Our Constitution: The Myth That Binds Us

Our Constitution: The Myth That Binds Us

Our Constitution: The Myth That Binds Us

Our Constitution: The Myth That Binds Us


Is the Constitution a myth? If that question strikes you as blasphemous, you confirm the thesis of this brightly written book, which offers a lively new perspective on an old but timely subject. Eric Black suggests that the Constitution is not at all what we like to think it is- a fixed body of written law that changes incrementally through amendments and court interpretations. Nor is it a road map to equality and justice for all. What is the Constitution, then?Black suggests that it is the holy writ of a national civil religion, in which Americans expect to find the answers to their most troubling questions. It is a mirror that reflects our history, a medium through which each generation turns its values, attitudes, and prejudices into law. Most of all, it is a myth that gains its power from our belief in it. Based on a series of articles written in 1987, this book presents a hypothesis that no historian or legal scholar would have developed. Bringing the irreverence and inquisitiveness of a journalist to the subject, Black has rethought the story of the framing, the addition of the Bill of Rights, and the relationship between our Constitution and our history. The result is a fresh and clear-eyed explanation of how the Constitution has worked and why it still works today. Eric Black has been with the Star Tribune of Minneapolis- St. Paul for ten years as a state reporter, feature writer, and project reporter.


"The Founding Fathers."

The mere mention of the phrase conjures up glorious images of heroic Washington crossing the Delaware, shy-but-brilliant Jefferson writing "all men are created equal," fiery Patrick Henry demanding liberty or death and friendly old Ben Franklin stealing time from kite-flying to issue witty maxims.

"The Framers of the Constitution."

Those words cast the same men into clearer focus. There they stand, quill pens at the ready, gathered around a table in Philadelphia, creating the timeless document that would guide America from a loose collection of rebellious colonies to a pre-eminent superpower and a worldwide symbol of freedom, equality and democracy.

The picture is glorious and familiar. It reassures us about our country's past and its special place in the world. But, if we are interested in historical accuracy, we may have to make some changes. For example:

Airbrush Thomas Jefferson out of the "Framers" picture in your head. Although in a 1986 poll, Jefferson was the person most often identified as the primary author of our Constitution, he was in France at the time and had mixed feelings about the Constitutional Convention.

Patrick Henry wasn't in Philly either, but he didn't have mixed feelings about the project. He was unalterably opposed to holding the convention. Chosen to be a delegate, Henry refused to go, declaring he "smelt a rat." He hated the document produced in Philadelphia and hurled his considerable oratorical and political power against its ratification. He thought it was an aristocratic, anti-democratic charter, a grave threat to the sovereignty of the Commonwealth of Virginia and "the most fatal plan that could possibly be conceived to enslave a free people."

Former Chief Justice Warren Burger, chairman of the commission established to celebrate the bicentennial of the Constitution, called for the nation to use the bicentennial to give itself a "great civics and history lesson" on the meaning and origin of the . . .

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