Some people enjoy a daily “constitutional,” following up their evening meal with a vigorous walk. Some get themselves all worked out at the mere mention of the Constitution itself. These are typically right-wing anti-Obamites who think the founding charter of America includes a clause preventing the election of a president they personally disagree with.
Whether carried around with them in their shirt pocket or tattooed on their lower back, these folks claim to know the U.S. Constitution inside and out, and assert that it’s being violated at every turn by the current Administration. “A mandate to purchase health insurance is unconstitutional,” they shout at their Tea Party rallies. “He was born in Kenya, bows down to foreign royalty, and enjoys the company of young boys,” claim others. “It says so right there in Article 13, Section 4.”
I hadn’t read the Constitution myself since being forced to do so back in high school by Mr. Arena, the same guy who confused a generation of Miami-area history students by writing “the world is your oyster” in their yearbooks. So my vague memory of the document was that it had something to do with shellfish. Now, I wanted to learn more about the foundation and source of the legal authority underlying the existence of the federal government, and I’m asking you to join me in this journey of re-discovery. C’mon along — I promise it won’t hurt nearly as much as a tattoo.
The Constitution was adopted in 1787 in Philadelphia by the constitutional convention. It was hand-written by Jacob Shallus and placed in a nice frame after being signed by all the delegates. Hence, we often refer to the Founding Fathers as the “framers” of the Constitution.
The word itself is comprised of four syllables, which clearly state its meaning: “con” means “with”; “sti” is shortened from “still”; “tu” refers to the ballet garment known as the “tu tu”; and “tion” is a variation of the word “shun”. So those who follow the Constitution come together to this day to spurn those who clothe themselves in dancewear, in other words, those who are different from us. It was designed as a cudgel, or weapon, to beat political opponents into submission.
Following a rambling preamble that’s both a spoiler of what’s to follow and a poorly-spelled, arbitrarily-capitalized run-on sentence, there are 12 articles describing the three branches of government, and enumerating that government’s power over its citizens and its states. As articles go, these are not nearly as interesting as what you might see on the front page of the America Online news pages (like this morning’s leads: “Why You Should Consider a Pole Pruner” and “Stefani Caught Without her Makeup”). But they’re probably more important.
The writers of the Constitution lived in a time before dictionaries and spell-check, so it contains all kinds of editorial gaffes. Among these is an annoying tendency to capitalize certain letters for no apparent reason.See if you can tell which of the two quotes that follow is from the Constitution, and which is an example of juvenile “intercapping” as often is used by pre-teens:“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, 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.”“wuZup evErYOne Heres A lIttLle abOUt Me fiRSt oF All I aM 19 aboUt 5’0 i cAnT sAy ThAT i LoOk gOOd ThAs YOuR pEoPlES OpInIoN BUt i Can SAy I hAvE A Fly PeRsoNaLiTy i Get AloNg WiTh EvEryBodY THat Treat me With ResPect Yall FeeL mE!. I m hISpaNiC w/DArk bRoWN HaIr And dArk brOwn eyEs Im ORiganiAlly FRom ThE EAst Side of SaN jo.”
Article I spells out the role of the legislative branch of government and the rules for belonging to Congress (must be at least 25, you have to live in the state you’re representing, no fatties, etc.). Members of the House and Senate are empowered to “chuse” their leaders, which explains why letting the Democrats “choose” Nancy Pelosi to be Speaker of the House was unconstitutional. Section 6 says congresspeople will be paid for their services, and are exempt from arrest during their attendance, except for “Treason, Felony and Breach of the Peace”. For example, former Sen. Larry Craig could still be arrested in a Minneapolis airport men’s room for lowering his “breaches” and offering strangers of “peace” of himself. Section 8 allows Congress to borrow money on the credit of the U.S. (a rarely used power), promote the “Progress of Science and useful Arts” (no taxpayer funds for scrapbooking, for example), and grant “Letters of Marque and Reprisal” (permission to cross an international border to exact revenge, like the just-completed Billy Joel European tour).
Article II — note that article titles use roman numerals to simulate the gravitas of Super Bowls — spells out the powers of the executive branch, or president and vice-president. This is where the archaic Electoral College is defined as the method for electing a president. If written today, this part would probably allow us to simply text our favorite candidate’s name to a toll-free number for at least two hours following the final presidential debate, but in its time, convening electors a month after the election was about as high-tech as it got. This is also the article that names the president commander in chief over the armed forces, requires him to make a yearly State of the Union speech, and mandates that the Yankees visit the White House to celebrate last year’s World Series victory.
Article III defines the Supreme Court and the various “inferior courts” that make up the judicial division of government. This branch is given the power to hear cases regarding disputes between states, and the power to grow extremely old without having to retire. Nothing in this article states that women, or liberals, or women liberals, can legally be appointed to the high court, so Obama better watch himself on this next nomination or he’s going to have a constitutional crisis on his hands.
Article IV spells out the powers of individual states. Sections 1 and 2 say that states have to recognize each others’ laws, but we’re going to pretend we didn’t notice this part because of what it might do to promote widespread gay marrying. This article forbids new states from being formed out of parts of other states so we can avoid the prospect of a Jerseyssippi. It also guarantees that every state will have a “Republican Form of Government,” clearly indicating that all elected Democrats are unconstitutional.
The remaining three articles are far less consequential than articles one through four. They seem like something of an afterthought, not unlike the final few tracks of the last Lady GaGa album, except not quite as danceable. Article V lays out the provisions for offering amendments to the Constitution. Basically, the Founders say here that “if we forgot to cover anything, you can add it later on, we won’t mind.” This has been done 27 times in the 200-plus years since, including the ten in the Bill of Rights that came up, like, two days after the original document was ratified. (Imagine if your company had this provision in place for the report you submitted last month that caused all that flak; you could continue revising until the year 2233.) Article VI says any debts the nation had before the Constitution would still be acknowledged after the fact, that the new country would not change its name to the “United States of Smith” and move to Sacramento without telling anybody. Article VII said that ratification by nine states would be sufficient to mark passage of the measure.
The U.S. Constitution is the shortest and oldest written constitution still in use by any nation in the world today, which for some reason is considered a good thing. It has a central place in American law and political culture, and that place is the National Archives in Washington. Thousands of tourists flock to see the historic artifact every day and gaze respectfully upon its withered glory. A few may even take the time to read it, though that’s not recommended.