Underpinning our American society is a document that is now over 220 years old, one that was fashioned by some of the finest minds of the 18th century. What those Colonial intellects created was the United States Constitution, the supreme law of the land since its adoption at the Philadelphia Convention on September 17, 1787. On that day, a combination of merchants, land and financial speculators, slave owners, farmers, public officials, retirees, scientists, physicians, and persons engaged in other pursuits successfully completed a wide-ranging legal document in culmination of an effort that began with altogether different aims. The assemblage originally gathered with the intent of amending the Articles of Confederation, the document that defined the American system of government in de facto manner since the Second Continental Congress adopted it on November 15, 1777, and which defined American law since its ratification on March 1, 1781. However, in the 10 years since the Articles of Confederation were created, serious flaws were seen in its design, and those flaws, highlighted by the collection of fliers now collectively known as the Federalist Papers, could only be surmounted by scrapping the Articles of Confederation entirely in favor of a different national document. 21st century America remains guided by that document, one forged by men and men alone in a far distant era that not only preceded the crucial turning point in American history that was the Civil War by eight decades, but the Industrial Revolution, women's liberation, the civil rights movement, gay rights, electric lights, space travel, automobiles, and telecommunications as well. Given this, I seriously question the continued viability of such a document.
Before I continue, let me state that I love my country, that I love America. Let me state that I love its freedoms, its diversity, and the opportunities it offers. The home of Lady Liberty is unique among all the nations on Earth, and I am thankful that I this is my place of birth and continued residence. Now, let me also state that America, my beloved country, is definitely not perfect. Then again, no nation truly is. Every country on Earth has a flaw in some way or another, so America stands out as the absolute best of an imperfect lot. Considering there are 192 member nations in the United Nations, Miss Liberty sits at the head of a very large class. Keeping the torch of the Lady in the Harbor shining brightly is the Constitution, the American people who follow Constitutional law, the many brave Americans who went to war to protect the freedoms we enjoy, and those Americans who wage different kinds of war over the morals and ethics that gain incorporation into the Constitution as law. However, my love for America cannot negate the fact that this nation remains bound by laws written by men of 18th century education and experience; by men ferried to and fro by horse-drawn carriages and sailboats; by men whose ideas about true equality—not mere freedom, but true equality among all men and all women—were largely constrained by the social conventions of the time.
The Framers of the United States Constitution existed during a historical period commonly referred to as either the Enlightenment or the Age of Reason, an era that most scholars agree encompassed most, if not all, of the 18th century. The Enlightenment was based, in part, on the objective examination of human history from which principles rooted in the empirical theory of causation were applied to give meaning to the frequently unclear events that formed human history. From the analyses arose concepts such as the spiritualistic principle of religious authority, humanized theological systems, and the emancipation of individuals from physical coercion. Unfortunately, the import of European Enlightenment to America did not result in the immediate emancipation of individuals from coercion (meaning slaves under whip and chain). Instead, what survived rested largely in deism and period-concept liberalism with the added concept of natural law, a theory that postulates the existence of a law whose content is set by nature and is thus in force throughout creation. In similar vein is the theory of natural rights, a concept of universal rights that are inherent in the nature of people and not dependent on human actions or beliefs. The two concepts are present within the text of both the U.S. Constitution and the American Declaration of Independence, though in limited fashion since both documents excluded women, slaves, and Native Americans through means both implicit and explicit.
The U.S. Constitution has changed over time, of course. Each of the document's 27 Amendments addresses a wrong or a perceived wrong that either existed in the text or was barred or permitted due to its enforcement or allowances. While these additions have helped maintain the document's viability, the Constitution's basic tenets remain entrenched in 18th century thought. Since the Constitution became law over 200 years ago, numerous opposing sociopolitical theories developed since the Enlightenment arose. These theories range from Marxism to Existentialism (and beyond), and while many of them address modern concepts and concerns, we continue to be guided by a document written by men in powdered wigs whose enlightened minds pontificated the needs of a male-centered Christian American nation that consisted of just 13 states and the English language. Consider again that it took just 10 years for the nascent American nation to reveal the inadequacies of the Articles of Confederation. Now, over 220 years, 37 states and several territories later, America is poised to establish a permanent presence on the moon. Decades later, there will likely be an American presence on Mars and possibly other celestial bodies. Americans will go forward as Americans have since the days of Western expansion, yet the question of how viable a rule of law the Constitution is will continue to be a significant question given the increasingly rapid evolution of American demographics and social interactions (and accompanying complexities) and territorial expansion beyond anything ever documented as hope by the Framers.
