Most conservatives resist the notion that the Constitution is a living and breathing document. But perhaps the notion is worth a second look if you just ask the following question: Which constitution? Once you decide to start comparing constitutions you might be surprised at your findings. There are living Constitutions out there, they just don't apply to the United States of America.
This article is built around three goals. First, to highlight a small piece of the history of Progressivism and how it relates to what’s written. Second, to highlight the discovery process -- without a continued curiosity of the era between 1900 and 1920 by the author, this might not have been considered. Third, to compare the two constitutions, the British Constitution and the American Constitution.
It all starts with Woodrow Wilson. Quite literally, the notion that the United States Constitution is a living and breathing document is a Wilsonian construct. The first time Wilson makes this point is in his 1908 book "Constitutional Government in the United States", in which he says on page 57:
Living political constitutions must be Darwinian in structure and in practice.
He expands on this idea during the 1912 election in one of his speeches titled "What Is Progress?":
Society is a living organism and must obey the laws of life, not of mechanics; it must develop.
All that progressives ask or desire is permission - in an era when "development," "evolution," is the scientific word - to interpret the Constitution according to the Darwinian principle; all they ask is recognition of the fact that a nation is a living thing and not a machine.
Just these words right here, and knowing who wrote them, give us tremendous power. Modern progressives will hem and haw if you ask them straight up what they mean by the notion "living and breathing document", but with this you can nail them on it. This is how the notion was built, this is its foundation. By saying that progressives want to interpret the Constitution along the Darwinian principle, what Wilson is saying is that he wishes to substitute one version of meaning with another version of meaning, even while assuming the exact same words exist on paper. Even for the most casual observer of the Supreme Court, you know that's what progressives want, they just never admit it. Wilson's background on this is not just highly interesting, it gives us an even greater ability to further erode the false reality that progressives live in.
Wilson held other ideological beliefs that shine light upon the notion, such as his belief in what he called "the spirit of the age". That is, the current generation is the only generation that matters. Now it is true that the Earth belongs to the living, but Wilson was no Jeffersonian. Jefferson believed that history was an important guide while Wilson is just like every other progressive, or rather, most progressives are much more Wilsonian than they realize. Progressives have no use at all for substantive history and tradition, it gets in the way of their schemes. Understanding what Wilson means when he talks about the spirit of the age is best summed up with what he told the Jefferson Club in 1911:
If you want to understand the real Declaration of Independence, do not repeat the preface.
What's in the "preface"? For most of us, that is the important things. For Wilson, that's where you find all of the inconvenient things. Without the "preface" all you have left is a list of grievances that are unmoored from the highly important anchor of Natural Law, all that's left is a list of grievances -- the spirit of that specific age.
Wilson's campaign for Governor of New Jersey also gives us insight into his belief system. While a candidate, Wilson publicly stated that if he were to win his election he would be an "Unconstitutional Governor". Wilson explained that while his opponent would gladly fill the role of governor as described in the state constitution, he would not. Once elected, Wilson would go on to meddle in the affairs of the NJ congressional delegations and act outside of New Jersey constitutional proscription. As Governor, Wilson acted much more like a Prime Minister than he did a Governor of a state.
Woodrow Wilson was also a huge fan of British Parliamentarianism, that's how he knew how to act like a Prime Minister so well and it is what led the discovery process. Wilson specifically cites Walter Bagehot numerous times in different speeches as well as cites one of Bagehot's best known books "The English Constitution" repeatedly in his 1887 PhD dissertation, "Congressional Government: A Study in American Politics".
So what of this British Constitution? Well for starters, it is unwritten. Which means that every single time you go to reference it you can interpret it however and in whatever way you wish. Does that sound living and breathing to you? According to the website of Pearson Education under the appropriate title of "The Changing Constitution", (And Parliament's own website) we find that their constitution only requires a simple 50+1 percent majority to modify. Not two thirds of both houses, not three-fourths of the states. Is the American Constitution starting to sound a lot more rock-solid to you yet? Another web page of Parliament makes it clear that the British Constitution relies upon 21 primary documents spanning back to the Magna Carta.
How many spirits of how many ages does that make their Constitution subject to? And therein lies why it's so important to understand Wilson in all of this. Everything you learned about his beliefs applies not to the American Constitution, but the British Constitution.
It is worth considering that some of you may be saying to yourselves that the amendments to the American Constitution inject a spirit of the age into it. This is true to a degree, but that is certainly not what Wilson was saying, and progressives today never say that. Their argument is always that the whole thing as it sits is subject to re-interpretation and that's exactly the way their judicial activists rule. But that could not be further from the truth. Our Constitution is written. You can see the words that comprise it, you can study what those words meant when it was ratified, and you can print a copy of it for yourself. You cannot print a copy of the British Constitution, it doesn't exist. That means every time there is a constitutional question, they end up with a different and unique interpretation.
Based on the history and the facts, you should reconsider the notion’s legitimacy. It seems readily clear that the British Constitution is without a doubt living and breathing, considering its structure as well as how Wilson laid his concept, and Wilson’s background ideology. But then if the British Constitution is living and breathing, then the American Constitution cannot also be living and breathing. These two documents by comparison are just too different.