Ketcham delves not only into the meaning of the documents but also into the connotations of the framers' vocabulary, the reasoning behind both accepted and rejected propositions, arguments for and against, and unstated assumptions. In his analysis, the fundamental or enduring principles are republicanism, liberty, public good, and federalism (as ...Read MoreKetcham delves not only into the meaning of the documents but also into the connotations of the framers' vocabulary, the reasoning behind both accepted and rejected propositions, arguments for and against, and unstated assumptions. In his analysis, the fundamental or enduring principles are republicanism, liberty, public good, and federalism (as part of the broader doctrine of balance of powers).Read Less
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Apr 26, 2013
Original Intent -2
Prof. Ketcham posits in order to fully understand the 'original intent' of the 'founding fathers' one must be knowledgeable about where they were coming from. It was the age of enlightenment. The basic premise is that government exists to promote the public good. George Mason insisted Congress "... ought to attend to the rights of every class of people. James Wilson followed by hoping wanted to include many powers of government in the 'federal pyramid' to give it "as broad a base as possible. James Madison opined "the great fabric to be raised would be more stable and durable, if it should rest on the solid foundation of the people." The first principle of the Constitution is the practice of self-government, government by consent. The founders supposed it could be improved and the future reveal refinement they had not anticipated.
The founding fathers thought the trust people could place in their representatives was the surest guardian against invasion of their rights. They hoped the populace would be well-educated, able and, most importantly, willing to think for themselves. Perhaps this was a basis for the idea that the number of sects precluded any majority to oppress and persecute the rest.
While many forget the preambles to our country's basic documents, the author contends that is where you will find their real intent. Therein lie their expressions of the general principles, influenced by enlightenment philosophy, which provide their original intent.
The founders were taught to look at government in Aristotelian terms "the purpose of all good government was the general well-being and constructive improvement of the polity." Ketcham notes the Second Amendment is tied to public purpose, 'a well-regulated militia' as opposed to the individual right to bear arms just because one wants to.
An earlier book I reviewed, I. Bernard Cohen's "Science and the Founding Fathers", provides a glimpse into the scientific training, practice and writings of four of the founding fathers. A general interest in science was one of the attributes of a gentlemen of the enlightenment. One may assume other 'gentlemen' of that era had similar training and thus understood the analogies and metaphors used during the debates and 'discussions' that went into the development of the basic documents of this country. Though the author does not discuss Constitutional issues per se, one can deduce that with their understanding of science they would have designed a document that would adapt to its time.
When we look at 'original intent' it behooves us to look at the contemporary philosophies and society which affected the writers of our country's basic documents. They lived in a time when great positive changes were taking place in science, government and society and they were part of the change. I find it hard to believe they would want to have their work thought of as being carved in stone and unable to be adapted to the times.
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