Monday, September 17, 2012

Today is the 225th anniversary of the signing of the United States Constitution. It is the product of a long summer of compromises, and has proved to be a flexible document, adaptable to issues that couldn't have been imagined when it was written.

Compromise and flexibility are at the center of that document. It wasn't always pretty. In fact, sometimes it was pretty ugly. The southern states, which didn't want to recognize slaves as human beings much less allow them to vote, cynically wanted to count them in their populations so that they could get more representation in Congress. The compromise was to count the slave population as three-fifths of what it really was.

By any measure that was unprincipled. If slaves were property, then how could they be counted even partially as human beings? By locking in higher representation for the slave states, the Constitution guaranteed a long fight to end the peculiar institution. But it worked to get the document approved.

So, the Constitution wasn't a perfect document. It was born with deep flaws but it survives because it contained the means for evolution and change -- it can be amended, and it can be dragged into the present day through court interpretations of its meaning.

On this anniversary, it's good to remind ourselves that compromise and flexibility are at the very heart of the United States of America. Those who disdain those things, whether of the right or left, are truly un-American.

No comments:

Post a Comment