The recent end of A-level teaching has meant that I’ve been able to start planning ahead to the next academic year in 2018-19. I’ll be continuing onward with – what will become – the new second year class and will complete the AQA module ‘The Tudors’ with them. Furthermore, I’m also picking up a brand new module with this same class: ‘The American Dream: Reality & Illusion 1945-1980’. It’s a unit I’m confident with, having taught much of 20th century American foreign policy on the FDA programme.
Whilst giving the book a read-over I came across an early quote regarding the American constitution. Usually this constitution is seen by historians as being sacred and untouchable, with many providing evidence of the success of the USA over a two-hundred year period. However, the textbook provides part of a primary source from noted Supreme Court judge Thurgood Marshall who paints a much different, critical picture:
‘I do not believe that the meaning of the Constitution was forever ‘fixed’ at the Philadelphia Convention. Nor do I find the wisdom, foresight, and sense of justice exhibited by the Framers particularly profound. To the contrary, the government they devised was defective from the start, requiring several amendments, a civil war, and momentous social transformation to attain the system of constitutional government, and its respect for individual freedoms and human rights, we hold as fundamental today. When contemporary Americans cite ‘The Constitution,’ they invoke a concept that is vastly different from what the Framers barely began to construct two centuries ago.’
In many ways I agree with Marshall’s criticisms: this constitution was brought together as a compromise of the original thirteen states and was clearly not perfect. One glaring example is the situation of the slaves in this period; rather than deal with this issue the founding fathers simply ignored it. This led – indirectly and in many ways directly – to the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861. However, it could also be argued that Marshall is unfair: just how were the founding fathers in the late 1700s to predict the future in terms of political, social and technological change. They were men of their own time and many would point to the constitution’s ability to adapt when needed as evidence of its clear success. Either way, the quote is useful in providing a critical voice from someone in an esteemed position in recent American history.