, Azerrad offered some advice. “You represent your state – that’s your job. You’re ambassadors for your states to the federal government. Second, remember your oath. You just swore an oath to uphold all the Constitution. What does this mean? Be mindful of your powers.

“The American people didn’t send you to the Senate to resolve every last issue in this country. They sent you to the Senate to deal with the issues that are of national concern. And if you take your bearings from the Constitution, it’s pretty simple.”

Whether Federalist or Nationalist (the two Boys Nation political parties), Azerrad said the 98 senators “must never lose sight of the primary purpose of your office – to serve the American people and to secure their rights. You are trustees. The people have vested powers in an office that you happen to occupy.

“Never forget the first words of our great charter of liberty: ‘We the People.’ The people are capable of self-government. Trust them. You are the elected representatives of a free and sovereign people, not the overlords of a servile and weak people.”

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