The Constitution of the United States has been in force longer than any similar instrument in the world. Yet our government often does not run as the Constitution says it should. The people can check that, but only if they know what the Constitution really says. CNAV today introduces this course to show what the Constitution really means.
The Constitution in history
The Constitutional Convention wrote the Constitution on September 17, 1787. This document went into force in 1788 after Virginia and New York ratified it.
The text of the Constitution gives four ways to change it. Congress can propose amendments directly (by two-thirds votes of both chambers) or call a convention when two-thirds of the States ask for one. Then the States may ratify the Constitution, either in their legislatures or in State conventions, whichever Congress decides. Congress has never called an amending convention. But Congress did send the Twenty-first Amendment to State conventions. (It has sent all other Amendments to State legislature.)
Twenty-seven Amendments are on file and in force. The first Ten Amendments (the Bill of Rights) all went into effect in one day (December 15, 1791). James Madison at first did not want to write certain rights into the Constitution and have anyone think that those were all the rights the people had. So when the people insisted, he wrote the Bill of Rights himself, and added two Amendments to address his concern. They were:
- The enumeration in this Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people. (Amendment IX)
- Those 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. (Amendment X)
The US Constitution. Photo: National Archives of the United States
The twenty-seven Amendments are the formal amendments. The Constitution has changed informally countless times. One of the oldest American civics textbooks, Magruder’s American Government (Pearson-Prentice Hall), lists five kinds of “informal amendments”:
- New federal laws
- Presidential decisions and actions
- Supreme Court cases
- Political party actions
These “informal amendments” stand for one reason only. The people have forgotten what the Constitution says. They trust their officials far too much. So when the President signs an Executive Order, the people think that Executive Orders have the force of law. When the Supreme Court disparages a right of the people, those same people say, “The Supreme Court says it, and that’s that.” In other words, the Constitution means whatever Congress, the President, or the Supreme Court say it means, any time they say it and can all agree on what to say. And when political parties dominate Congress and the legislatures, they, too, can change the government in ways the Framers never intended.
How to restore the Constitution
The United States government is not working the way the Framers meant it to work. Only the people can make it work properly again. To do that, they must learn anew how the government should work, according to the Constitution as the Framers wrote it, not as Congresses, Presidents, Supreme Courts, parties, and blind followers of custom have changed it.