An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution at Posted on by Mark Thomas September 22, Thoughts on a classic Published a century ago this year, Hoosier born historian Charles Beard examined assumptions about the creation of our nation and its guiding document.
I am deeply grateful for the invitation to participate in the "Text and Teaching" symposium. This rare opportunity to explore classic texts with participants of such wisdom, acumen and insight as those who have preceded and will follow me to this podium is indeed exhilarating.
But it is also humbling. Even to approximate the standards of excellence of these vigorous and graceful intellects is a daunting task. I am honored that you have afforded me this opportunity to try.
It will perhaps not surprise you that the text I have chosen for exploration is the amended Constitution of the United States, which, of course, entrenches the Bill of Rights and the Civil War amendments, and draws sustenance from the bedrock principles of another great text, the Magna Carta.
So fashioned, the Constitution embodies the aspiration to social justice, brotherhood, and human dignity that brought this nation into being.
The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights solemnly committed the United States to be a country where the dignity and rights of all persons were equal before all authority.
In all candor we must concede that part of this egalitarianism in America has been more pretension than realized fact. But we are an aspiring people, a people with faith in progress. Our amended Constitution is A debate over an economic interpretation of the constitution lodestar for our aspirations.
Like every text worth reading, it is not crystalline. The phrasing is broad and the limitations of its provisions are not clearly marked. Its majestic generalities and ennobling pronouncements are both luminous and obscure. This ambiguity of course calls forth interpretation, the interaction of reader and text.
My approach to this text may differ from the approach of other participants in this symposium to their texts. Yet such differences may themselves stimulate reflection about what it is we do when we "interpret" a text. Thus I will attempt to elucidate my approach to the text as well as my substantive interpretation.
Perhaps the foremost difference is the fact that my encounters with the constitutional text are not purely or even primarily introspective; the Constitution cannot be for me simply a contemplative haven for private moral reflection. My relation to this great text is inescapably public.
That is not to say that my reading of the text is not a personal reading, only that the personal reading perforce occurs in a public context, and is open to critical scrutiny from all quarters.
For, from our beginnings, a most important consequence of the constitutionally created separation of powers has been the American habit, extraordinary to other democracies, of casting social, economic, philosophical and political questions in the form of law suits, in an attempt to secure ultimate resolution by the Supreme Court.
In this way, important aspects of the most fundamental issues confronting our democracy may finally arrive in the Supreme Court for judicial determination. Not infrequently, these are the issues upon which contemporary society is most deeply divided.
They arouse our deepest emotions. Two other aspects of my relation to this text warrant mention. First, constitutional interpretation for a federal judge is, for the most part, obligatory.
When litigants approach the bar of court to adjudicate a constitutional dispute, they may justifiably demand an answer. A judicial decision respecting the incompatibility of Jim Crow with a constitutional guarantee of equality is not simply a contemplative exercise in defining the shape of a just society.
Under such circumstances the process of deciding can be a lonely, troubling experience for fallible human beings conscious that their best may not be adequate to the challenge.
We Justices are certainly aware that we are not final because we are infallible; we know that we are infallible only because we are final. One does not forget how much may depend on the decision. More than the litigants may be affected. The course of vital social, economic and political currents may be directed.
When Justices interpret the Constitution they speak for their community, not for themselves alone. Justices are not platonic guardians appointed to wield authority according to their personal moral predilections.
Precisely because coercive force must attend any judicial decision to countermand the will of a contemporary majority, the Justices must render constitutional interpretations that are received as legitimate.
The source of legitimacy is, of course, a wellspring of controversy in legal and political circles. Because judicial power resides in the authority to give meaning to the Constitution, the debate is really a debate about how to read the text, about constraints on what is legitimate interpretation.
There are those who find legitimacy in fidelity to what they call "the intentions of the Framers. But in truth it is little more than arrogance cloaked as humility. It is arrogant to pretend that from our vantage we can gauge accurately the intent of the Framers on application of principle to specific, contemporary questions.
All too often, sources of potential enlightment such as records of the ratification debates provide sparse or ambiguous evidence of the original intention.
Typically, all that can be gleaned is that the Framers themselves did not agree about the application or meaning of particular constitutional provisions, and hid their differences in cloaks of generality.The concept of constitutional interpretation is foreign in some countries, where the constitution makes a reasonable effort to cover every eventuality.
These constitutions are generally rigid and little changing, adapting slowly to advances in political views, popular opinion, technology, and changes in government. An Economic Interpretation of the United States Constitution is known, as it has since its publication, as unromanticized clinical study of the economic conflicts among our founders.
It challenged, according the book’s author as paraphrased, the oversimplified view that the strong debate over ratification boiled down to the emphasis on a.
CONFLICT, CONSENSUS & CONSTITUTIONAL MEANING: THE Saul Cornell * Few books in American history have had as profound an impact on scholarly debate as Charles Beard’s An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution.
the original debate over constitutional meaning one must pay. An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of The United States [Charles A. Beard] on vetconnexx.com *FREE* shipping on qualifying offers. First published in , Beard’s iconoclastic masterwork sparked a deep historical debate that has not abated/5(38).
15 and 51; debate over the Economic Interpretation of the Constitution) 3 (Federalist 46) 4 (King, Lincoln, civil liberties and civil rights; PATRIOT. Framing of the Constitution: major issues, the Constitutional Convention, Articles of Confederation, ratification.
The only thing one needs to interpret the Constitution is a literal reading of the words contained therein, with an expert knowledge in the 18th century meaning of those words. The debates leading to the final draft are not relevant, the Federalist Papers are not relevant - only the words.