Their Descendants...Their Stories...Their Achievements

Lifting the Mists of History on Their Way of Life

By: Ethelene Dyer Jones

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Constitution to Be Read Before 112th Congress

Will publicly reading the United States Constitution as the 112th Congress opens for work on January 6, 2011 make a difference?

Will hearing the preamble, which people of my vintage memorized as a part of their study of U. S. History in high school, make a difference to the legislators and inspire those gathered on capitol hill to transact the nation’s business in 2011?

Read the inimitable words. Do they not still thrill you, bring visions of the men gathered from the states following the winning of the Revolutionary War to replace the Articles of Confederation with a more binding document that would work in 1787 and in succeeding generations?

“We the people of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

Following this preamble are Seven Articles which cover almost every subject our founding fathers saw as appropriate for a strong national government to enact. Section 1 clearly stipulates the parameters of the major body charged with the heavy duty of enacting and upholding the laws of our beloved land:

“All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.” (Article I, Section 1).
Every Congressman and Senator must, when assuming the high office, take an oath to “uphold the Constitution of the United States.”

How far have we come from the ideals our founding fathers had in mind when they met, debated and finally drafted and passed the Constitution which was signed September 17, 1787? There followed ratification by the required nine states as specified in Article VII, a process which took until June 1788 when New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify, with Virginia and New York following shortly. The whole debate for that crucial year before ratification hinged on states’ rights and individual rights. Did Article I, Section 8 give Congress too much power to promote “the general welfare” at too great a cost to states’ sovereignty? James Madison has sometimes been called the “Father of the Constitution” because of his hard work in drafting it, and especially for his promise to insure the “Bill of Rights” would be passed (which was enacted in 1791 with its first ten “rights” clearly specified).

What has been behind this movement to have the U. S. Constitution read as this 112th Congress convenes? According to the Congressional Record which reports actions of Congress, in the 111th Congress, there were 408 incidents of “unconstitutional” pointed out and used in congressional debates. That was up from the high number of 283 “unconstitutional” attributed to debates in the 110th Congress. These incidents alone show that a familiarity with the Constitution is indeed needful among members of Congress.

Then, take, for example, the Virginia Attorney, General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II who brought a charge that portions of the federal health care law are unconstitutional, that the federal government cannot require persons to purchase health care insurance under pain of financial penalty. The federal district judge who heard the case indeed ruled that the general welfare and commerce clauses cannot require such purchase on the part of citizens. From that hearing came the determination of another Virginian, Representative Robert W. Goodlatte. He proposed the reading of the U. S. Constitution be held as the 112th Congress convenes.

Behind this move to be more cognizant of the Constitution, its meaning and interpretation is a strong effort to operate Congress with greater responsibility and accountability. “We the people…” Representatives and Senators are in Washington to stand in for the people. For too long, lobbyists, special interests and those dickering for entitlements have clouded the underlying meaning of our nation’s document that has well withstood the test of time. It is high time for a return to basics, to solid guidelines.

It was said of the inimitable Benjamin Franklin as he watched the members of the Constitutional Convention sign their names to the much-debated and revised document which was finally signed on September 17, 1787, that he looked at a painting behind the president’s desk, a painting of a sunrise (or sunset? It was hard to tell which the artist intended). He said, “I have often and often in the course of the session, and the vicissitudes of my hopes and fears as to its issue, looked at that behind the president, without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting; but now, at length, I have the happiness to know that it is a rising, and not a setting sun.” {James Madison, quoting Franklin in “Last-Minute Dissenters at the Constitutional Convention,” David Colbert, Editor. Eyewitness to America. New York: Pantheon Books. 1977. p. 103.)

Let us hope that this move to have the Constitution read in the hearing of the 112th Congress will both inspire and inform and at the same time remind our legislators why they are in Washington. “We the people…” are still generally strong, united and hopeful to see a new sunrise of fairness and responsibility in government.

c 2011 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Jan. 6, 2011 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

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