Despite the above, the Supreme Court continues to base its decisions based on its interpretation of the intent of the Framers on a per-case basis. Issues such as gay rights, reproductive rights, and multiculturalism are but a few of the issue that arose well after the very last of the Framers passed away. Although none of these issues are documented within the Constitution's passages, and despite the absolute unawareness of the Framers of such eventual challenges to the national consciousness, their intent remains law. In the Federalist Papers, John Hamilton expressed his belief that through the practice of judicial review, the Court would ensure that the enduring will of the American people would supersede the possibly ephemeral whims of the Legislature. Additionally, James Madison wrote that constitutional interpretation must remain with the reasoned judgment of the Justices of the Supreme Court who, through (presumably) independent thought, would prove resistant to the possibly biased influences of the political process. Madison argued that failure to do so would reduce every constitutional question to political bargaining, thus reducing constitutional interpretation to a battleground of competing political factions. Unfortunately, despite the apparent intent of the Framers, politics certainly taints the selection of Justices and thus the very makeup and decision-making of the Court since the President appoints justices to the Supreme Court. Given every President wants to ensure that the policies of their Administration have the maximum potential for success, Presidents tend to nominate those Justices whose views are strongly aligned with their own. This, of course, has led to politically skewed versions of the Supreme Court that, if the intent of the Framers truly is the Court's guiding principle, stands in direct violation of that intent.
In addition to the idiosyncratic nature of the Supreme Court, the Constitution itself contains passages that are often perplexing to the reader. Perhaps the most baffling entry is the Second Amendment due to its peculiar and highly controversial punctuation. It reads: "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed". Some experts say it implies a collective right to defense through gun control while others say it guarantees individual freedom. In the time of the Framers, the Colonial militia was a rag-tag collection of native-born colonists, British immigrants, free blacks, and others who were roughly organized to combat a given threat. Accordingly, Colonial America's "Minutemen" were the quick-response core of the overall militia. Unlike the practices employed by the modern military, members of the Colonial militia weren't issued official armament by an authorized agency—at least, not in large measure. Instead, they owned firearms as a means of providing both sustenance and self-protection as was their right in a time when the new American nation fought British tyranny and Native American resistance. Given there was no "gun control" in the 1700s other than the control necessary to properly handle a firearm, the intent of the Framers in this instance is likely a direct consequence of the period in which they lived, but that time is far behind us now. The “Red Coats” are gone, “Minutemen” are missiles and border patrollers, and public access to thousands of food stores across America has replaced the need to hunt wild game for sustenance.
In closing, we must not forget that the Framers of the Constitution did consider that one day their rules of law would become as obsolete as the Articles of Confederation. If anything, based on how long it took a much smaller and less complicated America to extend beyond the auspices of the Articles of Confederation, a replacement is nothing less than overdue. A possible successor to the Constitution could consist of the original Constitution and its Amendments, but with the text blended into a cohesive whole that omits past references to slaves, Native Americans, and other groups (where mentioned), and which addresses the people of this nation as "Americans" in terms that are absolute. Gun control: Yes or no. Abortion: Yes or no. Human cloning: Yes or no. English only: Yes or no. At this time, the Colonial-era document that is the Constitution holds no clear answer to any of the above. Given that the 27 amendments to the Constitution lend a patchwork nature to America’s most essential legal document, it is not heresy to believe that the nation has reached the moment in its existence where circumstances demand monumental changes to the most hallowed of national documents.
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