Jeff Neal for C.U.R.E. - Certain Unalienable Rights Endowment

Our Founders Were not Cavemen

In Opinion on November 28, 2011 at 2:36 pm

Did the drafters of the Constitution mean for us to read it as written, interpreting it based upon their understanding of the words they used – “original intent” – or is our foundational document, uh, intended to be read in the context of what is happening in our present day world, allowing for changes in culture and custom?

In addressing or debating that question, it is true that none of us were there and none of us can communicate with their souls to determine their intent, but we have lots of evidence that speaks to us pretty clearly.

  1. It generally agreed that Thomas Jefferson and his compatriots were sentient, rational, cognizant, self-aware Homo sapiens.
  2. They wrote it down.  If they had intended the principles stated in the document to have an evolving nature, they probably would not have wasted the parchment or the ink.  More likely, they would have just shaken hands, tipped their hats and agreed to reconvene in, say, a week or so, and see if a consensus still survived.  That would have kept them and their descendants pretty damn busy.
  3. Regarding the things they did put in writing, they negotiated at great length and with considerable passion.  If the words didn’t really matter that much, if the document were meant to be evanescent, would they have gone to such pains to get it right?
  4. The words they chose had specific meanings.  The “King’s English” was the language of the realm.  There were no misspellings and no grammatical errors.  The overall structure and composition was clear and concise, very well ordered and organized.  Nothing about the document shows carelessness in style or indefinite meaning.  It follows that their choice of words was intentional, not accidental.  Again, had they thought the words were subject to interpretation from generation to generation, they would not have made the effort.
  5. Many of the signatories of that most brilliant political and philosophical document had watched friends and family members die violent deaths, had risked their own lives, fortunes and sacred honor for the privilege of founding a nation of laws.  Seems logical to conclude that they figured it was worth the effort it took to put their thoughts down on paper for clarity and certainty.
  6. They said what were their intentions regarding interpretation.  For you and I, the most important words in the document are “our Posterity.”  You and I, noteworthy parties to the document, even have a named role therein.  If they didn’t intend for us to be bound by their words, would they have bothered to mention us?  The Constitution was not written to serve as the bylaws of a fraternity.  The Founders wrote it “in order to form a more perfect union” and establish a body to govern that nation.

Our Founders were not cavemen.  They were not scribbling random figures on the wall with charcoal.  Let’s take them at their word and abide by the Constitution – always.  Not just when it’s convenient.

  1. 1) Jefferson had no real involvement in the Constitution. He was in France.

    2) The principal architects of our Nation and the Constitution were Franklin, Hamilton, and Washington. If you really want the properly frame the question, you should ask, What would Franklin do? Franklin and Washington were extraordinarily pragmatic and had little use for dogma. They are responsible for the Constitution having ambiguous clauses and broad powers, for they well understood that they had no idea what the future held. Both would think that you are nuts to look to them for solutions about how to govern when their are conditions (Iran may shortly have a nuclear bomb and Pakistan already does) for which they had no comprehension. IOW, they would see you as intellectually lazy for expecting them to answer the hard questions we face

    • You’re so busy being smart, you ignored my main point. The damn document was written down, right? I didn’t suggest that it contained all the answers, only that it delineated government powers and, to address your point, provided for amendments should circumstances require such. (Iran and Pakistan’s nuclear status does not qualify as such a circumstance, does it?)

      If you’d like to have a constructive dialogue, I welcome that. If you’re inclined to be snarky and superior, please read as often as you like, but don’t bother sending commentary that is intended to be inflammatory (or, if I’m mistaken in that regard, check your tone). I welcome criticism, but not insults.

      • I would not regard pointing out historical fact as snarkiness.
        Second, your position that Constitutional rights are ‘earned’,not granted does not pass my sniff test.
        The Bill of Rights and the Amendments became part of the Constitution because, as I understand, the patriots who fought to gain independence from England, Inc. did not want to resume an aristocracy, and demanded status and enunciated rights as part of their birthright as citizens. The Amendements continued that legacy. Except for Prohibition and its repeal, every Amendment had the goal of bestowing the rights of ciitzenship on more and more Americans. When the Constitution was ratified, citizenship was bestowed to white, male landowners. Step by step, each Amendment included more into the role of full citizenship.
        Your stated position does not support historical fact

      • Where did I say rights are earned?

        The patriots were not exactly demanding status or enunciating rights. The were setting forth their beliefs in the nature of individual men as sovereign and using those beliefs as the foundational principles for founding a nation of laws instituted by and among free men who, in turn, granted limited powers to a government to administer those laws and protect those natural rights.

        The Amendments’ purpose is not bestowing rights, but aside from that semantic point, how is you conclude my position does not support historic fact? Exactly what is your quarrel with what I have written? The founders were cavemen? Original intent is flawed? The meant to mention penumbras? They didn’t know the word abortion, or they’d have included it? What is your objection to what I state?

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