Thursday, July 03, 2008

Constitutional Fact Check

Perhaps it is understandable, if not entirely excusable, when a historian makes a factual mistake in something he writes, when the mistake deals with more recent events than those he is describing.

But one would think that a prestigious newspaper like the Washington Post would have fact-checkers on staff to make sure that errors do not end up in print, especially on the heavily-visited op-ed page.

In a piece published Wednesday, "Three Cheers for July Second,"Andrew Trees -- who used to teach at a tony New York private academy, Horace Mann School, until a racy roman à clef called Academy X got him in hot water -- talks about the how John Adams predicted that our big national holiday would be celebrated on July 2, the day the Continental Congress voted for independence (two days before the Declaration of Independence was subsequently approved). Trees makes this suggestion:

I propose we make July 2 a national holiday to celebrate the Founders for some of their greatest but least appreciated attributes -- their mistakes.
Irony alert: Later in his article, Trees writes about the originally proposed amendments that led to the Bill of Rights:
The Bill of Rights as we know it also is not what was initially proposed. The original first two amendments, one of which concerned the number of constituents each member of Congress had and one regarding congressmen's salaries, were never ratified by the states. What we think of today as our First Amendment freedoms were actually third on the list.
"Never ratified by the states"? Um, perhaps the first one, but not the second.

What could have been the First (or Second) Amendment eventually became the Twenty-Seventh Amendment, ratified on May 7, 1992. It is the most recent amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the one that took the longest path from proposal to ratification. It reads, according to the National Archives:

Originally proposed Sept. 25, 1789. Ratified May 7, 1992.

No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of representatives shall have intervened.
Trees may have missed this development, focused as he was the "delicious, malicious stuff" (in Jonathan Yardley's words) recounted in Academy X. If he didn't learn about the 27th Amendment while writing his book, The Founding Fathers and the Politics of Character (could that require another irony alert?), then at least the Post's opinion pages staff should have caught the error.

Or maybe it's just one more mistake for us to celebrate on July 2.


Anonymous said...


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My republican blog has moved. The new site is

To comment on the new site does require registration, aka a username and password. I know this is cumbersome, but it helps weed out the trolls.

Stay well, and happy blogging. Also, please update your blogrolls as well. Thank you.

eric aka the Tygrrrr Express

Peter Orvetti said...

Just last night I was watching the final episode of "John Adams", in which Adams throws a fit when he sees Trumbull's painting of the signing of the Declaration of Independence -- a painting of a scene that never took place. But why let facts get in the way of a popular narrative?