How Would You Restore the Constitution?
To a constitutionalist, this question sounds almost blasphemous, but when one realizes the Constitution is not what it used to be, then certainly a discussion of the question has merit. This document, which many of us hold in reverential esteem as it fell from the lips of the Founders, has been so mutilated and misinterpreted that in many cases it seldom resembles the document once known as the "wisdom of the ages".
Dr. W. Cleon Skousen noted there are 286 separate, identifiable provisions in the Constitution. When discussed individually, as he does in The Making of America, one can easily enumerate the provisions which have been changed, discarded, ignored, or added. Dr. Skousen points out that 38 provisions fall into the category of being mutilated or destroyed. That is only a small part of the total 286, but when weight is given to each of the 286 provisions, it turns out that the weightier ones are the ones that have suffered extensive damage. Most of the rest of them are the procedural ones, such as the provision that a senator must be 30 years old, or that the president can veto a bill, etc.
Some of our constitutional friends are advocating no change at all to the current document. They say that education as to the meaning and intent of the Founders is all that is needed to restore sanity to our government. Surely that would be the best solution if it would work. Many of us have seen educational attempts go on now for decades and those who are in power now for glory and gain (avarice and ambition as Benjamin Franklin put it) are only solidifying their hold on power and the people seem not too interested in learning enough to bring about change, hence, our suggestion in our last newsletter concerning the need, for example, for a constitutional amendment (the Marriage Amendment) to forcibly change the direction of our government on this issue.
But what if those who are in positions of power and gain were no longer there? What if you had the opportunity to reposition the Constitution without the well-financed power elite opposing you all the way-and getting their way? What if you could develop a document making use of the combined wisdom of the Founders along with the accumulated experience of Americans since 1787 and have a serious chance of getting it adopted?
Each year a number of high school seniors are faced with just such a challenge! After completing an intense semester long course on Constitutional principles and provisions (see American Government and U. S. Constitution courses offered by NCCS), these students spend the next semester studying specific ways to heal America. The concluding two months, just before graduation, is spent in a Simulated Constitutional Convention set in the year 2031. Using Robert's Rules of Order, they spend 85 minutes per class, three times per week in making motions, debating, and hammering out whatever they would like to do to reinvigorate the U. S. Constitution. Here is the setting:
The Fictional Scenario for a Constitutional Convention
"After an unprecedented period of economic growth, the U.S. economy has turned sour. Because of skyrocketing interest payments on the national debt, politicians can no longer pull tricks out of the bag to prop up the economy. The people have seen their savings depleted by inflation and have lost faith in worthless money. Depression has followed. People are out of work. Production and distribution of food has declined far below previous levels and food has become scarce. Because of the decline in morality in the nation, many have turned to crime to try to sustain themselves. It is more than the police or military can deal with. The President has declared martial law and even turned to the United Nations Peacekeeping forces to maintain internal order in the cities and even in many rural areas. Chaos and violence spread throughout the land, with only a few isolated pockets of peace and order. National political leaders have realized that all the regulatory efforts of government have become ineffective. Some who held political office for ambition and avarice have quit, because there is no more power or monetary advantages.
"The economic consequences had similar drastic results in all the leading industrial nations. The UN was left vacant; world manufacturing and business became basically defunct; nearly the entire world was engaged in some sort of war. In 2015 the wars escalated and an exchange of nuclear detonations wiped out the major cities in Europe, Asia, and the Eastern American seaboard. With little left to fight for, and in the aftermath of the nuclear blasts, the wars ended.
"For the first few years after the war, people around the world banded into small communities and focused on survival and sustenance. On the local level some areas prospered, but many did not. Some places faced widespread famine, petty bickering and disagreement, and even occasional violence.
"This Simulation is set in the year 2031. A number of influential people, including religious leaders, have suggested that something be done to reinvigorate the United States of America. Their first suggestion is to take another look at the U. S. Constitution and, in the format of a Constitutional Convention, make whatever changes need to be made to create the freedom, prosperity, and peace we once enjoyed in America. You have been invited as a delegate from your state to take part in this Convention.
