Is the Constitution a Living or Dead Document?*
There is a question circling around our country. From the halls and rooms of the U.S. Capitol, to courtrooms and lawyer’s offices nationwide, right down to citizen’s homes, there is a question being asked. Is the Constitution living or dead? Well, is it?
First we must understand what they mean by ‘living’ and ‘dead’. If the Constitution is a living document that would mean that it could be ‘updated’ in the sense that it could be made to fit the modern interpretations and moral code of the present day. If it is a dead document that would mean it is supposed to be used and interpreted the way the framers and signers meant.
I vote for the second definition. We have a way to update and add to the Constitution as the world changes. The Founding Fathers knew that there would be future events that would cause changes needing to be made in the Constitution. Hence, Article V in the Constitution. Article V, gives Congress the power to when they think it necessary, to make amendments.
One of the most major amendments in our Constitution was after the Civil War, when the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments were made. Major in the sense they brought a large change about in our country. Even though there were problems and abuses for many years afterwards, these amendments brought radical change. Slavery had been part of our country since the beginning, and then suddenly it was gone, outlawed. There were places in our country it was outlawed before but never in all of the country. Those amendments were far-reaching and drastic.
So to get back to my point; we have a way to, as they come up, make needed changes. What we don’t or shouldn’t have, are ways to subject our Constitution to the ideas and moral standards of judges and lawyers. So let’s say, the Constitution is a ‘living’ document. Who defines what changes we can make? What changes could we make? Whose moral code do we follow? Are the changes to be made a by a select few or are the people going to vote to choose which ones go through? How many changes could we make before we just rewrote the whole thing?
Think about it, if people were allowed to make changes to the Constitution, how far is too far? If you give it some thought you could conceive the idea that if we were allowed to make any change we wanted, some might think it would be better to rewrite the whole Constitution to fit the moral code and issues of today.
The Constitution has lasted this long and it has done fine going through the different changes in society. What is an issue now may not be an issue later; instead there will be new issues as time changes. Take the drone debate, there was no debate fifty years ago. Come to think of it, there weren’t any drones at that time. Unless you know something I don’t, I mean, it’s not like I was alive back then.
So the issues we think are so important right now might be irrelevant in fifty, thirty, maybe even twenty years from now. The Constitution is timeless. It is a set of basic laws as to what our government can and can’t do. It is the basis for our government. People talk about how much control the government has over our lives. Think of how much more control they might have if they were able to rewrite the Constitution to how they think it should be.
So if the Constitution is a ‘dead’ document, we use it in the way the framers meant. We stay true to the original meaning. We take it for what it says and stop trying to mold it to what we want it to say. The Constitution says, what it says; stop trying to add in what you think because of it general phrasing.
This is my opinion. That the Constitution is to be used as the framers and writers wrote it. It is to be used how they intended the Constitution to be used. Issues can be, and have been resolved. We cannot make the Constitution fit our whims, whims change; hence the word whims. So that’s where we stand. I think that the Constitution is a ‘dead’ document. But it is full of meaning and is still relevant to this day.
Emily L. Wardwell 4/5/13 *I wrote this for my government course in school last April.