Friday, January 14, 2011

Lepore on the Constitution and Its Worshippers

The most recent issue of the New Yorker features an essay by Jill Lepore (Harvard University) on "The Constitution and Its Worshippers."

Lepore includes interesting anecdotes from the Constitution's life: Benjamin Franklin's tepid approval (he consented to it because he "expect[ed] no better," and because he was "not sure, that it is not the best”); the original document's journeys via Model T and armored truck; the enduring popularity of the "pocket" version. She also sprinkles the essay with observations about why Americans continue to venerate the Constitution, do battle over its meaning, and accuse others of knowing nothing about it.

I found the last paragraph particularly striking:
The Constitution is ink on parchment. It is forty-four hundred words. And it is, too, the accreted set of meanings that have been made of those words, the amendments, the failed amendments, the struggles, the debates—the course of events—over more than two centuries. It is not easy, but it is everyone’s. It is the rule of law, the opinions of the Court, the stripes on William Grimes’s back, a shrine in the National Archives, a sign carried on the Washington Mall, and the noise all of us make when we disagree. If the Constitution is a fiddle, it is also all the music that has ever been played on it. Some of that music is beautiful; much of it is humdrum; some of it sounds like hell.
You can read the full article here.