Liberal and Conservative ideas in the Constitution

constitutionOur Federal Constitution has stood the test of time, perhaps because it represents a compromise between liberals and conservatives.  Both views were considered and written into the Constitution. Which provisions are liberal and which conservative one might ask. Here is my list. Do readers agree?


    • House with frequent elections represents the people
    • Suffrage for all adult citizens
    • Bill of Rights
    • Provisions for Amendment
    • Thirteenth Amendment–“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude .. shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
    • Fourteenth Amendment requiring equal protection of the laws.
    • Fifteenth Amendment–“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”
    • Nineteenth Amendment–Women’s Suffrage
    • Twenty-first Amendment–Prohibition Repealed
    • Twenty-fourth Amendment which prohibits poll taxes
    • Twenty-fifth Amendment which modifies Presidential succession
    • Twenty-sixth Amendment allowing 18 year old’s to vote.


    • Checks and Balances
    • Bicameral legislature
    • Supreme Court with lifetime appointment
    • Senate representing States with six year terms
    • Presidential Veto
    • Electoral College
    • Supermajorities
    • Age requirements for President and Congress
    • Eighteenth Amendment–Prohibition
    • Twenty-second Amendment–Presidential Term Limit
    • Twenty-seventh Amendment–“No law varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives shall take effect until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.”

Does our current Constitution unfairly favor liberal or conservative views? Does it favor inaction when action is needed?  Is the Federal Government sufficiently responsible to the will of the people without being overly responsive to transient political fads? Dear readers, I invite your comments.

© William Hungerford – May 2014


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43 Responses to Liberal and Conservative ideas in the Constitution

  1. says:

    To properly consider your questions, perhaps some clarification could help. For example, what action or inaction are we considering? What some would consider responsive government, others might consider inappropriate over-reach. What would be considered a political “fad”?
    Depending on one’s political viewpoint, the Constitution is a “living document” fair game to be changed by the majority, or conversely, set in stone and to be interpreted only by a chosen few.


  2. whungerford says:

    Some may indeed consider inaction on immigration reform and other pressing matters a good thing–it can be seen as a result of conservative provisions in the Constitution.

    Political Fads:
    …Domino Theory
    …Trickle Down
    …Supply Side
    …Small government
    …Cut all spending
    …low taxes for the rich
    …flat tax

    …firearm regulation
    …immigration reform
    …minimum wage
    …investment in infrastructure


  3. BOB McGILL says:

    Also, don’t you think ■Thirteenth Amendment–”Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude .. shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” has been taken too far ? I mean, today some people think that having to work for a living is ” involuntary servitude ” !!!!!!!! 🙂


  4. Anne says:

    Who thinks that?


  5. Deb Meeker says:

    Since the Constitution makes no mention of corporations as such, it hardly seems appropriate for Conservatives (“who would preserve the original”) to have succeeded in raising the status of corporations to “citizens”, yet they have. Some might say that is good “action”. I say that should be Unconstitutional from either perspective, as it more than blurs the lines of “human” and “entity”. Further, in a very short period of time since the SCOTUS decided corporations are people, biological people are now considered the “entities” to be commoditized …….. “Four legs bad, two legs good”.


  6. BOB McGILL says:

    Does our current Constitution unfairly favor liberal or conservative views? NO, I don’t think so but your lists certianly do 🙂


  7. whungerford says:



  8. josephurban says:

    I think the terms liberal ( which I consider myself) and conservative have lost much of their meaning. Who can even agree as to what a liberal or conservative position is? When I think conservative I think William F Buckley, Richard Nixon and Bob Dole. Would they be considered “conservatives” today? The term has been hijacked by a movement I consider to be reactionary and somewhat fascist (not in the Mussolini sense, but the sense that fascism marries the power of the state with corporate power), One of the issues that makes political discussion of IDEAS problematic is the labeling and stereotyping. I consider the entire document (getting back to the Constitution) to be “liberal” in the sense that it was designed to set forth principles while being eternally flexible. Consider this: The same governmental system that was put in place by people who held that legally blacks were slaves was able to be so radically altered that it enabled a black man to be elected president. Is that liberal, or what?!


  9. whungerford says:

    Yes, liberal surely overall in that the Constitution established a democratic republic rather than a monarchy or some other authoritarian form of government. Yet the authors of the Constitution were typically well-to-do property owners who had chafed under British rule. They were cautions and distrustful of government. As a result we have a government that is often slow to respond to new circumstances. Our inability to act on the threat of climate change is an example.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. phadde2 says:

    I’m going to attempt to be more “civil” for you guys, as there’s a lot I don’t agree with the above post, but would enjoy a clarification from Joseph here.

