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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Not Set in Stone

Those who believe that the United States Constitution should be set in stone may wish to consider these words written by Thomas Jefferson:

"Some men look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence, and deem them like the Ark of the Covenant, too sacred to be touched. They ascribe to the men of the preceding age a wisdom more than human, and suppose what they did beyond amendment. . . . Let us follow no such examples, nor weakly believe that one generation is not as capable of taking care of itself, and of ordering its own affairs . . . Each generation is as independent of the one preceding, as that was of all which had gone before."

Times changes and our fundamental laws may well need to change with them. Both slavery and the denial of women's suffrage were permitted by the Consitution as originally adopted. The first was an unpleasant political compromise lest the new nation never come into being and the latter merely reflected the custom of the times.

Eventually, however, those wrongs were righted.

Still outstanding is the denial of representation in the House and Senate for the six hundred thousand citizens of the District of Columbia. Can we, with a straight face, describe ourselves as a democracy when we disenfranchise so many people for no other reason than the fact that they live in a particular jurisdiction?

The Constitution is a good, but still imperfect, document. It could become better if the fundamentalists were to recognize that Mr. Jefferson actually gave us permission to amend it.

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