Skip to comments.The Owner's Manual (Part 8)--Other Articles, including Amendment
Posted on 07/28/2008 3:55:46 PM PDT by Congressman Billybob
(Eighth in a series of ten, For other articles in this series, click on ''View all articles by John Armor,'' and "Blogs by this author.")
In the short run, one could offer several provisions in the Constitution as the most critical. In the long run, one provision stands out. Without Article V, the amendment provision, the Constitution would have long since failed and been abandoned.
Consider the early history of America. Our first government under the Articles of Confederation failed precisely because of its amendment clause. Under Article 13 of the Confederation, Congress could propose amendments which had to be "confirmed by the legislature of every State." Twice in the final years of the Confederation, amendments were proposed to save that government. Both failed due to a negative vote of just one state.
Americas ambassadors were reduced to begging in foreign capitals for high interest loans to keep the government afloat. Shays Rebellion, in response to the failure of the government, threatened to spread beyond Massachusetts.
So, when the framers met in Philadelphia, they understood that a better provision for future changes, for amendments, was essential to their task. James Madison wrote of Article V that it "seems to be stamped with every mark of propriety. It guards equally against that extreme facility, which would render the Constitution too mutable; and that extreme difficulty, which might perpetuate its discovered faults." ''Federalist, No. 43.''
Benjamin Franklins famous speech at the end of the Convention about the need for compromise among the delegates, recognized that the Constitution was not perfect as written. He and the other framers expected changes, in due course. Since 1787, more than 10,000 proposed amendments have been submitted in Congress. Most died without a hearing. Only 27 passed in Congress and were ratified.
So, the historical record shows that the framers were right about Article V. Until recently the process has not presented either extreme facility or extreme difficulty, either of which could have destroyed the Constitution and ripped the legal fabric of the nation apart.
But, two forms of attack can turn Article V itself into a dead letter. Whenever a majority of the Supreme Court takes it upon themselves to change the meaning of the Constitution without waiting for the people to effect an amendment, those justices are attacking Article V. Witness Boumediene v. Rumsfeld concerning legal rights for alien combatants.
Or, whenever Congress passes a law, the president signs it, and the Supreme Court fails to strike it down as unconstitutional, Article V is savaged, if that law contains a facial attack on the Constitution. Witness the McCain-Feingold campaign finance "reform" law, which many members of Congress had doubts about, but passed it anyway. The president had doubts about it, but signed it anyway. Then five justices approved it, even though freedom of speech and freedom of the press were both attacked in the law. (Two subsequent decision have backed away, somewhat, from the courts original failure.)
In short, Article V is both the safety valve of the Constitution, and the means by which "we the people" retain ultimate control of our government. That means abuse of Article V is, in the long run, a guarantee of failure of our Constitution. Whenever the Supreme Court on its own, or Congress and the president with the cooperation of the court, change the Constitution without the consent of the people, the Constitution dies by degrees.
Among the other provisions, Article IV concerns the states. It requires that they respect each others official acts. That will become a heated issue when homosexuals who married in California return to their home states and demand recognition as married couples, there. Article IV also provides for extradition of criminals, admission of new states, and the guarantee of "a Republican Form of Government" to all states.
Article VI preserved the credit of the new nation, providing that all prior debts (mostly during the Revolution) were recognized and would be paid. It provided that the Constitution is "the supreme Law of the Land." It provided that all elected officials at the national or state level, and all judicial officials "shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution...." And it provided that there would be "no religious test" to serve as a federal official.
Finally, Article VII provided that the Constitution would go into effect between the states "so ratifying the same," once nine states had ratified. This provision was important because two states, Rhode Island and North Carolina, did not ratify, and the Union contained only 11 states when George Washington was elected as the first president, in 1789.
[Next: The Bill of Rights.]
If you think this whole series should be published as a pocket-sized booklet, together with the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, please leave a note to that effect at: www.theacru.org
John / Billybob
Thanks once more, John!
Just posting a link to one of our joint favorites.
Somehow I missed part 6—can someone point me to it?
Thanks in advance.
This is what I gleaned with the Search function. Part 6 seems to be missing from FR.