Drafts of the Constitution Day Address

My next article is going to be about Franklin D. Roosevelt’s address to mark the 150th anniversary of the adjournment of the Constitutional Convention. This speech is worth pondering for many reasons–both theoretical and current–that I will lay out in a set of posts. Before that, though, I’m going to share some interesting nuggets that I’ve found in the rough drafts of the speech that were cut from the final version.

Here’s one example. The second draft of the speech states:

“No one cherishes more deeply than I the civil liberties achieved by so much blood and anguish through many centuries of Anglo-American history. Indeed, I go further than the Framers of the Constitution. I insist that the Bill of Rights should be observed in the letter and the spirit not only by the Federal Government, the State Governments, and the local governments, but also by those in private places who have power over other men’s lives.”

This would have been the first presidential statement in favor of incorporation. To some extent, of course, it reflects where society was headed with respect to the Bill of Rights, though it took many decades and still falls short of this ideal.

Another passage (in a different draft) gloats over the “switch in time.”

“Whenever the Congress, expressing the public will has clashed with the Supreme Court on questions of great national legislative policy, ultimately the Constitution has been found to be on the side of the Congress. Once that vindication has had to come by war. Usually it comes by frank or covert reversal of decision. Only during this year, for instance, there have been striking examples of that usual type of vindication of the Constitution as a statesmen’s document in the decisions of the Supreme Court upholding State minimum wage laws for women, the Wagner Labor Relations Act and the Social Security Act. Each of those decisions was a reversal of previous decisions rendered by the same Court within a year.

Tonight as we celebrate the signing of the Constitution, we may rejoice that the recent decisions of the Court have temporarily vindicated it as a statesman’s rather than as a lawyer’s document. But that triumph is never permanently assured. And in these days, particularly, when the undemocratic concentration of economic power has brought with [it] a corresponding concentration of legal ability for hire against the democratic purposes of the Constitution, only the utmost vigilance and the utmost willingness to fight will guarantee the continuance of our statesman’s heritage.

Anyway, more to come.

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