By Mark Miller
It’s not every year that Broadway’s Best Musical Tony Award goes to a show about a rapping Founding Father, but that’s just what happened with Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton.” Not surprisingly, Alexander Hamilton – an original signer of the Constitution – recognized how important the Constitution would become for our success as a republic. Today we celebrate the 230th anniversary of its signing. It remains as vital as ever.
Hamilton knew that would be the case. When faced with the question, “What is the most sacred duty and the greatest source of our security in a republic,” Hamilton answered, “An inviolable respect for the Constitution and Laws – the first growing out of the last … A sacred respect for the constitutional law is the vital principle, the sustaining energy of a free government.”
Some of our current leaders fail to accord the Constitution the sacred respect Hamilton knew it deserved. Our Founding Fathers crafted the Constitution to separate the powers among the three branches of our federal government to ensure no single authority could amass too much unchecked power. But today’s elected officials ignore that fundamental demand and grant too much authority to one branch – the Executive branch – of our government. The first generation of American leaders rebelled against just such a system in the British monarchy and feared it rearing its head again.
In some respects it has. Our members of Congress too willingly pass laws that cede authority to an “alphabet soup” of executive agencies, be they the Department of Education, Labor, Commerce, EPA or Interior, among others.
To be sure, these agencies have an important and proper role to play. But our legislators abdicate their constitutional responsibility when they pass open-ended laws that do not clearly instruct the public as to what is legal and illegal. Because the laws are vague, Congress delegates to agency bureaucrats the power to draft rules purportedly consistent with those laws. Too often, the bureaucrats then draft and enforce rules that call for enforcement on a case by case basis, making it difficult for everyday Americans to know what is legal and illegal and plan their actions accordingly.
When bureaucrats have to interpret the law, the objective rule of law our Founding Fathers envisioned is relegated to the subjective rule of men, which puts us at greater risk of tyranny.
President Calvin Coolidge once said of Hamilton: “When America ceases to remember his greatness, America will no longer be great.” Thanks to the creativity of Broadway’s Lin-Manuel Miranda, our country will sing and rap of Hamilton’s greatness for many years to come.
In remembering Hamilton, we should also remember the document he signed that he rightly called the sustaining energy for our republic: the Constitution. As Americans we should restore its understanding of the separation of powers in order to ensure it continues to sustain our country for the next 230 years.
Mark Miller is the managing attorney of Pacific Legal Foundation’s Atlantic Center in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.