On Sept. 17, America quietly observed Constitution Day, the anniversary of the signing of the United States Constitution.
With all the distractions in national governance these days, Americans can be forgiven for our lack of gusto this year in commemorating the signing of the Constitution by delegates from 12 of the 13 states (Rhode Island being the one hold-out) at the close of the Constitutional Convention on Sept. 17, 1787.
That document is generally recognized as the world’s finest written Constitution. (Great Britain is recognized as having the world’s finest unwritten Constitution, a concept I have never fully understood.)
The greatness of our Constitution may be found, among other things, in how few amendments have been ratified over the 232 years since its adoption.
It has been amended only 27 times, and even that is only part of the story.
The first 10 Amendments — the Bill of Rights — did not change the framework of government set forth in the Constitution; they spelled out the fundamental rights of citizens.
Of the remaining 17 amendments, two — prohibition and repeal of prohibition — canceled each other out.
The Civil Rights amendments — 13, 14 and 15 — arguably are the most sweeping changes in the fabric of government. The 13th abolished slavery, the 14th guaranteed equal protection of the laws, and the 15th extended the right to vote to racial minorities. (It was not until the 19th that women were given the right to vote.)
The 16th gave Congress the authority to impose a personal income tax. Until 1913, there was no universal personal income tax.
The 24th forbade imposition of a poll tax as a prerequisite for voting. U.S. Sen. Spessard L. Holland of Bartow authored and shepherded to passage this amendment.
The most recent amendment — the 27th — delays the effective date of any Congressional pay raise until after the next election of members of the House of Representatives. That amendment was proposed in 1789, and was not ratified until 202 years later.
Where is our often cited “constitutional right to privacy” found? The word does not appear in the Constitution.
Further, there is no reference to abortion in the Constitution, either allowing or prohibiting it.
Our Constitution is arguably the greatest achievement of American government. It has survived numerous efforts to tinker with it in response to the changing political winds.
May it always be thus.
(S. L. Frisbie is retired. Every time he hears of a movement to amend the Constitution in response to the Issue du Jour, he shudders.)