An alleged constitutional history teacher makes a whopper mistake

There was a discussion about public education on an engineering mail list recently. I was staying out of the conversation since it was mainly pure opinion and the anti-public education side was coming across as proposing a return to pre-industrial revolution America, which no thinking person would take seriously. Then along came the following post that had a clear distortion of U.S. history.

The U.S. Constitution, for example, rests largely on the works of Locke which the Founding Fathers interpreted for America such that the Constitution was finally accepted. John Locke was adamant about the sanctity of private property and so it is written into the constitution.  However it was deleted from the section that states “…life, liberty and property…” and changed to read “…life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…” because slaves were considered property and the framers did not want a constitution that would sanction slavery or elevate one man above another.

This caught my eye because I know the phrase” life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” very well so I replied.

You are confusing the U.S. Constitution with the Declaration of Independence which sadly seems to be a common mistake among US citizens. The Declaration is not a document containing U.S. law rather it is a document by British subjects declaring their intention to break away from Great Britain.

The original post went on with:

The level playing field here is in this part of the constitution which makes everyone equal in the eyes of the law (an idea from the Roman Republic). Everyone could own property and everyone on merit could achieve their best.

It appeared to me that he is saying that this mythical part of the original U.S. constitution gave everyone equal protection back in 1787. My reply to this misconception was the following.

It was not until nearly 100 years later (1868) that the Constitution was amended to include equal protection:

Amendment 14, Section 1
“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

I figured the other engineer would reply with something along the lines of, oops I screwed up. But that was not to be, instead he replied with the following post.

I am not confusing anything.  I know the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence and the Federalist Papers, etc.  All were indeed influenced by John Locke’s treatises on government. You failed to get the point point of the message.  Surely I can write a definitive history and analysis, and I have taught constitutional history.  But it was not my intention to give a history lesson.

He refuses to admit he made a mistake and instead tries to change the subject to broader points in his original post that I had not commented about. Since he can’t keep straight what words are in the Declaration of Independence versus the U.S. Constitution, I don’t think he could write a credible history let alone a definitive one. If he has really taught constitutional history I feel very bad for the poor students who suffered due to his ignorance and arrogance. I and likely most of the list members didn’t expect him to write a history lesson but we do expect him to at least gets his facts right. I won’t bother to respond to him on the mail list as I find it pointless to argue with someone who won’t acknowledge a clear error like he made and instead tries to change the subject.

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