Did Founding Fathers have crystal ball?
By Martin Hackworth
Imagine that your dad, great man that he was, had a few issues. Maybe he occasionally drank a little, perhaps he treated your mom poorly from time to time, maybe he didn’t get you the LEGO set that you wanted for your fifth birthday. You’d still love and respect him because he’s your old man, but you’d know that there were limits to his sagaciousness.
Now imagine that your dad was a bit more troubled. What if, for instance, he didn’t think that you were smart enough manage your own destiny and took steps to prevent you from doing so? What if he brought people over from a foreign country and forced them to work as indentured servants around your home? What if he had multiple affairs with women other than your mom and met his end in a fight? Now I don’t know for sure, but I suspect you might not think that he was the end all and be all of wisdom. You might even be disenchanted enough spit on the ground every time his name came up. I doubt, at any rate, that you’d spend the rest of your days deifying him and I’d be willing to bet more than I could afford to lose that you would not, under any circumstances, use his life as a test of moral turpitude and enshrine his wishes into law for all future generations.
Then why, I ask, do we as a society do every bit of the above by offering up so much devotion to the wishes of our Founding Fathers, and treating the Constitution they crafted as if it came from a burning bush?
Look, don’t get me wrong. I respect the Founding Fathers. I understand that Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Hamilton, et. al., faced enormous political obstacles yet achieved some monumentally great things. Sometimes the whole really is greater than the sum of its parts. Our founders didn’t have a crystal ball, where not omniscient and put on their pants one leg at a time just like everyone else. It’s an imperfect world – and the founders were aware of this. But the Founding Fathers seemed to have had a much better perspective on their own limitations that a lot of those who’ve followed in their footsteps. So to you strict Constitutionalists and fervent devotees to the wishes of the Founding Fathers two plus centuries later I have but one question. Are you out of your minds?
When modern day purists exhibit unwavering and rigid devotion to a series of long-in-the-tooth principles because they continue to serve us “well,” I am really curious as to exactly how they define “well?” I am to believe that the Second Amendment, written at a time when the bow and arrow and trebuchet were not yet completely out of fashion, is now supposed to contain all of the wisdom in the world concerning modern weapons and societal problems? I am supposed to take at face value the notion that the First Amendment, crafted two centuries before the Internet and Citizens United, is sacrosanct? That privacy, something that was taken for granted 237 years ago, was deliberately left unaddressed in crafting the Constitution? And further, that ideals forged when America was composed of 13 states and a population of about 3 million, when Congress had only 26 senators and 65 representatives and the Mississippi River was the West Coast, are supposed to adequately guide a modern nation of 50 states, 300+ million citizens with drones, satellites, and tactical nuclear weapons from sea to shining sea? That sort of boggles the mind when you give it some thought, doesn’t it?
When Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia recently opined that the Constitution was “dead, dead, dead,” my immediate thought was “just like your brain.” Even the framers didn’t think that highly of what they wrought. The U.S. Constitution sets up a series of checks and balances we all live by and contains, itself, a self-correcting mechanism of amendment. But there is just no way that the Framers could have envisioned how the country that they founded would grow and evolve while many of its guiding principles remained virtually static. The Constitution is supposed to have some inertia – mainly to protect the rights of the most vulnerable – but it’s not supposed to be effectively impossible to adapt.
I think that it is high time that we began to reconsider the Constitution as a living document. I’m not convinced that the Founding Fathers intended for the Constitution to be used, for instance, as an excuse to allow rich corporations an outsized influence in elections, or to allow crazy people access to weapons that they need to mow down a classroom full of school children. I don’t think the Founders would see it that way either.
Award-winning columnist Martin Hackworth of Pocatello is a physicist and the editor of MotorcycleJazz.com.