America’s experiment in self-government reveals itself in the Amendment process
I’m honored and delighted Constituting America would extend me an opportunity to conclude this year’s round of essays on the amendment process and to address the genius of the U.S. Constitution.
Our Founding Fathers believed in some simple and yet, for their times, absolutely revolutionary ideas. One of these ideas was that every individual possessed fundamental rights even prior to these rights ever being put into writing. Recall the words of the Declaration that these rights were “unalienable” and their existence a “self-evident” truth.
Another revolutionary idea was that government power or action essentially occurs at the expense of individual rights and liberties. This idea turned completely upside down the reality of nearly every government in history to that point. Most systems of rule placed a monarch, tyrant, or oligarchy at the top of subservient masses. Even in colonial times, many of us may forget, Americans were “subjects” to the British crown.
A remarkable thing about our system is that we place all of the citizenry at the top of the hierarchy.
At the Constitutional Convention in 1787, the Founders put in writing exactly how Americans would rule themselves within a framework of individual liberty. The document announced to the world a new concept: limited government at the heel of free people.
George Washington described this concept in a letter to a nephew shortly after the conclusion of the convention. “The power under the Constitution will always be in the people. It is entrusted for certain defined purposes, and for a certain limited period, to representatives of their own choosing; and whenever it is executed contrary to their interests, or not according to their wishes, their servants can, and undoubtedly will, be recalled.”
Moreover, not only could representatives be changed, but the document itself could be altered. The Constitution’s amendment process is self-government at work. Other writers of this series over the past 90 days highlight more than two centuries of reform and adjustment. Our Founders set up an amazing basic framework where citizens will forever have the privilege and right, under Article V, of making amendments.
During my early years in the House I worked for the ratification of the 27th Amendment, a provision dealing with Congressional pay originally part of the Bill of Rights but left un-ratified until 1992. It was a privilege to see the genius of our Founders at work again, two centuries later. My respect for that genius has only grown.
Shortly after my swearing in as Speaker of the House at the start of the 112th Congress, the Constitution was read in full on the House floor. To the best of my knowledge, this had never been done before in American history. I hope and trust a new tradition has been initiated.
This was done not only to honor liberty-loving Americans who take seriously Washington’s advice to recall “contrary” representatives, but because my Republican colleagues had promised to put our founding documents in their proper perspective. In our Pledge to America, we said: “We pledge to honor the Constitution as constructed by its framers and honor the original intent of those precepts that have been consistently ignored – particularly the Tenth Amendment, which grants that all powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.”
My colleagues and I also passed a House rule that requires Members to cite Constitutional authority in every piece of legislation they introduce. The American people deserve to know that the laws we pass and the actions we take comport with the spirit of our Constitution.
Let me again thank Constituting America for their education work. They live by the admonition of James Madison: “A well-instructed people alone can be permanently a free people.”
Since its ratification in 1788 the success of our Constitution has been a precious gift worth defending. It is a light for the rest of the world and a torch to be handed to future generations.
The Honorable John Boehner represents the 8th Congressional District of Ohio, and is serving in the 112th Congress as the 53rd Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.
June 22, 2012
At the end of another chapter in your valuable work, those of us who have followed Constituting America from the beginning hope that you will continue to provide instructional material for those of us who were not properly instructed in school. Personally, I hope that you can develope a method of improving the classroom material available to teacher in our school system. May God Bless you.
Hi Jim! Thank you for writing, and for following our 90 Day Studies for the past three years! We value your participation!
We continue to work to spread the word to teachers about the materials available in our archived 90 Day Studies; our Patriot Clubs; the awesome music videos, short films & PSA’s available on our site made by students, for students; and of course our contest which is a great classroom project! We strive to continue to grow, and offer more as our resources allow.
Thank you again! We hope to see you back here often.
Janine and Cathy
Janine & Cathy,
I can’t thank you enough for the enlightenment I’ve received over the past three years. The only sadness I’ve had is that, although I’ve encouraged many of my friends and colleagues to join in the program, I suspect few, if any, have. Unless a significant percentage of Americans take time to learn the basis of their nation’s founding, we cannot fight our way out of the current morass created in DC.
I had no basis for arguing conservative positions, other than my personal feelings, prior to beginning these studies; since participating, I’ve found dozens, if not hundreds, of occasions to cite specific sections of the Constitution, the Federalist Papers, and now, the Amendments in my arguments. I’ve found this far more effective than merely expressing feelings.
It is important not only for conservatives to participate in these studies, but also for liberals to do so. Many of them also argue from feelings; if just some of them understood our founding fathers’ concepts and reasons, they might see how far distant from our founders’ concepts their progressivism has taken them.
I don’t know what you have in mind for next year, but don’t stop now. Personally, I would like to return to the Federalist Papers, which study would be more meaningful now that I’ve studied the Constitution and Amendments in greater detail. I had no context in which to study the FP the first time through.
Thanks so much for what you’ve done,
Ron, we thank you for your thoughtful comments! Your participation and insight throughout our 90 Day Studies over the past three years has meant so much to us! We will keep your thoughts in mind regarding the Federalist Papers, and welcome any further comments you have for future 90 Day projects!
Thank you for spending time with us here on our blog! We have learned so much from these projects, and from you!
Janine & Cathy
PS – Please encourage the students in your life, Kindergarten through College and Law School to enter our We The People 9.17 Contest. Entries due in 11 days – July 4th – Rules and info here: http://www.constitutingamerica.org/downloads.php – $2,000 prizes for law school; $2,000 prizes for college; $1,000 for high school; gift cards for younger students; trip; national publicity!
The enumerated power citation of House Bills is a good start and the former Congressman Shaddag was a champion of making that house rule a law to affect even the Senate; but a swath of amendments is needed to take it to the next level:
If 1/5th the body answers negative to a challenge to the germaness of a rider or amendment to a bill…such as a labor law being slipped in a defense appropriations bill…then the rider or amendement will be entitled to a separate bill number and vote to entertain a seperate signature of apprpval of the President. Notwithstanding, if 1/5th the body of both houses anwers in the negative on the germaneness of a rider or amendment to a bill; then the rider or amendment is drawn for a conferderate vote of 2/3rds of state legislatures as a statuatory law not signed by any executive.
Janine & Cathy,
Thanks for another great series!
As I mentioned in a previous series; it would be great to see these series published in a book form, if that’s possible.
Can’t wait to see what your next project will be
Ron, thank you for participating in our 90 Days Studies, and for your encouragement on the book! Janine’s daughter, Juliette, has a book coming out soon which you will love: Our Constitution Rocks! We are giving it away to every student who achieves finalist level in our contest!
Please encourage the students in your life to enter our We The People 9.17 Contest, open to students Kindergarten through college and law school. Entries due July 4th! Rules and info here: http://www.constitutingamerica.org/downloads.php
Thank you again for your kind words,
Janine & Cathy