There has been a great debate going on for about a century about whether the Constitution was carved in stone or was a “living document.”
In 2006, Elliott Minsberg, the vice president of the ultra lefty group “People for the American Way” said, “It was the framers intent that the Constitution would adapt to changing circumstances.” In other words, a living Constitution.
Most would be surprised that, in my opinion, the founders (I’m guessing) as well as I would agree with Mr. Ginsberg although I guarantee they would not agree with his method of change.
Most conservatives wish to govern by the Constitution and the “original intent” of its crafters. I would agree with that, as would the founders (again, I’m guessing).
That same year Todd Gaziono of the Heritage Foundation said, “Original intent is the only legitimate means of interpretation under our written Constitution and all other philosophies are illegitimate.” Mr. Gaziono is also correct.
Okay, everyone can’t be correct.. Obviously the “living Constitution” crowd is wrong because, as we all know, they are not really talking about changing the Constitution. They are talking about usurping the Constitution by laws and presidential mandates.
One could consider the Constitution a living document. It can be changed or adapted to the times unlike, say the 10 Commandments, which were in fact written in stone. The Constitution has been changed or amended 17 times. It’s just not easy to do and therein, for statists, lays the rub. If the government wanted to make everyone eat a peanut butter sandwich once a week, they could draft an amendment. There are even instructions on how to do it. It’s called Article V of the Constitution.
But as I said, this is not the way of the statists. They don’t wish stability, and the Constitution represents just that.
What do I mean by stability? A simple set of basic rules and parameters that are easy to understand and must be followed. Without that stability there is chaos. Households have rules, businesses, even sports.
Imagine you are a football player, maybe even one of the captains. You join the opposing team’s captains in the middle of the field for the coin toss. The referee tosses a coin and you call heads. It comes up heads and you figure you’ve won the toss and tell him you want the ball first and wish to receive.
He says that he has decided the winner of the toss must defer to the other team. He just felt like changing the rule. He claims it doesn’t matter what the written rule says. It was written long ago and he’s sure they didn’t mean it as it was written. And by the way, if you’re leading by more than 15 points by halftime, penalties will be enforced in different ways by the on-field referees. The ref tells the coaches he hasn’t decided what the penalties will be. He’ll let them know as circumstances in the game change.
No football fan, player or coach would stand for it; yet we are all players in America and we stand around and let the refs change the rules all the time.
That’s why stability is important, yet Progressives continually harp on the notion that those dead white guys couldn’t have possibly predicted the environment we live in today.
Well, they didn’t have to. Human nature doesn’t change. Never has, never will. Since the beginning of time, human beings think and act virtually the same as today, so it’s easy to predict their behavior.
On December 20, 1787 Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to James Madison. In it he described his likes and dislikes of the Constitution. One passage explained:
“I think our governments will remain virtuous for many centuries; as long as they are chiefly agricultural; and this will be as long as there shall be vacant lands in any part of America. When they get piled up upon one another in large cities, as in Europe, they will become corrupt as in Europe.”
Just look at how corrupt our cities have become. How would Jefferson have known that would occur? Human nature!
There is a postscript at the end of the letter that reads:
“The instability of our laws is really an immense evil. I think it would be well to provide in our constitutions that there shall always be a twelve-month between the ingross-ing a bill and passing it: that it should then be offered to its passage without changing a word: and that if circumstances should be thought to require a speedier passage, it should take two thirds of both houses instead of a bare majority.”
Wow! Was Jefferson some kind of clairvoyant? Of course not. Again, human nature doesn’t change. We today, at least some of us, think we are so much smarter and sophisticated than the founders. How could they possibly have envisioned America in the 21st century? Well, they did, and we would be wiser to look back for guidance.