The Readings for Democracy in America unit
2 are available here for download as a PDF file. You'll need a copy
of Adobe Acrobat Reader to read the files. Acrobat Reader is available
free for download from adobe.com.
Unit 2 Readings, The Constitution: Fixed or Flexible
- IntroductionThe Constitution: Fixed or Flexible?
- Tocqueville, Democracy in America: History of the Federal
- The Declaration of Independence (Jeffersons Draft)
- The United States Constitution and the Amendments to the U.S.
- Federalist Papers: Federalist No. 51
- What two opposing tendencies arose in the
United States after the revolution, according to Tocqueville?
- What truth did Jefferson assert as self-evident?
- Who ordained and established the United States Constitution?
- Fully explain what Federalist No. 51 says is the
great security against a gradual concentration of the several
powers in the same department.
IntroductionThe Constitution: Fixed
Imagining that government should be a creature of the law and obedient
to law was one of the significant intellectual accomplishments of
the British colonists in North America; this accomplishment went
a long way toward turning them into Americans. The development of
a sophisticated understanding of American democracy, politics, and
citizenship requires attention to the importance of the Constitution,
the law superior to the government, as a template for debate within
the United Statesvirtually all political issues in America
resound with constitutional import. In America, wrote
Tocqueville, the Constitution may therefore vary; but as long
as it exists, it is the origin of all authority, and the sole vehicle
of the predominating force.
The Constitution was widely perceivedeventuallyas a
protection against government expansion (though by some it was perceived
as a tool for government expansion) and was the product of American
disagreement with the British conception of limited government.
Britain greatly angered the British citizens in America when Parliament
taxed them to help fund the French and Indian War. They responded,
as all American school children know, with the slogan, No
Taxation Without Representation. When Parliament refused to
relent on what appeared to the British in Britain to be a fair sharing
of the burden and expense of protecting the colonists during the
war, the British colonials eventually decided to secede. The colonists
argued that it was illegal for Parliament to tax themthat
is, they argued that it was a violation of the British Constitution.
It was unconstitutional, they said, for Britain to tax them since
they had no representation in the British Parliament. For the British,
the Parliament was an essential part of the Constitution, so that
it made no sense to imagine that the Constitution could violate
the Constitution. Around this struggle the colonists began to conceive
of a government created and limited by law, especially by a written
law. The belief that the government itself is created by law means
that government is ostensibly limited and controlled by law. It
also means that many political issues in the United States become
constitutional issues in which Americans look to the Constitution
for answers and directions.
Understanding the life of the Constitution and of conceptions of
constitutionalism requires some fairly common readings: the Declaration
of Independence, the Constitution, and Federalist No. 51.
The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are quite different
documents, but they function as founding texts for the
American Revolution and government. The Federalist Papers, for their
part, explained parts of the Constitution as the supporters of the
text wanted them explained, and have become very important to the
contemporary debates over what the Constitution meant and means.
To understand what the framers were trying to accomplish, one can
do worse than to examine the institutional arrangement the Constitution
attempted to replace. Furthermore, the voices of critics should
be given their due. Contemporary readers of the Anti-Federalists
are often surprised to find early versions of complaints they themselves
have made about the government; particularly that it is too powerful.