Our Constitution Is Not Infallible and It Wasn’t Meant To Be

714In this country the Constitution is a hotly debated topic, and has been since our creation.  To openly bad mouth the Constitution is taboo, though most sane people would have to agree that something written over 200 years ago should be viewed with a great emphasis placed on perspective about what our society is today—not what it was over 200 years ago.

As great as our Constitution is, it’s not infallible.  As our nation grows and changes, our Constitution is meant to adapt and change with it.

In late 1700’s, just after our Constitution was created:

  • The average life span was around 35-40 years old
  • We had fewer than 20 states
  • Our population was less than 4 million people
  • Electricity wasn’t anything more than scientific experiments
  • Horses were the primary means of transportation
  • It was acceptable (and legal) for older men to marry much younger women, sometimes as young as 13 or 14 years of age
  • Slavery was legal
  • Women had little or no influence in policy making, and definitely couldn’t vote (once voting was established)
  • A “semi-automatic weapon” meant you had more than one musket loaded and ready to fire

Needless to say, society is significantly different today.  It makes absolutely no sense to believe our Founding Fathers wrote a document over 200 years ago expecting it to never adapt to a future they could never predict.  In fact, their true genius was the fact they set up a government to do precisely that—change and grow with our society.

There’s no such thing as “traditional American values,” because we don’t have any.  Our country, since its inception, has been a constant evolving entity with new creations, new growth, new enemies and new allies.  True American values don’t lie in a set of beliefs, instead they are found in the idea that being American is a fluid concept.  White, black, brown, man, woman, child, Christian, Muslim and everything else…we’re all Americans  This country was built by a diverse grouping of people for a future that will always remain unpredictable.

Our strength lies in the gift our Founding Fathers gave us–the ability for our government to change.  We’re not a monarchy set up for tradition or a theocracy based upon a religious dogma—we’re a government for the people, by the people.

As long as people change, so will our society.  And as our society changes, so should our government. 

That is what makes this country great and that is the true strength of the United States and our Constitution.

Allen Clifton

Allen Clifton is a native Texan who now lives in the Austin area. He has a degree in Political Science from Sam Houston State University. Allen is a co-founder of Forward Progressives and creator of the popular Right Off A Cliff column and Facebook page. Be sure to follow Allen on Twitter and Facebook, and subscribe to his channel on YouTube as well.

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  • No, our Constitution isn’t infallible, and it wasn’t intended to be “brought into the 21st century with every change of the wind. There was a provision built into the Constitution to change it, but changing it was intentionally made VERY difficult (I think 3/4 of state legislatures must be on board with a change or 2/3 of each state’s popular vote. If that approach to governing isn’t liked, isn’t seen progressive enough, head off to Sweden or Denmark or Norway. But leave our Constitution alone unless you’re going to change it the way it was intended.

    A change has been required only 27 or 28 times in nearly 230+ years.. Some countries have had as many Constitutions in 230 years as we’ve had amendments to ours. What would you change? You know that that the people would have to be completely (a majority, anyway) on board with a change. This IS a Constitutional democracy, Ward Churchill.

    “As our nation grows and changes, our Constitution is meant to adapt and change with it.” Says who? Says you, obviously. But I’m of a different opinion. And ask the framers who fought and died while creating a work of art. Who died and made your opinion the opinion that ‘counts?’

    When 21st century thought is in conflict with 16th century thought, the answer isn’t to change the 16th century thought/Constitution, Our Constitution is mean to serve as a guideline, a roadmap for us to follow; not to change at whim. When we desire to change it or challenge it, there are built in provisions to leave the interpretation of the 16th century thought to the SCOTUS. Those were wise men, wise beyond their years. As far as the need to ‘get with the times,’ for your convenience, to what end?

