You, the people, can help rewrite the Constitution

We The People

If you could rewrite the U.S. Constitution, what, if anything, would you change? That’s the question being posed during the Constitution Café at the Penn Bookstore on Wednesday, Feb. 13, at 6 p.m.

Christopher Phillips, a lecturer in Penn’s Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing, will facilitate the discussion, transforming those in attendance into “framers” who will form a “Constitution Working Group,” hashing out their constitutional issues on a pair of easel pads.

“We’ll be crafting a ‘new’ Preamble for the Constitution, using the existing Preamble as our template,” Phillips says. “My goal is to engage participants in thoughtful discourse that will create greater ‘constitutional literacy,’ and that also will lead to an ongoing group.”

The program, which is free and open to the public, is based on Phillips’ 2012 book, “Constitution Café: Jefferson’s Brew for a True Revolution.”

In 1789, Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, wrote to James Madison, often called the “Father of the Constitution,” stating that the Constitution was not perpetual and should be rewritten to serve future generations.

“The earth belongs always to the living generation,” Jefferson wrote. “They may manage it then, and what proceeds from it, as they please, during their usufruct. They are masters too of their own persons, and consequently may govern them as they please. … Every constitution then, and every law, naturally expires at the end of 19 years. If it be enforced longer, it is an act of force, and not of right.”

Taking up Jefferson’s cause, Phillips has been fostering national dialogues that are sparking new conversations about the Constitution, and forging common ground at a time when America is deeply politically divided.

On Constitution Day 2012, Phillips led local high school students and the public in a discussion on rewriting the Constitution at the National Constitution Center. Later this spring, he will conduct a mock Constitutional Convention online to bring people from across the country together to talk about rewriting the Constitution.

Originally published on January 31, 2013