Constitution Day with Professor Akhil Amar
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Constitution Day with Professor Akhil Amar

September 15, 2019


>>AKHIL AMAR: So what is the
Constitution? At its core, it’s this short text, that you can carry around with you, and I always do, that sets forth the supreme law of our land. So my claim is,
the Constitution is two things: It’s a text that ordinary people
did read a while ago and can read today, and has been amended
over the generations by ordinary people — we the people the
United States — adding a Bill of Rights,
adding ending slavery, adding women’s suffrage. It’s a text, but it’s also, at the beginning, a deed,
an ordain-ment, an establish-ment,
a constitut-ing, and it’s nothing less than
the most democratic deed the world had ever seen, and the world would never be the same. It’s not just that they
voted on this thing, it’s that you could oppose
the Constitution and not be voted off the island. That was amazing. Freedom of speech and freedom of the press baked into the very process of we the people saying ‘yes we do.’ So we celebrate September 17th as Constitution Day because that’s when the proposal, the plan, was unveiled,
and for the entire next year there would be raucous,
robust, uninhibited, wide-open debate
in every one of the states about whether they should say yes or
no to the thing. It is getting battered and beat
up today. Here would be my advice to everyone: You’re going to not like some things about it. That’s perfectly fine. It needs amdendments. It’s open to amendments, but you won’t actually be able
even to figure out what are the sensible amendments, what are
the premises that no longer make sense today, until you’ve
actually engaged it with the seriousness that you
might engage Shakespeare. We are an immigrant nation,
and we are the quintessential immigrant nation, because we may
be the only nation on earth where the great-grandchildren
of all the other peoples on the planet actually come together. This is what we have in common, and it’s short enough so everyone can engage it and learn from it. It’s short, and sweet, and there’s something,
actually, maybe something interesting in almost every
sentence, if you read it with care and know the historical
background.

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