    • Phil

      I would agree it wasn’t meant to be easily changed but YOU also need to research our history better. Quit listening to narrow minded narrow interest interpretations of what “The Founding Fathers wanted” because the conservative “constitutionalist” view is just as inaccurate as the progressive view you bemoan. In fact the Constitution was drafted several years AFTER the War, to replace the Articles of Confederation that was not working as hoped (also drafted by those same Founding Fathers). The Constitution was NOT a work of Art, it was a compromise between MANY varied interests and ideologies representing different areas of the new nation. In fact there were some that wanted 13 separate nations, some wanted 3 or 4 separate confederations based around grouped ‘needs’. Some even wanted to set up a Monarchy like we had just left, some wanted ALL men to be free INCLUDING SLAVES but “compromised” with southern Slave owners and then had to compromise again to allow those same southern owners to count those slaves who had no rights nor recognition to count as 2/3 of a citizen so they could have more say in the new Congress. The Founding Fathers did NOT create a perfected document and even they argued over what it all meant EVEN AFTER it was ratified and adopted, that’s why we ended up with a 2 party system to begin with, some believing in a stronger FEDERAL Government and some believing in a weaker one with stronger STATES rights and powers. It wasn’t simply a matter of 55 people getting together, writing a document they all agreed to from the start and that was ratified without debate or dissension, in fact there were MANY delegates who were invited that refused to attend, Patrick Henry being one of them. I agree we need to change by amendment but when the Government is no longer in control of the people, when Corporate and monied interests control all and we no longer have the say or power to get amendments started WHAT course would YOU recommend?

      • Annie

        Where to start, the beginning or the end? I’ll start with the presumption that I don’t know my history and that I ought to do my own research. Who do you think does my research? Doris Kearns Goodwin, Michael Bechloss? I don’t know what you base that erroneous assumption on. As much as possible, I know my history of the times and the presumption that I DON’T- is mildly offensive, Ah, I forget, a Constitutional scholar, like our POTUS.

        But back to your response, and I’ll take on the last response. Yes, DC is frozen, gridlocked along party lines, but IMHO, the answer is NOT to throw the ‘baby’ out with the bath-water and create a new document that is of the prevailing wisdom (BECAUSE WHAT EXISTS NOW IS NOT WISDOM; IT IS SABRE RATTLING AND ARGUMENTATIVE at best.Those who shout the loudest aren’t necessarily shouting and spouting the best ideas and who is to judge what is BEST. And those who shout the loudest, haven’t shown the ability to drop their egos at the door and come to the table with the best interests of EVERYONE at heart. THAT is what we need, and to say that a progressive agenda has everyone’s interests at heart is so off that it makes me laugh. Everyone knows that the progress agenda doesn’t compromise and where it is progressing to is a direction not ever though of by the framers of the Constitution. They were running FROM the progressive mind.

        So, if progressives don’t like out Founding Documents the way they are (with the few changes that have been made over the years) as far as I and many are concerned, they can pick up anchor and go to another harbor, for the US form of government has been established as law, and changes will be made as per the same law. In other words, GREECE AND MEXICO WON’T KEEP YOU OUT. Just don’t let the door kick you in the butt on your way out,

        I don’t need to be lectured on the rights of slaves and that not everyone was e omfiarred. That you think you know wo much that I don’t know is indicative of your feelings of superiority and lack of respect for me. Where that comes from, God only knows.

      • Phil

        Your ‘rebuttal comments’ only further confirm my thoughts on your lack of adequate independant historical research and confirm that your views are nothing more than conservative talking points spoonfed to you. Even your comments about Progressives is inadequate, inaccurate and displays your ignorance of what Progressives believe and stand for. It also shows where the prime source of your information and “research” come from, conservative talking points and one sided information. In essence I realize this reply will be addressing a closed mind and is therefore a waste of time and energy but one can always hope that a point or two might make someone else actually do some independant research and thinking.
        As with too many conservatives you love to fall back on the “Love it or Leave it” attitude which shows your ignorance of the intent of our Founding Fathers, including the fears of the People (which is one reason why the Bill of Rights was insisted upon, so one side could NOT shut up the other and force their will on everyone). You love to talk about rights and liberties and freedoms, as long as it fits your concepts of them and as long as everyone agrees with your views, otherwise they can “leave”. Well the 1st Amendment gives me the RIGHT to form and express my own views without fear of being ejected from MY homeland just because some unthinking buffoon disagrees with me. Sorry that offends you, if you don’t like it repeal the First Amendment.

        I will address the Declaration of Independance: “…That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People TO ALTER or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security…”
        to alter carries with it the meaning that peaceful revision is an acceptable alternative.

