Change the Constitution? We barely have the one we started with

Cutting Edge Magazine
August 1992
Tom Terry

The ’92 elections have brought up an issue not often understood—constitutional revision. Should the United States continue in its present form under our present Constitution?

The debate over this issue has gained attention because of H. Ross Perot. It was during an address to the Coalition for Better Government ’92 in November of ’91 that Perot told the group, “In all fairness to our elected officials—they are generally good people—they are not the problem. Our system of government is the problem…Keep in mind our Constitution predates the industrial revolution…Just keeping it frozen in time won’t hack it.”

In all fairness to Mr. Perot, the principles of the Constitution are not outdated. They are timeless; and transcend technological advances. Limited government, combined with moral character, provides a foundation of strength for any organized society. When the character of a people is debased, no amount of Constitutional revision will correct the situation. The Constitution’s chief author, James Madison, understood this when he said, “We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it. We have staked the future of all our political institutions…upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.”

Fine sentiments from Mr. Madison, but the baser instincts of human nature have taken over in our neighborhoods, and the halls of Congress. Some think constitutional revision is a cure for our problems. By endowing, they believe, the federal government with more power, even socialist power, we can better solve our problems. It seems to me that loss of control and excessive federalism are already part of the problem.

Though Congress is limited in its powers by the Constitution, it seems to see a need to keep trying to change it. And the Constitution has changed dramatically over the years, sometimes through the difficult amendment process, at other times by usurping power through unconstitutional acts.

Since its original adoption, the Constitution has been altered in one fashion or another 27 times by added amendments and subparts in everything from the election of senators and the executive office, to voting rights, prohibition and pay limitations. However, through a more dubious process of ignorance, legislative action and court rulings, at least 14 clauses of the Constitution have either been put in jeopardy, ignored, or effectually nullified. Every one of these clauses has a common thread—the check on powers.

Not being a constitutional scholar, my research into this area is limited; however, I present an abbreviated list of the principles of limited government that have come under attack:

  • Legislative authority. Article I, Section I, and Article VI, Paragraph 2 – often exercised by Courts and
  • War powers. Article I, Section 8, Paragraph 15 – changed forever by World Wars I and II when
    troops were committed to war for reasons other than repelling invasion and protecting citizens.
  • Capitol Control. Article I, Section 8, Paragraph 18 – forbids D.C. statehood without an amendment.
    No matter, Congress is trying to do it with simple, one party-sided legislation.
  • State-to-State Import Tax. Article I, Section 9, Paragraph 5 – Could taxes applied to out-of-state mail-order items be a violation of this clause? Sure sounds like it.
  • Legal Tender. Article I, Section 10 – A Tennessee court recently ruled that Federal Reserve Notes (your dollars) could not be exchanged for silver or gold without being taxed! That brings us closer to the “American Ruble,” does it not?
  • Presidential Appointments. Article II, Section 2, Paragraph 2 – abused by the Senate during the Bork, Souter, and Thomas nomination hearings.
  • Republican Government. Article IV, Section 4 – Socialists now hold varied political offices in
    America. Some liberals are calling for a new government.

Then there are the Amendments:

#1: Freedom of religion and speech. The Supreme and lower Courts have butchered it.

#2: Right to Bear Arms, there’s a move to repeal it. Congress is talking about “buying” all handguns.

#5 & #14: Death Penalty. Courts and legislatures have butchered this as well.

#6: “Right to be confronted by witnesses” against you in court. Rarely applied in cases of child abuse charges. The falsely accused are rarely able to defend themselves adequately.

#9: Interpretation of the Constitution to its original intent.

#10: Federal Power Limits. States are losing control of their own matters to a growing Washington. We have excessive federalism, something akin to socialism. So, for those who want to change the Constitution, I say, “We barely have the one we started with. Why not go back to that instead?”