May 8th, 2014

The Constitution was a Means, Not an End

After several generations of preceding philosophical musings and political pamphleteering, a group of American colonists revolted against the most powerful empire in the world. It’s quite staggering to contemplate the boldness of their action—short of the divine providence to which many of them credited their ultimate success, they surely would have failed.

“Mankind are more disposed to suffer while evils are sufferable,” they wrote in their treasonous Declaration of Independence, “than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.” This is, after all, the human condition; apathy and inertia are powerful tools of the state to keep its subjects in line. “But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism,” they wrote, “it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government…”

This argument justified secession and a defensive war against Britain’s attempt to compel obedience. Following their victory on the battlefield, delegates produced a Constitution which created and empowered a federal government—a government that has become much more oppressive than the regime under which the colonists “patiently suffered,” as they alleged in the Declaration.

In response to the gargantuan nature of government in our day, many argue that a restoration of the Constitution is needed—that we need to enforce its restrictions on the federal government and apply its principles. While it is true that doing so would be a significant victory for liberty, this would only be the first of many steps worth taking to protect our unalienable rights. The Constitution has many good things going for it, but it’s not perfect.

That position is hard to stomach for many whose reverence for the document equates to a soft form of idolatry. Many patriotic people romanticize the past and long for a day when we will “return to constitutional government.” They focus so much on this lofty goal that they can’t see the forest for the trees—they obsess over amendments and clauses and case law but give little attention to fundamental principles, political philosophy, and, frankly, ways in which the Constitution is deficient.

It’s as if these individuals believe that the Constitution is the final and only application of the enlightenment philosophy and Judeo-Christian ethic that formed the basis of the colonists’ “throwing off” of the alleged “absolute despotism” under which they suffered. Is that it? Is the Constitution a political utopia of sorts to which all of our loyalty and energy must be given? Can we not advance further, or better? Should we not learn from the past to improve upon it—and not simply copy and paste it to the present day?

Had the colonists themselves believed this way, they would have been content to live with the Magna Carta. The actions of their political predecessors would have been reverenced and repeated, upheld as the summum bonum of good government. Fortunately they recognized the importance of improving upon the past, and did just that—and they were (and we are) better off for it.

The Constitution was a means to an end—not an end unto itself. Obviously, that “means” has proven rather ineffective, for it failed to actually restrain the government it created. Today we suffer from “repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny” over people whose unalienable rights are being institutionally and repeatedly violated. Defending them in full requires more than merely suggesting that the Constitution be reinstated.

17 Responses to “The Constitution was a Means, Not an End”

  1. outsidethecorridor
    May 8, 2014 at 4:12 pm #

    As much as I respect the constitution (after all, I voted for Ron Paul back in 1988)–

    you’ve had the courage and skill to say what, if I had tried to say, I would already have two black eyes for saying–

    I’ve heard people say that the constitution is what Jesus will use when Zion returns–

    I think that is going a little overboard. Jesus doesn’t need a constitution written by men in the 1700s–

    He is not, after all, an American–

  2. Tulsi
    May 8, 2014 at 6:17 pm #

    Very refreshing to read your commentary on an LDS blog. I understand however, that the LDS position is that the US constitution is just short of scripture. Its interesting, because the original draft did not say anything about religion, nor endorsed it. Specifically not endorsing any particular religion. I asked on another blog about the lds-constitution thing, and someone responded that they thought JS was just using American nationalism to promote his religion. (the writer was from another country)

  3. Potbelly MacKraken
    May 8, 2014 at 11:10 pm #

    The Constitution, with all of its elaborate systems of protection, designed to protect the rights of all people, is wholly designed for a (majority of) moral and virtuous people, which America no longer has in the majority. It’s a great step for an imperfect, yet morally inclined people, one which has not been surpassed by any other civilization on earth, save the Judges system of Old Testament prior to the fall to monarchy and the Zion societies of Enoch and the Book of Mormon, for which Zion societies no other laws were needed save the few basic commandments of Christ. Indeed, the 10 Commandments are the “Constitution” for all mankind…and they are written. But, it’s just a step, an intermediary step meant to assure the spread of the Gospel and the purposes of Christ during the times of the Gentiles, and before a better system of government comes, one which won’t come until the wheats and tares are separated. Sadly though, it seems we no longer have a moral majority in the country, let alone in the world. The great whore, Babylon is now upon all he waters and islands, all the nations, and the people God are vastly outnumbered by the Babylonians/Gadiantons, who are responsible for the failure of the Constitution by swaying the majority of people in the US and the world to join them and their philosophies. In short, The American population is no longer moral enough (or is coming to that point in the least) for the Constitution to govern. But, as Connor said, with Christ at the head of government, there’s really no reason for the Constitution and all its elaborate governmental systems of protection of rights. But while the wheats and tares grow together, I think the Constitution, with the ability to amend it and change it as we learn from mistakes is as good as we can get.

