“It is unreasonable to confine ourselves strictly to the text of the Constitution. We should interpret the Constitution broadly, to allow the federal government to exercise powers we need it to exercise, even if they aren’t actually listed in that document.” How would Thomas Jefferson respond to that statement?
If we were to do what the above paragraph suggested, change the constitution according to the times, we would be operating under a “living Constitution,” the exact thing the founding fathers of America were getting away from when they wrote the American Constitution. Thomas Jefferson would have thrown the idea of a living constitution out of the window in an instant. The paragraph above basically wants the federal government of America to interpret the Constitution however it pleases.
How would you feel if you signed a contract to clean someone’s house and in return the owner would pay you $20 for doing it, but when you have completed the job and go to the owner to get paid he says that he meant (interpreted) that you would clean his house once a week for a year for a total of $20? That is kind of how the Constitution would be if we gave the federal government the authority to interpret the constitution however it wanted.
A living and breathing constitution is a constitution that can be modified with whatever reason the federal government wants. So if the federal government wants to begin to exercise a power that isn’t listed in the constitution as a federal government power the Constitution would be living Constitution, as it could be changed.
The American Revolutionary War was fought in order to get away from the British government. The British government had an unwritten constitution that was founded on tradition and what was “normal”. British parliament could change or make up a new rule or law within seconds if they deemed it best. The British government was then actually operating under a “living constitution,” it changed the laws with the times. British parliament could make up new laws that didn’t originally exist in order to keep America (or whoever) under its power. Say you are walking your dog down Main Street and parliament didn’t like it so it decided to fine you for walking your dog; something that was commonly done quickly changed and turned illegal in an instant. How would a person know if something was illegal or not?
Anyway, the Americans got fed up with this flaky system and wrote the Constitution to prevent anything like that from occurring ever again. They wanted the federal government to have limited power; they wanted the American people to be the ones with authority.
Of course, the founding fathers knew that “the times would change” so they created the idea of amendments so that if something needed to be changed it could be written down and added to the constitution. In order for an amendment to pass and come into being it has to be authorized by the states. The president can’t just insert an amendment in secret without anyone knowing, he has to get it authorized by the PEOPLE, the residents of America.
The founding fathers also realized that the federal government would probably overstep its boundaries of authority at some point in time so they gave the states power to nullify (end or refuse to comply) something that the federal government was imposing on the states. States could also secede from federal power if they didn’t like the way the federal government was doing things.
An example of a state nullifying something imposed by the federal government in U.S. history is when Jefferson, the president at the time, made an embargo in 1807. The embargo prohibited American ships from going to international ports. Jefferson was doing this in order to get back at the English who were harassing America. In 1809 Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island took a stand against (nullified) the federal government’s order not to sail to international ports (why it took them so long to resist, I have no idea). What the federal government was doing was unconstitutional.
The founding fathers of America were quite smart when they considered all of the things that might occur in America’s future. Because of their intelligence we have a written U.S. Constitution, not a living constitution or a constitution that can be interpreted however one pleases. We should respect the effort and devoted work that was invested in our Constitution and continue to live according to the ways that the founding fathers had planned. We don’t want to fall under authoritarian rule once again.
Photo Credit: Me. Similar to the American Constitution the rainbow signifies a covenant between God and His people.