Views of the Constitution

In September 17th, 1787 the Constitution was signed to replace the failing Articles of Confederation. However, it was very evident that every one of the states had their own view of the countries future and soon after they split into the first parties the United States has seen, the Federalists and the Anti-Federalism, both of which who had very conflicting views of how the constitution should be interpreted. There were and still are two main views of the Constitution, strict interpretations, and loose interpretations. The leaders of the strict constructionist movement were Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. The leader of the loose constructionist movement was Alexander Hamilton.
The formation of the parties was a result of these differing views. These differing views still have not disappeared and are very much so still playing a big role in our political parties and activities.

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Jefferson (left) and Hamilton (right) were the two faces of constitutional interpretation. Which one of their ideals prevailed immediately? In the long run?

1.Loose Interpretation of the Constitution

The articles of confederation were failing when a certain war veteran by the name of Daniel Shays exposed the extreme inefficiency of this new government, through his infamous revolt, Shays Rebellion, which swept through Massachusetts. This revolt shocked the whole country expressing the necessity to provide a stronger government. The idea of a Loose Constructionism in the constitution was a response to the failures of the Articles of Confederation to try and create a more powerful government. A loose interpretation of the constitution gives the national government more breathing ground to expand its power by passing new laws and taking part in things that are not specifically stated in the constitution. Thus, giving the national government more power over the states.

In the court Case McCulloch v. Maryland , Chief Justice John Marshall declared it was constitutional to create a Second National Bank under the necessary and proper clause. This action gave the federal government a large excess of power to regulate private commerce as well. The interpretation was a loose one because the power for congress to do so was not actually stated but could be supported by the constitution properly. They also base much of their ideology on the Supremacy Clause which gives the National Government supreme power over the states.

Nowadays this is referred to as a “living” interpretation of the constitution. This is an analogy that the constitution can still have a say on issues of today and should be open for changing and adding in specific things. Lately an example of this would be the [[#|universal health care]] bill. This came from the idea that the framers wrote the constitution to be broad and flexible to address the newer generations.

Over the years parties have changed due to social and other worldly changes. The first political party to express this was the Federalists. They had Hamiltonian views of a strong central government. Their predecessors were the National Republicans, who passed on the torch to the Whigs and therefore carried out to future generations. Then around the civil war the Republican party was actually a group that was strongly in favor of a powerful government under leaders like Abraham Lincoln who made increased the power of the executive extensively. The northern Democratic party was also in favor of a strong national government however the southern democrats were not. In the early 1900’s there were prominent parties such as the populist party that expressed this particular view. All of these parties were the early origin of what came to be the Democratic party we know today who express the belief of a “living” constitution.

2.Strict Interpretation of the Constitution

The traces of the idea of strict constitutional [[#|construction]] came back from the days of the revolution. The founding fathers, were for the most part, the framers of the new constitution and still had the idea of British tyranny on their minds. The people who would become Jefferson and Madison’s Anti-federalists feared a powerful executive such as King George III and an overbearing government in general. Thus they believed in limiting the American Governments power. States Rights is the main basis of a strict interpretation, in a sense that the national government should not have as much a say in matters. Even powers like the Elastic Clause are not meant to be interpreted any differently than what it says, thus trying to weaken the national governments authority by giving them less power over the states. They believe firmly in the use of the unenumerated rights, that anything not stated in the constitution should be reserved to the states.

In this day and age Strict Constructionism can be seen as a view of “dead” interpretation. This is the view that what the constitution says what it says and will not be fixed. It says is a view that we should be literal while looking at it to use its technical meeting rather than its figurative one. It says what it says and we should completely follow exactly what it says and it should be touched or changed.