    Do you mean the flexibility to use the rules within the constitution to amend it (13th and 14th amendments to the constitution) from a pragmatic agreement between free states and slaveholding states to that of a nation where all are free ? The rules within itself are flexible due to the actual text in the constitution, not because the “principles…[are] eternally flexible”, as a living document, but instead because there are ways to change the document written eternally within the articles of said document?

    Since the representative vote (key word:vote) in 1865, as well political maneuvering by the Lincoln administration led to the possibility of a black man becoming President of the United States. This vote was needed, however, because of the rules, or shall we say laws, set forth in the Constitution; Lincoln knew his war measures of Emancipation would never be legal after peace ensued because the Constitution did not allow for it. Lincoln needed the legislature’s support to amend (Article V) the document. If the words were truly “flexible” or let’s just say “living”; Lincoln wouldn’t have needed such measures.

    Also with Mr. Hungerford’s comments in this thread I would say that the founders created a Constitutional Republic, the legislature in 1913 with the 17th amendment created a “democratic republic” is a bit more accurate.


  11. whungerford says:

    I might well have included the Seventeenth Amendment in the list of liberal provisions–it certainly made our government more democratic. But the Senate remains an undemocratic institution as states with small populations have disproportionate influence.


  12. Ah, you use these words ‘Liberal” and ‘Conservative,’ but you then demonstrate that you do not know what they mean — especially in terms of the founders. You are committing the fallacy of equivocation. Much of what we think of as ‘Liberal’ today is the result of Progressives co-opting the word back in the 1930’s — after America rejected them. So the word ‘Liberal’ today does not mean what it would have back then, in the times of our founders. Likewise, ‘Conservative’ today has a definition painted on it by its opponents that does not reflect what the modern ‘Conservative’ says they believe (this is the fallacy of straw man). If we accept what the average ‘Conservative’ claims to believe in, then the modern ‘Conservative’ is closer to the CLASSIC LIBERAL mantle of our founding fathers — not the modern ‘Liberal.’

    Sadly, the fact that you do not even acknowledge any of this in your post speaks to how little you actually understand the etymology (meaning) behind the words you are using. I do not fault you, as I believe it is the result of deliberate actions taken by people who — today — call themselves ‘Liberals.’ These actions manifest in our schools, where our history and ability to reason critically are purposely changed and prevented. But still, in this day and age, there is no excuse for continued ignorance of history, or the rules of logic. So I hope you will actually look into this, and do so with a truly open mind. If you do, you may even find that the understanding of ‘Left and Right’ that we use in America today does not apply to the politics of our founding fathers any more than the modern understanding of ‘Liberal’ and ‘Conservative’ do.


  13. whungerford says:

    To my mind liberals are open to the idea of change for the better while conservatives seek to return to the good old days of the past–good old days that existed mostly in their imagination. Liberals are optimists; conservatives are suspicious, stodgy, and pessimistic. Most of the provisions listed as conservative reflect distrust of government and the people.


  14. phadde2 says:

    Studying Hamilton and Madison’s opinion, I do think they make it very clear that was the exact design of the Senate (All States having an equal voice), especially prior to the 17th amendment. As the states were suppose to have true autonomy, the elected Senators were suppose to be representatives of State interest, which is why every state no matter the size of the population was suppose to be equal within the upper house.

    After the 17th amendment was enacted this blurred the line, so of course this created the possibility of the opinion you hold today, as well as a great many other people. I personally do find the 17th amendment to be a detriment to this nation because it reduced the power of the states. However, I cannot complain about its existence so much as it was at least amended into the constitution.


  15. phadde2 says:

    My sentiments on pushing for a more “democratic” government and less of the hybrid between that of a republic/democracy (which why it’s referred to as the “American experiment”) are the same as Hamilton’s: “It has been observed that a pure democracy if it were practicable would be the most perfect government. Experience has proved that no position is more false than this. The ancient democracies in which the people themselves deliberated never possessed one good feature of government. Their very character was tyranny; their figure deformity.”
    Speech in New York, urging ratification of the U.S. Constitution (June 21, 1788)


  16. Like I said: equivocation and straw man. But hey, if it helps you sleep better at night…


  17. whungerford says:

    The main impetus for the Seventeenth Amendment was corruption in state governments. This threat has not been entirely eliminated as the sad case of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich reminds us. Today the main threat to honest elections may be unrestricted campaign spending. Surely most are more comfortable with the people of NY electing a Senator than if entrenched politicians in Albany, assuming they could agree, would do it.


