Is the Constitution really a living breathing document?

Posted on May 4, 2011


The Myth

The meaning of the US Constitution changes over time because it is a living document. The meaning must evolve with the changing political climate.

The Truth

This is a dangerous doctrine that has done great damage to our individual liberty and the prosperity of our nation. The Constitution is the Supreme Law of the Land. It is the bedrock our entire government and legal systems are built upon. Allowing the meaning to change over time has resulted in a federal government that is so out of control that our elected representatives now act as if they are our rulers.

The Facts

No law either federal or state can violate the US Constitution. State Constitutions cannot violate the US Constitution. The US Constitution is the absolute supreme law of the land. It is the standard which all laws are measured against. Being the standard which all Federal and state laws are measured against, the meaning of the US Constitution must be absolute and fixed.

If the meaning of the Constitution changes over time chaos would result. Federal and state laws that are constitutional one day may become unconstitutional the next. It would be impossible to pass laws with any confidence to their future constitutionality,

If the meaning of the constitution changes with the political climate who decides when the political climate has changed enough to warrant a change in the meaning of the constitution?

Our country has always been a country where more than one political climate flows through it at any given time. Who decides which political climate we follow at that particular time?

Since the 1930s a group of 9 unelected Supreme Court justices have been making these decisions for the rest of the nation. The decisions the Supreme Court have been making has taken us in a direction that is radically different from the one laid out by our founding fathers and the framers of the constitution. 

Our founding fathers created a government with we the people at the head. They wrote a constitution that restrains our elected representatives with strong protections that prevent them from becoming our political masters. 

Limiting the federal government to only those powers that are clearly spelled out is one of the most important of these protections. Leaving the majority of government powers spread out among the states is another. Setting the federal government up the with three equal branches, each with a different and separate role, but having the ability to check usurpations by the other two is another.

This direction the modern Supreme Court has been taking us by disregarding the original intent is towards an all-powerful federal government that drastically limits our freedom.

The founding fathers were very clear about the importance of keeping the original meaning and intent together with the actual text of the constitution. They left a vast collection of writings explaining the original intent and meaning along with warnings to us about the dangers of separating the historical context from the constitution.

The framers of the constitution also knew that they were not perfect so the constitution they wrote would not be. They also knew that future generations might have better ideas about parts of the constitution so they included a mechanism to change the constitution. They made this mechanism difficult enough to discourage frivolous changes but easy enough to make changes when necessary.

 The Proof

James Madison was the official scribe during the Constitutional Convention. He recorded the debates and the transcripts have been published. During the ratification James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay wrote a collection of 85 essays that were published in New York State newspapers. These essays were assembled and republished as the Federalist Papers. Both the Convention debates and the Federalist Papers are readily available. These two works are the best sources of writings about the original meaning and intent of the framers and the importance of preserving both. Thomas Jefferson was a prolific writer about the original meaning of the constitution and the importance of preserving it.

 The following are a small collections of excerpts from these sources:

“The Constitution on which our Union resides shall be administered according to the safe and honest meaning contemplated by a plain understanding of the people of the United States at the time of adoption. A meaning to be found in those advocating, not those who opposed it.”    Thomas Jefferson

“On every question of construction let us carry ourselves back to the time when the Constitution was adopted, let us recollect the spirit manifested in the debates and trying what meaning may be squeezed out of the text or invented against it, conform to the probable one in which it was passed.”  Thomas Jefferson

“The explanations are preserved in the publications of the time. Do not separate text from historical background. If you do, you will have perverted and subverted the Constitution, which can only end in a distorted, bastardized form of illegitimate government. “
James Madison

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