Monday, December 19, 2005

US Constitution as Paper

I don't know if this story about Bush and the Constitution over at it's all one thing is true or not. But it did get me thinking the past few days.

I had the privelge of taking Joe Wall's Constitutional History class at Grinnell College in the 70's. I still have all the books and one of these days I'm going to reread them all.

Two points have stuck with me though: I have no desire to be a lawyer, and I think FDR's court packing scheme was not a bad idea because --like FDR-- I want to get the fields ploughed.
Last Thursday I described the American form of government as a three-horse team provided by the Constitution to the American people so that their field might be plowed. The three horses are, of course, the three branches of government - the Congress, the executive, and the courts. Two of the horses, the Congress and the executive, are pulling in unison today; the third is not. Those who have intimated that the president of the United States is trying to drive that team, overlook the simple fact that the presidents, as chief executive, is himself one of the three horses.

It is the American people themselves who are in the driver's seat. It is the American people themselves who want the furrow plowed. It is the American people themselves who expect the third horse to fall in unison with the other two.

I hope that you have re-read the Constitution of the United States in these past few weeks. Like the Bible, it ought to be read again and again.
Nobody else agreed with FDR (or me now) so were stuck with the nine old justices. Anyways, on my blog, I'm in the driver's seat and here's my quick take on the Constitution as piece of paper.

The Constition was our second try at creating a government. The Articles of Confederation was first and it didn't work.

While the constitution's lasted to today, it was grievously flawed from the start because it sanctioned slavery . It took a brutal civil war and hundreds of thousands dead to fix that grievous flaw. It took over another hundred years to fully enfrancise African Americans. We're still working slavery's legacy and American can't be understood without following the scar through our past.

The Constitution is a political document. It's profound because it limits government. It establishes what government can't do.

And we should re-read it as FDR told us because all of American politics is a debate about these limits. The boundaries change and the locus of power moves between Local, State, and Federal; but all our politics is about these boundary lines and the Constitution is the piece of paper that sets the rules of the game.

But it's not an inspirational document. It's a guide for lawyers mostly. I'm sworn to uphold it, but I'm not inspired by it.

My inspiration is our Declaration of Independence,
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among
these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
These are truths. This is more than paper. We believe in these truths. They are truths that endure without amendment, interpretation, debate, or any politics. There is more than paper here. There's a creator who endows and that's why FDR told use to re-read our Bibles too.

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