The Grand Design of the Constitution

Hon. William O. Douglas, The Grand Design of the Constitution, 7 Gonz. L. Rev. 239 (1972).


Modern constitutions drafted by emerging nations usually have a broad welfare basis, containing guarantees that touch employment, education, and health. Our constitution reflects a concern not with welfare but with various types of oppression, surveillance, censorship, inquisitions, and the like. Though none of the words just listed are in the Constitution or Bill of Rights, the history of the eighteenth century made everyone aware of the propensity of government to overreach, to harass, and even to seek revenge on people. Hence the Constitution and Bill of Rights were designed to keep government off the backs of people. That tradition has made a deep imprint on the American character. It is that tradition that has catered to our drive for independence, our passion for individual initiative, our urge for creativeness, and our aversion to submissiveness. Though people of any age group may have lost many of those attributes, the oncoming generation-today’s youth-are resolute advocates of the faith. Their revolt is indeed a reaffirmation of the creed of Samuel Adams, Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.

Government is indeed an appalling spectre in its modern garb, more powerful, more authoritative, more menacing than was government even prior to 1787. The lawlessness and corruptness of government are doubtless one reason for the almost ferocious rebellion we have witnessed against authority. Dollars talked louder than men when two generations ago conservationists were trying to save a few islands of wilderness from the greed of lumber companies. Powerful lobbies, operating within the offices of government, tinge large areas of administration with corruption.

Some say that we need a new constitution, one that deals specifically with modern problems.

My thesis is that we never needed our present Constitution more than we do today.

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