Constitutional Certainty



Routine teaching about the US Constitution… instructs students that its genius is found in the fact that it can be changed.  This dogma can be traced to the influence of Charles Beard’s contention that it was purely an economic document, and well timed amendments rescued our republic from new world feudalism.  Such orthodoxy perfectly defines the problems with historical revisionism.  The need to redefine historical figures and events too often interferes with substantive analysis

The US Constitution has been amended 27 times… in 229 years.  Considering the first ten came as a package, followed by numbers 13-15 which eliminated slavery and its ramifications- 18&21 deal with the failed experiment of prohibition- 19,24. 26 are further extensions of civil liberties; our Constitution has been structurally altered eight times.  Far from an easily alterable document open to countless revisions, our Constitution has proven to be remarkably resilient through the course of history.  Appropriate additions were made to account for expanding civil liberties, but the amending process has prevented unnecessary changes from trifling interests.


Once an opponent of ratification… Thomas Jefferson saw the importance of the stability laid down by the Framers:

“Our peculiar security is in the possession of a written Constitution. Let us not make it a blank paper by construction.”

“On every question of construction carry ourselves back to the time when the Constitution was adopted, recollect the spirit manifested in the debates and instead of trying what meaning may be squeezed out of the text or invented against it, conform to the probable one in which it was passed.”

One thought on “Constitutional Certainty

  1. An excellent post! Beard’s revisionism has certainly damaged our understanding of the Constitution. Yes, it’s an economic document in the sense that it sets the broad legal framework for the country in which economic transactions will occur, but it’s so much more. The fact that it’s been changed so little in over 200 years is a testament to its resilience and stability.


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