Strictly Reading the Constitution

I saw a bit of a program on PBS last night, showing a 1960’s photo of George Wallace, one time governor of Alabama, proclaiming that segregation would be the rule in Alabama forever. In the background was a banner emblazoned with the motto, “States’ Rights.”
It strikes me as no coincidence that “states’ rights” and blatant racism were joined as one message. To a very large degree, it seems, many of those conservatives now calling for increased states’ rights are trying very hard to undo the effects of the Civil War and return us to a time when individual states could be the home of unspeakable evils. It is not that all or even most conservatives espouse evil, of course, but that they want to return us to a time when each state could determine its own character.
Many of those states stood strongly for some terrible evils. And, I fear, many of their citizens still do.
I hear many cries to defend the Constitution and return to a strict reading of it. That sounds very good to me, so long as those who defend the Constitution can distinguish between those parts of the Constitution which reflect real wisdom and those parts who reflect evil.
Evil in the Constitution? How can I say such a thing? Have you read Article I, Section 2 lately? For the purposes of taxation and for determining each state’s proper number of representatives, the people are to be counted thusly: All free persons (except Indians who are exempt from taxation), all indentured servants (i.e., those required by contract to serve another for a specified period of time), and three fifths of all others. Who are those “others” who count only as 60% citizens? Slaves, almost exclusively Black slaves. This injustice, required to appease the southern states, was not corrected until after the Civil War.
I fear those who want us to return to a pre-Civil War mentality. They are opening doors that badly needed to be shut.
Those who demand a strict reading of the Constitution also need to be clear that the Constitution from the beginning was a flawed document that badly needed immediate repair in the form of amendments, some of the most basic and important of which were not possible until after the Civil War. The 13th and 14th Amendments were necessary correctives.
There is no question that the United States Constitution is one of the greatest documents in the political history of the West but it not some infallible Word of God. It was created by some brilliant men representing states which had been from the beginning quite unlike one another in many ways. The shape of the Constitution and of the government it outlines is the fruit of innumerable compromises made by the signers.
Why, then, do the present-day Strict Readers so abhor compromise?


About mthayes42

I am a retired pastor, interested in the Bible, cross-cultural ministries, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and the current and past history of western civilization.
This entry was posted in History of Western Civilization, Modern Culture and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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