    Interestingly, Connor, you wrote:

    “Is the Constitution a political utopia of sorts to which all of our loyalty and energy must be given? Can we not advance further, or better? Should we not learn from the past to improve upon it—and not simply copy and paste it to the present day?

    Had the colonists themselves believed this way, they would have been content to live with the Magna Carta. The actions of their political predecessors would have been reverenced and repeated, upheld as the summum bonum of good government. Fortunately they recognized the importance of improving upon the past, and did just that—and they were (and we are) better off for it.”

    Gordon S. Wood talks about this very thing in the chapter “Origins of American Constitutionalism” in his book “The Idea of America. Reflections on the Birth of the United States.”

    He talks about how initially, the Colonists thought politically as their counterparts in the mother country, Britain, but as they experienced the events of the 1760s and 1770s, as well as the 1780s, they learned from the mistakes of the idea of a sovereign parliament and kingly prerogative rights and bills of rights protecting the people’s rights from monarchical infringement, and the idea of the British “constitution” being the King in Parliament and all the laws passed by Parliament and customs of the Common Law. It’s a fascinating read. Take time to look it over.

  4. LLP
    May 9, 2014 at 8:33 am #

    Complete agreement Connor. The Lord in speaking of the Constitution said the following- “…which I have suffered to be established, and should be maintained … according to just and holy principles…”

    Obviously the principles upon which the Constitution was founded and was to be maintained were more important than the document itself.

    Compromise of principles is ever a tool of evil and has brought about the destruction of the Constitution and shortly of the whole nation. The Elders of Israel do not have the understanding of the principles to save the Constitution or themselves.

  5. TJLiberal
    May 9, 2014 at 10:25 am #

    I agree that the Constitution is a means to an end, and I so wish that there were more reverence for the PRINCIPLES, since those go largely ignored and even downtrodden by “liberty-loving” Latter-day Saints – those who consider the Constitution to be, if not scripture, just short of it.

    I get the impression that you think, Connor, that the Constitution needs to be redone, rewritten, the holes closed so that it will work better in maintaining freedom. Though I wish that the government could be restrained to what the Founders intended, I believe, I see no hope in a redo. With the government as corrupt as it is, and especially with the people, in majority, supporting it and living off the spoils, I see no benefit in remaking it. Those who wish to destroy agency would win the day, I fear, and we would be worse than we are now.

    I am afraid that the voice of the people would NOT produce a correct-principle based result.

  6. Jdf28
    May 9, 2014 at 11:41 am #

    First of all: TJLiberal–What do you mean by “reverence for the PRINCIPLES, since those go largely ignored and even downtrodden by “liberty-loving” Latter-day Saints…”? To what principles are you referring? When I think of the constitution and principles, I think of liberty, self determination, protection from and restraint of government and corruption, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Specifically, how are those principles “downtrodden” by members of the Church of Jesus Christ?

    Secondly: I believe the constitution was inspired, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be improved for our time. I don’t have any problem improving on the constitution and making it more bureaucracy proof. A constitution that is more practical to our day is an interesting concept. However, I question whether our population is capable of evolving the constitution in a positive way. I think our population favors security over freedom and that would be reflected in the constitution. And in defense of our founding fathers and our current constitution; the supreme court has done a terrible job of defending and interpreting the constitution. Clearly, we need a constitutional convention, but I have a hard time seeing us toss this one out.

  7. James
    May 9, 2014 at 11:53 am #

    I don’t think the constitution failed to restrain government. I think the people failed. Also, I don’t believe a perfect document (if one could be devised) could restrain those who wish to rule from gaining and abusing that power eventually.

