Editorial

The Constitution should be living, breathing document

ACHTUNG: This is not a “fair and balanced” article. It is an editorial by the editor.

I have come to the unpleasant realization that we, as modern Americans, seem to fight over the proper interpretation of the U.S. Constitution about like we fight over what’s written in the Bible. So many interpretations, so many different points of view, it makes it difficult to determine what’s right or wrong.

In my senior year in college, I was tasked with writing a research paper about the controversy between historians Charles Beard in “An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution” and Robert E. Brown in “Charles Beard and the Constitution: A critical Analysis of ‘An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution’.”

It was a grueling and challenging assignment, almost like a senior thesis. Believe it or not, I wasn’t bored. It was good stuff.

By the time I had finished I was starting to absorb the notion that the Constitution, as good as it was and as unique and forward looking as it was for the time, still was as flawed as the men who wrote it, meaning it had to be tweaked now and then. Indeed, it has been, 27 times. They’re called amendments.

I have come to the conclusion that because the Constitution is not a stagnant document, it continues to be a living and breathing blueprint for government, and it must adapt to changing times.

The first 10 amendments, perhaps the most hallowed in the minds of our citizenry because of the guarantees of freedom of speech, religion and the right to bear arms, weren’t in the original document. They were added because of the possibility the people in the Colonies back then would not accept the Constitution without them.

Our Founding Fathers, as brilliant and progressive as they were for their times, were flawed men. Many of them were slaveholders. In fact, the rights offered up in 1789 only applied to free, white men 21 years and older and property owners. There was no provision for freedom for everybody else.

The freedoms and rights gained over the years since then have been amendments granting citizenship and voting rights for those other than the beneficiaries of those first 10 tweaks. It wasn’t even until the early 20th century that voting rights were granted to women and Native Americans.

So I don’t hold with those who insist we go back to the original Constitution for all the answers. I believe most sincerely that battles fought and won at the ballot box by the people have produced the greatest gifts.

Yes, I get a little irritated with the constant references to the intentions of Our Founding Fathers, who too many believe suddenly came up with words to live by while other words are irrelevant. Common sense tells us that our rights and the blueprint of our laws continue to be dynamic and ever changing.

It has been nearly 50 years since the 27th Amendment, the right of 18-year-olds to vote, was adopted. I suppose chances aren’t good for any more tweaks in the future because we can’t agree these days on much of anything.

I can’t think of an easier way for our great experiment to fail. We are indeed going there in a handbasket.

We must regard our Constitution as a living, breathing document. Otherwise, we will be banished to the dust bin of history.

Once again, Georges Santayana — “Those who don’t learn from history are condemned to repeat it.”

 

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