Sunday, September 17, 2017

Happy Birthday to the U.S. Constitution

THE U.S CONSTITUTION IS DEAD! The constitution is alive! It's both. It's neither. Only the founders know for sure and for sure they're dead.

On this date in 1787, that document was signed by a collection of people who managed to put aside their differences to forge a compromise that became the greatest governing document the world had -- and has -- ever seen.
The original Constitution, on display at
the National Archives in Washington DC

Since then its been revered and criticized, praised and fought over, a virtual Rohrshach inkblot of political preferences and predispositions, with those fighting over the framers' intent swearing the only correct reading favors their side, whatever side that is.

"The Eed Plebnista," and "holy of holies," it was also the great reveal of one of the worst episodes of the original Star Trek, keying on its opening incantation, "We, the people."

Though surely not the framers intent, the preamble following those words proved surprisingly singable, educating a generation of kids that grew up on School House Rock (though John Popper of Blues Traveler fame, did a pretty kickin' rendition too).

Among its 39 signatories: George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and Benjamin Franklin. Among those who refused: Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts, father of the gerrymander, and Virginians Patrick Henry, he of "give me liberty or give me death!" and George Mason.

Of course, the story of the Constitution didn't end with its drafting 230 years ago, or with its subsequent ratification. Not even close. While its original three articles set up our government, Congress, the presidency and the judiciary, there were a host of issues left unaddressed, though not for long.

Two years later, 10 amendments were added, a set of protections known as The Bill of Rights -- which Mason had protested the absence thereof -- those amendments guaranteeing:
  • free speech, freedom of assembly of religion and of the press; 
  • the right to bear arms;
  • the right to be free from having soldiers garrisoned in your home;
  • to be free from illegal search and seizure, 
  • to due process and freedom from being forced to testify against yourself or have your property taken without compensation;
  • to a speedy trial, with a lawyer, with the right to question your accusers;
  • before a jury of your peers;
  • after which you cannot be subject to cruel and unusual punishment;
  • an acknowledgment that people have rights it may not address;
  • and that those powers not covered by its three original articles, were left to the people and the states.

LIFE Magazine celebrated the Constitution's
200th Birthday in its Fall 1987 issue
Down through the years, still more amendments were added, the guarantee of equal protection of the law, prohibiting slavery, briefly and spectacularly unsuccessfully banning the consumption of alcohol, giving blacks and women the right to vote, lowering the voting age from 21 to 18, giving the government the right to collect taxes and limiting presidents to no more than two consecutive terms in office. 

And still it people say it is simultaneously overbroad and incomplete. There are those who say it's a living document one that must be read in the context of its times, containing implied rights, like the right to privacy, there are others who say that's its wrong to try to read into the document what isn't there, that it's a dead document, its meaning static and fixed, to be applied as written.

Its unlikely the debate will ever end and that's a part of its inherent greatness.

The Constitution is dead! Long live the Constitution!

-- Follow me on Twitter @paperboyarchive

2 comments:

  1. Hello there! This is my first comment here so I just wanted to give a quick shout out and say I truly enjoy reading your articles. Can you suggest any other blogs/websites/forums that deal with the same subjects? Thank you! eliaandponto.com

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    Replies
    1. Hi James! Thanks for your note. As you can see, I'm kind of all over the map. What topics did you have in mind? Happy to recommend some of my faves. -- Andy

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