Friday, July 21, 2006

All hail the Fourteenth Amendment!

Salon has a neat piece to celebrate the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, on July 21, 1868.
But consider this. Until the 14th Amendment, the idea of human equality, extolled in the Declaration of Independence, appeared nowhere in the Constitution. The word "equal," when written in the original document, referred mostly to voting privileges for the states. In addition, the Constitution contained no definition of American citizenship, seemingly leaving the matter to the states.

Even the Bill of Rights itself only covered the federal government -- overreaching state governments could, and did, restrict free speech, freedom of religion, due process of law and other basic rights. In short, the Framers of 1787 set up a flawed confederation of insular states, each of which was free to oppress, and even enslave, some or all of its population.
Sometime between 1860 and today, beer stopped being an alien danger and became an American institution. So today, if you or your parents came to this country from another and gained citizenship; if your family moved from one state to another and received equal treatment in your new home; if you benefit from laws forbidding racial discrimination by government; if you are glad that your local cops can't arrest you without a warrant and torture you until you "confess" to a crime; if you don't think censorship of the news by state and local government is a good idea; if you don't want Jim Sensenbrenner and Tom Tancredo deciding whether your American-born children "deserve" citizenship -- then lift a stein to the 14th Amendment and the far-seeing legislators who wrote it.
Well, right now I'm in a dry state in India. So I'll raise a glass of Thums Up instead. And, one always wonder, why the heck does India's Constitution (which we were all told, with much national pride, was the "longest in the world") have ninety-three amendments since it was adopted in 1950, while the United States has gotten by quite well with just twenty-seven? [Oh yeah, to read the entire article at Salon, you have to see an ad by BMW. Hmm. Long live capitalism! :-)]

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