Warning: educational content follows.
You guys. I don’t care if it takes away all my cool guy cred I’ve stacked up from getting kinda good at Call of Duty (I have that, right?), but I’m going to say what’s on my mind. I love the Constitution. Not in a “WOO AMURRICA” kinda way, but a more refined, “Excellent, America,” kind of way.
The Constitution represents America in a multitude of ways. It’s relatively new, but made a definite impact on the rest of the world. It’s profound, but widely misunderstood. And it’s wonderful, but undercut by its most fervent supporters.
First and foremost, let’s discuss where the Constitution came from. If the Revolutionary War ended in 1783 (full disclosure: I had to look that up) and the Constitution was written in 1787, what happened in between? A little hilarious failure called
The Articles of Confederation
Okay, so America has always been “The Great Experiment” and yes, nerds, I know an experiment can’t technically fail. So I guess I should say the results came back negative. But the Articles were the inept rules for the newly freed 13 colonies. Some highlights include: Congress (the only branch of national government) needed a unanimous vote to pass EVERYTHING, and you know Rhode Island would vote opposite just to be a dick, like the juror who would rather disagree for the free deli sandwiches. Congress didn’t have the power to tax, and instead had a tip jar if the states felt like donating some money. Also, states printed their own money. Exchange rates everywhere!
|Also the males are laying eggs!|
The federal government was almost non-existent, and much like its modern day opponent Ron Paul was forced to stand on the sidelines, lamely suggesting courses of action. You can’t exactly blame the people for choosing such a non-central form of government. They had just come up from under the thumb of an oppressive monarchy, which is about as central as one can get. So, in their complete humanness say “Well, that sucked, let’s try the other end of the spectrum.”
When a rebellion re-erupted in the New York countryside, Congress was tugging on the shirt sleeves of the states like a small mustachioed man holding his hat in his free hand. That is, until George “Ax-Man” Washington decided he’d had enough of these farmers’ BS and marched on in to shut the business down. So some politicians decided they’d meet and OVER THROW THE FREAKING GOVERNMENT.
|"Damn it feels good to be a gangster," G.W. , 1784|
Overthrowing the Freaking Government
So these guys decided what they were doing wasn’t working. Imagine the balls that that takes. I can’t admit that maybe I’m not going to land that 360 degree backflip on the motorcycle in GTA after five minutes of trying, but yet the same men that fought the strongest military force in the world to earn their freedom stopped, looked at each other, and said “Well, we sure screwed the pooch on this go around.” But, you know, 18th century-er. I will fall into the lava three times in a row trying to get one piece of coal in Minecraft, and these legislators realized they were pushing the wrong stone, and decided they’d just let that one roll back down the hill, and start with a new one. But how did they come to this realization?
The delegates from Virginia said “Hey, guys, party at our statehouse! BYOB, or let Samuel Adams hook you up, I guess. Also, we can maybe fix these Articles, you know, brah, if we feel like it.”
So all the states show up, except for Rhode Island, who probably had better things to do than create one of the most powerful documents in the world. Also, being contrarian is just kinda Rhode Island’s thing. In a world where Maine is still part of Massachusetts, Rhode Island needed a claim to fame other than the smallest area and most misleading state name, so they chose being the biggest “That Guy.” You know, That Guy who will disagree with you on everything, like attending the Constitutional Convention or ratifying Prohibition. That Guy.
Anyhoo, almost all of the states show up with a “Let’s fix these pesky Articles of Confederation!”attitude when Virginia asks if bros can just be bros and they’ll keep the whole proceedings quiet. With what I imagine as nervous exchange looks, the delegates responded with a resounding, “Uh, sure, man, whatever you want.”
But Virginia wasn’t there to ask if sometimes you check out other guys’ butts, they got down to all business and said, “Alright, brosefs, it’s time to fix these bogus Articles. We, the delegates of Virginia, suggest pitching the whole thing out and starting anew.”
There was much harrumphing and wig-picking-up and even probably a fancy tea spit take or two at this suggestion. Throw out the Articles of Confederation? The thing that had saved the states from an infestation of pirates for going on a decade? But after the last bowtie had stopped spinning, they finally decided maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea.
