The Making of America's Constitution
Exploring Its Substance and Meaning
Can we as a nation pay any greater tribute to America's Founders than studying the inspired document they left us? In W. Cleon Skousen's classic book, The Making of America , he pays tribute to the Founders as follows:
- They created the first free people to survive as a nation in modern times.
- They wrote a new kind of Constitution, which is now the oldest in existence.
- They built a new kind of commonwealth designed as a model for the whole human race.
- They believed it was thoroughly possible to create a new kind of civilization, providing freedom, equality, and justice for all.
- They envisioned a vast commonwealth of freedom which would encompass all North America, and accommodate, as John Adams said, "two to three hundred million freemen."
- They created an expansive new cultural climate that gave eagle's wings to the human spirit.
- They encouraged exploration and technology to reveal the secrets of the universe.
- They built a free-enterprise culture to promote millions of jobs and unprecedented prosperity.
- They invented, for the world as well as themselves, a whole new formula for happiness and success.
- They offered the human race a potential future filled with the ultimate hope of the human heart -- a world of universal freedom, universal prosperity, and universal peace.
Our challenge is to correctly understand what the Founders gave us
The Founders left no doubt as to how this document should be implemented. When Thomas Jefferson became President he reminded us how we should interpret this wonderful charter of liberty:
"The Constitution on which our Union rests shall be administered by me according to the safe and honest meaning contemplated by the plain understanding of the people of the United States at the time of its adoption -- a meaning to be found in the explanations of those who advocated, not those who opposed it.... These explanations are preserved in the publications of the time."
Later, he emphasized the same views:
"On every question of construction, [let us] 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."
Jefferson felt the Constitution should be interpreted strictly. He wrote: "When an instrument admits two constructions, the one safe, the other dangerous, the one precise, the other indefinite, I prefer that which is safe and precise. I had rather ask an enlargement of power from the nation, where it is found necessary, than to assume it by a construction which would make our powers boundless. Our peculiar security is in the possession of a written Constitution. Let us not make it a blank paper by construction."
These comments are similar to those expressed by the other leaders in the early chapters of the country's history. Chief Justice Taney expressed the traditional view of the Founders when he wrote:
"It [the Constitution] speaks not only in the same words, but with the same meaning and intent with which it spoke when it came from the hands of its framers, and was voted on and adopted by the people of the United States. Any other rule of construction would abrogate the judicial character of the Court and make it the mere reflect of the popular opinion or passion of the day."
The Founders would hardly recognize their Constitution today
To appreciate how far we have strayed, let us examine the words of a notable constitutional authority, Edwin S. Corwin, who wrote The Constitution of the United States, Annotated , an official government publication. He points out that the Supreme Court has passed through four identifiable stages of development, which may be summarized as follows:
There was the John Marshall period when the Constitution was used to establish "national supremacy." The Federalist Papers and the words of the Founders were almost the exclusive guide to constitutional interpretations during this first period.
The second period began with the appointment of Chief Justice Taney in 1835 and extended to approximately 1895. During this period the Supreme Court leaned heavily on various doctrines of constitutional theory and seldom quoted the Founders or the Federalist Papers. Nevertheless, the Court adhered rather strictly to the philosophy of the Founders, even though they seldom quoted them.
Beginning around 1895, the Supreme Court moved into a third phase by gradually replacing constitutional supremacy with judicial supremacy. The Constitution was no longer what the Founders said it was, but rather what the Supreme Court said it was. To quote Dr. Corwin:
"It was early in this period that Governor [Charles Evans] Hughes, soon to ascend the Bench [and later serve as Chief Justice from 1930 to 1941] said, without perhaps intending all that his words literally conveyed, 'We are under a Constitution, but the Constitution is what the judges say it is.' ... Senator Borah, in the Senate debate on Mr. Hughes' nomination for Chief Justice, in 1930, declared that the Supreme Court had become 'economic dictator in the United States.' Some of the Justices concurred in these observations, especially Justices Holmes and Brandeis. Asserted the latter, the Court had made itself 'a super-legislature' and Justice Holmes could discover 'hardly any limit but the sky to the power claimed by the Court to disallow State acts' which may happen to strike a majority [of its members] as for any reason undesirable."
