A never (9/28/2010)

Post Register reporters Sven Berg and Clark Corbin performed a public service with their Sunday story on the ongoing constitutional debates, writes David Adler.

Kudos to the Post Register’s Sven Berg and Clark Corbin for their balanced and insightful coverage of ongoing constitutional debates. Some of these debates, which have raged since the dawn of the republic, are difficult to summarize and portray in the popular press, but these two reporters have pulled it off.

Their story, “Local groups offer different views on the U.S. Constitution” (Sept. 26) provided a valuable public service. We cannot have too much discussion of the Constitution and its role in the American system.

One of the key issues, whether the Constitution was divinely inspired, will remain the subject of debate, and that’s fine. The issue of inspiration, whether it’s a question of motivation for writing a book or seeking public office, is one that fascinates the human mind.

In asking what inspired the framers, we’re surely engaged in a worthwhile intellectual cause. The founders were an eclectic bunch and that’s one of the reasons why Americans are endlessly fascinated by their lives and work. Some, to be sure, were devoutly religious. Roger Sherman, for example, one of the leading framers and the architect of the Connecticut Compromise, which bridged competing visions of the delegates, was committed to attending church in his home state of Connecticut, and because he was loathe to travel on the Sabbath, his participation in the Constitutional Convention was significantly affected by his faith.

During a moment of considerable tension, when it appeared that differences among the framers might topple the Convention and thwart hopes for a new Constitution, Benjamin Franklin proposed a remedy: The daily proceedings should begin with prayer. But Alexander Hamilton, destined to become this nation’s greatest treasury secretary and influential adviser to President George Washington, famously replied: “these proceedings are in no need of foreign intervention.”

The founders’ thinking reflected many ages and schools of thought. Keen students of history, they turned to the ancient Roman Republic and the Athenian Democracy for advice and inspiration. They turned to the Scottish Enlightenment, legal scholars, political theorists of various stripes and colors; they were alive to many intellectual currents across the centuries.

Chief among the influences on the framers, however, were the arguments and battles that colored the English Civil Wars in the mid-17th century. The wit and wisdom of that period created a dominant Whig philosophy in America, which induced the framers to establish a Constitution grounded in the will of the people, famously expressed in the Preamble: “We the people ordain and establish this Constitution.” With this declaration, mankind took center stage in the creation and empowerment of a government that served their needs and met their challenges.

Adler is James A. McClure Professor and Director of the James A. and Louise McClure Center for Public Policy Research at the University of Idaho. He has lectured nationally and internationally on the Constitution and the presidency.