Friday, May 25, 2007

Happy 220 to you!

Two hundred and twenty years ago today, 25 May 1787, the founders began a meeting in Philadelphia that would forever alter America. The thirteen independent states began deliberations on how to fix their six-year-old government - The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union.

But, instead of recommending a few changes, those gathered that summer drew up plans for a new form of government -The Constitution of the United States of America.

From now until 17 September the delegates met and wrote our Constitution. As it concerns representing We the People and the ratio of representation (or Washington's Number), this is the summer of love so to speak - the summer when it was decided to represent We the People according to our numbers.

Below is some high-end commentary from The New York Review of Books - an exchange between two constitutional experts (Posner and Cole) on what "words" mean in our Constitution. I quote from David Cole to highlight why the founders didn't use just "words" to define representation - they used a number instead. Brilliant. Let's just refer to the representation ratio (one for every thirty Thousand) as "Washington's Number". He was the one who wished to see We the People better represented - and he put the 'thirty' in our constitutional number "thirty Thousand" on 17 September 1787 – but more on that as the summer progresses.

Happy 220 to you!
'How to Skip the Constitution' - An Exchange
Judge Richard A. Posner and Professor David Cole, 11 January 2007

Cole: "There is a reason the framers of the Constitution did not simply say "the government may engage in any practice whose benefits outweigh its costs," as Judge Posner would have it, but instead struggled to articulate a limited number of fundamental principles and enshrine them above the everyday pragmatic judgments of politicians. They foresaw what modern history has shown to be all too true - that while democracy is an important antidote to tyranny, it can also facilitate a particular kind of tyranny - the tyranny of the majority. Constitutional principles protect those who are likely to be the targets of such tyranny, such as terror suspects, religious and racial minorities, criminal defendants, enemy combatants, foreign nationals, and, especially in this day and age, Arabs and Muslims. Relegating such individuals to the mercy of the legislature - whether it be Republican or Democratic - denies that threat. The Constitution is about more than efficiency, and more than democracy; it is a collective commitment to the equal worth and dignity of all human beings. To call that mere "rhetoric" is to miss the very point of constitutional law."
Note: there is nothing rhetorical about Washington's Number and the constitutional principle of representing We the People according to our numbers (USC, Article 1, Section 2, Clause 3): "The Number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand."

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