  18. phadde2 says:

    Yes, this was the criticism that led to the 17th amendment being implemented. However, I have three points I’d like to highlight, Number 1: the corruption of state governments could have been handled at the state level by the people. Sacrificing state autonomy to eliminate the corruption within state government I do not see as a necessary evil. Number 2: The 17th amendment actually clearly defined Rod Blagoevich’s role in being able to “sell” Illinois Senate seat; however, the amendment does not say the executive’s role can’t be checked with legislative controls within the state such as having the ability to approve a governors selection until a special election. Number 3: A large criticism of the 17th amendment is that the attempt to reduce state corruption actually heightened what we deal with greatly in our nation (and you highlighted yourself unrestricted campaign interest) as it led to the rise of the special interest state.

    No doubt you are right that most are comfortable feeling that the “people” can elect their Senators, this is only because they do not understand the repercussions of eliminating the States’ ability to check Federal power. So in that regard, yes, I would rather have those in Albany, NY or Springfield, IL electing Senators.


  19. josephurban says:

    I would like to see your evidence that schools do not teach critical thinking. I say this because teaching critical thinking skills has been at the core of social studies/history education in NY for over 35 years.


  20. josephurban says:

    Phadde…When I refer to flexibility of our system I am referring to three areas. 1. The amendatory process which assumes that there will be a need for future changes. Otherwise, why put in an amendatory process? 2. The ability of the SCOTUS to interpret the law. As the SCOTUS is an ever changing political body, the interpretation of the Constitution and what it means will naturally change as the SCOTUS changes. 3. The 9th and 10th amendments which allows states and people to expand the idea of what “rights ” are as the times change. It is these three areas of inherent flexibility that has allowed the document to survive as the basic structure of the law. The Constitution was designed for flexibility.


  21. josephurban says:

    But there were no ancient “democracies” in the modern sense of the word, that is , democracies in which suffrage was widespread across social classes and genders. . Hamilton was wrong. Ancient societies were very limited in scope when it came to decision making. I can’t think of any societies in ancient times where there was anything close to universal suffrage. When Hamilton condemns “ancient democracies” he is condemning forms of government which did not exist in ancient times.


  22. josephurban says:

    Joe B…Actually the post sort of defines the terms “liberal” and “conservative” by giving examples. You may or may not agree with the author’s ideas. If you have a better definition of liberal or conservative perhaps sharing it would help. Taking the examples from the columns, which ones do you think are incorrectly labeled?


  23. phadde2 says:

    It is true that for example, Athenian Democracy, would only have select members out of the society vote, such as males who completed their military training. However, those who participated in government is not apart of any sentiment that Hamilton was trying to convey as he was illustrating the method of how government was to be conducted within its own rules. Hamilton would be even more horrified of “the modern sense “of universal suffrage that everyone would stand as in equal in the forum of a simple majority; his fear was that of the mob, (which mobs include all souls) because he feared that the popular whims of the people would overtake true national interest and would be a detriment to American society.

    Throwing more people into the forum in the modern sense of “universal suffrage” wouldn’t change his opinion, it would only intensify it. No matter how many participants form a true democracy, the design of how it works doesn’t change. So in his assessment between that of ancient democracies and a “modern” democracy there is no difference. Which means of course that attempting to create a different definition to support your is what Joe has made known as the equivocation fallacy to reduce Hamilton’s position that the design of true democracy is inherently flawed, a straw man.

    A. Hamilton: pure democracies (a voting mob, acts as government) don’t work as they have failed in the past.

    B. Yes true Modern democracies work because Hamilton had no examples of universal suffrage ( An even BIGGER mob), therefore his assessment on democracies is wrong.


  24. phadde2 says:

    In your definition of flexibility does two and three ever collide? For example if something has been considered not apart of the Constitution, therefore falling under the 9th and 10th amendments, and suddenly SCOTUS decides that in their new interpretation of the “living constitution” it now does. Do the states now surrender their former autonomy under the supremacy clause or does point Three give the states the right by you definition to nullify ? This of course is all conjecture based off of your working definition here.


  25. The evidence is all around you. How many people in this world even know what a fallacy is? Or why it is important to know and understand how to avoid them? How many people can tell you the difference between an opinion and a fact? How many people can tell you “I feel” makes no difference in a critical thinking argument? Yet that is all we hear from graduates these days.


    Our teachers may mean well, but even they do not understand how ‘dumbed-down’ they are. Our schools have been designed to make compliant drones, not individual thinkers. Dewey even said this was the goal, and he is the architect of modern public education. So, even if they ‘think’ they are teaching critical thinking, it is more likely our teachers are just furthering the indoctrination of drones.

