J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Sunday, November 21, 2021

“The opportunity to provide serious learning”?

Last week I received a spam message offering this ridiculous take on the U.S. Constitution.

What mildly educated American would believe that “The Constitution [does] not change”? The word “Amendment” means change. The Constitution has been formally changed twenty-seven times.

Likewise, this advertisement claims the Constitution’s “underlying principles do not change.” Somehow the same principles could provide electoral advantages for voters in states allowing slavery until 1865 and then abolish slavery after that date.

The principles defining the relationship between the national and state governments were somehow the same before and after the Fourteenth Amendment, even though its clauses fundamentally rewrote the rulebook for that relationship.

Those unchanging principles could change the unchanging Constitution to establish a national prohibition on alcohol in 1919 and end it fourteen years later.

And somehow without changing, those principles barred women from voting before 1920 and empowered them to vote after that.

Obviously, that claim is nonsense. It’s an expression of faith contrary to evidence. As such, it’s a fine way of sorting out who might be interested in “serious learning” from Hillsdale College.


G. Lovely said...

No small irony that Hillsdale was founded 177 years ago by abolitionists.

J. L. Bell said...

Yes, Hillsdale has gone from being one of the first American colleges to admit blacks on the same footing as whites to refusing all federal financing because it won‘t account for how many non-white students it has.

Before the Civil War, the college president gave a speech insisting that the Constitution said Congress had sole authority over slavery in the territories—i.e., that the Kansas-Nebraska Act was unconstitutional. That might mean the man didn’t agree with William Lloyd Garrison that the Constitution was too sullied by slavery to be workable.

I couldn’t find that same college president’s response to the Thirteenth through Fifteenth Amendments, direct responses to the conflict over the Constitution. I can’t help but think he supported them. Garrison did.

The current college president is on record as opposing a convention to rewrite the Constitution, an idea some students and alumni have championed. So there’s actually a wider range of thought on the documents in the larger Hillsdale community than this marketing message lets on.