U.S. Constitution, now 225 years old, changed world for good

By Akhil Reed Amar

For the Los Angeles Times

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 19 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

Shortly after the people convened in 1787-88 to say "Yes, we do," Americans fashioned a Bill of Rights to fix some of the biggest bugs of Constitution 1.0. In effect, the document was crowd-sourced by the people themselves. Unsurprisingly, no phrase appeared more often in the Bill of Rights than "the people." Later amendments carried forward this democratic momentum, repeatedly expanding but almost never limiting liberty and equality, and eventually welcoming blacks, women, young adults and unpropertied Americans as equal democratic participants.

In short, the extraordinary democratic momentum generated by the votes and voices of 1787-88 has continued to propel America forward over the ensuing decades and centuries.

And not just America. The world is now far more democratic than ever, thanks largely to the ideological, economic and military success of the United States, which has proved that democracy can work on a geographic and demographic scale never previously thought possible.

Why should we care about democracy's spread? For starters, because no well-established democracy in the modern era has ever reverted to despotism. Modern mature democracies have not waged war against one another or experienced widespread famine.

This still-young modern world was, in effect, born in the U.S.A., and this miraculous birth began exactly 225 years ago. Happy birthday, America. Happy birthday, world.

Akhil Reed Amar teaches law and political science at Yale and is the author of "America's Unwritten Constitution: The Precedents and Principles We Live By." This was written for the Los Angeles Times.

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