How has the Constitution been able to endure more than 200 years of extraordinary change and growth in the United States?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The Constitution has survived for so long largely for two reasons. First and foremost, it is incredibly difficult to amend. As a previous educator has pointed out, the Constitution has only been amended 27 times in all. This is no accident. The framers of the Constitution feared radical change and so wanted to make it as difficult as possible to make amendments. They worried that if the Constitution could be tinkered with too easily then its whole nature would change, leaving the American system of government with a much weaker foundation.

That explains why the bar for the ratification process is set so high. Each proposed amendment must be approved by two-thirds of the Senate and House of Representatives and three-fourths of the states. By anyone's standards, these are very difficult hurdles to surmount, as supporters of the Equal Rights Amendment have found to their cost.

The second main reason for the Constitution's endurance is its ability to adapt to changing circumstances. For critics, it hasn't adapted anywhere near enough, as the example of the Equal Rights Amendment shows. Nonetheless, it has, at various points in American history, proved possible to amend the Constitution without altering its fundamental nature.

The balance between maintaining a fundamental constitutional bedrock while also accommodating changes in society has always been a very difficult one. But it's that very balance, and the sometimes passionate debates it inspires makes the Constitution a living, breathing document that still speaks to millions of Americans today and will continue to do so for generations to come.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The Constitution is a fantastic document. It has survived over 200 years without a huge number of changes. There are several reasons for this. One reason is that the writers took their time to write the Constitution. They learned from the mistakes made under the plan of government developed by the Articles of Confederation. They also examined several documents from various philosophers to develop a system that would prevent the government from having too much power while at the same time allowing it to do the necessary things it would have to do.

A second factor is that the Constitution was written in a general sense. With Supreme Court rulings allowing for a loose view of the Constitution, our leaders have been free to apply the general language of the Constitution to specific situations over time. This allows the Constitution to be adapted to changing times and needs. The writers of the Constitution could never have imagined a time when computers and airplanes would be such major factors in our lives.

A third factor is that time has proven that the Constitution works. There have been only 27 changes in over 200 years of the Constitution. Ten of the changes came at once with the Bill of Rights. The Constitution has survived world wars, serious depressions, and terrorist attacks. Surviving these and other major events shows the Constitution works and can give the government enough power to handle situations while preventing it from being...

This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

too powerful and interfering with our rights. The Constitution has survived because it has worked so well as a plan of government.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The U.S. Constitution has been able to endure throughout the nation's often-turbulent history because the presidency of Abraham Lincoln was able to force the abolition of slavery throughout the American South -- the Civil War -- and because the Constitution's provisions are such that they can be applied universally.  As the other answer points out, the document is amendable, and those amendments, especially the first ten (the Bill of Rights) were necessary to keep the Constitution relevant through changing times.  The U.S. Constitution is looked upon favorably by revolutionaries throughout the world and throughout modern history precisely because of its universal themes of liberty and equality -- themes that required two hundred years worth of political dissent and judicial activism to enforce.  The Constitution's institutionalization of the concept of separation of powers -- the delineation of closely prescribed boundaries between the Executive, Judicial and Legislative Branches of government -- has proven as enduring as the rights laid out in those first ten Amendments, and has proven essential for the protection of those rights.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

There are two main reasons why the Constitution has been able to endure for so long through as much change as the US has undergone.

First, it has been able to do this because of the fact that it is not a very detailed document.  The Constitution is not a legal code.  Instead, it is a basic document that only sets out the very basic foundation of American government.  In addition, it sets out much of this foundation in a fairly vague way.  For example, it tells us that the government may not inflict “cruel or unusual punishment” on us, but it does not try to spell out what exact punishments are cruel or unusual.  This means that the Constitution is a fairly flexible document.

Second, the Constitution can be amended to keep up with the times.  This is how the Constitution was able to survive, for example, as women pushed for a larger role in society.  It could be amended to give women the vote, thus changing with the times.

For these reasons, the Constitution has been able to remain solidly in place as the basis of our system.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team