Why the Framers Could Suggest Ratification by Only Nine States

SigningconstituIn prior postings such as the one here, I have explained why it is wrong to claim that the commissioners (delegates) to the 1787 Constitutional Convention exceeded their power in recommending that the Articles of Confederation be replaced by a new instrument.

Another aspect of the same charge is that the Framers exceed their power by providing that the Constitution could come into effect upon ratification by only 9 states instead of the 13 the Articles required.

One quick answer is that ultimately the Constitution was ratified by all 13. The 13th state (Rhode Island) ratified on May 29, 1790, less than three years after the document was composed.

But there is a more formal, and perhaps better answer.  Here’s the background:

The Declaration of Independence explicitly presented Americans to the world as “one people”—not as 13 different peoples. It is true that this “one people” initially operated through 13 separate

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The Real Original Understanding of Original Intent

images-28This Article re-examines the controversial question of whether the American Founders believed their own subjective understandings should guide future interpretation of the United States Constitution, or whether they thought constitutional construction should be guided only by objective public meaning or some other hermeneutic standard. This is a historical question, and in this Article, I treat it as such. I do not argue that one standard of interpretation is better or worse than another. I explore the Founders’ views on the matter and report the results.

Previous commentary on the issue has been fairly extensive. Interest seems to have been encouraged by the issue’s implications for modern constitutional interpretation. For example, Professor H. Jefferson Powell, whose influential article concluded that the Founders would have thought subjective intent irrelevant, went beyond the historical material to argue that his conclusion impaired the legitimacy of traditional originalism.

Not surprisingly, defenders of traditional originalism, such as Harvard’s Raoul Berger, have claimed that history supported their own position. Perhaps that is why the scholarly exchange over what should have been purely a historical question has been marked by the bitterness of political strife.

It is true, of course, that one’s chosen interpretive method can affect the outcome of constitutional disputes. Results can change according to whether a court applies originalism or some other method. Results also can change, although in a lesser number of cases

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