    I have several degrees, and it was not until I took and found I have a great knack for logic that I woke to what had been done to me. Since that time, I have had to work to un-do the indoctrination that had been instilled in me. So I know what I am talking about. Look for my posts on education on and They may help, because the evidence exists and I have presented it 🙂


  26. No, it does not. What this post does is create a straw man argument that is designed to stuff people in a desired corner regardless of objective fact. I have a better definition because I use the ones that the creators of each political philosophy use for them. ‘Liberal” today means Progressive, which is the American form of Marxism/Communism/Fascism. I am a “Classic Liberal,” which is what many modern liberals think they are, but are not.

    “Conservative” means to hold to what you have, so a modern ‘Liberal” can still be a conservative at the same time. Burke — the founder of the philosophy — said so. To tell the guy who made it he does not know what he made is the height of arrogance. But the modern “Conservative” has a lot more in common with the modern “Liberal” than with the Classic Liberals of our founding.

    Try looking into your history — and by that, I mean read what the men who actually did this said, not what the historians say they said. BIG difference. 🙂


  27. josephurban says:

    I think it may do so. But in the end it is the SCOTUS that has the final say as to how far the 9th and 10th amendments apply. I think that when push comes to shove the Constitution says whatever the SCOTUS decides it says. I may not like many of the rulings this SCOTUS but I don’t see any other way of resolving these legal issues.


  28. josephurban says:

    Or perhaps C. Hamilton would have to rethink his ideas about democracy after seeing how modern democracies work. He might have strengthened his opinion or changed his opinion based on new knowledge.
    And this is a problem whenever we try to get into the minds of folks in the past. All of us are largely creatures of our times. It is difficult to judge ideas unless we keep that in mind.


  29. josephurban says:

    I respect your opinion but you really have not provided what I would consider evidence. I have no ideas what school district you have studied but the 5 schools I have been associated with have all emphasized critical thinking skills as a fundamental goal of education. At least in NY state. That type of education is reflected in the state testing (which I agree is inadequate). And that has been the case in the Regents programs and AP programs for over 35 years. Of course, not all students thrive or desire the challenges of a solid education but that does not mean that the schools are not providing opportunities . I am curious as how you were indoctrinated ? Was it in NY state?


  30. josephurban says:

    In what sense are modern liberals, or progressives, Marxists or communists? Can you name some specific individuals who you would place in the category of Marxist or communist?


  31. ‘Opinion?’

    It is fact. The fact that you think the definition has been provided in this post and yet you still do not see and understand that it is equivocation and straw man is all the proof necessary to support my argument — especially since you claim that NY has been teaching critical thinking for over 35 years.

    If you had learned reasoning, critical thinking (i.e. basic logic), then you would see that I have stated a FACT (not opinion), and that your very questioning is — in fact — supporting evidence to my claim. But you do not see it, nor do you understand your mistake, because you have not been taught how to reason. You were taught ‘what’ to think, not ‘how’ to think — which is exactly what John Dewey said he wanted American public schools to od.

    Well, congratz. You are testimony to the effectiveness of his plan.


  32. In the sense that the man who defined “Progressive” said thy are. Wilson stole the reins from the likes of Teddy Roosevelt. And if you read Wilson, the leading founder of the modern Progressive movement, you will find that he openly stated Marxism was the way America needed to go, but that it would have to be ‘sold’ to America in a different form (i.e. it had to be cloaked or America would reject it). So Wilson called it “Progressivism.” In this sense, the modern Liberal is a Progressive (we can trace their roots directly to Wilson), and the Progressive is nothing more than a Communist with patience.

    You really need to learn history: not by accepting what the schools tell you, but by reading what the men who made it said they were trying to do. Read Woodrow Wilson, you’ll find I am telling you the truth.


  33. phadde2 says:

    What the …????? A. Was illustrating the point that I claimed, and B. was illustrating the point that you claimed.

    So I suppose C. is now your new position ?

    Hamilton’s position on mob rule is very very clear, so even Modern democracies with universal suffrage would not in fact change his opinion, as I explained because more participates do not inherently change the mechanisms of a pure democracy therefore there are no new points Hamilton would have to assess to change his opinion. Again, you are relying on the tactic of redefining what democracy is which is what Joe has brought up time and time again with his explanation of equivocation. I am not declaring that there is no possible datur tertium; however, you refutation is not an alternative point… it’s the fallacy of equivocation.


  34. whungerford says:

    Please tell us Joe B. where and when W. Wilson said or wrote that.


