In Federalist No. 51, a Virginia farmer named James Madison mused:
But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.
Today — September 17 — is the day we celebrate the 225th anniversary of the signing of the United States Constitution by the U.S. Constitutional Convention. This document, which sought to protect man from himself by placing limits on the powers that a representative government would try to wield, is a watershed triumph in the history of human freedom movements, despite some of the gross violations of human rights that have been perpetrated against African-Americans, women, Asian-Americans and other groups since the founding. As written constitutions go, the United States is something of an anomaly: since 1789, constitutions have lasted an average of only seventeen years. That statistic makes the U.S. Constitution a pretty special document.
We hope you’ll join us in celebrating by taking the Bill of Rights Institute’s Constitution quiz to see how well you know the document that framed the United States government!