I am getting sick and tired of having people like George Will tell me what our Founding Fathers meant when they wrote the Constitution. Will wasn't at the Constitutional Convention, or if he was, he was down in the basement press room with the rest of us, being briefed by Thomas Jefferson's press secretary.
Take the Founding Fathers' position on the burning of the flag. My notes say their spokesman indicated that the representatives from the 13 colonies debated the issue for three months. There were those who wanted flag burners to get capital punishment, and there were those who felt 30 days of community service on the Hudson River would be sufficient.
Massachusetts did not believe flag-burning would do much damage to the country, at least in its formative years. Rhode Island said it would have to see a flag on fire before it decided whether it was treason.
Georgia declared that the flag was a symbol of a new nation under God, and those who lit it were committing a crime against freedom and democracy. It demanded a constitutional amendment to forbid it. New Hampshire pointed out that you couldn't add a constitutional amendment when there was no Constitution.
Georgia said the South always got the short end of the stick.
New York claimed that burning the flag was what the revolution was all about. It was freedom of speech at its best. The more flags people destroyed, the more jobs would be created for the Delaware textile business, which made red, white and blue nylon fabric for the states.
The issue would have been resolved one way or another except that a delegate from North Carolina, named Helms, interrupted the debate and attacked the budget for the National Endowment for the Arts. Pennsylvania had insisted that it be included in the Constitution. Helms pointed out that the NEA was a very subversive organization, and if it wasn't stopped in its tracks it would someday give grants to museums to hang dirty Mapplethorpe photographs on the walls.
Nobody at the convention knew what a photograph was, so Helms said it didn't matter because he had heard that the NEA planned to support the financing of oil paintings of Martha Washington in the nude by Gilbert Stuart.
South Carolina announced that it could not join a nation that gave grants to pictures of men holding hands on the Boston Common. Their protest missed getting into the Bill of Rights by one vote.
This may have broken up the convention, when the question of gun control came up. There was some talk by New Jersey to forbid citizens to have arms, but it was shouted down by Virginia and Maryland, which claimed that, without guns, it would be impossible for them to keep their slaves from running away. New Jersey agreed to let people own firearms as long as it could someday collect tolls on the Garden State Parkway.
What makes the Constitution such an interesting piece of paper is that we have so many people around today who can tell us exactly what our forefathers meant when they drafted it.
Take the issue of abortion. It isn't mentioned in the Constitution, but that doesn't mean it wasn't on the front burner during the long, hot summer in Philadelphia.
After a bitter debate, the Founding Fathers decided to leave it out of the document so that the Congress of 1990 would have something to do.
The reason we even have a country at all is that, although the constitutional delegates hadn't the slightest idea of what they were agreeing to, it didn't matter. They knew that George Will would tell us what they really had on their minds.