Since the first edition of Fault Lines in the Constitution: The Framers, Their Fights, and the Flaws that Affect Us Today was published in the fall of 2017, we, the coauthors, have been pointing out the real-world repercussions of America’s problematic founding document. For instance, as the decennial (every ten years) count of the population got underway, we blogged about the difficulties of the Census. During the 2020 presidential campaign, we explained the harm caused by the Electoral College and the reasons it’s so hard to eliminate the way we elect our presidents. The books themselves (both the first edition and the second edition as well as the graphic novel version) do the same thing. In addition, the books suggest ways to fix the issues, such as by looking at the constitutions of states and of other countries.
In 1787, the Framers also dealt with one piece of the government’s puzzle at a time. Yet, when they finished, the whole document had to make enough sense that the First Congress could begin to implement the plan and turn the pieces of paper that all but three of the Framers signed into a government that would work in real life.
But, to be honest, these issues and their resolutions are piecemeal. That is, each chapter and each blog post address one challenge at a time.
So, the questions we’re raising in this post are: If you could design the structure of an entire governmental system from the ground up, the way the Framers did, how would you do it? What would it look like? As you’ll soon see in a forthcoming post, there’s a reason we’re asking these questions now. Meanwhile, here are some guiding issues to help you ponder your answers.
The Process: How Would You Design a New Constitution?
The people who became known as the Framers were fifty-five white guys—most of them lawyers, doctors, and merchants of means—who spent a summer debating how the country should be governed. They brainstormed ideas, defended them in long speeches, took straw votes, tabled some particularly difficult issues until they ran out of time, agreed on conclusions and then changed their minds, and, finally, delegated the writing of the final document to a Committee on Detail.
You might want to consider the following:
- How many people would you invite to your constitutional convention?
- How would you select them?
- To what extent would you strive for a group that is representative—for instance, financially, racially, and ethnically—of the US population?
- Where would you meet—in person? Online by Zoom or Google doc?
- How long would you plan to spend writing your constitution?
- Would you divide the tasks or the issues into sub-committees or meet throughout as a committee of the whole?
- How many of your Framers would need to sign it before it’s sent to the public for discussion?
The Content: What Would Your Government Look Like?
The Framers created a representative democracy with three branches—congressional, judicial, and executive. They also divided power between the states and the federal government. As we explain in the books, the devil is in the details. Looking first at the big picture:
- What are the goals and purposes of your government? Personal happiness of its citizens? Wealth? Safety?
- Would your government be a democracy? A parliamentary arrangement? A monarchy?
- Do you want a federal system with states, as the United States is structured? Or, would you prefer one big country with no subdivisions? Or, something in between?
- What part of your government would decide what laws are needed?
- What body would hold people accountable for breaking the laws?
- Would you guarantee people certain rights, such as those laid out in the first ten amendments to the US Constitution? Would you add other rights, such as education or medical care?
Looking at some aspects of the finer print:
- How many leaders would your country have?
- How would they be chosen?
- How many lawmakers would you have and how would they be chosen?
- How could your constitution be amended, if necessary?
This is a lot of questions, and they’re only just the beginning. Answering them could take the rest of the school year, at least. You can find resources to help you in the sections titled “There Are Other Ways” in Fault Lines in the Constitution. Good luck!
Late to the party, but looking forward to your piece on rewriting the Constitution. At this moment, Chile is grappling with all these questions as the country rewrites a constitution imposed on it in 1980 by a fascist military dictatorship. Among the new provisions are ones having to do with women’s rights, LGBTQ+ rights, and indigenous rights that could make the country’s constitution one of the most progressive in the world.