Many say the U.S. Constitution is the greatest document ever penned by man. Gary Burnett is one of them.
Since retiring about eight years ago, the Delta resident has immersed himself in a study of the history of this country, focusing on the Constitutional Convention, its 55 delegates and the historic document which has been called the “owner’s manual” for our constitutional republic.
Since its creation over 200 years ago, over a hundred countries around the world have used it as a model for their own constitutions. But few have endured as a living document, like the U.S. Constitution. Its legacy is celebrated on Sept. 17, the anniversary of its signing in 1787. On that day, by federal mandate, schools must offer programs which educate the newest generation of Americans about the document which clearly defines and separates the powers of the central government, the powers of the states, the rights of the people, and how the representatives of the people should be elected.
“While the Supreme Court continually interprets the Constitution to reflect a rapidly changing world, its basic tenets have remained virtually unchanged since its inception, and unchallenged as well,” according to the website constitution
facts.com. “People quarrel over its interpretation, but never do they question the wisdom of its underlying principles. Imagine creating a document that governs your grandchildren’s grandchildren’s grandchildren! That’s what the men of the 1787 Constitutional Convention did.”
George Washington called the U.S. Constitution “little short of a miracle.” Today, citizens like Gary Burnett are still fascinated by the statesmanship and compromise reflected in the four handwritten pages of the U.S. Constitution. Burnett has been so inspired by the stories behind the men who wrote the Constitution and how it was created, he’s immersed himself in a comprehensive study which includes reading, teaching and writing books and newsletters.
“No other document was written by ordinary people — farmers, tradespeople, shopkeepers,” Burnett said. “These were just ordinary people making laws that kings and governments didn’t have a part of. That’s so unusual in all of history. It’s an amazing story.”
The lives of the Founding Fathers themselves are particularly meaningful for Burnett. He loves sharing stories about George Washington, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Robert Morris and others — stories that bring the early days of our country to life for young and old.
An engineer by trade, Burnett said it wasn’t until he retired from the computer industry that his interest in the U.S. Constitution was sparked. He’d always enjoyed history in high school and college, but as he began reading for pleasure he realized how little he actually knew about the birth of this great nation.
“I decided I was derelict in my duty in not being informed about the history of our country, so I began on a massive course of reading,” he said.
“I have read more books in the last eight or nine years than I had in my lifetime before that,” he said. “I was so excited about what I was learning that I wanted to learn more.” His collection of historical research and autobiographies began with Clarence Carson’s “Basic History of the United States” and continued with “The Growth of America” and other volumes by Carson. Other favorites in his growing library are “The Christian Life and Character of the Civil Institutions of the United States,” a book written by Benjamin F. Morris in the mid 1800s which was recently reprinted. “The Five Thousand Year Leap” and “The Making of America: The Substance and Meaning of the Constitution,” both by W. Cleon Skousen, have also given purpose and meaning to Burnett’s intensive studies.
In 2007, Burnett began teaching classes on the U.S. Constitution to interested adults and to Boy Scouts pursuing their “Citizenship and the Nation” merit badge, one of the requirements for their Eagle Scout rank. Together with Nelson Scott and Rob Sanders, he also offers weekly discussions at the Deitch Haus Restaurant in Delta.
“I just love the stories,” he said. “I enjoy sharing who we are and how our nation was created.”
He embraces Thomas Jefferson’s belief that the only way we can remain free is to be educated. “When leadership ‘dumbs’ you down, then they can control you,” Burnett said.
Thomas Jefferson also believed that it was the teacher’s duty to inspire the student to want to educate himself. That philosophy rings true with Burnett, who has learned much more on his own than he ever did through the education system. “Nobody taught me this stuff,” he said. “I taught myself because I wanted to know.”
He’s now embarked on writing two books, one of which is titled “Understanding the Meaning of Our Constitution and How It Came to Be.” He said he’s not concerned so much with the laws outlined in the Constitution, but in understanding the meaning of the words used by our Founding Fathers. He breaks down the Constitution article by article, section by section, to explain the meaning of the entire text.
In researching “how it came to be,” he’s also discovered how the Founding Fathers relied on the Bible — specifically the Book of Deuteronomy — for many of their ideas. No other country had ever considered itself a “constitutional republic,” so there was no other model to follow.
So how can a document written 223 years ago still be relevant in a world of Facebook and cell phones? The answer, Burnett says, is very simple.
“The Constitution is based upon principles and those principles never change,” he said. “Thou shalt not lie, thou shalt not kill . . . we can make changes to the Constitution as we need, but the principles never change.”
Burnett is a member of the Western Slope Constitutional Patriots, a grassroots organization dedicated to preserving the freedoms and liberties guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution. He publishes a monthly newsletter which spotlights — without any editorial comment of his own — news articles from around the country which report on legislation and court decisions which he believes adversely impact those freedoms and liberties. He calls his newsletter the “Committee of Correspondence.” He explains the historic basis for the name of his newsletter: “During the confrontation with Britain the Founders were faced with a big problem in determining truths from half-truths or total lies. In order to keep the colonies in the loop about real truths, they formed a group of trusted people to obtain and circulate those truths. They called this group ‘The Committee of Correspondents.’” His newsletter attemps to follow that precedent.
A state and county Republican delegate, he has also personally interviewed all 25 people running for office in this area. As each of the winning candidates takes the oath of office, they’ll be swearing to uphold the U.S. Constitution, and he wants to make sure they know what that document contains. Shocked by how few have actually taken the time to read the Constitution, he’s quick to hand them a pocket version printed by the National Center for Constitutional Studies. He’s distributed about 350 pocket Constitutions and gathered dozens of signatures from those who pledge to “maintain and promote its standard of liberty for myself and for my posterity.”
Burnett may be just one of “We, the People of the United States,” but he’s doing the work of many to keep the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence alive for generations to come.
He welcomes phone calls from anyone interested in a presentation on the U.S. Constitution or a subscription to his newsletter. He can be reached at 874-2942.
Facts about the U.S. Constitution
The U.S. Constitution has 4,400 words. It is the oldest and shortest written
Constitution of any major government in the world.
Constitution Day is celebrated on Sept. 17, the anniversary of the day the
framers signed the document.
The Constitution was “penned” by Jacob Shallus, a Pennsylvania General Assembly clerk, for $30 ($726 today).
When it came time for the states to ratify the Constitution, the lack of any bill of rights was the primary sticking point.
The Great Compromise saved the Constitutional Convention, and, probably,
the Union. Authored by Connecticut delegate Roger Sherman, it called for
proportional representation in the House, and one representative per state
in the Senate (this was later changed to two). The compromise passed 5-4,
with one state, Massachusetts, “divided.”
Because of his poor health, Benjamin Franklin (81) needed help to sign the Constitution. As he did so, tears streamed down his face.
The word “democracy” does not appear once in the Constitution.
There was a proposal at the Constitutional Convention to limit the standing army for the country to 5,000 men. George Washington sarcastically agreed with this proposal as long as a stipulation was added that no invading army could number more than 3,000 troops!
The Pennsylvania State House (where the Constitutional Convention took place) was where George Washington was appointed the commander of the Continental Army in 1775 and where the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776. It was also where the Articles of Confederation were adopted as our first constitution in 1781.
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