Reading US Constitution in Congress 2011
Stunt or Getting Grounded
Last week to start the 112th congress, the US constitution was red in congress. Some suggest this was a stunt. Others suggest this was to ground members on the meaning of the constitution. I like to hope this was not the first time for some of these members to have read this document.
My sense is that this was not a stunt. If you look at the CSpan Video below, you can see that the reading was certainly bipartisan...something not seen on any scale these days. Therefore it would suggest that this was something that was done with sincerity.
There was however one thing that bothered me a bit, some of the passages were omitted from the reading. The reason given was that these passages were rendered not relevant because of amendments later passed. They wanted to read it as it applied to today's life. I guess I'm fine with that but the cynic in my wonders if there might be another reason.
Some things left out included procedural things such as direct election of senators, setting times when congress is required to meet and election of the president etc. Others were of more significant consequence such as succession of the presidency and the entire 18th amendment regarding prohibition on liquor.
Remaining items include such issues as the 3/5 compromise and return of escaped slaves clause. These were made irrelevant by 13th amendment. But one has to wonder if it was these two passages were left out because the were too inflammatory while the others were simply just bystanders caught up in a political climate where nobody wants to get anyone upset.
History of 3/5 Compromise
For those who do not know, the 3/5 compromise in the constitution was between northern and southern states regarding how to count 'other' not included in the census. Those others were slaves. The Northern states who wanted to do away with slavery wanted these others to count for 0. The southern states wanted them to count for 1 full person.
Why you ask would the northern states want to make slaves count for 0 in apportionment? If the slaves were not included in census counts, then the number of seats in congress allocated to southern states would be reduced. That would mean that northern states who wanted to do away with slavery would have more legislative advantages and give them the power to deal with the problem legislatively.
The compromise was reached because both the Northern and Southern states needed one another and both knew it was in their best interest to come to an agreement. This was the agreement.
My problem here is I believe this is a teachable moment. Looking through the prism of 20th century thinking, the idea that someone could be worth 3/5 of a person is unthinkable. We can not reconcile such an idea with the idea of freedom. Back at the time when this was written, it was a highly tactical political move to solve what could have been an intractable problem. Sure there was more to this, as there were revenue implications and another clause added for return of escaped slaves but it was also something which should be studied by future generations to see how compromise is made. For now it will have to be a lost opportunity.
In the end, it was good to have these people who serve us, the voting public, to remember who put them there. This document is what keeps us from devolving in to anarchy. It's words must be preserved as they were intended otherwise, they mean nothing. My hope is that these men and women who serve on our behalf take heed from what they have read and act as our founders intended.
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