Mike Shupp writes on my earlier post about Progressivism and the Constitution:
"There's a little teeny tiny ittsie bittsie problem with this veneration
of the Constitution -- about a third of the way thru Madison's NOTES OF
DEBATES there's a brief discussion where one of the convention members
spoke out against being too precise in the final document, on the
grounds that in 40-60 years the Constitution would be outdated and
superceded by some otheer agreement. And virtually all the convention
IOW, the Founding Fathers themselves failed to
hold the Constitution in the reverence with which modern conservatives
insist. They were .... liberal.
(What changed things? My take
on things: the Constitution did indeed last about 40-60 years, bringing
us to the 1830's, 1840's, and 1850's, when it began to break down over
slavery and perhaps various regional issues. But enough people were
committed to the status quo that a new convention to produce a new
constitution wasn't a viable idea. And then the Civil War came on, and
the Constitution got amended and interpretation of the Constitution got
shifted some, and this revised Constitution forced down upon the
defeated South as something which could never be changed .... and
conservative veneration for the document was set in stone. But I add, I
am not a historian, so Your Mileage Is Free to Vary)".
I will have to look up exactly what was said in Madison's notes, but this general attitude was certainly common among (as Mike points out) the liberals in the United States at the time. The starkest proponent of this sort of thinking is Jefferson who wanted a new constitution every 19 years, and you can see it in Paine and Jefferson's writing about the problems of the past ruling the present.
Of course, in 1787 they had no idea how history would evolve. But you could see it achieving this liberal goal in at least three ways:
1. Plentiful constitutional conventions and bloody wars that fertilize the tree of liberty and keep us supplied with successively newer constitutions
2. A more orderly active amendment process that changes the Constitution considerably over time, and
3. A recognition by the courts, the Congress, and the people that much of the Constitution is deliberately written to be vague and contesetable - entirely appropriate in a polity that values pluralism - and that the original intent of the Constitution was to be a living document.
I'm sure there was some embrace of all three of these views, but of course we've mainly had the third type of constitutionalism in this country. That's not something that FDR imposed on all of us, either. The language of the Constitution was contested and molded by the founders themselves: Hamilton, Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and Marshall. Debate over what constitutes the "general welfare" and what is "necessary and proper" are not twenty first century get out of jail free cards for leftists: these debates go back to the very founding of the country.
If the language of the Constitution was not contested language, you wouldn't have seen this variety of opinion in the founding era.
I do venerate the Constitution despite the point made by Mike. I think the important thing to remember though, is that there was an original intent to the Constitution. Some of that original intent was specific, of course - very specific. But some was left general and vague. It's self-styled "originalists" today that are violating the original intent of the Constitution by denying that. We who understand that the Constitution is a living document shouldn't just concede veneration for the founding era and it's values to the self-styled originalists. We're the Jeffersonian liberals.
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