Constitution Day is right around the corner, but don’t be embarrassed if this major holiday slipped your mind this year. The U.S. Constitution is like a software Terms of Service agreement; we all click ‘yes,’ but almost nobody actually reads it.
That lack of familiarity leads to some hilarious consequences. For instance, many people believe they have a Constitutional Right to shop at Costco, while others think Freedom of Speech only applies to them. Amazingly, both of these beliefs are incorrect, although you’d never know it from reading internet posts.
Never fear, though, as your humble servant has read the document in the original Aramaic and will share all the insights you need to know to become a Constitutional Scholar of the first order. For example…
The Constitution was not really all that popular among the people who framed it, several of whom were nearly mortal enemies who disagreed strongly about almost everything. The only reason we ended up with the current version is that The Articles of Confederation (the world’s first Beta 1.0 release) sucked beyond belief.
The only way the Constitution got ratified was with the promise to add amendments to it immediately. (Back in 1789, everyone was still using dial-up, so “immediately” meant a couple of years. Still, Jimmy Madison made good on the promise to write up a Bill of Rights for the states to approve.)
Speaking of the Bill of Rights, Congress sent 12 amendments to the states, but the first two were rejected. That’s why freedom of speech is in the First Amendment and not the Third. It’s also why people who love the Second Amendment aren’t obsessed with Congressional pay stubs.
The Constitution was remarkably advanced for its time, but pretty backwards by current standards. Women didn’t vote, slavery was codified, and the Electoral College gave rural states an advantage that has only grown over time. (Yes, a few people still think the Electoral College is a great idea, but they are the same dopes who put mayonnaise on their pastrami.)
The framers of the Constitution were smart, but they weren’t supreme beings. They came up with a pretty good division of powers within government and between government and citizens, but they also failed to invent indoor plumbing or I-Phones or pizza delivery. Maybe it’s time we took some of them down off their pedestals and…oh, wait, that’s actually happening, isn’t it?
The concept of judicial review, which makes the U.S. Supreme Court the final arbiter of Constitutional meaning, is not granted by the Constitution. Instead, it resulted from a brilliant political maneuver by Johnny Marshall, who handed Tom Jefferson a tiny win while grabbing a big hunk of power for the court. Smooth.
We all should be grateful for that “judicial review” thing, because it’s our primary method of legislation these days. After Congress passes 12,000-page laws that nobody has read before the vote, SCOTUS clerks are the only people who actually read the laws and figure out what they mean. And when Congress fails to take any action at all, it’s up to the courts to dig up some old laws or rulings that they can twist painfully to apply to the pending case.
Yeah, I know, lots of people think SCOTUS goes too far in legislating from the bench, but that’s only when an activist* judge rules against them. When the Supreme Court rules in their favor, those esteemed jurists are merely upholding the Constitution. (*Activist = disagrees with me.)
As we look forward to this great holiday, it’s wonderful to consider how far we have come in the 23 decades since we adopted the Constitution. Hard to believe, but back then people were actually arguing about how powerful the president should be, separation of church and state, freedom of the press, what and whom to tax, federal power versus states’ rights, and the national debt. Thankfully, we have resolved all of these issues and marched forward in unison since then.
Finally, if 34 states approve, everything is up for grabs in a new Constitutional Convention. Depending on how you count “approvals,” we might already be just 6-8 states short of that benchmark, giving today’s politicians the opportunity to reframe our most important document. Fearless forecast: The sequel will not be as good as the original.
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Every time Independence Day rolls around, I think about the contradictions between the soaring ideals of the Declaration of Independence and the baser actions of the author. There’s a lesson in there for all of us, if we care to give it any thought.
Thomas Jefferson worked to undermine George Washington while serving as Secretary of State within his administration. He spoke of equality while owning slaves. Like many southern gentlemen, he held a rank in the militia, but never dirtied his hands in combat. He racked up enormous debts he couldn’t repay in his lifetime, leaving his heirs to deal with the fallout. He placed the autonomy of states, specifically his own state, above the security of the nation. As founding fathers go, he was the worst.
And yet…he penned what remains one of the most revolutionary and inspirational documents in human history: The Declaration of Independence. An open letter to the rest of the world, the declaration argued that governments are subservient to the rights of the governed and that all men are created equal. In a world of kings and commoners, the idea that royal subjects could simply say, “You’re not the boss of me anymore,” was about as radical as you can get.
Every year around this time, I re-read the Declaration of Independence and every time I get misty as it ends with, “We mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” Signing the document was pretty much the same as signing a death warrant for John Hancock and all the delegates who followed, and all of these were prominent men with both lives and fortunes in the balance.
When I read the Declaration, I’m always challenged by two major topics. The first is the airing of grievances against George III and his government. Run through the list and you’ll find a half dozen, or more, complaints that many people levy against our own government today. This isn’t a political blog, so we’re not going to dive into all the similarities and differences between then and now, but it’s a telling reminder of the tensions that always exist between individual citizens and their governments.
Second, and more challenging to me, is the stark difference between the ideals of the author and his lifelong practices. Jefferson was both a radical in theory and a conservative in practice, which made him a hypocrite.
We’re all like that, aren’t we? We pen open letters to the world, proclaiming our ideals and our morality, but we might be just a trifle looser about that vision when it comes to our institutions, our state, our leaders…and ourselves. We might insist on holding others to high standards while writing ourselves a Get Out of Jail Free card. We just might be more like Thomas Jefferson than we ever recognized, although not in a good way.
BTW, if you haven’t read the DOI lately, here’s a link to the text at the National Archives. Have a great holiday.
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Thanksgiving Day is almost upon us and hosts everywhere are panicked more than ever. What was once a warm family gathering of gratitude is looking much more like Festivus, including the Airing of Grievances. Mom wants nothing more than a traditional celebration of family, but those relatives will be coming and you know how they are about you-know-what.
Keeping the peace has never been easy, of course. Cousins Eunice and Essie still aren’t speaking after that dust-up over Granny’s pearls in 2003, Uncle Rahm is still mad about the, um, carving accident from 2012, and who can forget the night that Aunt Agnes insisted that internet dress was gold and white and Cousin Sophie threw the gravy boat at her?
Ah, family. We’d mention here that blood is thicker than water, but why remind people of those stains in the couch from last year?
Have no fear, though, for the team at Dad Writes has the solution for holiday strains. No, we’re not suggesting that you cancel dinner; merely that you adopt a few defensive tactics to keep things friendly, sorta.
If you’re hosting this year, a few time-saving tips can smooth out the bumps and ensure that a good time is had by all. Specifically…
Of course, guests must also take some responsibility for a great holiday. If you’re going to be a guest at Thanksgiving dinner, you’ll play an important role in helping the host keep things merry and bright. Absolutely...
See how simple it is? If we all follow these rules on Thursday, every household in America is guaranteed to have the thankiest Thanksgiving ever. And that goes double for whichever kid ends up taking home the puppy…or the snake.
Can you imagine how terrible it would be if you didn’t know how to keep the peace on Thanksgiving? Don’t miss out on our upcoming guides to hosting, guesting, meeting, greeting, and holding eternal grudges…by simply clicking here to subscribe to Dad Writes. We’ll be glad you did.
Who writes this stuff?
Dadwrites oozes from the warped mind of Michael Rosenbaum, an award-winning author who spends most of his time these days as a start-up business mentor, book coach, photographer and, mostly, a grandfather. All views are his alone, largely due to the fact that he can’t find anyone who agrees with him.