The U.S. Constitution: Does It Stand The Test Of Time?

1150 words - 5 pages

A LIVING CONSTITUTION
The U.S. Constitution: Does it stand the test of time?

In 1835, less than half a century after the ratification of the U.S. Constitution, Alexis de TocqueviUe observed in his famous book, Democracy in America, "...The social state of America is a very strange phenomenon. Men there are nearer equality in wealth and mental endowments ... than in any other country of the world or in any other age or recorded history."1 Indeed, by Tocqueville's time, America had already begun to live up to the legacy that the Founding Fathers had ardently expressed in the Constitution: that America be the exemplar of freedom and equality. Today, America continues to grow and prosper from these ideals of democratic governance. And in so doing, the Constitution lives on as it regulates and adapts to new generations and new ideas.

Much of the Constitution's flexibility can be attributed to the elastic clause (Article I, Section 8), which gives Congress the power to make all laws that are "necessary and proper" to carry out the laws explicitly listed in the Constitution. Such implied powers allow Congress not to be limited solely to the expressed powers of the Constitution and have been used throughout history as a means to adapt to a rapidly changing culture. For example, in the landmark case, McCulloch v. Maryland (1819), the controversy regarding whether Congress had the power to charter a bank was brought to the forefront.2 Albeit the Constitution made no explicit reference to a national bank, Marshall declared that chartering a bank was among the implied powers of Congress "necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers [such as taxation borrowing money, and regulating commerce],"3 thus allowing the Constitution to evolve along with the changing needs of the nation.

Another means by which the Constitution lives through today is the amendment process. As James Madison explained, "It guards equally against that extreme facility which would render the Constitution too mutable; and that extreme difficulty which might perpetuate its discovered faults."4 The first ten amendments are known as the Bill of Rights, which were added to the Constitution to "reassure the people that the vastly strengthened federal government would not oppress them and to secure individual rights for the long term."5 For example, Amendment I guarantees the freedoms of religion, speech, press, assembly, and petition. Other amendments include the abolition of slavery (Amendment XIII); the rights of citizens, including due process of law and equal protection under the law (Amendment XIV); and women's suffrage (Amendment XIX). Some amendments reflect issues unheard of at the time that the Constitution was ratified, but that became prominent as the country and society progressed. For example, Amendment XXVI, ratified in 1971, lowered the voting age from 21 to 18 after people complained during Vietnam that if they could be drafted into the army at age...

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