Happy Constitution Day!
(I know, I’m a day late, but I’ve been busy)
So yesterday was ‘Constitution Day’ or the day commemorating the signing of the U.S. Constitution by thirty-nine brave men on September 17, 1787.
A day among my conservative friends that appears to be destined to be our own little Kwanzaa in the making.
Of course, this day of celebration lead to an intense political discussion with a friend.
This intense discussion disintegrated when my friend attempted to tell me what the founding fathers ‘meant’ in the Constitution and that we should NOT EVER waver from the original meaning.
Ahhh, the Originalism argument.
I am sure I could have found better words than:
“Please tell me which law school you went to to study Constitutional law?”
“How could you possibly know what the founding fathers meant? The Constitution was debated – heavily – meaning the document itself is a compromise between differing opinions. I think you are cherry picking founding fathers that you only agree with.”
I fumed on this argument for awhile, just because my friend was so darn sure of himself. He was absolutely certain that he just knew what a bunch of guys meant 200+ years ago. He quoted from the federalist papers, the declaration of independence, the constitution having an answer for everything.
Because I couldn’t find the words to express my thoughts, I bid my friend adieu and went on about my day still ruminating.
THEN the thunderbolt of a question, “If the meaning of the Constitution is so darn certain, why was John Adams and Thomas Jefferson arguing about the Constitution’s meaning almost until the day they died?”
I went back and pulled an old book off the shelf, The Adams-Jefferson Letters: The Complete Correspondence. Frankly, it is somewhat a boring read but the gist of the book is two authors of the same document, two founding fathers involved in the debate can’t agree on what the document means, and are arguing for history through a series of letters.
I also pulled down off the shelf a great book, Founding Brothers by Joseph Ellis. It is a fantastic, little book – highly recommended.
When you read the letters and learn about the debates – especially how the founding fathers tackled slavery – or didn’t for that matter, you are forced to come to the realization that the entire document is a series of monumental compromises. Large states versus Small States. Slave States versus Non-Slave States. Federalists versus “Republicans”.
So my dear friend, once you study the Constitution and if you are intellectually honest, you must admit the Constitution, (and I paraphrase Ellis) does not contain one overriding vision or singular meaning, only contradictory original intentions.
PS If you do any studying of the era, you also realize that Hamilton was kinda of an ass, but that is another post.