ORIGINAL INTENT: Principles of Interpretation

It would seem that a great many people have a great deal of difficulty when it comes to properly  ‘interpreting the Constitution.’  This should not really be a difficult subject.  If we would bother to read what they wrote, the Founders told us exactly how to do it:

“On every occasion [of Constitutional interpretation] let us carry ourselves back to the time when the Constitution was adopted, recollect the spirit manifested in the debates, and instead of trying [to force] what meaning may be squeezed out of the text, or invented against it, [instead let us] conform to the probable one in which it was passed.”

— Thomas Jefferson, letter to William Johnson, 12 June 1823

I entirely concur in the propriety of resorting to the sense in which the Constitution was accepted and ratified by the nation. In that sense alone it is the legitimate Constitution. And if that is not the guide in expounding it, there may be no security

–James Madison, letter to Henry Lee, June 25, 1824

Now, for those who do not know how to understand the language of the Founders’ time, let me explain what this means:

When you are reading the Constitution, and you encounter language you do not understand, or which suggests two or more possible interpretations, go back and research the context of that part of the Constitution.  What was happening in the world?  What were the Founders trying to do?  What did they say was their stated purpose for that law?  What was said in the public debate outside the Legislating body? When it comes to understanding the Constitution, we have an abundance of evidence in the historic record.  Therefore, we have no excuse to claim ignorance — none save laziness or an un-stated refusal to accept the obvious intent and meaning of something we seek to get around.  But then, this often seems to be the true cause of claimed miss-understanding: the desire to avoid having to acknowledge and accept the Founders’ true intentions.  For those with aspirations lying outside the realm of Natural Law, the Constitution is little more than chains binding them from achieving their goals — which is exactly what the Founders said they were seeking to make it.

Therefore, at least on this page, when we seek to understand the Constitution, we will follow the direction of the man who wrote our founding document; the document that lays out the guiding principles and ideals of this nation; the document that contains the ‘what‘ and the ‘why‘ or America; The Declaration of Independence; Thomas Jefferson.

And we will follow the direction of the author of the document that established our system of government; the document that lays out the ‘how‘ of America; the document that prescribes the set of procedures by which our founders intended to protect and preserve our founding principles and ideals; The U.S. Constitution, James Madison.

Furthermore, we will rely on the same principles and ideals the Founders used to guide them.  Those being and understanding and adherence to Natural Law — as John Locke described it — Natural Rights and Right Reason.

Finally, in interpreting the Founders original intent, we will never accept an interpretation of their words that negates their clearly stated intentions to the contrary.  For to do so is to negate their words and intentions, which is not only an assault on their persons, but also a nullification of whatever interpretation we may have reached.  Even in this, we are not acting on our own accord, but by the direction of the Founders:

“Whenever the words of a law will bear two meanings, one of which will give effect to the law, and the other will defeat it, the former must be supposed to have been intended by the Legislature, because they could not intend that meaning, which would defeat their intention, in passing that law; and in a statute, as in a will, the intention of the party is to be sought after.”

–Thomas Jefferson to Albert Gallatin, 1808. ME 12:110

Anyone who possesses an honest and sincere desire to understand the Founders’ original intentions is welcome to join in our discussion.  We do not claim to know everything about the matters we discuss and we welcome the opportunity to learn from others.  But we must insist that anyone who chooses to join us conduct themselves accordingly.  At a bare minimum, one must seek to stay within the rules of basic logic and the principles of Right Reasoning.  Failure to do so would not only be an attack on the Founders and insult to the board, but it would also insure that any attempt to seek an understanding of the Founders would be sure to fail.

 

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