One of the arguments used by those who refuse to accept the requirements and limitations of the Constitution is the modern liberal doctrine, “a living Constitution”. Under this doctrine, it is claimed that the Constitution, as written, is outdated and not germane to the modern issues we face today as a nation. A companion view is that the Framers deliberately made certain parts of it vague so that it could be interpreted to fit future needs. Both of these arguments are easily refuted if one understands the purpose of constitutions in republican forms of government.
The first principle of republicanism is “rule of law”. A constitution is a particular type of law that specifies what government is and is not allowed to do. In other words, a constitution’s function is to limit the powers of government, not govern the activities of citizens. Citizen actions are restricted by statutory law; government actions are restricted by the Constitution.
Our Constitution is also a legal contract between the people, the states and the federal government setting forth the powers that are delegated to the federal government and those that are reserved to the states and the people. Like all contracts, the Constitution is binding in perpetuity unless amended by the consent of all parties involved.
The Founders did not believe they had written a perfect document or that they had created the perfect form of government. They recognized that the world a hundred or two-hundred years in the future would probably be quite different from the one they lived in. To accommodate the progress of knowledge and experience and the changing needs that would engender, they provided the means for amending the Constitution in Article V.
At the same time, they were fully aware of the lust for power by ambitious politicians and the fickleness of public opinion. To guard against these two foibles of human nature, they made the process for amending the Constitution stringent enough to prevent hasty changes made in the heat of partisan fervor or the pressure of popular political movements. The difficulty of getting an ill-advised amendment successfully through the amendment process is what motivated the false liberal rationale of viewing the Constitution as a living document.
An objective reading of the Constitution without the legal and political interpretations imposed on our thinking by partisan opinions over the past two hundred years will disprove the claim of vagueness. The directness and specificity of the Constitution is what makes it valuable and easily understandble to the average citizen without legal training. There are a few words whose meaning have been changed over time by popular usage, but their original meaning can be easily ascertained by consulting writers of the late nineteenth century, especially those of the Federalist and anti-federalists among the Founders.
Excellent article, except the word contract. The U.S. Constitution binds present and future government Officials forevermore, into perpetuity (to “support” it). A contract cannot bind the yet unborn.