Contemporary Questions Surrounding the Constitutional Amending Process

By John R. Vile | Go to book overview

Chapter 1
The Origins and History of the Constitutional Amending Process in America

One of the glories of the United States of America is its claim to live under a written constitution, thereby formalizing James Harrington's wise maxim that government should be an "empire of laws and not of men," 1 while departing from the British model of parliamentary sovereignty. 2 As bicentennial celebrations of the United States Constitution in the last decade have indicated, this Constitution is now the world's oldest. It has also served as a prototype for many newly emerging democracies. 3

Although some individuals have asserted that the U.S. Constitution is a perfect document, 4 such claims do not ring true to those who know its history and origins. 5 Although many hoped and prayed for divine blessings on their work, the fifty-five delegates to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 did not go to a mountaintop to receive authoritative commands but rather spent a long, hot summer forging a series of compromises that would lead to "a more perfect Union." 6 Some of their solutions have remained relatively permanent, but others were clearly inadequate and have since been revised.


ANTECEDENTS TO ARTICLE V

A clear indication that the American Framers recognized the inadequacy and contingency of their own work while expressing faith in the wisdom of their posterity 7 is revealed by Article V of the Constitution which provides for formal constitutional change. 8 This provision was not a complete novelty in that an amending process had been developed in rudimentary form in a number of the charters that were issued in the mid-Atlantic region, beginning in the 1680s, by William Penn. 9 In proclaiming independence,

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