  8. Tulsi
    May 9, 2014 at 7:50 pm #

    Potbelly, The original commandments were actually 40 in number, not ten. The majority of people on earth follow Christianity or Islam, like 60-70 percent. Very few people know anything about Babylonian or Sumarian philosophy or teachings from the ancient world. I am not sure I understand the idea that the constitution has much to do with morality in the christian sense, as the original draft did not endorse any particular religion, and didn’t even address that as a topic. Many of the founding fathers that were free masons. Many modern sects of christianity denounce free masonry, so I don’t don’t see the christian connection.

  9. Kaydell Bowles
    May 9, 2014 at 9:55 pm #

    In D&C 101:77-80 The Lord states, “According to the laws and constitution of the people, which I have suffered to be established and should be maintained for the rights and protection of all flesh accoding to the just and holy principles; that every man may act in doctrine and principle pertaining to futurity, according to the moral agency which I have given unto him…..thus I see it as the Lords way that all men may be accountable for his sins. So I take umbrance as to your article.

    Thus the Lord’s way to provide a system under which men would be free to do as they whish with a minimum compulsion and enjoy the fruits or suffer the consequences of the actions they choose. For a person to be full accountable for his own sins, he must have the moral agency to act voluntarily without compulsion. Whateve the Constitution is it is the best means that man can choose and be accountable.

  10. Glen
    May 17, 2014 at 12:25 am #

    I agree with James, the constitution did not fail to restrain the government. It had enough mechanisms to thwart evil. “We the people” failed to do our job and let wolves in the hen house. Had the majority of the people stayed alert (requires righteousness, education and effort), good honest and wise men would be in office today upholding the principles of freedom, AND working together to amend the constitution where needed. As it is, the constitution now only serves as a fire brake to slow the wild fire of wickedness and tyranny that will soon overcome the rest of in our yards with only garden hoses.

    What hit hard to me in Connor’s article, is that more important than memorizing the constitution is the need to understand the principles behind it. I do believe it was and is inspired of God, but like the 10 commandments, there are higher laws around the corner when we are ready.

    Constitutional convention? Sounds great if we have men and women participating who understand those principles (freedom, responsibility, agency, equality, the natural man, Gadianton Robbers, tyrany, etc). So until I hear more people like Ted Cruse, Mike Lee, the Paul’s, who seem to understand these principles, I vote to wait a little longer till more wake up and take their place in history.

  11. outsidethecorridor
    June 19, 2014 at 5:08 pm #

    A close family member of mine recently commented to me, “the constitution was intended to protect the property of property owners–and when it was written, slaves, human beings, were property.”

    That kind of woke me up.

  12. Scott Thormaehlen
    June 25, 2014 at 4:40 pm #

    Connor, I shared this with my father and while he and I were discussing this he brought up D&C 98, that anything more or less than the constitution cometh of evil. As I was reading your article I was hoping you might shed some light on what you mean by improving, or what further enlightenment you are referring to beyond “more or less” than the constitution. Are you talking about contemporary laws and abuses that can not possibly be addressed by “restoring the Constitution”? If so, can you explain a little about what the document does not address today if it were hypothetically enforced by a moral majority with the founder’s intent?

  13. lyle
    January 1, 2015 at 5:56 pm #

    D&C 98

    Anything more

    …than the powers delegated in the Constitution

    Anything less

    …than the protections provided in the Bill of Rights

    Comes of evil

  14. Karen
    September 17, 2015 at 2:32 pm #

    Thank you, James. I agree 100% and wish I had a “like” button to press. I think you’d get tons of ‘likes’ in addition to mine.

    It’s extremely hard for me to imagine that anyone in this day could write a more brilliant governing document. If we could miraculously work our way back to the beautifully limited government prescribed by the constitution, I doubt there would be much talk about needing to improve on that great document.

  15. Iimx
    September 23, 2015 at 6:53 pm #

    The US constitution does calibrate pretty high. Actually 200 points HIGHER than the book of Mormon. Interesting that LDS rate the constitution as ‘almost’ scripture. Also according to this, it resonates higher than the Old Testament, by far. Interesting list. Something that I found interesting, and at times very funny.


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