Historian Wilfred McClay (a former John Locke Foundation Headliner) used Constitution Day to remind National Review Online readers of the 228-year-old document’s continuing importance to American society.

It is a document, our Constitution, that plays the role of democratic monarch for us, and thereby serves as the chief symbol of our national unity and our commitment to one another as one nation. That is not all the Constitution is; but it is an important part of what it is for us. Hence it is especially proper at a time of such intense contention that we pause to remember and celebrate that fact, on this Constitution Day.

One of our most distinguished Founders, Thomas Jefferson, was sometimes dismissive of the Constitution’s enduring importance, and he warned against the tendency to treat this piece of parchment as a sacred object, in the way that the ancient Hebrews treated the Ark of the Covenant. He was only half right in this. The Constitution should never be regarded as Holy Scripture, complete and unalterable, and its Framers never intended that it should be. But Jefferson was wrong to disparage our instinct to venerate the Constitution, and the fact that we have battered it and violated it and otherwise deviated from it in so many ways does not change matters. We need our 228-year-old Constitution now more than ever, primarily as the foundational charter of our liberties and our organizational plan for a limited government. But we also need it as a symbol of our nation. It is admittedly far less charming than Queen Elizabeth, and it lends itself poorly to pomp and ceremony. But it has proved far more durable than any queen or king, and its health is the key to our continued unity and prosperity as a people.