Every four years, politicians hoping to win the presidential election make hundreds of speeches meant to convince the American voter that they are uniquely qualified to solve the crises of the day.
When they get around to talking about the U.S. Constitution (if they do at all), they leave the impression that the nations charter is the best of all possible worlds.
This myth is as old as the Republic.
The usual story is that the Constitution saved the thirteen states from ruin by the impotent Articles of Confederation. Without the compromises reached in Philadelphia in 1787, the story goes, we would be living in a land that was politically fragmented, economically impoverished, and militarily weak.
Its true the Articles were flawed. Nevertheless, they enabled the emerging nation to defeat the superpower that was Great Britain. They also preserved the rights of the people of the several states to govern themselves.
Several of its provisions sound appealing today:
- Term limits for delegates. This was included to help prevent special interests from gaining undue influence. People who complain about the high incumbency rate in the House of Representatives should credit the Articles for anticipating such a problem.
- Supermajority requirement for borrowing money. Since government debts are paid with tax revenue (and/or inflation) this rule was meant to discourage taxation without representation. Given our current $19 trillion national debt, many people should see its wisdom.
- Restraint of central government. Article II ensured that the Confederation Congress could not claim broad authority to meddle in local matters. The Constitution, in contrast, has done a poor job at limiting the reach of our masters in Washington, D.C.
The three features above give us good reason to consider rescuing the Articles of Confederation from the dustbin of history. They have much to teach us if only we would listen.