As the House of Representatives cast its votes on the historic health care bill, one Las Vegas woman interviewed on the TV news declared, “This is not what the founding fathers intended” in ratifying the Constitution. I carefully deduced that this woman did not, in fact, possess the ability to conjure up the spirits of the Great Wigged Ones and get their verbatim comments on health care reform, so the only alternative seemed to be that she was guessing.
But what exactly did our founding fathers intend for America? And more to the point, how much of what they intended is still relevant? (This is, after all, a body that still condoned slavery at the time.)
“You cannot tie an 18th-century mind to the 21st century,” says Lynne Henderson, a professor with the Boyd School of Law, adding that the “founding fathers” argument has come up before in history—including the New Deal. “One of my favorite lines is that this is a Constitution meant to endure for ages to come, to be adapted to human affairs, that the framers were phenomenal. What they accomplished was phenomenal.”
David Holland, an assistant professor of history at UNLV, has also heard the debate before, calling it “the classic dilemma. A more fundamental issue is whether what the founders intended is even the relevant historical question here, since it is not their understanding of the document, but rather the understanding of the state-by-state ratifying conventions, that carries the real legal weight.”
Suddenly, you’re left wondering what 13 individual states were all intending, and the answer becomes as clear as, well, the health-care debate.