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“I know of no one in 1776 that anticipated the kind of federal government that emerged 10 years later,” Wood adds. “Something awful had to happen in those 10 years to explain the Constitution. I find that it’s harder to explain the Constitution than it is to explain the Revolution itself.”
That is a fascinating perspective, and I encountered something like it but not that focused fifty years ago at William and Mary. It seems to have acquired additional support and analysis since that time. I follow history but not historians and did not know this. Thank you greatly.
Assistant Village Idiot
We were taught way back in school that the Articles of Confederation were so loose the founders ahd to tighten them up as the Constitution. Those same founders would wonder how we still call this a Constitution with limited Federal powers.
William Gladstone described the U.S. Constitution as "the most wonderful work ever struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man." We had a collection of men who were classically educated, morally straight, and sought practical solutions to timeless problems. People today who want to convene a new convention to rework the Constitution are living in la-la-land if they think they can find a consensus that improves on the U.S. Constitution.
Let me offer a mostly-agreeing but slightly different perspective: We do need to reconvene and change some constitutional approaches. It's only natural, and we should have been doing it every fifty years. However, we have not been doing it and I fear greatly how bad we would be at it now. The people who would worm their way in to the task would be a collection of our worst possible choices. We would do better with the first four hundred names in the Cambridge phone book than with the Harvard faculty, as William F Buckley noted. (And Cambridge is pretty crazy, so that's saying a lot.)
It is similar to my view on many things about government at present. When considering war, sometimes we are justified and have the talent. But we no longer can do it well. So also with race relations, poverty, education, what have you - yes, we should do something to fix those, but we are now only able to make things worse while spending lots of money. Maybe it didn't have to get this bad (though I think bureaucracy has constant degrading function), but the point is that it did get this bad, and now we dare not do any of it.
Assistant Village Idiot
I think it was Adams that said the Constitution was written for a moral and religious people. I think that has gone away.
Well, whether we do it via a formal convention or not, it's going to happen, for good or ill. In 1865 nobody sat down and wrote out the ways the relationship of the State and Federal governments changed but everyone recognized a fundamental change had occurred (the United States are vs the United States is). I was reading a discussion of Chevron yesterday that talked about attempts by Congress to regularize the blizzard of New Deal executive agencies after WWII that nobody but SMEs remembers now. It might be better to do it formally but I agree with you that is no guarantee that it would be done any better, and might be worse, than the more informal process we seem to usually follow (I gathered from Wood's interview that he doesn't feel it's an either/or thing, either.)
Dobbs might turn out to be quite significant if it goes the way the Alito opinion leans.