"As a delegate, you will want to make use of your understanding of correct principles of good government and how sovereignty, human nature, and the lessons of history should be balanced to create order and liberty with unity. This must be accomplished in a written document, which will then be ratified by the people of the states." (This is a modified version of a scenario written by Dr. Oliver DeMille for a simulated convention held at George Wythe College)
What Proposals Would You Make?
That's the charge. I would like to extend an invitation to each of you who receive this newsletter to give your thoughtful input into this process. There are intelligent, experienced constitutionalists all over this land who surely have ideas for such a valuable cause. Here are a few teaser questions which my students have dealt with over the years. We ask you for your input on these or other issues you feel strongly about:
- Recognizing the Constitution as a "miracle" as described by Washington and Madison, would you favor merely adopting the Constitution in its original form as it was signed on September 17, 1787?
- Are there any amendments you would keep? If this is a new document you would probably not want it to have amendments right off. If you like some ideas in some amendments, where would you incorporate them into the body of the document?
- Having an understanding of human nature and what happens to even the best documents over time, would you want to put clarifying language or explanations into the Constitution to prevent misunderstandings of certain phrases such as the general welfare clause or the interstate commerce clause?
- What about the regulatory agencies of government such as the EPA, OSHA, Food and Drug, etc.?
- What about salaries of federal officials and should they continue to be paid from the federal treasury?
- How would you correct our monetary system and who would be in charge?
- What do you do with programs like Social Security?
- The original Constitution outlined approximately twenty powers for Congress, six areas of responsibility for the president, and eleven kinds of cases to be handled by the federal courts. Would you add more or take some away?
- What would you do with the provisions in the Constitutions and amendments dealing with slavery?
- The Founders left voting eligibility up to the states. The federal government has taken over some of those decisions. At what level would you put those problems?
- Would you make any changes in the responsibility for the postal system?
- How would you make any clarifications with respect to ownership of federal lands?
- Would you clarify the federal government's role in education?
- What about the cabinet level agencies of the executive branch? Are they all needed now?
- What would you do with the Indian tribes? Any modification with respect to the federal government's role in dealing directly with the native Americans?
- Are there any changes you would like to see with regards to immigration and our borders?
- What about the definition of marriage?
- Would you place any term limits on any public official, such as our current 22 nd Amendment?
- How would you change any war powers of the president or of congress?
- Would you want to clarify the federal government's role in matters dealing with religion, abortion, the Ten Commandments, etc.
- What about taxes? What kind should the federal government be allowed to use?
- Would you keep or modify Madison's philosophy concerning the assignment of powers between the states and the federal government when he said:
"The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite. The former [federal powers] will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce.... The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State."
- Should anything be put into the Constitution which would clarify our position on foreign policy?
- What about the problem of debauchery in interstate commerce-such things as pornography transmitted by satellite or the internet? Should this be a federal issue?
Would you want to address the issue of lawmaking by the executive and judicial branches?
Once again, we welcome your input on any of these or other issues. One of the most difficult things to do is to come up with wording which does what you want but not more than you want, and which cannot be misinterpreted years later.
My students get so much into this procedure that it nearly consumes all their time. Some get very passionate about it. There are some issues that bring out a student's feeling more than any other classroom project we have done. Some very heated discussions have taken place in our simulation. And this is from students who basically have the same beliefs and have been schooled in the same principles of constitutional government. As was the case in the original convention a student will sometimes propose having a prayer to help bring unity to the group. Many times the discussions in our first period class become the discussion in all other classes because the students feel so intense about them.
At the end of the simulation, which is just before the end of school and graduation, we set aside a day for adopting and signing the constitution. It is always a sobering time.
I don't know if there will ever come a time when the finished document will be of any further value. But one thing I do know, and that is there are some who will have thought through what should be done and they are better prepared if ever asked to help restore the Constitution of the United States.
Earl Taylor, Jr.