        Some history of the Constitution would seem to be in order. The convention was originally called to REVISE the Articles of Confederation (http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/constitution.html) NOT to draft a new Constitution (The Federal Convention convened in the State House (Independence Hall) in Philadelphia on May 14, 1787, to revise the Articles of Confederation. Because the delegations from only two states were at first present, the members adjourned from day to day until a quorum of seven states was obtained on May 25. Through discussion and debate it became clear by mid-June that, rather than amend the existing Articles, the Convention would draft an entirely new frame of government. All through the summer, in closed sessions, the delegates debated, and redrafted the articles of the new Constitution. Among the chief points at issue were how much power to allow the central government, how many representatives in Congress to allow each state, and how these representatives should be elected–directly by the people or by the state legislators. The work of many minds, the Constitution stands as a model of cooperative statesmanship and the art of compromise.)
        70 Delegates were appointed to attend as Delegates (Rhode Island sent no delegates), 55 attended but only 39 signed the document. (in other words only about 70% of the attending delegates (and only 55% of the invited delegates) actually signed the finalize document with one state not participating at all.)(which means that for whatever reason 45% of the appointed delegates did not attend and of those that did 30% had reason to NOT sign (endorse) the finalized version – hardly a sign of unanimous agreement).

        To address objections the People had against the proposed Constitution 3 men collaborated on the Federalist Papers, 85 papers published originally in 2 newspapers by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay. On the other side there were so many ANTI Federalist papers submitted and printed that to put together a comparable book they were pared down to a representative set of 85 for publication, however a complete compilation of them was published that was 7 Volumes and over 1840 pages long. (The Complete Anti-Federalist, Herbert Storing) (Patrick Henry, delegate of Virginia was one of the authors of these papers and also refused to participate in the Constitutional Convention, believing the Articles of Confederation were sufficient and that the new proposed Constitution to be a power grab).

        At that, even after the Convention came up with an acceptable draft it had to be amended by the Bill of Rights to actually get enough public support for ratification. James Madison, despite believing the Constitution was complete and sufficient on it’s own, wrote the original versions of the Bill of Rights (12 in all, 10 were initially adopted after being modified by congress, 1 was adopted later) Madison did NOT believe the Bill of Rights to be necessary but wrote them at the request of several including Thomas Jefferson in order to get enough support to get the Constitution ratified. So our “Perfect” Constitution had to be Amended before it was ever ratified in order to get enough popular support to ratify it.

        It takes little reading of the Anti Federalist Papers and modern conservative blogs to see that most modern conservative constitutionalists would have actually opposed ratification of the Constitution had they been alive in those times instead of now.

      • Annie

        “In essence I realize this reply will be addressing a closed mind” I have more of an open mind than you believe and I don’t know where you got the idea that I have a closed one.

        As far as Constitutional research vs. regurgitating talking points that I’ve heard and sound good, you’ll need to take my word that I don’t listen to talking points. What can I say that indicates THAT I DON’T LISTEN TO TALKING POINTS?

        A history lesson I don’t need, or particularly want, though we all can stand to gain a tidge of knowledge (some more than others). So, thank you, but keep yours. Most of your lesson is ‘prattle’ and falls on ears that for some reason, you think need to receive a lesson from a Constitutional ‘scholar’ such as yourself.

        This nothing but a hopelessly liberal blog, not designed to try to discuss what needs discussing and have open dialog. I’m out of here and headed for greener pastures where people actually DO HAVE THOUGHTS AND SUGGESTIONS and are more intent on being productive than than throwing rocks at someone, just because she has a different viewpoint than they do.

      • Phil

        Typical, if they won’t agree with you claim they’re biased and take your marbles and go home. No loss. Enjoy your new blog where everyone parrots the same ideas as if they were actually thinking and researching.

        It is clear that there are people in BOTH liberal and conservative camps who are in agreement that our Government no longer serves the will of the people and that something needs be done to return Government control back to the people. But as long as we continue to allow those in charge to polarize us, to confuse us with Hot Topic issues, to keep us bickering with each other so we don’t notice what they’re doing THEY will continue to steal our nation from us and our children.
        The problem is that both sides refuse to see any validity to what the other side believes. Changes are in order and peaceful change is the preferred and best avenue, if at all possible. It grieved me greatly to see either side talking about “2nd Amendment solutions” (and the Right is far worse at this than the left but I’ve seen it from both sides). However PEACEFUL change requires ALL affected and interested parties put their heads together and TALK out their differences to get a form that serves ALL people, places new and better restrictions on the abuses of power that have lead us to where we are now and hopefully will endure for another couple of centuries. The old ideas did their job, and most still have merit, but time and conditions are showing we need new controls to limit Corporate and Monied power and return power to the citizens.

