February 20, 2012 – Essay #1 – The Amendment Process – Guest Essayist: Dr. Larry P. Arnn, president of Hillsdale College, and author of The Founders’ Key: The Divine and Natural Connection Between the Declaration and the Constitution and What We Risk by Losing It


Only with a large effort can the Constitution of the United States be formally amended.  This was not an accident, but the intention of its framers.

If the Constitution is changed too often and for the wrong reasons, the people of America, the Founders held, will lose reverence for its principles, and respect for its rule.  With reverence lost, they might cease to be a self-governing people.  Tyranny itself could topple liberty.

The Constitution is difficult to amend not because the Founders distrusted the people.  In fact, they trusted the American people more than any other constitution-makers had ever before trusted a people.  They took pride in the fact that no separate or special class of persons would hold any authority under the Constitution.  They created no aristocracy or favored group, and their design did not pit one group of citizens against another.

Instead, they rested all power in the hands of the people.  Then they divided that power so as to encourage fairness and deliberation in their judgments.  It is the “reason alone of the people that must be placed in control of the government,” writes James Madison in Federalist 49.  “Their passions must be controlled by the government.”

Our American regime is the first in which sovereignty lies outside the government—in the people.  The Constitution’s structure in its original form was designed to bring power and restraint together.  The people must come to respect the restraint of the government so that its properly-limited power might be upheld.  The Constitution provides for limited government so that the natural rights of citizens can best be secured.

In this sense, Alexander Hamilton noted that the Constitution itself, even before it was amended, was “a bill of rights.”  Adding the first ten amendments, which the First Congress did in 1791, marked a reaffirmation and an explicit statement of rights held by the people and the states, but all of these are affirmed in the original structure of the Constitution—with its separation of powers, representative form, and limited grant of power to the government.  All of these essential features of good government were stated with unmistakable clarity in the Declaration of Independence.

Today, the Bill of Rights is often confused as the source of American liberties.  In fact, as both Madison and Hamilton knew, it is the Constitution’s structure that provides the surest bulwark of our liberties.  Destroy the structure, and liberty will be lost.  Alter the structure significantly (see the Seventeenth Amendment), and liberty is endangered.

Without reverence for it, the Constitution, like the Bill of Rights that is now part of it, will be but a “parchment barrier.”

Out of the more than 5,000 amendments to the Constitution proposed in Congress since 1789, only 27 have been adopted.  There are two possible ways to amend the Constitution, both of them specified in Article V.  All of the current amendments to the Constitution have been adopted following the first path, wherein votes are required by two thirds of both houses of Congress, followed by a vote of three-fourths of state legislatures.

The other path, to date not used successfully, is the convention method, in which two-thirds of the state legislatures can call a constitutional convention, after which three-fourths of the state legislatures or state conventions must then ratify the proposed amendment or amendments to the Constitution.  Conventions have been avoided probably for good reason, since it is not clear to anyone whether a convention would be bound to changing only one item in the Constitution.  We Americans have been pleased to have only one Constitutional Convention.

The New York Times recently noted that outside of the defunct Yugoslavian constitution, there is no other constitution in the world so hard to amend as ours.  By coupling our Constitution with a failed state, the article seemed to imply that if we don’t get with the times, we will be left behind.  Our country, they quote a justice of Australia’s high court as saying, is becoming a “legal backwater.”

For over a hundred years the Constitution has been assailed as undemocratic, and in need of an overhaul.

Long is the list of books written recently suggesting ways—formal and informal—to make our Constitution better.  When formal amendment efforts fail, informal methods are advanced.  Efforts to informally amend the Constitution—to bring it into better congruity with fashionable legal and political norms of today—can be successful only if citizen reverence for the Constitution is lost.

Dr. Larry P. Arnn is president of Hillsdale College, and author of The Founders’ Key: The Divine and Natural Connection Between the Declaration and the Constitution and What We Risk by Losing It. Hillsdale’s “Constitution 101,” an online course which features lectures by Dr. Arnn and others, starts today.  For more information on Constitution 101, go to: http://constitution.hillsdale.edu

 

 

 

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46 Responses to “February 20, 2012 – Essay #1 – The Amendment Process – Guest Essayist: Dr. Larry P. Arnn, president of Hillsdale College, and author of The Founders’ Key: The Divine and Natural Connection Between the Declaration and the Constitution and What We Risk by Losing It”

  1. Tom Julian says:

    Great start to a wonderful program. Dr. Arnn has made it so clear how important the Constitution is to us and how important we are to the Constitution. As mentioned many will try to amend, alter or modify but as long as we stay united as a people, the Constitution will and shall continue to be our model of excellence.

