Since I have grown up in recent days and am not buying or lighting fireworks this Fourth of July, I want to spend a moment discussing the real reason for the holiday. That sounds a little like the beginning of a talk you get from your parents in December, right?
Last year, I visited the Jefferson Memorial for the first time. I am a little embarrassed to admit that considering the number of times I have been to our nation’s Capitol, but that is another topic.
While there, I was particularly taken by this famous Jefferson quote etched into the wall:
“I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions, but laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.”
Now that will provoke different things for different people, and that is one of the great things about it. For me though, it reminds me to celebrate the short list of Indiana and U.S. Constitutional Amendment initiatives we have had here lately.
First, we had an Indiana Constitutional Amendment to establish caps on property taxes. I was against that for brilliant and complicated reasons. I lost and it passed. This week I had a dispute with my mortgage company on an escrow shortage, of which I also lost. Without going into details, I am now a huge fan of property tax caps. Hooray for that one!
Next, there was a long initiative to also amend the Indiana Constitution defining marriage. I was against that also. It failed. I loved the debate though. People in favor of it put a huge amount of effort into finding a way to make their support of it sound reasonable. My confidence is high that deep into the future, I will still feel like I was on the right side of this one. I am looking forward to discussing it with the supporters of today decades from now.
Finally, Senator David Long has started a state based amendment initiative of the U.S. Constitution that is being called the Mount Vernon Assembly. I haven’t spent enough time on this one to know how I feel about the public policy debate of an amendment specifically limiting the size and debt options of the federal government. However, I can say that I am glad the debate is being held.
I think Thomas Jefferson was exactly right when he said what he said however many years ago. Regardless of outcomes, these processes as much as anything else, define us as Americans. It is wildly difficult to amend constitutions. That is by design, thankfully. It is also what puts the life into these living documents.
And on this Independence Day, I am thankful there still are opportunities to amend our great living documents, and that there still are Americans willing to try.