Constitution Sunday: Charles Jarvis on the Amendment Procedure: An Irrefutable Argument for Ratification

Massachusetts Ratifying Convention

January 30, 1788

Revolutions, civil wars, and coups haunt leaders of all types of governments. The very prospect of these events conjures awful images, and every leader searches for ways to prevent and mitigate them. For some, tamping down dissent with force and papering over the people’s differences through campaigns of nationalism are not only sufficient but necessary to maintain the status quo. For others, democracies, there must be some tailoring of the government’s contours to the people; even as generations pass, morals change, and principles transform.

Dr. Charles Jarvis rose at the Massachusetts Ratifying Convention to not only express his “entire and perfect approbation” of the Constitution as drafted but to ensure that he highlighted its most virtuous characteristic: the right of the people to make “such alterations and amendments in a peaceable way, as experience shall have proved to be necessary.” He continued, “In other countries, sir, unhappily for mankind, the history of their respective revolutions have been written in blood; and it is in this only that ay great or important change in our political situation, has been effected, without publick commotions.”

The Constitution, with its providing the way for the people to amend it, has “an adequate provision for all the purposes of political reformation. If in the course of its operation, this government shall appear to be too severe, here are the means by which this severity may be attempered and corrected;—if, on the other, it shall become too languid in its movements, here again we have a method designated, by which a new portion of health and spirit may be infused in the Constitution.” Not only would this process permit the Constitution to be a more durable document; it would also make its ratification more likely. By setting out the process for amending, even the worst detractors could have had hope that if their ideas for restructuring the government took hold and gained traction, they could reform the Constitution in their own image.

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