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A Community Built on Words: The Constitution in History and by H. Jefferson Powell

By H. Jefferson Powell

H. Jefferson Powell bargains a strong new method of one of many imperative matters in American constitutional pondering this day: the matter of constitutional law's historicity, or the numerous ways that constitutional arguments and results are formed either by means of historic conditions and by means of the political objectives and commitments of varied actors, together with judges. The presence of such affects is frequently thought of hugely problematical: if constitutional legislations is political and historic via and during, then what differentiates it from politics according to se, and what provides it integrity and coherence? Powell argues that constitutional concept has as its (sometimes hidden) time table the ambition of unveiling how constitutional legislations can get away from heritage and politics, whereas a lot constitutional heritage seeks to spot an traditionally real which means of the constitutional textual content that, as soon as exposed, can function a corrective to next deviations from that truth.Combining background and conception, Powell analyzes a chain of constitutional controversies from 1790 to 1944 to illustrate that constitutional legislations from its very starting has concerned politically charged and ideologically divisive arguments. Nowhere in our prior can one locate the golden age of apolitical constitutional pondering good deal of up to date scholarship seeks or presupposes. considered over the years, American constitutional legislations is a historical past of political dispute couched in constitutional terms.Powell then takes his conclusions one step additional, claiming that it really is accurately this ancient culture of argument that has given American constitutional legislations a notable coherence and integrity over the years. it doesn't matter what the actual political disputes of the day could be, constitutional argument has supplied a shared language during which our political neighborhood has been in a position to struggle out its battles with no eventually fracturing. A group outfitted on phrases could be needs to analyzing for any pupil of constitutional background, concept, or legislation.

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Underlying Jefferson’s heated language, and his none-too-subtle appeals to Washington’s predispositions as a planter and landowner, lay a profound discomfort about the tendencies of political power. For all his genuine belief in popular republicanism (Hamilton once wrote disparagingly that Jefferson “is too much in earnest in his democracy”)30 Jefferson possessed a strain of deep pessimism about the uses to which even republican governments are likely to put their authority. Power, for him, was in some sense fundamentally the power of doing wrong, and as a consequence Jefferson had a marked tendency to assume that the Constitution’s fundamental purpose is negative or prohibitory.

The premise is a possible construction of the text’s meaning in eighteenth-century English, not a necessary one. But that is the most that could have been said for the opposite premise, or indeed any other. The words on the page do not supply what is necessary to answer Washington’s inquiry, and the interpreter must look elsewhere, not out of disregard for the authority of the written Constitution but precisely so that it may be brought to bear on a question its words do not literally address. Even Jefferson’s specifically textual points derive their significance in his reasoning from his extratextual premise.

The national bank, as this list portrays it, would create an unfamiliar and privileged elite, competing with ordinary citizens over land and other wealth without being subject to the rules and political processes that govern everyone else. The bank, in short, poses a direct threat to the pursuit of financial security and personal honor and stature in the community that is a central concern of respectable citizens of Virginia such as one George Washington, Esq. On returning to this theme at the end of his opinion, Jefferson shifted his emphasis from the bank as a potential threat to individual prosperity and freedom to Congress as a present danger to the settled order of society: Can it be thought that the Constitution intended that .

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