Just Where in the Constitution…?

I’m still chewing over this question from the Corner yesterday (sorry, I’m a slow chewer):

Just where in the constitution does it say they can take two billion dollars from us and give it to Pakistan any way?

I kept thinking of another: Just where in the constitution does it say they can double the size of the United States and rule the new half like a conquered province? That is a description of the Louisiana Purchase, and the worries it caused.

Caused to whom? Former president John Adams, who thought the purchase was unconstitutional. Future president John Quincy Adams, then a senator from Massachusetts, who supported the purchase, but thought a constitutional amendment was required to legalize it. And best of all, current president Thomas Jefferson, who made the purchase, but spent anxious hours trying to draft an amendment that might dot the i’s and cross the t’s of what he had done–until his diplomats told him that he better close the deal before Napoleon, the seller, changed his mind.

I am not saying that scruples are laughable, or that the Constitution is a blank slate. I am saying that lonely literalism, especially of the drunken-late-night-just-where-does-it-say variety, is a poor guide to action. Just because most abominations arise from interpretation does not mean that all interpretation is abominable.

Consider liberalism’s favorite bit of literalism, the first clause of the Second Amendment: “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary for the security of a free State…” So, all you hunters and home defenders, when are you signing up for National Guard duty in Anbar? There are persuasive answers to this, but they require us to go beyond asking “Just where in the Constitution…?”

Since Iowa was part of the purchase, shouldn’t Ron Paul supporters refuse to vote there?

Richard Brookhiser — Historian Richard Brookhiser is a senior editor of National Review and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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