The final period is one which is continuing today. It is the spectacle of a judiciary virtually out of control and seriously in need of repair by a constitutional amendment. As Edwin Corwin writes:
"What was once vaunted as a Constitution of Rights, both State rights and private rights, has been replaced to a great extent by a Constitution of Powers. The Federal system has shifted base in the direction of a consolidated national power; within the National Government itself there has been an increased flow of power in the direction of the President; even judicial enforcement of the Bill of Rights has faltered at times, in the presence of national emergency." (See The Making of America , pp. 575-578)
NCCS invites all Americans to study the Constitution in the Founders' own words
May we suggest three ways to do this:
- Read and ponder the Constitution document itself. NCCS has distributed over one million pocket-size copies and has just printed another million copies of this inspired charter of liberty. Our goal is to flood the nation with its wisdom before the elections this year. As you have noticed from our last few letters, we have packaged 100 copies at such a low price that they can be obtained by nearly everyone to distribute to friends, schools, and businesses, especially during September's Constitution Week.
- Sponsor or attend a Making of America one-day seminar. Let us know if you would like to host one in your area or check our website to see if a seminar is coming to a place near you. These events are very successful on building excitement for, and an understanding of, the Constitution.
- Study the Constitution in depth by taking our two-semester course online at www.halearn.com. These courses were developed and video recorded at Heritage Academy in Mesa, Arizona.
American Government Part I is a study of The 5000 Year Leap and the Twenty-eight Principles of Liberty that form the basis of our constitution. It contains 27 lessons.
American Government Part II is a study of The Making of America. Here you will read the words of the Founders themselves as they explain the substance and meaning of each individual item in the Constitution. As a successful student, you can say you have read Madison or Jefferson or Washington or any number of dozens of others who explain in unmistakable words the reason for including that provision in the Constitution and, more importantly, what it means. Part II contains 47 lessons.
Each part contains lessons with video instruction recorded in the classroom and combined with PowerPoint presentations to ensure the student learns the main points. Quizzes and examinations, which are computer scored, are given throughout the courses. Other activities are uploaded directly to the instructor. If desired, an accredited transcript may be obtained giving one full high school credit for completing the course. Some high school students are taking this course to free up some time in their schedule during their senior year. The two parts of this course contain probably the most in-depth learning experience one can undertake in gaining an understanding of the Founders formula for freedom. It is our attempt to bring to people what Jefferson expressed as ".the safe and honest meaning contemplated by the plain understanding of the people of the United States at the time of its [the Constitution's] adoption -- a meaning to be found in the explanations of those who advocated.it."
Here is a sample of some of the Constitutional questions you will learn answers for in this course:
- What is the best kind of tax for governments to levy?
- A tax on __________ goods, called a _______, would be sufficient to operate the federal government in peacetime according to the Founders. Is this a direct or an indirect tax?
- For what two best reasons would this not be practical during an emergency such as war?
- War necessitates a greater amount of money than tariffs would generate.
- Citizens would be hurting for money and therefore not be buying goods.
- During war there would be very little imported goods
- Citizens would refuse to buy goods from foreign countries
- During emergencies the Founders envisioned the federal government turning inward to the states and people, providing its taxes were based on _______________ and not on wealth or income.
- Why is Article I, Section I known as the power plant of the constitution?
- It is the section which gives the president power to officiate in his office
- It is the section which empowers the federal courts to declare laws unconstitutional.
- It is the section which conveys to congress power from the people to make laws
- It is the section which protects people against unjust laws.
- Give the order of the stages in which unconstitutional presidential power has evolved.
- ____Strong president stage
- ____Constitutional theory stage
- ____Out of control stage
- ____Constitutional stage
- Which president said he could do anything unless forbidden in the Constitution?
- What different kinds of temptations would members of the House yield to with respect to federal money that the Founders felt Senators elected by state legislatures would probably resist?
- Federal welfare programs to individuals
- Federal mandates on the states
- Federal price supports for farmers
- Federal subsidies to local cities
- What did the Founders mean by "general welfare"?
- Items that would benefit only the entire nation.
- Welfare for everyone in the nation
- Welfare in general
- Welfare for the truly needy
- How does the Supreme Court justify a graduated income tax in light of the constitutional uniformity requirement?
- As long as the IRS officers are wearing uniforms, it meets the uniformity requirement.
- The Founders could not have meant that all would be taxed the same because some people have more ability to pay than others.
- If the graduation is the same in every location in the nation, it is considered geographically uniform.
- All levels of government must use the same schedule of graduated taxes.
Thank you for helping us popularize the Constitution of the United States once again.
Earl Taylor, Jr.
PS Answers to quiz: 1) b, 2) imported, tariff, indirect, 3) a,c, 4) population, 5) c, 6) 3,2,4,1, 7) Theodore Roosevelt, 8) a,b,c,d, 9) a, 10) c