American Epic: Reading the U.S. Constitution by Garrett Epps

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By Garrett Epps

In 1987, E.L. Doctorow celebrated the Constitution's bicentennial through studying it. "It is 5 thousand phrases lengthy yet reads like fifty thousand," he stated. exceptional felony student Garrett Epps--himself an award-winning novelist--disagrees. it is approximately 7,500 phrases. And Doctorow "missed a great deal of excessive rhetoric, many literary tropes, or even a hint of, if now not wit, not less than irony," he writes. american citizens may possibly venerate the structure, "but all too seldom is it read."

In American Epic, Epps takes us via an entire studying of the Constitution--even the "boring" parts--to in achieving an appreciation of its strength and a holistic knowing of what it says. during this e-book he seeks to not offer a definitive interpretation, yet to hear the language and think of its that means. He attracts on 4 modes of interpreting: scriptural, criminal, lyric, and epic. The Constitution's first 3 phrases, for instance, sound spiritual--but Epps reveals them to be extra aspirational than prayer-like. "Prayers are addressed to a person . . . both a secular king or a divine lord, and nice care is taken to call the addressee. . . . This does the opposite. The speaker is 'the people,' the phrases addressed to the realm at large." He turns the second one modification right into a poem to light up its ambiguity. He notices oddities and omissions. The structure lays out ideas for presidential appointment of officials, for instance, yet no longer elimination. should still the Senate approve each one firing? Can it withdraw its "advice and consent" and strength a resignation? And he demanding situations himself, as noticeable in his wonderful dialogue of the security of Marriage Act (DOMA) in mild of Article four, which orders states to provide "full religion and credits" to the acts of alternative states.

Wry, unique, and extraordinary, American Epic is a scholarly and literary travel de strength.

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Additional info for American Epic: Reading the U.S. Constitution

Sample text

As a result, the Constitution required a meeting of the existing Congress in December of each even-numbered year even though its successor had already been chosen during the previous fall. And that new Congress, chosen in the fall of even-numbered years, was not required to meet until December of the next odd-numbered year, more than a year after it had been selected. This strange timetable made the new government a more rickety affair than it need have been. The departing Congress and president, even if repudiated by the voters, met in what came to be known as the “lame duck” Congress.

It didn’t do so, probably because of a combination of institutional inertia, the growing reverence for constitutional text—and the fact that it was much safer for politicians to schedule legislative sessions months before elections, giving voters time to forgive and forget before they had to vote. Section Five. Each House of Congress was given wide authority to govern its internal matters. Though the Constitution required a majority of members as a quorum to do official business, it allowed each House to set “a smaller Number” to close meetings, or to convene and then demand (by force if necessary, as was often the case in the early history of parliaments) that members attend.

Of all the Constitution’s provisions, in 1789 this one was probably the most radical and shocking. There was no limitation of this power; Congress can (as we now take for granted) maintain an army and a navy in time of peace as well as of war.  . in time of peace” except for a citizen militia. Standing armies were anathema to eighteenth-century republicans, seen as agents of the Crown against the people. Under the Constitution, however, Congress could raise, maintain, and govern an army in peacetime, so long as its appropriation of funds to do so did not extend for more than two years at a time.

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