Book Review – The Constitution of the United States – Modern Edition

Henry Bain BookDr. Henry Bain edits and explains the U.S. Constitution for the modern reader

 

Years ago when I was teaching a course in American Government one student asked me why we need a written constitution. I responded that if he were starting a club he would want the club to have rules about who can be member and what the club can and cannot do, and how it would be governed. Suddenly it started to make sense to him. I’ve explained the same thing to people who asked me to do an incorporation for them. “Why do we need bylaws?” they ask. It is pretty much the same reason.

 

America’s Constitution has been with us since 1789 and is now suffering from age, neglect and, unfortunately, lack of understanding. Henry Bain, a political scholar with a Harvard PhD attempts to deal with at least part of this in his book The Constitution of the United States – Modern Edition. It is, pretty much exactly what it says it is; a modernized version of the original document with updated language, modernized spellings and reorganization of the document to place areas of common authority or subject matter together.

 

Dr. Bain’s work is to clarify and simplify. He makes no judgments beyond the clarifying language, which is more a matter of applying dictionary style definitions than anything else. It is therefore, a potentially useful book. It might serve well in a high school or college class on American government where the students might find it difficult to struggle with what is now an archaic form of language.

 

Dr. Bain’s reorganization certainly makes sense from the standpoint of a student. Putting common topics together makes more sense than dealing with the document as written and amended. Particularly where the Amendments have altered the original text. This is how my own professor handled the matter, teaching the original text and then the amendment(s) that affected it later. Dr. Bain does this in covering Article One, which governs the election and powers of the legislative branch. Unfortunately, in that portion that covers the Senate, he fails to note that the presently effective language is the result of the 17th Amendment, rather than as written in the original. A notation to this effect should have appeared in the margin notes where the definitions appear, and this could be construed as a major flaw from the historical perspective. It is possible that he intended this to be covered by his “Constitution of the Past” section, where the original language and provisions appear with annotations indicating where changes have been made. It would, in my opinion, be a better way to handle these changes in such a way that the casual reader will overlook no details.

 

This is not a book for casual reading, unless one has a specific interest in such things. It is a reference or textbook. It is not large, is clearly written and easy to understand. Homeschoolers should probably find it useful where other materials are lacking or insufficient. In light of the fact that most books explaining the Constitution are large and cumbersome, this light volume fills an important gap in the knowledge base for people studying American history and political structure.

 

Dr. Bain’s book is available at Amazon.com

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