So Virginia says “Let’s have a publicly elected legislature based on population. That House of Representatives (sound familiar?) will appoint another, higher house. Then these will appoint an executive leader for the new executive branch. Also, a judicial branch will exist, I guess. Oh, and, uh, this Congress will have the power to tax, regulate interstate commerce, and supersede the judgment of the states. We call it the Virginia is Super Awesome Plan, but Virginia Plan will work too.”
The delegates were stunned. Bicameral legislature, based on population? Executive branch? Any separation of powers at all?! Letting average citizens vote!?!? Once again, much hurrumphing. All the large population states couldn’t see the problem with an entire government either directly or indirectly controlled by whoever had the most people, while small states though maaaaybe that was unfair. But you know what didn’t come up as an option? The Articles.
So New Jersey fist pumps its way to the stage and pitches its own plan, “Okay chiefs, we like the taxes and interstate commerce and even the separation of powers thing, nah I’m sayin’. But we, the mad phat delegates of NEW JOISY, say we should go back to a unicam- unicam- one house legislature, all states even, right?”
So these two plans were fought over in 103 degree summer weather in a hot room with men wearing wool and fancy wigs. What I’m saying is, things got sticky. And for awhile it looked as if things would fail almost as hard as the Articles had originally.
Connecticut Does Something for Once
That is, until Connecticut comes in and says, “Dear lord, good chaps, can’t we agree? Obviously EVERY STATE HERE wants the power to tax, regulate interstate commerce, and the ability to supersede states, and we’re all quite enamored with this ‘separation of powers business.’” So they cooked up a plan to take Virginia’s two houses idea, but separate them, making one by population, voted in by the public, and another, with each state getting the same amount of representatives as the others. Finally, a publicly elected executive and some sort of judicial branch (that nobody really cared about, I’m beginning to guess). You may recognize this as the organization of THE GREATEST COUNTRY IN THE WORLD. Please hum the Stars and Stripes while imagining waving flag.
So here lies the first lesson to be learned from the Constitution. This blueprint for our 240 year old nation was born of compromise. The large states and small states can be considered the first political parties. And, on the eve of the most important decision since the one to split from England at all, the parties decided to put aside most of their disagreements and compromise for the good of their new nation. A compromise leaves nobody completely happy, of course, but these men realized that agreeing to some other person’s ideas doesn’t mean your ideals ‘lose’. It only means you understand something is better than a firmly standed nothing.
So, then, it was up to hammer things out. I’m not going to delve into huge detail because not even the most entertaining writer (which I don’t claim to be) can make these legal documents exciting for the common reader. Suffice to say each branch gets its own article in the Constitution, and the legislative was certainly meant to be the main branch, coming in first and longest. Also, the judicial branch was almost an afterthought. After the whole thing was written by tiny man James Madison, it was up for ratification. Fun fact: not every state ratified the Constitution. Guess which state was one of those who didn’t. I’ll give you a hint. It rhymes with Chode Island. Heh. Chode Island.
But! At the end of the Constitution comes the Bill of Rights and the following amendments. One thing you wouldn’t think would happen is the fight over including this Bill of Rights. We take it as nothing less than a certainty it would be there, but many people at the time saw it as an unnecessary indulgence. Federalists and the imaginatively named Anti-Federalists were the first official political parties, fighting over these ten amendments.
Here is the second lesson to learn from the Constitution: it is constantly changing. The Framers believed they were making a country to last, and knew the rules would change, like the pronunciation of two f’s. Congreff?! So they wrote their rules vague, gave a lot of outs, and included an entire device to change the very rules of the document. They made it extremely difficult to do, of course, but that’s to prevent rash decisions, which is why there are only 17 amendments in addition to the original ten in all 240 years, and one has been cancelled out with another, so that’s like 15 actual things. Show me a legitimate Constitutional scholar that believes in a strict interpretation of the 240 year old document, and I’ll show you an illegitimate scholar. If we only went by what the actual Constitution said, blacks would still count as 3/5 of a person, and state legislatures would still elect the Senate.
The Framers weren’t perfect. They wore Capri pants which was SO 1750’s. But they have, do and always will represent the best of America. They came together, and even with all their differences, made a success out of a failure. They built a country to last, not pretending like they could see and control the future. So the next time someone says “Constitution” make sure you listen to what they’re talking about. Unless they’re discussing a walk or something, in which case stop being such a history nerd.