  35. josephurban says:

    I did not realize that you were attributing statement B to me. I never said that modern democracies work BECAUSE Hamilton had no examples of them. To try to represent that as my statement is simply wrong. I was simply pointing out that there were no pure democracies. Hamilton was wrong in saying that pure democracies do not work . How can he say something does not work when it does not even exist. So, I assume that IF Hamilton had examples of modern democracies he may alter his opinion of them.
    Additionally, there is no way you can assume that Hamilton would NOT change his position about democracy when confronted with new information. To do so implies that he was narrow minded and unable to process new information. That does not do him justice. You cannot possibly know how his exposure to successful democracies may or may not alter his opinion.
    So, as far as Hamilton is concerned, YES, option C would be my position about him.
    (By the way, how can you hold the position that “universal suffrage” is the same as “mob rule” ?)


  36. josephurban says:

    Joe…If you want you can claim something is a “fact” simply because you say it is a “fact”. Yet, I cannot fail to notice that you have provided no data or evidence to support your opinion about the faulty educational system. The essence of critical thinking is the ability to process and evaluate information. Part of that process is learning to use evidence to support positions. Simply stating that something is a fact is not evidence. You have provided no evidence to support your points and have not answered my two simple questions. How were you indoctrinated and was this in NY state?


  37. phadde2 says:

    Hmmmm let clarify my position. A Pure democracy where there is universal suffrage is a mob of 51% over 49% can oppress, which is no different than a male only body that completed military training of 51% over 49%. I am not saying that in the United States where we have universal suffrage that functions within checks in balances of government is a mob; as we have representative government that functions under the the authority of the constitution. We also have the executive being through an electoral college. However, the 17th amendment moved us closer to that of a pure democracy, as it eliminated one of the checks and balances of the republic, which Hamilton would absolutely oppose.

    “In all very numerous assemblies, of whatever character composed, passion never fails to wrest the sceptre from reason. … Had every Athenian citizen been a Socrates, every Athenian assembly would still have been a mob.”

    Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 55, February 15, 1788

    Even Hamilton’s own view that if all were Socrates, the most enlightened philosopher, it would still be a mob, so again be my refutation that more participants (and even better enlightened) wouldn’t change his mind (or mine) remains true by his own words.

    This makes the refutation to reduce my and his argument a straw man, because his answer is clearly there.

    So what would be more true is your original statement that you just believe Hamilton to be wrong, and that’s fine.


  38. No, you refuse to accept what I have presented. YOU are support in yourself. You continue to demonstrate with your fallacious line of reasoning. So why should I bother to waste time explaining it to someone who has also demonstrated I would be wasting my time? 😉


  39. josephurban says:

    Thanks for the clarification. We probably agree that democracy is a “better” system than any other, as long as there are limits to “mob rule”. The Constitution tries to take care of this issue by including a Bill of Rights. Majority rule with minority protection.

    Liked by 1 person

  40. josephurban says:

    Good point. You could be wasting your time, Or you could be educating someone who needs help. One of the most difficult tasks for a teacher is to try to educate those who have trouble understanding concepts. Still, I am curious. You said you were indoctrinated by the school system. Can you give me some specifics on that indoctrination and how you overcame it? Maybe your experience could help others?


  41. josephurban says:

    Interesting point about Wilson. I thought it was Wilson who incarcerated Eugene Debs (the socialist) so it seems odd that he was a Marxist.. But you may have missed my question, Can you name some modern politicians who are Marxists? And briefly tell me how their Marxism has manifested itself in their actions?


  42. phadde2 says:

    I don’t know a quote that directly represents Joe’s comments but I do know this one.

    The Essential Writing of Woodrow Wilson has an essay written by Wilson in 1887 called Socialism and Democracy. The essay is very interesting as it appears to be bridging the gap between American democracy that came in the Wilsonian Age, and that Karl Marx’s principles. This is a quote out of that essay:

    “Applied in a democratic state, such doctrine sounds radical, but not revolutionary. It is only an acceptance of the extremest logical conclusions deducible from democratic principles long ago received as respectable. For it is very clear that, in fundamental theory, socialism and democracy are almost, if not quite, one and the same. They both rest at bottom upon the absolute right of the community to determine its own destiny and that of its members. Men as communities are supreme over men as individuals. Limits of wisdom and convenience to the public control there may be: limits of principle there are, upon strict analysis, none.”


  43. whungerford says:

    Thank you for the Wilson quote. As Wilson was a student of government, it isn’t surprising that he wrote it. It is a far cry from “he (Wilson) openly stated Marxism was the way America needed to go.”

    Liked by 1 person

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