Politics-Government, Reviews.

So slender a thread

Book Pocket Review, Title The Constitution Of The United States Of America, Author United States, Rating 4.0, So slender a thread do our freedoms hang upon

The Constitution Of The United States Of America

United States

Pocket Review



In one good hour the U.S. Constitution can be read from front to back. It is written in relatively clear language and still has the capacity to surprise.

Perhaps the biggest surprise is the lack of universality of the Bill of Rights.  In previous readings I had not noticed that each of the first ten Constitutional amendments that comprise the Bill of Rights are explicitly constraints on the Federal government, and so are not explicitly binding on the several states.  For example, the first clause of the First Amendment reads:  

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;"(Thomas Norton, The Constitution of the United States, its Sources and its Application)  (page 197)  it speaks to the separation of Church and State, and of the freedom to exercise any and all religions, but . . . only constrains Congress, and does not declare these rights universal and thereby inviolable.  If Massachusetts, for example, wanted to establish a state Church, and write laws requiring mandatory church attendance or punish people for worshipping other than the state religion, it is not precluded by the First Amendment from doing so.

>So slender a thread do our freedoms hang upon; in this case the general and misguided perception by most in the U.S. that freedom of religion is a universal protection afforded by our Constitution, when it is limited in fact to the Federal Government, and when the several states can choose their own rules.  This is true of all of the Amendments comprising the Bill of Rights.

The Ninth Amendment was another surprise, which seems, in one sentence, to say that just because the first eight amendments list specific individual rights does not mean that they are the only rights which reside, rather than with government, with individual citizens.

The 24th Amendment, ratified in 1964, protects all eligible voters from being subjected to poll taxes; I had thought that this was done via the Civil Rights legislation produced around the same period.  Twelve states did not ratify it, primarily states of the Deep South.

The best books on the Constitution are those that provide explanation and historical context. Through the magic of Google Books, there are a number available as free eBooks, many of them truly historical, written 150 or 100 years ago, and can provide a window into the shifting interpretations of the Constitution.

 

Notes

1.Of the essays included in the book, Warren Burger’s commentary is a little too obviously patriotic in the weak sense, but the short history of the Constitution contained herein, written by Sen. Mathias is more robust.

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