      • Amy

        Annie, what are you doing here? You are on a website called, “Forward Progressives”, and are complaining that this is a “hopelessly liberal blog, not designed to try to discuss what needs discussing and have open dialog.” In other words, you are unhappy that we disagree with your viewpoint and aren’t changing our minds based on your offensive comments, such as, “Everyone knows that the progress(ive) agenda doesn’t compromise and where it is progressing to is a direction not ever though of by the framers of the Constitution. They were running FROM the progressive mind.” Have you spoken to the framers lately?

        No, everyone doesn’t know that. A recent Pew poll showed that 63% of Republicans favor leaders who “stick to their positions” rather than “make compromises with people they disagree with.” Just 48% of Democrats say the same. Republican voters are less attracted to compromise as a matter of general principle.

        Jonathan Chait wrote, “Liberalism is an ideology that values considering every question through the side of the other fellow and not just through your own perspective. In foreign policy, American power has to be constrained within universal principles. In social policy, the views of every group must be considered equally. In economic policy, the poor should count as much as the rich. Conservatism is more often the expression of self-prerogative — we’re the greatest country on Earth and we won’t apologize, dammit. We’re not afraid to stand up for traditional values, even if some Americans don’t share them. And we’ll defend rich people keeping what they earn.”

      • Your Superior

        I LIKE how you RANDOMLY capitalize various WORDS, regardless OF their inflection.

      • Phil

        There is no other easy and effective way to put emphasis on words when italics/bold/underline and colors are turned off. Perhaps quotes and such but … I wish sites like this would enable all textual functions.

      • Annie

        This message is for YourSuperior;

        There’s no reason to like or dislike. That isn’t random capitalization; it is making salient points-a bit more salient. Obviously to you, it isn’t doing that.

        Annie

  • Amy, what am I doing here.? Last I knewI, this was a free country and I could write wherever I wanted.. I’m quite aware of tlhe fact that this is a liberal blog, I mean, PROGRESSIVE ACTION COMMITTEE how much more do you need to say to know that this is a liberal rag?

    About Jonathan Chait and what he wrote, “Liberalism is an ideology that values considering every question through the side of the other fellow and not just through your own perspective. In foreign policy, American power has to be constrained within universal principles. In social policy, the views of every group must be considered equally. In economic policy, the poor should count as much as the rich. ” He speaks of EQUALLY considering the views of all and yes, the poor should count as much as the rich. I’d like to know (but I won’t be coming back, so I’ll miss the answer) how I discount the poor? What specifics? SPECIFICS.
    My thoughts are just as valid as yours- even though you may disagree with them. That’s what Jonathan Chait was saying.

    WHere I come from, the pros and cons of a topic are discussed and a solution attempted to be found, is there something wrong with trying that approach? This is our government and Washington needs to be reminded that if doesn’t get off its but and solve some problems, we’re more than capable of doing so. We have a president who attempted at every corner to divide us and we can let him know that even though his ideology is appreciated by many, he didn’t succeed in the divisiveness department. We can be mature adults and disagree, but agree to disagree. I can’t believe the amount of squabbling that goes on when someone disagrees with a point of view. This is an eye opener for me. I’m leaving and don’t intend to come back.

  • d kelley

    This is a straw man argument. Nobody says the Constitution is infallible. That’s why it incorporates an amendment process, something that’s been done 27 times. It is precisely the Constitution which restrains the arbitrary power of centralized authority, whether monarchy or theocracy. Tellingly, your counter examples did not also include communist totalitarian states. Did you betray the direction you wish the Constitution prevents us from going?

    • Phil

      What is so Strawman about his comments? Yep the Constitution has been amended 27 times, 10 of them BEFORE it would pass the ratification process… AND? Our Founding Fathers also changed Governments after only 9 years after Ratification of the Articles of Confederation. I don’t agree with everything the above article says but there are some interesting points in it. Nothing deserving of implications of treason or nefarious intentions as you seem to be implying though. It is one man’s thoughts on current issues and the current state of affairs we find ourselves in, something protected by the First Amendment, or does those Free Speech protections only apply to those who share hardline conservative views?