    Thank you for posting this.

    Tom

    • Connie says:

      Tom, I don’t worry as much about those who would amend, alter or modify our Constitution, as those who seek to nullify it. I think these are the most danger to our republic, and must be watched constantly.
      We must always be on guard for those who mean to harm our country and make us insignificant in the world.

      • Tom Julian says:

        Connie, great thought and well put!!!

      • Ed Brewer says:

        Exactly. What we have for problems now are simply because no branch of the government follows the constitution as written. They make up the rules as they go along. Why amend the constitution if all agree to ignore it. Once the supreme court stopped limiting Congress’ power to the 18 enumerated powers and started expanding the meanings of simple words, Congress does what ever it wants. Once the legislature is no longer willing to impeach a president who does things beyond the powers granted to him, and once congress is unwilling to impeach and remove judges who legislate from the bench, there is no one limiting any branch in the federal government and the 14th section 1 and the 17th amendments have removed any limits from being placed by the states

  2. CA.org says:

    Thank you, Tom! You are our first comment in our 90 Day Study! We hope you join us for the next 90 Days!
    Joyfully,
    Janine & Cathy

  3. Ron Meier says:

    Thanks for this year’s course Janine and Cathy. I didn’t expect to be doing this three years in a row, but it’s proved well worth my time. I didn’t realize how little I knew about our country’s founding, founders, and core documents. Simultaneously, I’ve signed up for Dr. Arnn’s Constitution 101 course, which also starts today, so this spring will be doubly rewarding. I’ve found many occasions since participating here to use what I’ve learned in conversations with others about the relevance of the Constitution in today’s America; I pray that many others will make the effort to do these studies so they will better understand how unique we are and how relevant our founding documents are today.

    I agree with Dr. Arnn about the 17th Amendment’s need for repeal. Looking forward to that discussion.

    • CA.org says:

      Ron, it’s so good to have you back for the third year in a row! We look forward to your insightful comments! Thank you for taking the time to be with us today! We look forward to your participation over the next 90 Days!
      Joyfully,
      Janine Turner & Cathy Gillespie

  4. Shannon Castleman says:

    Between his work on your site and his Constitution course at Hillsdale College, Dr. Arnn is becoming my favorite scholar! He has a way (God given), of making the constitution come to life for people today to fully understand it.

    I look forward to Constitution America and Hillsdale’s course coming up. I’ll know more about the constitution than everyone in the Obama administration combined!!!!!

  5. Art says:

    All that is said is good, but significant changes have been made to the intent of the Constitution via informal, unapproved means and there is very little that the people can do to revert or redress those changes and hold those making the changes accountable. The Constitution as written by our founding fathers is still applicable today inspite of the changes that have evolved in culture and the times. Many of the amendments are unnecessary if the intent of the constitution were understood by a relatively ignorant population. And who studies the constitution in today’s education system? It lags behind ‘cultural’ studies and meaningless ‘social’ efforts. The Constitution as written is as good today as it was when written and should be left alone unless there is a true and meaningful need to make change. Very little basic truths have changed to warrant such. Only the aggregious misuse of the document and its contents have made it controversial.

    • CA.org says:

      Howdy Art! We thank you for your participation in our 90 Day Study, and hope we will continue to hear from you over the next 90 days!

      We agree that we must work harder to educate our youth – that is why we launched the We The People 9.17 Contest for students Kindergarten through Law School – please encourage the students in your life to enter – rules and info at this link: http://www.constitutingamerica.org/downloads.php

      Joyfully,
      Janine & Cathy

  6. Robbie and Tucker says:

    we enjoyed reading this article. we really thought that the 5000 ammendments preposed with only 27 passing was interesting.

    we are ready to read the next one,
    Robbie, Tucker and Wendy

    • CA.org says:

      Howdy Robbie & Tucker! We are thrilled you are participating in our study with us! Please keep reading and commenting, and forward our website to your friends!

      Joyfully,
      Janine & Cathy

  7. Mag says:

    Looking forward to this year’s study. I was not able to participate last year and really missed it (after enjoying the first study). Thank you Dr. Arnn for a wonderful start.

  8. ROBERT says:

    GOOD MORNING EVERYONE !

    HAPPY PRESIDENT DAY !!!

    DID YOU HANG UP YOUR LOVELY AMERICA FLAGS TODAY ? . I DO !

    AMERICA FLAG IS OUR U.S. CONSTITUTION & AMENDMENT EVERYDAY !! .

    THANK GOD AND AMERICA WHERE WE LIVE NOW UNDER RED – WHITE – BLUE AMERICA FLAG !!! NO OTHER FLAGS CAN RISE AT WHITE HOUSE OR ANYWHERE FOR EVER !! .

