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    There was an article on the New York Times (yes, I know!) “campaign stop blog” titled, “Our Imbecilic Constitution” which maintains the federalist papers mocked the proposed constitution and it’s weaknesses as being “imbecilic.” I’m just wondering if anyone knows what exact paper this comes from? I have my doubts about the veracity of this statement, and would like to read it in context myself. Thanks.




    You read the article incorrectly. Levinson states that the Madison, Hamilton, and Jay “mocked the ‘imbecility” of the weak central government created by the Articles of Confederation” not the proposed Constitution that came out of Philadelphia.

    The piece is not bad, at least not in principle. We certainly should be having a discussion about the faults of the Constitution. After all, the opponents warned that by ratifying the document, Americans would be facing the mess we are in today. I do not agree with Levinson’s solutions (direct democracy, his proposal to allow the president to appoint members of Congress, etc), and I fear that Americans would want too much democracy and centralization instead of more federalism, but he is correct that the system needs to be examined and perhaps “fixed.” I included a list of proposed amendments that never saw the light of day in my Founding Fathers Guide to the Constitution. All would be worthwhile.


    Levinson’s last book was along similar lines. I disliked it. Here is a review I wrote:


    The concept of pure democracy is a progressive one.

    A main proponent was Woodrow Wilson whose war time rallying cry was “make the world safe for democracy”

    The founders were decidedly anti democratic. The constitution was crafted to protect liberty, not to cater to the wisdom of crowds or worse, mob rule.


    Thanks for the insights. I was in the middle of grading finals and had it posted on my Facebook page by a marxist friend of mine. I didn’t have the time to break it down so I was looking for a quick bit of advice on the article. In the end I decided to sit down and reread it when I had the time, and that time has finally arrived.


    Mr. Gutzman, I love your review of Levin’s book!


    Arash: Which book did Dr. Gutzman review? Can you post a link, I’d love to read the review.


    Arash: Not Levin, Levinson. Sanford Levinson. HistoryGeek, you’ll find a link to the review in my comment above.


    For the sake of not starting another thread since this one is already titled “U.S. Constitution”, I would like to ask another Constitution-related question that has been posed to me about the Elastic Clause (or Necessary and Proper clause). Doesn’t it sort of make the notion of enumerated powers a bit moot? Can’t it be (and hasn’t it been) broadly interpreted, at least in intellectual circles if not in actual judicial decisions, much like the “general welfare” clause? Thanks!



    It does make the notion of enumerated powers moot, which is one of the ways we can know that no constitutional clause was actually intended to be an “elastic clause.”


    Tom is right. For more detail, see my book JAMES MADISON AND THE MAKING OF AMERICA. Madison dealt with this issue in THE FEDERALIST, in the Virginia Ratification Convention, in the House’s 1791 debate on Hamilton’s Bank Bill, in the Virginia Resolutions of 1798, in the Virginia Report of 1800, in his Bonus Bill Veto Message of 1817, and in his reaction to John Marshall’s decision in _McCulloch vs. Maryland_ (1819) — all of which are described at length in my book.


    Forgive me if this question was already answered elsewhere (or something I should have readily gleaned from the lectures), but I am wondering how libertarian the original intentions of the Framers of the US Constitution were. Upon hearing how some constitutionalists speak today, one would think that the only reason that the federal government is now so large is that the Supreme Court has misinterpreted certain clauses and everything would be swell if the federal government could only go back to a strict constructionist reading, as the Framers intended. Others, however, are much more cynical about the Framers intentions; asserting that Federalists like Alexander Hamilton wanted a strong central government to be snuck in through methods similar to those which have actually been used. Which story is closer to the truth?


    Tate, what Professor Gutzman argues in his body of work is this: although some people at the constitutional convention wanted a national government, complete with a Congress holding plenary legislative authority, etc., the resulting document was something else: a federal government of enumerated powers. This is, moreover, how the Constitution was described to the public in the ratifying conventions, and it is the meaning of the Constitution as discussed in those conventions, Madison says, which is definitive.


    I was reading the Dissenting opinion of the PPACA and came across this definition of “Regulate”

    “In Gibbons v. Ogden, 9 Wheat. 1, 196 (1824), Chief Justice Marshall wrote that the power to regulate commerce is the power “to prescribe the rule by which commerce is to be governed.”

    That understanding is consistent with the original meaning of “regulate” at the time of the Constitution’s ratification, when “to regulate” meant

    “[t]o adjust by rule, method or established mode,” 2 N.Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language (1828);

    “[t]o adjust by rule or method,” 2 S. Johnson,A Dictionary of the English Language (7th ed. 1785);

    “[t]o adjust, to direct according to rule,” 2 J. Ash, New and Complete Dictionary of the English Language (1775);

    “to put in order, set to rights, govern or keep in order,” T.Dyche & W. Pardon, A New General English Dictionary (16th ed. 1777)”

    I’ve read in “Nullification” and “Founding Father’s Guide” that the intent behind “To regulate Commerce…among the several States…” was to establish a free trade zone between the States. Essentially giving the Federal Government the power to keep the States from putting tariffs on each other.

    Is this an example of using the definition of Regulate (to make regular, which they didn’t use) from the time of the founding but disregarded the intent behind it from the founding?


    It seems like whatever definition of regulate is used must be applied to foreign nations and the Indians as well. So if regulate among the states meant free trade zones were to be established then wouldn’t that mean free trade zones are required with all nations? And since tariffs among foreign states are legal, I would assume that’s not the correct definition of regulate. I wish the authors had just said “states can’t put up tariffs between other states within the union…” Would’ve made it so much easier.

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