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Experience provides a guide to constitutional reform

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In the Sept. 23 Sunday Weekly of the Times, Professor Akhil Reed Amar, author of “America’s Constitution: A Biography,” writes, as the headline says, “The time to consider the future of the U.S. Constitution is now.” His review of the emergence of the U.S. Constitution notes the role of how earlier state constitutions influenced the new federal constitution. He is correct about this influence; however, there are other sources of its construction.

The weakness of the Articles of Confederation led to the attempts by political leaders at that time to construct a more powerful national government. The Revolutionary War played a major part in the Founding Fathers’ desire to create a more effective and powerful government of the new nation.

Among this group were James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and George Washington. The 56 men at Philadelphia in 1787 created a modern national republican government, which provided a source of political power to maintain and protect the new nation, the first modern democracy. James Madison has been named the Father of the Constitution, not just because of his role in creating the Virginia Plan of Union and his central role in the Philadelphia convention to draft the new constitution. Beyond this, Madison, Hamilton and John Jay wrote the Federalist Papers, which were circulated broadly and were central in supporting the proposed constitution as it went before the state legislatures or constitutional conventions. Without such political leaders and supporters, the work of the Constitutional Convention would have failed as there was strong opposition to a strong national government.

No question that many experiences prior to the U.S. Constitution influenced the creation of a strong national government; however, the dedicated work of these Founding Fathers, particularly Madison and Hamilton, was the reason the Constitution was approved.

Regarding Professor Amar’s concern about the future of the U.S. Constitution is experience since 1787 to the present. Major issues of governance and constitutional reform are before us, and it is central to address these matters in a way that would protect and support our democracy. Over 215 years of legislation, constitutional amendments, court decisions, public opinion and citizen involvement are the ways to achieve those necessary changes. Professor Amar is correct that state action is also an important source of constitutional, legislative revision.

A good example of constitutional change in the presidential election is the passage by eight states of laws and constitutional amendments to allow the state electors to vote their electoral votes for the candidate who receives the most popular votes nationally in that election.

Robert Wells


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