    GOD CREATED THIS EARTH !!

    WAKE UP AMERICA AND GOD CREATED THIS UNITED STATES OF AMERICA ON NORTH AMERICA LANDS !!!

    USA MUST STAND STRONG AND HEALTHY AND HIGH SPIRITS AMONG US AGAINST ANY ENEMIES ! .

    AMERICA ALWAYS BE AMERICA IN USA !!! .

    GOD BLESS AMERICA AND PEOPLE AND CHILDREN AND SENIOR CITIZENS AND UNITED STATES MILITARY SOLDIERS ! .

    WE AMERICA PEOPLE ALWAYS BE “UNITED AND STAND STRONG FOR EVER ! .

    THANK TO OUR GLORY GOD FOR EVERYTHING WE LIVES FOR .

    AMEN

    .

    • CA.org says:

      Howdy Robert! Our flag is up and waving proudly! Thank you for your uplifting message!

      Keep coming back!

      Joyfully,
      Janine & Cathy

  9. Marc W. Stauffer says:

    It is vitally important that the reasons for our form of governance be taught. The answer to the question; “Why are we a Republic” must be fully answered. If citizen reverence for the Constitution, and thus our liberty, is lost, it will be due to the fact we did not teach the next generation. Looking forward to study and the discussions it will create. ~ Marc

    • CA.org says:

      Howdy Marc! We agree with you! One of our favorite paragraphs from Dr. Arnn’s essay today is:

      “Today, the Bill of Rights is often confused as the source of American liberties. In fact, as both Madison and Hamilton knew, it is the Constitution’s structure that provides the surest bulwark of our liberties. Destroy the structure, and liberty will be lost. Alter the structure significantly (see the Seventeenth Amendment), and liberty is endangered.

      Without reverence for it, the Constitution, like the Bill of Rights that is now part of it, will be but a “parchment barrier.”

      Please encourage the students in your life, K-Law School, to enter our We The People 9.17 contest, to view some of the past winning entries, and to join National Youth Director Juliette Turner on her youth blog at this link :http://www.constitutingamerica.org/juliette/

      Joyfully,
      Janine & Cathy

  10. Ralph T. Howarth, Jr. says:

    The high barrier to change assures that an amendment absolutely affirms a consensus of the states to grant or restrain a (new) federal power. After all, if a change is afforded by just squeaking by with a marginal majority; then its moral value is in question and at risk of mutablity to being reversed. If an amendment truly is worth doing, then it ought not be one of passions of the times; because without that super majority, it puts in question whether the amendment is in the best interest of a wide breadth of peoples and states that smacks of being partisan, of special interest, or of nefarious aims.

    At present, there already has been enough states that have called for a Constitutional Convention by attaining a 2/3rds calling. But there have been some calls that specified for particular amendments or purpose while others have been unspecified. There are legal and scholarly opinions that a call must be specified, while others think a call does not need to be specified such as an open petition for a convention. Further, some believe that a 2/3rds call must be on the same petition thereby assuring that each state is calling a convention for the same purpose while others believe that the petition does not need to be as precise or even of the same purpose. In any case, fact is that the first Constitutional Convention of 1787, a.k.a., the Philadelphia Convention, was of a general specification to amend the first constitution, a.k.a., the Articles of Confederation with the aim to make the confederal government a stronger one. The delegates at that convention instead scrapped the AoC and instead decided to make a federal government to replace the confederal government. But it was not a national government that supersedes and makes the states as exclusive agents of the national government.

    The notable difference between the old and new form of government was that the confederal government was that of delegates sent to the general government seat WHEN a session was called. Today, this is akin to what we now know as an “emergency session”. In a federal government the delegates rather go to the general government seat WITHOUT a session being called and then arrive and are called into session. So the former is a non-sitting government while the later is a sitting government.

    The other big changes were the Separation of Powers with the judiciary independent from the legislature, a Bicameral legislature, and a pure republican form of government instead of the mixed government found at the British Parliament House of Lords (gentry), and House of Commons (non-gentry). In this new federal government, delegates are elected from a consensus of genty and non-gentry people so that land owners and non-land owners alike elect the same representative.

    • CA.org says:

      Howdy Ralph! We thank you for taking the time to share your well researched and thoughtful insights on our blog once again this year! This is the third year you have been with us for a study, and we always look forward to hearing from you!

      We agree with you re: “If an amendment truly is worth doing, then it ought not be one of passions of the times; because without that super majority, it puts in question whether the amendment is in the best interest of a wide breadth of peoples and states that smacks of being partisan, of special interest, or of nefarious aims.”

