Our Detrimental Attachment to the Constitution

Many American politicians like to refer back to the Constitution as justification for their beliefs. Since the Constitution was the founding document upon which our country has flourished, this is a reasonable position. Right? Well, actually, no. Sure, the Constitution, as well as other revolutionary documents of the late 18th century, was an ideological breakthrough. It brought enlightened ideas to the forefront of politics and served as a helpful tool by which to establish and maintain the nation’s integrity through the early years of the United States. However, as revolutionary as it may have been, it is undoubtedly polluted with racism and indelibly flawed with the undeveloped moral fabric of the time period. 

Certainly, it still serves as a beneficial framework for how the government should behave and what their role should be. And of course, the racist subtleties scattered throughout the text are dismissed in modern society and all but negated by amendments that ensure the equal rights of all persons. So where’s the problem? Well, the problem arises when politicians stubbornly cling to the literal meanings of the Constitution as a justification for otherwise dubious viewpoints and when they reference it time and time again as if it is a timeless, indispensable, and morally perfect work that must never be defiled. 

Example: Mitt Romney continuously justifies his view on gay marriage through his interpretation of how the authors portrayed portrayed marriage in the Constitution. It should be noted that gay marriage is a social issue – and if there is one element of the Constitution that we should be skeptical of, it is the social aspect. Simply put, human rights and moral common sense were completely underdeveloped at the time of its writing. The 3/5 Clause essentially reduced black people to only partially human, counting them as 3/5 of a person when recording taxes. Furthermore, the Fugitive Slave Claus demanded that enslaved escapees be returned to their masters if found. In its sister document, the Declaration of Independence, sexism litters the general language, stating that all “men” are created equal, cleverly excluding terms that would ensure the freedoms of everyone, rather than just white, property owning males. 

In summation, the Constitution includes both explicit and implicit examples of social discrimination, and even if you are not convinced of this, most of the people who crafted it certainly owned slaves, including two of our most heralded and glorified founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson – who likely had children born from illegitimate relationships with his slaves – and George Washington – who would bypass laws ensuring the eventual freedom of slaves in Pennsylvania by transporting them outside of state lines and then returning them once he could exploit the loophole. So why would we ever refer back to this document for anything related to human rights? It simply doesn’t make sense to seek guidance on social issues from something written in an era when such issues were disturbingly inhumane, even in this supposedly “perfect union.” 

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