We hear a lot these days about Founders’ intent, specifically, what the Founding Fathers intended to say when they wrote the Constitution. For instance, I’ve heard this argument used to both support and tear down the second amendment, but that’s just one example of how often this phrase gets thrown around.
However, the idea I would like to submit to you today is this: It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter what the Founding Fathers intended or thought when they wrote the Constitution.
Now let me explain. The Constitution, which is basically a contract, begins with the phrase “We the People.” This specifies that the two parties in that contract were the people of the United States and the federal government. These people, the biggest element of the Constitution, were giving the federal government certain powers to use. However, certain states refused to ratify this Constitution until further restrictions to the government (or in other words, a Bill of Rights for the people) were added to the document.
Finally, John Hancock and Saumel Adams worked out a compromise with these unhappy states. If the states would ratify the Constitution, then one of the first things the federal government would do would be to establish a Bill of Rights for the people.
This showed that the people were the sovereign ratifiers. The people were giving some power to the federal government. What really mattered, and applies today, is not what the drafters of the Constitution were thinking. Only the Constitution’s words were ratified by the people, the source of our nation’s power, not the Founders’ thoughts or intent. The Founders’ thoughts and intent were most likely hardly considered. Informed citizens deeply intellectually reviewed the words of the Constitution, and decided that those words showed exactly what the federal government could do.
Basically, it doesn’t matter what the intent behind the words was. The words of the Constitution were what was ratified, and that’s all that matters.
Thomas Jefferson is rumored to have said “I tried to read between the lines of the Constitution, but found nothing but blank space.” In other words, allow me to quote yesterday’s speaker:
“Just read the damn lines!”
There is nothing else there! There is nothing there besides those lines, those words that preserve our precious liberties, and that is why the intent of the Founding Fathers does not matter.