      It will be interesting as we proceed in this study to take a look at each amendment, it’s history, and examine to what extent the “passion of the times,” may or may not have played in its passage!

      Joyfully,
      Janine & Cathy

  11. Linda and Halley says:

    Happy President’s Day! We are working on a Constitution rhyme for elementary aged kids…hoping it will give them the basics. It was incredible to learn today that over 5K amendments have been proposed! Here is our first line:
    The Congress has a senate. The Congress has a House. In Article One it’s all spelled out!

    • CA.org says:

      Howdy Linda & Halley! We are so excited to have your participation on our blog for this study! Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts! Halley, as one of our 2010 We The People 9.17 Winners, it is especially nice to hear from you!

      We look forward to sharing this study with you over the next 90 days!
      Joyfully,
      Janine & Cathy

  12. Charlie says:

    What a great site! I encourage my friends to read this page along with the Hillsdale site.

    I share Dr. Arnn’s video’s on the Constitution with everyone I can get to listen. I even made a cd to share with those who live out in the country and don’t have the internet speed to watch the videos.

    I constantly follow Janine on this site and when ever I can catch her on tv.

    Thank you for being involved!

    • CA.org says:

      Thank you, Charlie! We appreciate your spreading the word to your friends about our website, and all that Constituting America has to offer! We look forward to sharing this 90 Day Study with you, and to hearing your thoughts as we move through the 27 Amendments!
      Joyfully,
      Janine and Cathy

  13. Susan Craig says:

    Much of the misunderstanding has come about by just presenting (if at all) the Constitution with little or no discussion of the reasoning that went into the writing.

    • CA.org says:

      Susan, we are so glad to have you back with us for the third year in a row! You are correct that it is so important to understand the basic principles and the founders’ intent. That is why we the first Forum we did explored the Federalist Papers! And you were such an important part of that dialogue!

      We look forward to an ongoing conversation with you over the next 90 days!
      Joyfully,
      Janine and Cathy

  14. Robert Sommers says:

    I am excited to be doing this years study. To call our system a backwater give clear example of the fluidity and how convoluted and weak other Constitutional governments are. By making it difficult to amend the document it forces deep thought, introspection and careful review of the change. It is my thought that other weaker or failed constitutional efforts have had a built-in weakening element. I think that in it self bares scrutiny. Why does our Constitution stand the test but others fail or are weak? What is the common denominator?

  15. BrodieK says:

    Happy Presidents Day! Thanks to all the U.S. Presidents for serving. Special thanks to George Washington and Abraham Lincoln for their leadership, as we celebrate both birthdays this month. Of course we must remember “The father of the Constitution” James Madison and the “father of the Declaration of Independence” Thomas Jefferson. So glad I stumbled on this post. I have signed up for the online course and will be following Constitute America and spreading the word.

    • CA.org says:

      Thank you, Brodiek! We look forward to hearing from you as we travel through the 27 Amendments to the U.S. Constitution in the next 90 Days!
      Joyfully,
      Janine & Cathy

  16. Jane Bonvillain says:

    This is the first time I’ve participated in this, so I am excited to be doing so. And I’m ashamed to say that my knowledge of the Constitution is not what it should be so thank you very much for coordinating this. Any citizen who loves this country and desires it to not go over the cliff, really must read and learn about what our Founding Fathers so brilliantly established. And, I also found it very interesting that only 27 amendments (of 5,000 proposed) have been adopted. That number alone speaks volumes as to the sanctity of the document. Looking forward to tomorrow’s. 🙂

    • CA.org says:

      Hi Jane! We are so glad to have you be a part of our 90 Day Study! Thank you for using your awesome networking skills to spread the word! We saw all your “shares” on Facebook!

      Thank you for writing!

      Joyfully,

      Janine & Cathy
      PS (we miss you in DC!!)

  17. Rob Stewart says:

    Thank you for doing this again. My first time. I painfully watch as politicians trample our constitution. We give them this opportunity by our ignorance. I am so happy to be part of this and I thank you for your efforts. Its time we wake up and take the country back. This essay was a great start.

    • CA.org says:

      Howdy Rob! Thank you for joining us and for taking the time to share your thoughts! We look forward to hearing more from you!
      Joyfully,
      Janine & Cathy

  18. Susan Craig says:

    Heard someone posit that part of the reason was that the rights in ours were the gift from God not the gift of the government or men.

