Sunday, April 18, 2010

Constitutional Surprise

Robin posted on facebook that she had an assignment in her American government class to write a 750 word essay explaining what you find to be the most surprising aspect of the United States Constitution. Since this is one of my most favorite subjects, I figured I'd do one for myself. Starting with deciding that I'd have a hard time choosing which aspect of the constitution is the most surprising, but that I'd use a topic that I'd recently studied.

I think a very surprising aspect of the Constitution of the United States of America is that it doesn't deal with the aspect of secession. While today, this doesn't mean much to your average Joe, in the mid to late eighteen hundreds, this was a big deal. Was this subject left unwritten for a reason, do the flies on the wall of the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention in 1787 know if there was debate on this very subject? With my limited resources, I wasn't able to find record of such debate in the time leading up to that convention.

Supreme Court decisions in the late eighteen hundreds, examples: United States v. Cathcart, 25 F. Cas. 344, 348 (C.C.S.D. Ohio 1864) (No. 14,756) & White v. Hart, 80 U.S. 13 Wall. 646 646 (1871), conclude that states may not secede. Citing the preamble, and specifically the phrase "… in order to form a more perfect union …". Since the United States of America as we know it existed under the Articles of Confederation before the constitution we live by today was ratified, was this the union that they wanted to make “more perfect”? Reaching back to Article XIII from the Articles of Confederation, specifically the phrase “... and the Union shall be perpetual ...” we find a very powerful statement. Why wasn't this language included in today's Constitution? Did the founding fathers intend for states to be able to secede or was it assumed that the more perfect union would also be perpetual?

We know today that the consequence of this ambiguity was the Civil War. I happen to think that the perpetual union is what was intended by the founding fathers, and that a little clarity on this issue would have prevented the Civil War. But what if I'm wrong (which I'm not, but hypothetically), and that the perpetual union was never intended, where would we be today?

I know it isn't 750 words, but hey, I'm not being graded and I'm short on time!