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In addition to having the oldest written constitution, the United States also has one...

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mason-jose | (Level 1) eNoter

Posted May 14, 2013 at 12:16 AM via web

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In addition to having the oldest written constitution, the United States also has one of the shortest. To what can the longevity of so brief a document be attributed?

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kipling2448 | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted May 14, 2013 at 12:44 AM (Answer #1)

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The United States Constitution might be brief relative to those of other countries, but its guarantees of individual freedoms represent universal ideals too often denied in much of the world.

Brevity should not be confused with simplicity.  The drafting of the Constitution was a laborious and heavily debated topic among the so-called Founding Fathers.  Each article was subject to protracted deliberations regarding their precise wording, including the contentious issue of how much faith should be placed in the common man's ability to act rationally and wisely.  

Another point that should be considered when regarding the breadth of the Constitution is its essential incompleteness.  The drafters of the Constitution recognized that serious questions remained regarding the  meaning of the articles and their intent.  Because so much heated debate regarding the Constitution was taking place, and because diverse colonies/states had yet to ratify it, three of the main supporters of the document, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, drafted a series of essays intended to clarify the meaning of the provisions with the hopes of gaining support for ratification.  These essays, the Federalist Papers, are essential supporting documents routinely used to this day when attempting to discern the original intent behind the Constitution's articles.

To reiterate, the Constitution should not be examined as a solitary document.  It should, rather, be studied alongside the Federalist Papers, and be considered in the context of time

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