  19. Rochelle Porto says:

    Good evening everyone from the birthplace of our Great Constitution – now 225 years strong for all Patriotic Americans who revere it still. Thank you Janine and Cathy for the chance to continue to study and examine the Constitution through Constituting America. The students in my Patriot’s Club are working hard here in Philly too. This year, I have two groups grades 1st through 6th and I’m reaching approximately 35 students after school.
    Examining today’s government, I agree with Dr. Arnn and I’m glad that the framers intentionally made it difficult to amend the Constitution. In Dr. Arnn’s opening, “If the Constitution is changed too often and for the wrong reasons, the people of America, the Founders held, will lose reverence for its principles, and respect for its rule.” I believe that too many Americans are unaware of the our Constitution’s principles and out of ignorance they have no respect for the rule of law and limits.
    Within the last few weeks, one of our own Supreme Court Justices stated that she would look at other countries constitutions before the one she swore to uphold when she took her oath of office. I don’t believe she’s ignorant of our US Constitution but clearly she finds fault in it. I’m thankful she wasn’t one of the framers, unfortunately she renders judgement in defense of it. [Amendment sidebar: maybe we need to amend Article 3 and “life appointments”].
    Dr. Arnn also points out that for over 100 years there have been people (progressive socialists) that have tried to “change” our Constitution and thankfully the structure and balance of power has proven a to be a rock, a cornerstone. These progressives will continue to try to overhaul the Constitution, but Lord willing those of us today, many appearing on this web site, will stand in defense of the Constitution should another 5000 more said changes be proposed. Thank you for the opportunities you’ve given me and for your dear friendship. I look forward to reading more in the coming 90 days. Happy President’s Day! God’s blessings.

  20. CA.org says:

    Howdy Rochelle! Thank you for all you are doing with your Patriot Club, and for the many ways you assist Constituting America each year in Philadelphia!

    We are so glad to see you on the Amendment Study blog! Thank you for your comment! Please check in tomorrow to Read Richard Brookhiser’s essay on the Bill of Rights!

    Joyfully,
    Janine & Cathy

  21. Jocelyn White says:

    Got up this Presidents Day, flew my flag and read the great explanation of the importance of the Bill of Rights that IS Our Constitution. I found the amendment process fascinating. Really looking forward to this year’s session. May God Bless You and May God continue to Bless Our Constitution!

  22. Glenda Smith says:

    I enjoyed reading today’s blog. I did not participate in last year’s study but certainly studied The Federalist Papers in college. These should really be taught/explored in high school or perhaps before. Living in a state where one of our current senators was appointed by her father and allegedly elected by a write in vote, questionably serving our state, I agree with repealing election by popular vote. That alone could go a long way in getting the federal government back on track in caring for the responsibilities delegated and not trying to extend that reach where it does not belong.

  23. James Weatherford says:

    Janine and Cathy

    Thanks for carrying the message of Liberty, Freedom, pursuit of Happyness.

    Have challenged my friends to engage Hillsale’s Constitution 101 opportunity.

    Good Speed.

  24. Jay says:

    I have a feeling I don’t ideologically jibe with many who have posted here, and would recommend everyone who has heard a capitulation of what that particular Justice told an Egyptian interviewer in it’s entirety. I look forward to Dr. Arnn’s 17th Amendment look, but view the amendment in very favorable light. A study of Industrial Revolution history in America shows the legislative election of Senators led to boss systems that extended into the federal government… and was much responsible for a Chester Arthur presidency, and even to Harrison, Cleveland, and McKinley. The positive is the fact our Constitution is so difficult to amend is testament to the strength of its structure… and that is well pointed out by Dr. Arnn. Thank you so kindly for this study, and I look forward to this learning experience. God bless!!

  25. Debbie Bridges says:

    Ralph, I enjoy your responses as well! I learn as much from everyone else here as I do from the essays. I participated for the Federalist Papers but not as much last year. Looking forward to participating this year.

  26. I agree with you, “Once the supreme court stopped limiting Congress’ power to the 18 enumerated powers and started expanding the meanings of simple words, Congress does what ever it wants. Once the legislature is no longer willing to impeach a president who does things beyond the powers granted to him, and once congress is unwilling to impeach and remove judges who legislate from the bench, there is no one limiting any branch in the federal government and the 14th section 1 and the 17th amendments have removed any limits from being placed by the states” This is where we stand today, a president who is doing, appointing, going over congress head to do what he wants..

  27. Richard Cahalan says:

    Two days late in signing on because I’ve been tied up with business. However, let me say it is gratifying to see all the positive comments from readers of this forum. I will be participating from now on and look forward to a great learning experience.

  28. Richard Cahalan says:

    Howdy folks, I’m late in joining because I’ve been up the past couple of days with business but, I look forward to participating in the rest of this forum. This is a great exercise in teaching about ou founding.

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