Monday, May 15, 2017

A Study of the U.S. Constitution. Part 1

By Susan Frickey, Center for Self-Governance Student

Our Constitution is continuously disregarded these days by both sides of the aisle. The truth of the matter is very few of us have actually read it, much less comprehended its intent. 
Our Constitution changed the course, not only of our country, but of all humanity.  If we cannot articulate or debate the document that is the foundation of our form of government, how can we knowledgeably defend its principles?  If we do not understand our history and the Founders intent when they drafted the Constitution, how can we hold on to the gift of liberty they gave us?
Language of Liberty
I invite you to study the Constitution of the United States of America and some of the great stories behind its creation. 
You will need three items:  1.) A copy of The U.S. Constitution; 2.) A modern English translation of The Federalist Papers, for example, (“The Federalist Papers In Modern English” by Mary E. Webster;  and “The Original Argument” are two good choices);  and 3.) Webster’s 1828 Dictionary
First, some background. 
The original Constitution was only 4 pages long, about 4500 words and consisted of seven Articles. Ours is the shortest and oldest written Constitution still in effect of any major government in the world.
The intent of The Federalist Papers, written by Founding Fathers Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay, was to explain to the public at large the purpose of the Constitution and the unique new form of government created in 1787. Citizens in early America avidly read these articles and essays--which were published and distributed in the colonies-- during the public debate and ratification process.
The delegates of the Thirteen Colonies met in Philadelphia during an unusually HOT, muggy summer.  Huge flies flung themselves against the windows of Independence Hall and attacked the delegates when they went outside. Although the heat was overwhelming, the delegates insisted on the wearing of suits as required by the dress code for civilized gentlemen of the day. Alas, there was no air-conditioning in 1787!
The delegates decided to post guards at the doors and windows to keep eavesdroppers at bay. To further compound the misery, they nailed the windows shut and drew heavy drapes across to muffle their voices so their arguments would not be overheard and reported to newspapers prematurely, lest they be dissected and shot down before the process was even completed.
James Madison was known as “The Father of the Constitution.” As the only delegate to attend every meeting, Madison was chosen to document the extraordinary four-month event. Otherwise, we would have no idea of the extreme scrutiny each article endured during the deliberations. He took detailed notes of the various discussions and heated debates that took place that summer. The journal he kept during the Constitutional Convention of 1787 was kept secret until his death. It was finally published in 1840.
These were the rules:  Debate was open and brisk. Only Madison was permitted to take notes on the proceedings.  Yet the Framers were careful to cultivate an atmosphere of total freedom in their deliberations.  A member could vote on a particular phrase or concept and then go back and change his vote with no repercussions or reprimand. It was crucial that the free flow of ideas remain unhindered. In world history, nothing like this had been attempted.
Many of the delegates, especially Thomas Jefferson, had studied the history of world governments in great detail and had an understanding of what had worked and what had not. They believed it important to incorporate the best parts of various types of governments into their new system.
Every word in our Constitution was chosen with keen deliberation and with very specific intent.  Interestingly, the word “democracy” does not appear ANYWHERE in the document as we have a republican form of government, (i.e.“…and to the republic for which it stands”).  According to their writings, the Framers had flatly rejected the idea of a democracy as other nations had fallen violently under mob rule. Yet look at the number of Americans, including politicians, who refer to our form of government as a democracy and not a republic!
The Preamble is the Constitution’s “mission statement” and was actually added later, after the document had been written. The Preamble reads:
“We, the People of the United States of America, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common Defense, promote the General Welfare and secure the blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
The fifty-four words in the one-sentence Preamble are concise and convey precisely what our Constitution sets forth. Most public schools in America taught civics at one time and each student was required to memorize the Preamble. Yet today, many children have never heard of it! It’s up to us to teach them. Given some incentives, it can be fun! 
Note that some words have a different meaning today than when our founding documents were penned. In an age when the English language is tortured by lawyers, judges, and politicians until it is unrecognizable, it is important to read your modern day translation of The Federalist Papers. For example, for the meaning of promote the General Welfare, read Federalist#41, last 4 paragraphs. James Madison’s definition had nothing to do with giving welfare to the poor as the court redefined it in 1937 to accommodate Roosevelt’s “New Deal”. Justice Owen Roberts later wrote about the ruling, “We voted against the Constitution to save the Court.

For a bonus assignment, look up the word “welfare” in Webster’s 1828 Dictionary. It is absolutely essential to search out the original meaning and intent of our founding documents, according to the men who actually wrote them.

 We, the People” was a concept never before considered in all of civilized history and is still looked upon with awe by many in the world. It established a declaration of hope that men are capable of governing themselves.  It was a leap of faith that set us apart from every other society that ever existed.  Our Constitution was the first to put forth this basic philosophy, and with this effort, the Framers created the greatest ongoing experiment ever devised by man.
Next we’ll study Article I.

The Language of Liberty series is a collaborative effort of the Center for Self Governance (CSG) Administrative Team. CSG is a non-profit, non-partisan educational organization, dedicated to training citizens in applied civics. The authors include administrative staff, selected students, and guest columnists. The views expressed by the authors are their own and do not reflect the views of CSG. Contact them at

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