The Second Constitutional Convention
© Jay Harden
I have a question to ask, and nowhere to take it for a definitive answer. It’s an important question in my mind that will not leave my consciousness and naturally raises more.
In my imagination, the Founding Fathers (the delegates who attended our original Constitutional Convention during four months of 1787) have come back to life in the present, still possessing their inherent integrity and the knowledge of all the intervening American experience with their Great Experiment, to reconvene the convention and assess and repair their original work, of necessity a compromise that since then has provided pure grist of experience for learning. Also in attendance, of course, would be their equivalent inspired colleagues from the states that have since joined (and in some cases, rejoined) the United States.
I suspect they first would marvel at how well the Great Experiment has worked for over 200 years. And I also suspect they would be astounded at the things we have struggled with since then because that great document turned out to be less than they had hoped.
So, out of a burning curiosity, I wonder how they would consider the condition of the Constitution today. What would they keep? What would they discard? What would they add? What would they change? And what would they avoid? What would they say about national indebtedness and newer forms of travel, even outer space? Just a short list of issues boggle the mind, especially to lessen the burden of laws and their understanding.
You see, my main concern is that their precious document, so wonderful for so long, may not endure the volatility of our future – so intertwined now with that of the entire world – and the Great Experiment may eventually fail from overlooked flaws. History tells me that eventually this will happen, because it has always happened with every previous civilization and government. But history is not tomorrow and anything is possible.
I do not pretend that America is the supreme divine gift to humankind; rather, I worry for the unrealized hope that our country offers the world. It seems that we Americans are in a position unknown to history to use our prosperity, our spirit, our creativity, our ingenuity, our global understanding – and yes, our great, unchallenged power – to shift the energy of the planet in an irreversible, positive way. I think we know more than others about individual relationships and international relationships, about liberty and law, about rights and responsibilities, about consideration and compromise, about respect and compassion, and about the need and risks of belief systems.
I have my own suspicions about the marvels of their work. The Preamble is inspired guidance, beginning with the supreme trust in the people (that’s you and me) to determine our destiny. The separation of power was a masterstroke, as well as its diffusion. This built in frustration has served us well and kept our common sense grounded in the possible.
The rule of law provided by the Constitution seems to be the foundation for our democracy. Actually, I suspect it is the foundation for any enduring form of government that unifies diverse peoples.
And I have my own disappointments. The document fails to realize all the promises of the Preamble. Many rights are mentioned, but no responsibilities – like an unappreciated gift to a selfish child. There is no mention of education, no mention of women, and no mention of the children, who, by the way, are the only future we and our world will ever have.
The separation of power has cracks exposed by new enemies of America and the world unanticipated even a few years ago, enemies who want, for minimum effort, the best of what we have, combined with their own incompatible beliefs. The amendment process built in a way to maintain quality over time, but it does not seem adequate to address some fundamental oversights, especially the really complex ones. And I have my doubts about the necessity of the Electoral College for today.
Even though I still agree with Jefferson that the government is best that governs least, I would like to see more federal responsibility in crucial common areas (such as disaster relief), leaving fewer unaddressed issues to the individual states. It seems we started out as an association of 13 nations and never became really united until we slaughtered millions of each other in a civil war, whose scars still await full healing.
I can’t say if any members of my imaginary convention would agree or disagree with me or if they would change the framework of our nation at all. But I would give anything to eavesdrop on their closed debates and see how their process worked compared to the present one. And I would like to be invited to participate. But the biggest reward of all would be the see the results of their revised work. I’m sure it would be a centerpiece for a unifying, national debate that would result in marvels of improvements appropriate for the increasing pace of change in the world that would help bloom this planet into a leap of longevity, peace, freedom, and advancement to shift the history of history.