"The American Constitution is the most wonderful work ever struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man" - British Prime Minister William Gladstone
Aside from the fact that even in 1878, that statement was wildly out of date when Gladstone made it, with five additional amendments since the Bill of Rights, it displays a complete absence of historical perspective about what a country's constitution really is and about who we are, the product of almost 300 years of struggle.
The purists will look at the title of this article and wonder why we decided to use a small "c" instead of a capital "C." The difference is important. The Constitution of the United States, is the proper name of the document that we normally refer to as our Constitution. But there is a much more ancient constitution, one that refers to our make-up, the way we are in the world, that is what this communiqué is about.
We are in a constitutional crisis at the moment, whether the Supreme Court is involved or not. The legitimacy of our institutions is being threatened. Our country has suffered a widespread propaganda attack, and the very notion of truth has been brought into question, threatening rational discourse in a way that is truly unprecedented.
Merely 13 years before Gladstone made that comment, the bloodiest civil war in human history up to that time, had just concluded at Appomattox was followed by more than a decade of military occupation, a period known as The Reconstruction, which was coming to an end as he made his comment. The compromises of the Constitutional Convention, allowing slavery and a system of representation based on counting slaves, had come to a violent end. We were a new nation.
Today, we are faced with a challenge, an intellectual assault, that is far more profound. We are faced with the spectre of dictatorial power threatening institutions that have languished in disrepair and neglect. As we face what may be Constitutional crises, it is important to remember that there is a deeper constitution that Americans have relied upon to build our country from the fragments of war and the challenges of waves of refugees who have come seeking a better life.
It is not easy. As one constitutional scholar once noted, the Constitution is "an invitation to struggle." Thatlong deceased author, Edward S. Corwin, is worth reading again. His thoughts on judicial review may be an important reminder of how our constitution should work. We may need to remember that we have always struggled. And we knew when to use should.