Sept. 17 is Constitution Day, and it is fitting that once each year we set aside a day of commemoration for this one-of-a-kind document that changed the way countries and people are governed all around the globe.
So are we in a constitutional crisis? The answer is a resounding “YES.” However, it is not the kind of crisis envisioned by our tea party brethren, who think the present administration has turned the Constitution on its head.
Texas Congressman Ron Paul said, “The Constitution was written explicitly for one purpose, to restrain the federal government.” If what Ron Paul said was true, would the framers of the Constitution have written the clause in the Constitution which delegates to Congress the power “to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers.” That is the “elastic clause.” It means that our government, as it is empowered by the Constitution, has whatever powers it chooses to create and administer.
However, in truth, the Constitution is in crisis. But don’t worry, it was born in crisis. It was written in secret and in violation of the existing document, the Articles of Confederation, at a time when we didn’t even have a president. No one worried about that in 1789 since we had just defeated the greatest power in the world in mortal combat.
Many of our founding fathers were skeptical that this new democracy, this government without precedent in the history of the world, could even exist for more than a few years. Benjamin Franklin was skeptical that it would work at all. Alexander Hamilton wondered whether Washington should be appointed king. Thomas Jefferson, our first secretary of state and third president, was not even sure of the constitutionality of his own Louisiana Purchase. It was a time of infinite crisis.
The framers of the Constitution did not envision an all-powerful presidency. When they were writing our Constitution, they looked closely at the monarchies of Europe and decided they did not want a king like George of England or Louis the 16th of France. Instead, the powers of the government were centered in Congress and the framers designed a relatively weak presidency, an administrative post to carry out the will of Congress.
Our Constitution can handle change. It has flexibility. As written, it is a set of principles not a code of laws. The framers of our Constitution did not know about DNA, airplanes, the atom, the germ theory of disease, the internal combustion engine, computers, antibiotics, satellites, and a whole list of other advancements. What they did know was that change was coming and that it would be constant. Any constitution would have to be capable of dealing with immense changes.
If those who wrote the Constitution were alive today, they would be proud of their handiwork. We should be proud as well.
Page 2 of 2 - Dr. Mark L. Hopkins writes for More Content Now and Scripps Newspapers. He is past president of colleges and universities in four states and currently serves as executive director of a higher-education consulting service. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.