Thursday, May 04, 2006

Whence the Third Amendment?
Musings on the Anachronistic Sheet of Parchment that Some of Us Affectionately Refer To as The Constitution

This website is titled "The Third Amendment" for a reason, and though some might think that my fixation upon the Third Amendment is part of an elaborate joke or satire of the government itself, those people vastly overestimate my intelligence.

No, the Third Amendment is really my favorite amendment. I suffer no false illusions of its importance in U. S. history; close perusal of the appropriate links on this page will reveal that there has only ever been one court case in the history of the United States judicial system concerning the Third Amendment. The text of the case is here but in all honesty it isn't interesting, even a little bit.

The reason that I find the Third Amendment so interesting is that it is entirely a product of its time. Quartering British soldiers was a serious point of contention leading up to the Revolutionary War; the Declaration of Independence makes reference to "quartering large Bodies of Armed Troops among us". Viewed in the context of the drafting of the Constitution, and particularly the Bill of Rights, such an amendment makes perfect sense. But to me, the fact that we have these deadheads in a "living document" like the Constitution is fascinating.

The Third Amendment isn't the only anachronism. The majority of Article 1, Section 2 is irrelevant, concerning specific numbers of representatives from each state. Article 1, Section 8 is rife with good stuff. Giving Congress the power to "fix the Standard of Weights and Measures" must have seemed like a good idea at the time, along with control over what would eventually become the D. C. area, and the "Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings". As for Article 1, Section 10: I'm glad they put that stuff in there, because my state just tried to "grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal; coin Money; emit Bills of Credit; make any Thing but gold and silver Coin a Tender in Payment of Debts; pass any Bill of Attainder, ex post facto Law, or Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts," and "grant any Title of Nobility" just the other day. DENIED!

I'm not even going to touch Article 2. Way too many words in there.

But Article 3! Ah, yes, good old Article 3. Good thing we gave the Supreme Court authority over "all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls; to all Cases of admiralty and maritime Jurisdiction". And thank God they held onto original jurisdiction over "all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls". I'd take that shit over appelate jurisdiction any day.

And the Amendments! Oh, the Amendments. Amendment XVIII, anyone? What unholy symmetry it forms in conjunction with Amendment XXI! Look out! Here comes Amendment XXII from the left! FREOWWW!

I guess what I'm trying to say is, how often does any of this stuff come up? What of this is really so important that we had to put it into the document that would lay the foundation for all the laws our nation would have, ever?

I'm not dispariging the Founding Fathers, and I definitely don't think I'm smarter than anyone for picking up on this stuff. I'm certainly not the first to do so, and I know that all of this is in the Constitution for a reason. If I have any point at all, it's that everyone should be reading the Constitution, like all the time.

I just think it's funny, is all.



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