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American Epic: Reading the U.S. Constitution by Garrett Epps

By Garrett Epps

In 1987, E.L. Doctorow celebrated the Constitution's bicentennial via analyzing it. "It is 5 thousand phrases lengthy yet reads like fifty thousand," he stated. wonderful criminal pupil Garrett Epps--himself an award-winning novelist--disagrees. it truly is approximately 7,500 phrases. And Doctorow "missed a great deal of excessive rhetoric, many literary tropes, or even a hint of, if no longer wit, no less than irony," he writes. american citizens may possibly venerate the structure, "but all too seldom is it read."

In American Epic, Epps takes us via a whole interpreting of the Constitution--even the "boring" parts--to in achieving an appreciation of its energy and a holistic realizing of what it says. during this booklet he seeks to not offer a definitive interpretation, yet to hear the language and examine its which means. He attracts on 4 modes of examining: scriptural, felony, lyric, and epic. The Constitution's first 3 phrases, for instance, sound spiritual--but Epps reveals them to be extra aspirational than prayer-like. "Prayers are addressed to an individual . . . both a secular king or a divine lord, and nice care is taken to call the addressee. . . . This does the opposite. The speaker is 'the people,' the phrases addressed to the realm at large." He turns the second one modification right into a poem to light up its ambiguity. He notices oddities and omissions. The structure lays out principles for presidential appointment of officials, for instance, yet no longer elimination. should still the Senate approve every one firing? Can it withdraw its "advice and consent" and strength a resignation? And he demanding situations himself, as visible in his staggering dialogue of the security of Marriage Act (DOMA) in mild of Article four, which orders states to provide "full religion and credits" to the acts of different states.

Wry, unique, and awesome, American Epic is a scholarly and literary journey de strength.

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Additional resources for American Epic: Reading the U.S. Constitution

Sample text

The new Constitution will promote the “general” welfare, not welfare varying by condition or by place of residence. It will secure our liberties—against whom? There’s an ambiguity here; liberty could be secured against foreign enemies and domestic subversives, or against the new government itself. The latter interpretation is soothing to American ears; but in this context, it seems far-fetched. The clause appears in a list of things government is to do, not things it is not to do; a list of powers, not of prohibitions.

They are federal officials, and their pay is “ascertained by Law,” thus publicly known. No legislative leader or executive official can reward or penalize members of Congress for their actions by withholding pay or adding benefits. Members of Congress vote (even if the session was held in secret, the votes would be made public) on their own salaries and are held to account for them. ) Next, they cannot be arrested for any but the most serious crimes while attending sessions or going to and fro.

Having divided the powers into these three piles, let us look carefully at the two largest ones. First, the city of trade. Congress can borrow money to buy and sell; it can create a currency by which commerce can be carried on, issuing both coin and “securities,” and punishing counterfeiting of both. ” Again, this sort of taxonomic aggressiveness is part of what we pay them for. But the economic powers granted in Section Eight can also be read to form a seamless whole. This might be called the power to create an economic system, complete with money, credit, transport, and communications; to operate within the states to create “post offices and post roads” as a means of knitting the country into one economy; and to prescribe rules for commerce between any of the actors, inside the country or outside.

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