Marshall And Constitution

     In Thurgood Marshall's "A Bicentennial View From the Supreme Court",
Thurgood Marshall argues that the United States Constitution bicentennial
celebration should not be commemorated with narrow views concerning the birth of
the document, but rather should be seen as a living document, one which has been
dramatically altered to reflect the changing views or society. Born from this
ideal, Marshall contends that the Constitution should be placed into perspective
with events in U.S. history, which followed its inception. Marshall adds that
society should neither view the Constitution as a flawless governmental charter,
nor its "framers" as sheer geniuses. He instead points to the paper's
subsequent alterations, which helped it evolve to its current state. Marshall
maintains that the framers were individuals who either compromised their own
moral beliefs or were obvious hypocrites. Marshall's draws his logical
conclusions from specific events in U.S. history. Marshall does not believe the

United States is an impressive nation because of its Constitution and its
founders, but rather it is only recently noble because of those individuals who
"suffer[ed], stuggle[d], and sacrifice[d]" (Marshall 304) for freedom
and turned the tide of popular opinion. Marshall views the bicentennial
celebration as "oversimplified" and believes it it "overlook[s]
the many other events that have been instrumental to our achievement as a
nation" (Marshall 303). He discusses the obvious fundamental flaw with the

Constitution: its deliberate exclusion of the abolition of slavery. Marshall
argues that the slavery issue illustrated the corrupt understanding and
forethought of the founding fathers and how they refused to address such a
critical issue. In his essay, he makes two points concerning the founding
fathers omission of the end of slavery. In order to preserve the union, the

Constitutional framers compromised the economic benefits for both the northern
and southern regions of the colonies versus the rights of slaves. However, in
the Constitution, the representatives openly referred to them and their
constituents as "We the People" (Constitution). The framers also
advanced the principles from the Declaration of Independence that "all men
are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain
unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of

Happiness" (Declaration). However, Marshall ponders how these individuals,
with their great wisdom, could one moment espouse the principles of personal
freedom, and then condemn their fellow man to a life of servitude without the
above stated rights. Marshall also questions how Gouverneur Morris, delegate
from Pennsylvania, could openly denounce slavery, but hypocritically approve a
government which allowed it. Nevertheless, Marshall does not place all fault
with the framers. Observing the actions of the Supreme Court 70 and 170 years
later, he concludes that the court continued the mistakes of the past. Marshall
cites the court's opinion in the Dread Scott case as an example of the continued
ignorance of the legal system toward the black race. Marshall illustrates that

Chief Justice Taney accepted the notion that the founding fathers were flawless
because he took their opinions as pure fact. " 'We [Supreme Court] think
they [slaves] are not, and that they are not included, and were not intended to
be included....They had for more than a century before been regarded as beings
of an inferior order' " (Marshall 303). Marshall demonstrates that Taney
and the Court made their decision on the basis of historical precedence. Instead
of reevaluating the meaning of "all men are created equal"(Declaration)
and the morality and humaneness of slavery, the Court merely reaffirmed a
hypocritical idea of 70 years ago because of the narrow view of infallibility
granted to the Constitutional framers, Marshall argues. Despite the addition of
the 13th and 14th amendments, which ended slavery and quaranteed equal rights to
all men, respectively, it was another 100 years before the Court eliminated the
segregation that existed. Although Marshall continues to question the decisions
of the Supreme Court, he brings to the forefront the legal and social
principles, which have altered through time to permit the society that exists
today. He does not view the first version of the Constitution as the factor for
today's equality. Rather, Marshall focuses on the greatness of the subsequent
changes. To fully understand this, Marshall unionizes the legality concept. He
states that blacks were "enslaved by law, emancipated by law,
disenfranchised and segregated by law; and finally, they have begun to win
equality by law" (Marshall 303). It is here that Marshall makes his most
important point and asks for perspective about the celebrations and that
individuals realize the struggles of the individuals who yearned for freedom and
the Constitutional vibrancy they helped create. Marshall sees that the

Constitution is now used as a backdrop for equality because of the progresses
society has made with its views about slavery and blacks. It is for these
reasons that the Constitution is a great document, not because of the founding

"The Constitution of the United States of America". 1787.
"Declaration of Independence". 1776. Marshall, Thurgood. "A

Bicentennial View From the Supreme Court". The United States