Posted by | July 9, 2012 15:55 | Filed under: Top Stories

by Stuart Shapiro

For decades, conservatives have been clamoring for adhering to the original intent of the Constitution.  Liberals have too often ceded ground by arguing for a more flexible interpretation.  The framers were not uniformly in favor of limited government and did not necessarily intend for the Constitution to lock us into such a vision.  William Forbath explains:

That’s a major failing, because there is a venerable rival to constitutional laissez-faire: a rich distributive tradition of constitutional law and politics, rooted in the framers’ generation. None other than Madison was among its prominent expounders — in his draft of the Virginia Constitution, he included rights to free education and public land.

Likewise, many framers of the Reconstruction amendments held that education and “40 acres and a mule” were constitutional essentials that Congress must provide to ex-slaves. They also held that equal rights and liberty for white workingmen required a fair distribution of initial endowments, including free homesteads and free elementary and secondary education, along with land-grant-funded state colleges.

And, of course, one of the most prominent founders, Alexander Hamilton, was an advocate of central banking and an a government that promoted industry.  There is no reason to think that original intent favors a conservative vision of government.  The founders were too smart for that.

By: Stuart Shapiro

Stuart is a professor and the Director of the Public Policy
program at the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers
University. He teaches economics and cost-benefit analysis and studies
regulation in the United States at both the federal and state levels.
Prior to coming to Rutgers, Stuart worked for five years at the Office
of Management and Budget in Washington under Presidents Clinton and
George W. Bush.