Jack Rakove on the U.S. Constitution


History Buzz

Source: The Browser, 7-3-11

Please tell us about the document that preceded the Constitution.

The Articles of Confederation formed America’s first federal constitution. It was framed in 1776 and 1777 but not ratified until 1781. The articles created a unicameral Continental Congress, which had no authority to legislate; it could not pass statutes. Its members generally served for only a few months at a time and went home often. The Continental Congress did much of its work by sending resolutions, recommendations and requisitions to the states. It assumed that the states would simply do the right thing for the United States. That assumption turned out to be terribly naive. Figuring out how to replace the articles was the challenge the framers faced in 1787.

Although the United States is a relatively young country, we have the oldest written constitution still in use. What is uniquely enduring about the document?

What’s uniquely enduring about the document is how deeply Americans are wedded to it. When Americans started writing constitutions in the 1770s, doing so was a new idea. The idea of having a written constitution as the original supreme fundamental source of law was an American invention. Now most nations around the world, with a few notable exceptions, have written constitutions.

But the United States remains uniquely wedded to our Constitution. We’re very reluctant to amend it. The idea of rethinking decisions made in 1787 scares some of us to death. So there’s a curious story: in the 1780s Americans expressed confidence in their ability to devise new institutions of government as a supreme act of political wisdom, but today we are unable to imagine how we could ever improve upon what the framers did….READ MORE

Larry Schweikart: Founders & Debt — Would Want ‘Our Fiscal House in Order’


History Buzz

If America’s Founding Fathers were clear on anything, it was that deficits could not be tolerated, says best-selling author and political historian Larry Schweikart. So what would the founders say about the current economy and crushing U.S. debt?

“The founders were very clear on issues of debt,” Schweikart says, “so certainly they would want to see our fiscal house in order.”  The debt crisis is only one symptom of a nation that is more divided now than “at the time of the Civil War,” Schweikart says. “It is very deeply divided. And it’s more divided than, I think, at the time of the Civil War, though less likely to involve violence because it’s not sectional in nature. But the divisions involve a large segment of people who became heavily dependent on the government, especially the federal government, for their daily existence,” he points out….READ MORE

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