Strict interpreters of the constitution have been present since the beginning days of America. They started off with the Jeffersonian party of the Anti-Federalists,which are also known as the Democratic Republicans. They were very much so against giving the government power and were all for giving the people most of the power, to prevent a “tyrannical” takeover in the government as they saw in England. They formed into the Democratic party, however not the one we know of today. They were all for the common man, the poor farmer, and wanted all of the rights to the people of America and the states.There leaders include Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren. Sects developed during the nullification crisis and leaders like John C. Calhoun formed the Southern Democratic Party, which disliked the national government so much they eventually succeeded. The South remained, the epicenter of “dead” constitutionalism, until this day. however in the late 1800’s it morphed from the Democratic parties ideals to the Republican Parties in a conservative backlash. Today there are different sects off of the republican party such as the Tea Party and the Libertarian Party.

Today, a strict interpretation would be a view of the Republican party. Their ideals are to have a less controlling national government. In the new universal healthcare bill, its opponents are strict interpreters for the most part. The health care bill will give the national government a large amount of authority over the countries medical fields and “dead” constitution interpreters would say that this specific power was never written into the constitution and therefore should be left to the states and the people of the country. The vastness of the debate is that many people think that without uniform health care across the states, it will first cost more for the poorer people and between the states there will be harder transitions for family health care.
This political cartoon is showing John Roberts our chief justice picking out pieces of Obama’s legislation, which in this case is the Health Care bill. He cuts out words of criticism to Obama. Were the Chief justices strict interpretation ideals successful in the Supreme Court lately?

Multiple Choice
1. The Modern day Republican Party is an example of Constructionist views?
A. Loose
B. Strict
C. Living

2. The most prominent leader of the loose constructionists was?
A. Alexander Hamilton
B. Thomas Jefferson
C. John Jay

3. What kind of Ideology was behind the new Health Care Bill?
A. Jeffersonianism
B. Living Interpretation
C. Libertarianism

4. The Modern day political spectrum is very broad, which of these is "loose"constructionist party following Democratic party ideals?
A. Libertarian
B. Tea Party
C. Green Party

5. In the court case McCulloch vs. Maryland how did its ruling reflect views of loose contructionism?
A. It made the Second Bank of the United States have to obey the votes of the people
B. It made a Second Bank of the US to provide powerful regulation on the struggling economy
C. It gave the precedent of the job of constitutional interpretation to the supreme court

Opinion/ Open Ended
1. Do you think that over time it is inevitable that strict views become less and less strict as times change, and that the loose constructionist view has been more represented in our culture?
2. Would you consider yourself a strict or loose interpreter of the constitution in this day and age? What is your political afiiliation?
3. Is a political parties platforms most important defining feature its view on the constitution?

loose constructionism- A view of the constitution, believing that the Constitutional Convention created the Constitution figuratively, and left the option to give the government more power
living interpretation- A modern day view that the constitution should be changed actively to go through the times with the people instead of having it reflect on old views; it connects with loose constructionism
unenumerated rights- Rights not stated in the constitution, said to be given to the states.
strict constructionism- A view of the constitution, believing that the Constitutional Convention created the Constitution literally, and should not be left for interpretation, but as stated in the constitution to give powers not given to the National Government to the States.
dead interpretation- A modern day view that the constitution shouldn't be changed because it was made in past times, and our country has been highly successful under our constitution and we should abide by what it says. Here is an article exploring the process to create the new Health Care Bill. This bill is the biggest debate nowadays that there is between “dead” and “living” views of the constitution. McCulloch vs. Maryland was the biggest example in history of our strict vs. loose constructionist conflict. This was for the formation of a national bank and set a precedent of slow expansion of the governments power.

Works Cited
"Justice Scalia Discusses Constitutional Interpretation." Justice Scalia Discusses Constitutional Interpretation. N.p., 15 Mar. 2005. Web. 26 Sept. 2012. <>.
Liu, Goodwin, Pamela S. Karlan, and Christopher H. Schroeder. Keeping Faith with the Constitution. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2010. Print.
Taylor, John. "John Taylor: New Views of the Constitution." John Taylor: New Views of the Constitution. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Sept. 2012. <>.

Created by Liam Nicoll, Matt Vallilo (editor)
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