How to Recreate a Constitution
From Amending Principles to Doing Without

Essay by
Sarah Emily Jordan


October 2010

The Progressives "improve" the Constitution

Justly revered as our great Constitution is, it could be stripped off and thrown aside like a garment, and the nation would still stand forth in the living vestment of flesh and sinew, warm with the heart-blood of one people, ready to recreate constitutions and laws.

Woodrow Wilson
"The Modern Democratic State"  (1885; first published in 1966)
The Papers of Woodrow Wilson, Volume 5
And so it begins. One of the Progressive hallmarks is the belief that the Constitution of the United States is a "living document". This means that it is supposed to change with the times. So for over a hundred years now, Progressives have been working to change the document. The early Progressive era occurred in the early Twentieth Century up through the 1920s. Franklin D. Roosevelt's long presidency was the second era of Progressive change. Lyndon B. Johnson began a third era of Progressive change, one that continued until the bulwark of principle that was Ronald Reagan. Unfortunately after Reagan, Progressive change has continued at an ever-increasing speed. How have they done it? Well, they started by working to change the Constitution through its own prescribed measures, amendments.

Four amendments to the Constitution came about during the early Progressive era:

  • Amendment XVI — Federal Income Tax
    The Founding Fathers would have absolutely opposed this amendment. One of the rights that the Constitution was established to protect is the right of property. Property includes income earned. Initially this amendment was proposed as a tax only on the rich. But, it opened the doors for taxing any and all people gaining an income. It has become so entrenched that we hardly notice how much money the government takes from us, and feel grateful to get a tax return back which is just a pittance of the money we put in. This was the beginning of the re-distribution of wealth in the US.

  • Amendment XVII — Popular Election of Senators
    This one was an attempt to democratize our Republic. There was a reason that the Founders had Senators appointed by the states. The Founders formed the federal government to be as minimally powerful as possible. The states were supposed to be far more influential than they are now. Many Americans are hardly informed about the actions of the federal government. Ask yourself how aware you are of what your state government is up to. Imagine if your federal Senators were determined by your state representation. We would all be more informed and more involved, and our Senators would be more responsible to the states that sent them there.

  • Amendment XVIII — Prohibition
    I'm no fan of alcohol, especially from having worked in the addictions area of behavioral health. But Prohibition was the attempt to take away something people already had, and it was done under the guise that it was for their own benefit. It was a mandate from the government to the people. And boy, did the people respond. Crime related to the illegal production and use of alcohol was rampant. Prohibition was eventually repealed. I think at that time those of the Progressive bent realized that if they wanted to reform society they needed to do it in another way, a sneakier way.

  • Amendment XIX — Women's Suffrage
    Alright, I'll give credit where it is due. The Progressives jumped on board the Women's Suffrage band wagon. They hoped that women, who were by and large more supportive of Prohibition than men, would maintain that mandate. One of the hallmarks of the Progressives is their attempt to identify with groups, and to maintain support from those groups. That has certainly been the case for women.

So, there we have it, the first attempts to recreate the Constitution. Now days people hardly realize there was a time in America when our income wasn't taxed and when people were more involved in state politics. I do very much appreciate women's suffrage but I sometimes cringe at the reality that Progressives have used identify politics to further their own agenda and really to make women feel that if they don't support "progress" they are somehow not real women. We didn't have our rights secured originally only to be told what to do with those rights.

Contemporary Progressives bypass the Constitution

As I said, Progressives learned a valuable lesson from Prohibition. Mandating behavioral change through the Constitution was not going to work. If they really wanted society to "progress" towards perfection they would have to go around the Constitution.

Recently Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) was asked about the Constitutionality of the healthcare reform bill and had a rather telling response:


You know what, Congresswoman? You make an excellent point. Where in the world does the Constitution give Congress the power to create Social Security, a banner FDR era ideal, and Medicare a banner LBJ era ideal? The answer is: it doesn't. But Congress believed it knew what was best for us. And since the likelihood of either of these programs passing with 2/3 majority of not just Congress but also of all the states was not super, they went around the Constitution. I have to confess here that sometimes I get a little bit grouchy for the fact that previous political generations have saddled us with these monsters. Both Social Security and Medicare are so deep in the red, recovery likely is going to take generations.

Congress continues the practice of passing unpopular legislation, as evidenced by the recent passage of Obamacare. It is certainly irritating in the extreme and does not bode well for the future. What bodes even worse is the Obama era (which, let's face it: he is just carrying on the antics of recent presidents albeit with more rapidity and volume) tactic for implementing Progressive reform, this recreation of the Constitution.

Voted laws replaced by unvoted regulations & rulings

An October 6, 2010 article from the Los Angeles Times details the Obama Administration's new strategy following the November elections. White House senior advisor David Axelrod had this to say "It's fair to say that the next phase is going to be less about legislative action than it is about managing the change that we've brought". The article explains that "... the best arena for Obama to execute his plans may be his own branch of government. That means more executive orders, more use of the bully pulpit, and more deployment of his ample regulatory powers and the wide-ranging rule-making authority of his Cabinet members." Ummm, I don't know what is more disconcerting, the fact that they're doing this, or the fact that they are so doing it so openly. I mean — don't get me wrong, I don't want them to do this in secret — it just seems like the administration thinks that people are just going to go along with this lovely new approach. Are they really that arrogant?

The Washington Times recently ran an article called "Tyranny of the Unelected" by Wayne Crews. In it Mr. Crews presents some interesting facts such as, "Congress passed and the president signed 125 bills into law in 2009. Your tireless federal regulatory agencies were even busier: They issued 3,503 rules and regulations." That's jaw dropping. Here's another fact: "The year's Federal Register — the daily depository of federal regulations — already tops 61,000 pages." Here's another: "According to research conducted for the Small Business Administration by economists Nicole V. and W. Mark Crain, annual off-budget regulatory costs exceed $1.7 trillion, an amount equivalent to more than half the level of the federal budget itself and on a par with the stratospheric annual deficit." Crews goes on to propose legislation called the REINS Act (Regulations from the Executive In Need of Scrutiny) to try to address the beast of executive regulatory madness.

So, we've gone from amendments, to Congress passing whatever the heck bill they feel like regardless of its actual benefit or approval, to the Executive branch taking a completely unconstitutional role in regulating our affairs. For good measure, let's make sure we include judicial activism, when judges rule according to what they feel is right, not what the law is. And what do we have to show for all of this? Debt well above our ears and the ears of our grandchildren, a government that feels it can do whatever the heck they want without any consequences despite a Constitution sitting there just waiting to be followed. Those who want our government to address the ever-growing problem of Social Security and Medicare, or who dare to say that regulatory agencies like the EPA should have some accountability, or who have the unmitigated gall to mention that our leaders really ought to start following the Constitution, are branded as extremists. What the flip is going on here?

There is a way to come back to sanity. It starts by acknowledging which principles work and which ones don't. We don't need a new Constitution, we need to follow the one we have. The Progressive changes have not worked, and no amount of money or effort is going to suddenly, magically make them start working. The Republic our founders set up was built on principles, not the number of citizens. Those principles of freedom can work regardless of how many people are here, or how many different places we all originated from. Freedom works, it really does.


© 2010 Sarah Emily Jordan

First appeared at
Sarah Emily Jordan's blog
The Conservative Independent Rant

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