On the 245th anniversary of the Constitution, does it still serve us?

William Fisher, Online Editor-In-Chief

  This year, specifically September 17th, marks the 245th anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution, which was signed in 1787 by delegates from 12 of the then 13 U.S. states. It replaced the first U.S. constitution, the Articles of Confederation, which gave the states significantly more power than the federal government. On this historic anniversary however, how well does the Constitution still serve the U.S. today?

  When the Constitution was made all the way back in the 1700’s, it was in many ways revolutionary compared to the governments of the time. It was heavily influenced and based on the ideals of the enlightenment. 

  Susan Theotokatos, social studies teacher, explained just how starkly the government of the constitution contrasted with the government’s of Europe. “All of the European countries were ruled by a hereditary monarchy that was based on divine right of kings. The concepts expressed within this new government were discussed and written about throughout the 1700s in salons and pamphlets by philosophers. These concepts such as “checks and balances” were “revolutionary” because they constituted a deep change in governance.” said Theotokatos.

  She also described the group of people that largely made the constitution, “A number of educated males who were in various levels involved in the revolution. Many of them young- in their 30s.” stated Theotokatos.

  However, the constitution was not revolutionary in every sense. Particularly the social makeup of the country’s upper class and those in power, which largely stayed the same as it was during colonial times.

  Neil McCarthy, social studies teacher, elaborated on this. “In many ways it was the status quo, that is during the colonial period it was large landowners who really ran the show and some wealthy merchants in cities like New York and Boston. Those families continued to dominate their economies and politics, so in that sense, no, it’s not that radical at all,” said McCarthy.

  Slavery was also a major part of the Constitution, despite the line “all men are created equal” in the Declaration of Independence. Slavery was very much embedded in the Constitution, with provisions making it illegal for Congress to end the slave trade until 1808, enslaved people counting as ⅗ of a person so the slave states could have more power, and a clause that requires an escaped slave to be returned to it’s owner, whether or not the slave was in a state that had banned slavery. 

  Theotokatos said that these compromises between the free states of the north and slaves states of the south were all put in place to “appease southern states.” During the creation of the Constitution there was a serious and realistic concern that if slavery was not protected the southern states would walk out. 

  However, 245 years have passed since the creation of the Constitution, so how well does it still serve the United States today?

  Andrew Hood, social studies teacher, addressed this question. “I think our Constitution is a little outdated sometimes. You look at different aspects of our Constitution, they haven’t been changed since the 17, 1800’s. Our last amendment was in the 1990’s and we haven’t really changed any amendments for the last 30 years or so. A lot of modern constitutions from around the world have been developed in the 20th century. Ours hasn’t really been updated since then, so (the Constitution was) revolutionary at birth, but I think we have a lot of growing to do to be a little more relevant with the times we live in,” stated Hood. 

  McCarthy also addressed the topic of upholding those original great ideals of the constitution while updating it to the modern age, “A lot of people like to call it an owners manual, like this is how the republic works. Well that’s how it worked in the 1780’s and 90’s, but if you’re going to go with an owner’s manual analogy, technologies and societies have advanced, so the manual is also out of date, but there’s a lot of machinery in the Constitution that’s great. The original spirit of it, checks and balances and so on, institutional independence, things like that, are really valuable. We’ve got to find a way to hold on to those continuities and get rid of the appendix  that doesn’t need to be there; [it] tends to thwart our progress as a republic,” said McCarthy. 

  Hood also elaborated on how the constitution has failed to really update to the times. “I would say (the Constitution has evolved) slowly, methodically, not at pace with the changes of society, with the new technology and new morals and new beliefs that we have that we did not share maybe back then but now we have today. I would say we could do a better job of evolving our constitution to reflect our current beliefs and current access to technology…I think we’re [headed] in the right direction though,” stated Hood.

  While there is an amendment process in the Constitution, any amendment requires ⅔ of both houses to approve and ¾ of the states as well, a percentage which seems increasingly unlikely due to the growing political divide between the two major parties. 

  McCarthy further explained this issue. “If [the amendment process] could be easier, instead of three quarters of the states, two thirds of the senate; there’s such a deadlock in this duopoly, maybe with the amendment process… [we] could jettison things like the Electoral College,” said McCarthy, who also explained the backwardness of the Electoral College. “The Electoral College is one of these old vestiges that probably needs to go because now in too many cases the president has lost the popular vote but won the Electoral College. There’s no other republic on the planet that does anything like that,” stated McCarthy. 

  Despite the Constitution’s problems it is the oldest active codified constitution and one of the first constitutions which truly exemplified the ideas of liberty. Thus it has inspired many of the constitutions across the globe.

  Hood stated, “Our constitution has benefited our allies and it’s also benefited our enemies. I think former colonies or allies still agree that we need a rule of law; we need a consent doctrine, a way to give legitimacy to a government, but also we need a government that preserves the rights of individuals and protects our freedoms and liberties.”