A | More | Perfect | Union --  Japanese Americans and the U.S. Constitution
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Repairing the Constitution

On September 17, 1787, thirty-nine men stepped forward to sign a new form of government. The framers of the Constitution, recognizing that no institution is perfect, devised a document that could be amended to allow for growth, change, and correction of past errors. Two centuries later, the Constitution of the United States remains the most successful frame of government ever devised-and continues to be interpreted and amended based on the will of the people.

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In The Federalist, Number 51, James Madison described the fundamental challenge facing any constitutional democracy-to create a government that can regulate the affairs of citizens and regulate itself as well: "If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external or 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."

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The first draft of the Constitution was printed and distributed to members of the Convention for comment early in August 1787. This copy belonged to David Brearly (1745-1790), a New Jersey delegate. The notes are in his hand.

"Every Word... decides a question between power and liberty." —James Madison, 1792

"Our Constitution is so simple and practical that it is possible always to meet the extraordinary needs by changes in emphasis and arrangement without loss of essential form. That is why our constitutional system has proved itself the most superbly enduring political mechanism the modern world has produced." —Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1933

Gordon Hirabayashi: Constant Vigilance (oral history transcript)

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"Our Constitution has proved lasting because of its simplicity. It is a cornerstone, not a complete building...a root not a perfect vine." —Woodrow Wilson, 1885

Mary Tsukamoto: Will of the People (oral history transcript)

Smithsonian - National Museum of American History - Behring Center