When the 112th U.S. Congress read our Constitution, it chose to read the amended version of the document. I love the amendments. Amendments are necessary phrases that remind us of our country’s process and progress relative to being a beautiful democracy. Amendments show us the distance between our history’s ugliness and its–at the time of the newly introduced phrases–growth away from that ugliness. Amendments are noble and we need to keep them before the public which is the United States of America. We should read the Constitution with those parts 11-27.
But when Congress stands up to read the historical document, it should read the document. The one that says that people like me weren’t really people. The one that says that I was sub-human. The one that says that I didn’t count except as a piece of property for somebody else, somebody more powerful. Maybe after that original reading they could have gone onto the better language.
The reasons I think that older document should have been read, perhaps with the amended version, are 1) because our country is too quick to forget its real past, particularly when single thinkers, workers and leaders have pulled us along the journey of justice and change in the face(s) of persecution to change; 2) because the current leadership can always choose, at whatever moment current is, to declare the updated version, even when that version revises history and relieves leaders of their continued responsibilities to advocate for this democratic experiment when it comes to marginal people like women and people of color; 3) because the experiences of people of color, namely Black people, strain from back then and stay with us right now; 4) because reading the old and new helps, forms and teaches the citizenry to be critical of its movement as a gracious people and as a people who pursue justice for everybody from the wealthy and the often-counted to the poor and the almost always discounted.
Scripture says in Nehemiah 7 that Ezra, a scribe, stood on a wooden platform and read the books of Moses to everyone who could understand. While he read, everyone stood, watching the priest/scribe worship the Lord and proclaim. While they listened, they wept. They grieved at their heart bottoms and didn’t rejoice at the precious words until instructed by the Levites. There was distance between what they were told in the Law and how they lived as a community.
It’s not that I need our Congress to remind itself of our history, and at the same time, I do need our Congress to do precisely that. That body needs to remind itself in its own regular way of what it said and what our judiciary and executive branches enforced by legal requirement so that that body doesn’t dismiss the more sinister ways those now illegal actions toward us continue.
From the original–which you can gladly find here, at the U.S. Archives–small parts which jumped out at me that should have been read:
Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.
No Person held to Service or Labour in one State, under the Laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in Consequence of any Law or Regulation therein, be discharged from such Service or Labour, but shall be delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom such Service or Labour may be due.
What do you think?