Thursday, January 20, 2011

U.S. Constitution ratification book

Ratification of the U.S Constitution

The making a Constitution for the United States of America traveled and travailed through the 13 original colonies, 1787 to 1788. The individual states worked on hundreds of drafts, proposals and revisions before they molded what we have today.

The meetings were not closed door discussions or backroom huddles of a few. In every state the conferences were open to the public to hear what the elected delegates discussed. These were not like the off-the-wall “town hall meetings” of last summer. In 1787 there were no political parties.

After a year of meetings, each state voted for or against ratification of the document. That took time also, for a letter from Richmond to New York City could sometimes take two weeks.

Americans are showing an increased interest in the U.S. Constitution. Most of the talk is among extremist, left and right . There are those who want a “return” to the Constitution’s original intent. This desire by some to understand the original intent of the 18th century is a good thing. But we do not want to return to the original aims.

“Restoring” this nation to its original aims would not answer today’s problems.

Going back is not the answer to anything. Such reverse thinking cannot restore our liberties. Mainly because our liberties are still as vibrant as in the original days. It is not as simple as restoring a Rembrandt. Restoring a work of art brings out the color and brush strokes. Restoring words of an ancient written document, replacing or rephrasing 18th century ideas with 21st century, would be the beginning of the end.

Andreas Teuber of Brandeis University writes: “The Constitution is open to interpretation, after all, it does not wear its meaning on its face, … The series of commentaries it has generated rival the voluminous studies on the Bible and the Talmud as well as those on the most commented upon of all texts, the plays of William Shakespeare.”

What is unique about the American Constitution and what distinguishes it from its European counterparts is that it was, in Thomas Paine's famous definition: "not the act of a government, but of a people constituting a government."

Exploring interpretive maneuvers of a “return” to the original is not wise nor practical. Could it not be true that the authors wrote it in such a way that their original intentions would not determine its meaning?

Possibly the Framers drafted the text in such a way as to leave little trace of their concrete proposals or substantive intentions. This could be part of the special and enduring feature of the Constitution. The document is not a God-delivered or ordained sacred record.

Our country and government are still, after all these years, a surprise to much of the world. It looked to the 18th century man as an experiment with little hope of working. No one, especially the British, saw it as a few peasants trying out an unheard and unwieldy system. The kings and queens of Europe saw their divine right as kings and queens in danger.

A new, detailed book on the events of 1877-1878 is by MIT history professor Pauline Maier. The book is fascinating reading filled with the drama, pros and cons of those men who are unknown to history. Her book, “Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788” is a good addition to American history.

The Prologue to the U.S. Constitute is pure poetry: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution of the United States of America.”


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