The folks who ought to know tell us that it was the first time in the history of the nation that the Constitution was read aloud in either chamber of the Congress.
The Constitution as ratified consists of about 4,500 words. Together with the 27 amendments, the document runs a little less than 8,000 words. It took the members of Congress about ninety minutes to read the whole thing out loud.
The members were generally pleased with the experience, and it apparently set a precedent. The 113th Congress which convened in 2013 repeated the exercise.
Interestingly, the version of the Constitution which was read in Congress was not the actual text. It was a sanitized rendering with all direct and indirect references to slavery and Prohibition removed, as well as superseded procedures for selecting the President and Vice President. That brought a complaint from Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr., who opined that the Republican majority in the House had redacted parts of the founding documents, leaving out all parts that memorialize the blood, sweat and tears expended to make the blessing of liberty universal in America.
Good point. The fact that slaves were described as “other persons” and counted at only three-fifths of their number in the original document explains why the thirteenth and fourteenth amendments were necessary. And the adoption and later repeal of Prohibition delivers a lesson in democracy which needs remembering.
Certainly, the staff of the House of Representatives ought not to be given carte blanche to cut up the Supreme Law of the Land, or to decide which words in the charter don’t matter any more.
One important benefit of the reading ceremony ought to be that members of Congress are reminded of little known and rarely discussed constitutional provisions.
How about Article 1, Section 8, which says, among other things, that no appropriation of money to raise and support an army shall be for more than two years? Does anyone mention that restriction when the House debates the authorization of long term contracts for military equipment?
And how often does anyone wonder out loud why, if the Constitution requires representation in the House to be proportional to the population of the States, there has been no increase in the number of Representatives in over a hundred years?
Reading the Constitution aloud is a nice custom, but if it is done merely as a ceremony, “full of sound and fury, but signifying nothing” it shall then be truly as Shakespeare said, “a tale told by idiots.”
Constitutionalism is spreading like a virus across the land. Hillsdale College has set out to gather a million signatures to a petition demanding return to constitutional government in Washington. The College proposes to supply free copies of the founding documents to every pubic official in America.
The Internet is abuzz with talk of resuscitating the Constitution, of proposing amendments, of reining in unconstitutional government.
Unfortunately, the government is like the weather, everybody talks about it, but nobody does anything about it.
I have been trying to change all of that. My efforts appear on the World Wide Web at www.conventionusa.org. My reasons are explained in a forthcoming book entitled THE ARTICLE V AMENDATORY CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION: Keeping the Republic in the Twenty-First Century.
Publication is scheduled for September 16th. Anyone interested in ordering the book may do so on Amazon.com. Just click here: BUY THE BOOK.
The book is expensive. I didn’t set the price, the publisher did. Whatever I make on it will be spent on organizing the convention.
When you finish reading it, send it to your Congressman, and ask him to read it. Out loud.