      I, for one, am solidly behind a Constitutional Amendment to overturn the effects of the Citizen’s United decision and to further REMOVE corporate money from the election process. I would also support campaign finance and election reform especially in the form of an Amendment to put our election process firmly in the hands of the Citizens, something that has never truly existed. Or perhaps you like the thought of Unlimited corporate money buying our elections, our representatives and our government and think no fixes or changes are needed?
      In essence our Constitution is no longer protecting us adequately from powerful interests so why the dissenting voices when people speak of making changes (fixes) to return power to where it should be? Big Money has bought power and your voice is being drowned out (and it isn’t “Obama’s” fault, it precedes this president by decades, (not that he’s not doing his share to contribute but it didn’t begin with him or the Democrats or liberals) and I am not an Obama fan though I daresay we’d be even worse off if McCain or Romney had won). WE need to quit lining up in opposing camps and bickering among ourselves or there will be no Republic left. As in previous times WE, THE PEOPLE need to come together, stand firm and get our Nation back.

  • Does anybody actually even read the Constitution?

    “In this country the Constitution is a hotly debated topic, and has been since our creation.”

    In the beginning, there was no serious debate about the Constitution. The oppositions were a very small minority and the only major oppositions since then have been actual attacks on the Constitution, no real question of it’s purpose & nature.

    “As great as our Constitution is, it’s not infallible. As our nation grows and changes, our Constitution is meant to adapt and change with it.”

    =Nonsense! The Constitution has very strict, immutable fundamental principles that were never meant to change with the sway of the times. Our Founders hated Democracy for this very reason, which is why they forged a Republic. They knew history. You think if some totalitarian socialists were to subvert their way into high positions & attempt force us into a secular world empire, the ‘inalienable rights before our Creator’ guaranteed by the Constitution should just be rendered obsolete by dictators we never elected?

    “Needless to say, society is significantly different today. It makes absolutely no sense to believe our Founding Fathers wrote a document over 200 years ago expecting it to never adapt to a future they could never predict.”

    They did predict the future! Like I said, they knew history so they understood what happened to the Roman Empire, for example. They wrote all about it not only in personal writings, but IN the Constitution. The Bill of Rights, for example was adopted to protect the Constitution from the threat of subversion by unrestrained government. The Constitution was designed to place restriction on government so power stayed with the people. Why? Because they were anticipating the same damn thing that’s always happened: power-drunk gangsters usurping monetary authority into private central banking & inflating the bloody hell out of taxes, so they could own every human soul legally through debt-slavery, and own the nation itself like a corporate super power! That happened in 1913 with the fed & now the middle class is suffering for it, just like our paranoid, conspiracy-fearing Founders anticipated!

    “There’s no such thing as “traditional American values,” because we don’t have any. Our country, since its inception, has been a constant evolving entity with new creations, new growth, new enemies and new allies. True American values don’t lie in a set of beliefs, instead they are found in the idea that being American is a fluid concept. White, black, brown, man, woman, child, Christian, Muslim and everything else…we’re all Americans This country was built by a diverse grouping of people for a future that will always remain unpredictable.”

    Sounds all good & dandy. Unfortunately for those of you who don’t understand reality, we know that this ‘constantly-evolving’ fluid is not randomly-evolving, it’s being steered from behind the scenes by the international round table into a ‘New World Order’ which is pretty much the polar opposite of our sovereign, border-enclosed Constitutional Republic. This country might have been built by a diverse people in the long run but it was originally founded by a people of one mind who didn’t want a communist cult globalizing! You think if a tyrannical dictator was voted by a bunch of media-brainwashed democratic liberals, we should forget about the “general welfare” promised to us if we keep to the standards of the Constitution? Or if a Muslim president wanted to introduce Sharia Law, we should morph our rights into conformity with said rule of law? No! The constitution is the standard of everything we do & any voted majority opinion that contradicts it goes down the drain into the bloody sewer!

    “We’re not a monarchy set up for tradition or a theocracy based upon a religious dogma”

    Of course not. We’re a Constitutional Republic with ancestors who shed gallons of blood to escape the Monarchy.

    “we’re a government for the people, by the people.”

    No! We’re not a government for the people, we’re a free people who uses the government to our own ends. The Constitution was not meant to permit government to provide for people, it’s supposed to have government protect the rights we already have.

    Are people so far left that they’ve completely forgot what country they’re living in? Has this revisionist, democratic propaganda system completely warped the minds of so many people? That’s like God telling the Israelites: “If you observe the traditions of the heathens, ye shall become slave to the gentile empire. But if you keep my 10 Commandments I shall protect you always” and the Jews saying: “I guess that means God wants us to make a golden demon idol & worship it in his place while practicing witchcraft sex magic rituals under a giant an Illuminati pyramid on the Sabbath.”