Thomas Lucente: The US Constitution: A grand birthday for a troubled document

By Thomas J. Lucente Jr. - [email protected]


See past columns by Thomas J. Lucente Jr. at

On Sept. 17, 1787, 39 men in Philadelphia affixed their signatures to the greatest political document ever conceived: The Constitution of the United States of America.

This was probably an illegal act by the committee because the Confederation Congress convened the Constitutional Convention on Feb. 21, 1787, with only the mandate that the group revise the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, which was a woefully inadequate and outdated constitution.

There was the accusation that this small group of men, under the concept of popular sovereignty, acted without popular authorization in proposing a new constitution. James Madison answered that charge by saying that government must come from the people, but for the establishment of that government there needs to be an initial aristocratic action by a small group.

Regardless, the document, essentially a series of compromises that the states ratified on June 21, 1788, is the real American Revolution of which the war with Great Britain was just the beginning. The original Constitution was a beautiful piece of work that, with some obvious exceptions, protected the rights of the individual and limited the role of the federal government to those 3o powers actually enumerated.

Under the Enumerated Powers Doctrine, if the Constitution does not specifically list a particular action, then the government cannot legally do it, or at least that is how it is supposed to work.

After more than a century of misguided court rulings and dubious interpretations of the Constitution, many Americans find themselves confused by the nature of the Constitution. Schools do not properly teach the Constitution and Americans are poorly informed about basic constitutional provisions.

According to a poll released last week by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, 53 percent of Americans believe illegal immigrants have no constitutional rights (they do), 37 percent of those polled can’t name any of the rights guaranteed under the First Amendment, (freedom of religion, speech, press, petition, and assembly) and only 26 percent of Americans can name all three branches of government and 33 percent could not name a single branch (executive, legislative and judicial).

Because of this, the government has grown larger and more powerful than ever imagined. For example, perusing the Constitution one would have trouble placing his or her finger on the exact clause that permits such things as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, disaster relief, and the elaborate public works sprung from the Interstate Commerce Clause.

This was the fear of the Antifederalists. They feared the government would get too large and too powerful, and in this area they proved prescient. They warned early Americans of the “ropes and chains of consolidation,” in Patrick Henry’s words, inherent in the new Constitution.

Today, the document is merely a shell of its former self, essentially a dead letter. Many of the amendments to the Constitution weakened the document. Additionally, an activist judicial system, headed mostly by leftist judges who believe government can and should be an instrument of social change, have further weakened the Constitution with silly rulings that attempt to interpret the Constitution.

But our charter is very simple and not really open to interpretation. How hard is it to understand that the federal government is not allowed to do anything not specifically enumerated in the Constitution? The Constitution makes that plain: “All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress,” and “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

Unfortunately, leftists and many conservatives don’t like the idea of being limited in the exercise of federal power.

Often one will hear of calls for another constitutional convention. The argument is that this 230-year-old document is outdated.

But the old document is needed now more than ever. The answer is not creating a new Constitution but returning to a government that actually understands and obeys the Constitution already in place.

Many of the complaints lodged against Great Britain in the other Charter of Freedom, the Declaration of Independence, are the normal stuff of government today.

And it gets worse with each passing year. Now, with a chief executive who has never read the Constitution, has a second-grader’s understanding of government and who has no moral center, no philosophical compass, and no allegiance or loyalty to anyone or anything beyond himself, there is little hope things will improve anytime soon.

Through a fatal mixture of ignorance and cowardice, Americans are allowing the government to take their rights away with nary a whimper.

Because of this, future historians will likely judge us not worthy of the freedoms we lost. And they will be right.

By Thomas J. Lucente Jr.

[email protected]


See past columns by Thomas J. Lucente Jr. at

Thomas J. Lucente Jr. is an attorney and night editor of The Lima News. Reach him by telephone at 567-242-0398, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @ThomasLucente.

Thomas J. Lucente Jr. is an attorney and night editor of The Lima News. Reach him by telephone at 567-242-0398, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @ThomasLucente.

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