Un­der­stand­ing the Con­sti­tu­tion

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION -

I wish to ap­plaud the com­ments of the con­sti­tu­tional schol­ars quoted in “Read­ing be­tween Con­sti­tu­tion’s lines” [Style, Jan. 5] about the fu­til­ity of divining the Con­sti­tu­tion’s orig­i­nal mean­ings by a lit­eral con­struc­tion of its lan­guage.

The Con­sti­tu­tion was in­tended to give the nation a new-mod­eled sys­tem of cen­tral­ized repub­li­can govern­ment en­dowed with new pow­ers and a tri­par­tite struc­ture af­ter the state-cen­tered con­fed­er­a­tion sys­tem had bro­ken down be­cause of failed state at­tempts to tax their pop­u­la­tions. Pur­pose­fully framed to re­deem re­pub­li­can­ism and to cre­ate a strong, sta­ble, ac­count­able sys­tem that would serve ex­ist­ing and fu­ture na­tional needs, the Con­sti­tu­tion won ap­proval not just by prag­matic po­lit­i­cal com­pro­mises (in­clud­ing pro­tec­tions for slav­ery) but by the cal­cu­lated im­pre­ci­sion and am­bi­gu­ity of its word­ing. By achiev­ing gen­er­al­ized sim­plic­ity it made it­self hos­pitable to new ap­pli­ca­tions and in­ter­pre­ta­tions that have en­abled it to en­dure as the world’s old­est con­sti­tu­tion, while many overly pre­cise and de­tailed con­sti­tu­tions have ended in his­tory’s dust­bin.

Roger H. Brown, Re­ston

While read­ing the Jan. 5 Style ar­ti­cle on the recita­tion of the Con­sti­tu­tion, I was amused by a quote from New York Rep. Jer­rold Nadler (D). He said, “You are not sup­posed to wor­ship your con­sti­tu­tion. You are sup­posed to gov­ern your govern­ment by it.” I be­lieve if the Democrats had fol­lowed that state­ment, they’d still be run­ning the House. But gov­ern­ing by feel-good and po­lit­i­cal pay­offs in­stead of the Con­sti­tu­tion didn’t work. If Mr. Nadler re­ally be­lieves what he said, I nom­i­nate him to be the next Tea Party can­di­date.

David L. Grif­fith, Belleville, Ill.

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