A Guide to ‘Defending the Constitution’

A Guide to ‘Defending the Constitution’
Page one of the officially engrossed copy of the Constitution signed by delegates. A print run of 500 copies of the final version preceded this copy. (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)
Rob Natelson
Self-governing citizens in a free republic need to know the structure of their government and the content of its principal laws. For Americans, that requires a basic knowledge of the U.S. Constitution.
Ideally, we should acquire this information in school, so as adults we need only burnish it from time to time.
However, modern Americans seeking to learn about their Constitution face some obstacles. My Epoch Times columns—including this “Defending the Constitution” series—are designed to help readers overcome them.
The obstacles to learning about the Constitution are four:
First: Many schools no longer teach the Constitution accurately. When one of my daughters was in public high school, I read the relatively short segment of her social studies text devoted to the document. I found that segment to be loaded with errors. When I composed a letter to her teacher reporting on the mistakes, it consumed several single-spaced pages merely to recite them.
Second: Although the Constitution is a brilliant document, it also is an old one. The Framers who wrote it and the Founders who promoted it were products of the classical and biblical educational canon and of the 18th-century Anglo-American legal system. Most schools have abandoned the classical and biblical educational canon, and even constitutional law professors are ignorant of the 18th-century legal system. Learning about the Constitution requires recapturing at least some of this background.
Third: Our public discourse has been poisoned by misinformation and disinformation about the Constitution. The misinformation is the product of ignorance. The disinformation is manufactured to demoralize us.
Fourth: Some well-meaning but utterly unqualified people have set themselves up as experts who pretend to teach the Constitution to others. They lure thousands of American patriots into attending classes and seminars that spread inaccuracies.

The Epoch Times Columns

My Epoch Times columns are designed to help Americans access truthful and useful information about the Constitution. Some columns discuss recent court decisions. For example, I recently examined the implications of the new and intriguing Supreme Court case of United States v. Vaello Madero. Others correct inaccurate and misleading characterizations, such as the mainstream media line that the Supreme Court now has a 6-3 conservative majority.
Columns in my “Understanding the Constitution” series focus on the document’s nuts and bolts. The series on “How the Supreme Court Re-Wrote the Constitution” discusses the most important reason the Supreme Court’s constitutional precedents vary significantly from the written text.
Finally, the “Defending the Constitution” essays reproduced here primarily correct common misconceptions about the document.
When I wrote the “Defending the Constitution” essays, I had no thought that they would be presented in a single publication.  For this occasion, therefore, I’ve edited and rearranged them so the subject matter flows more smoothly. I’ve also made minor stylistic and updating changes.

How ‘Defending the Constitution’ Is Organized

After this introduction, the “Defending the Constitution” series contains 10 essays. The first two provide groundwork. They explain that, while the Constitution is many things, it's principally a document by which “We the People” granted enumerated (listed) powers to designated agents. As I point out, during the 18th century, documents transferring enumerated powers to agents were extremely common—as they still are today.
Key to understanding enumerated power documents is to know the both content of the authority granted and the limits on that authority.
The rest of the “Defending the Constitution” series corrects misconceptions about the instrument. The third essay addresses the belief, prevalent even among judges and scholars, that many of the document’s words and phrases have no clear meaning. As this essay demonstrates, the charge of “vagueness” is mostly the product of ignorance.
The fourth essay responds to assertions that the Second Amendment, which protects the right to keep and bear arms, is outdated. It concludes that no relevant changes in American life render the Second Amendment outdated; on the contrary, several changes in American life suggest the amendment should be strengthened.
The next essay takes on the “living Constitution” theory. It points out that, as a practical matter, most advocates of this notion seek not a living document but a dead one. Or, more precisely, that they seek to revert to the British system, in which national politicians ultimately have power to do anything they choose.
The sixth essay corrects a very old slander against the Constitution’s Framers: that the states gave them authority only to propose amendments to the Articles of Confederation, but they exceeded that authority by proposing a new basic law. This slander, which originated in attacks on the Constitution during the ratification debates of 1787-1790, has been discredited by modern scholarship.
The next column examines why the Constitution requires equality of state representation in the U.S. Senate. The rule that South Dakota must have the same number of senators as New York is the subject of frequent complaint—although not, I admit, from South Dakota. As is true of critics of the Electoral College, critics of the Senate’s rule of state equality fail to grasp all the reasons behind the rule. Nor do they understand how historical practice has vindicated it.
The last three essays address the omnipresent charges that the Constitution is racist and sexist. These essays show that
  • the document was not designed to protect slavery,
  • the much-maligned “Three-Fifths Compromise” actually was a negative statement on slavery, and
  • the Framers of the document ensured it treated women the same way it treated men.
I hope you find the “Defending the Constitution” series both helpful and interesting.

Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.
Robert G. Natelson, a former constitutional law professor who is senior fellow in constitutional jurisprudence at the Independence Institute in Denver, authored “The Original Constitution: What It Actually Said and Meant” (3rd ed., 2015). He is a contributor to The Heritage Foundation’s “Heritage Guide to the Constitution.”
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