What is Original Intent and Does it Matter?
Published on November 17, 2021
original intent

“Intent” is the “I” in R.E.C.I.P.E.

When we say “Original Intent”, we simply mean going back to what the founders originally meant when they wrote the documents upon which our nation was founded. I find it amazing how many Americans want to discount the original intent of our founders.  They want to make all kinds of arguments proposing the words and views of our original founders are now outdated and somehow no longer relevant.  Our founders were the product of hundreds of years of ideas of self-government and freedom developing in the hearts and minds of men.  The resulting nation they built is the most prosperous, most successful nation the world has ever seen.  We would be wise to look back and figure out – not what we can stretch out of the modern reading of the words of founding documents like our Constitution – but what did our founders actually mean in those documents?    What was their original intent?  Figuring out their original intent – and making sure our elected officials stick to it – is the only way we can expect the principles upon which our nation was built to work again. 

What did the founding fathers think?

Our founders actually had plenty to say about the importance of original intent…  We will look more specifically at many of these comments in future posts, but for now, here is something James Madison, the Father of our Constitution, had to say about it…

“I entirely concur in the propriety of resorting to the sense in which the Constitution was accepted and ratified by the nation. In that sense alone it is the legitimate Constitution. And if that be not the guide in expounding it, there can be no security for a consistent and stable [constitution], more than for a faithful, exercise of its powers.  What a metamorphosis would be produced in the code of law if all its ancient phraseology were to be taken in its modern sense.”   

– James Madison

As James Madison says, the only legitimate Constitution is the one accepted and ratified by the nation. so, we have to go back and figure out what our founders said and meant in the original document – that is the real and legitimate constitution! The Constitution is a contract made by the independent states to specify certain roles that would be better accomplished by a central government, rather than each state attempting to do these roles separately. To illustrate the importance of keeping the original meaning of a contract, just think of other contracts, and what would happen if we did not stick to the original intent of the parties that entered the contract.

A Modern application

Let’s say you buy a house with a 30 year mortgage. For the mortgage, you sign a contract and then proceed making payments. You dutifully pay your payments every month and 28 years into it your mortgage company calls you… “Sir, that contract was written a long time ago. During that time some things have changed. In fact, over the years, we have hired panels of experts who have made careers of studying contract law. You wouldn’t believe the incredible advances that have been made. Over the last 28 years, contract law has changed and our panels of experts have identified terminology that doesn’t mean the same as it did 28 years ago and we have been able to gain wonderful new insights.” They place multiple hard bound volumes of legal and academic “interpretations” that explain why your contract doesn’t mean what it says, and they tell you that as a result of these new interpretations by the experts, they have the right to take ownership of your house, and you have 30 days to vacate. So, when this happens, will you honor what the panels of “experts” say, or would you make a case to return to the original intent of the original document?

Our Constitution is a contract, and it is important to determine the meaning of what the original parties to the contract intended – and that is the legitimate meaning!

“The first and fundamental rule in the interpretation of all documents is to construe them according to the sense of the terms and the intentions of the parties.”  

– Joseph Story, Supreme Court Justice nominated by President James Madison

Patriot’s Hope is Committed to Sharing Original Intent

Our Constitution is a beautiful document that defined the most remarkable government ever designed by men.  It was the result of the work of God’s hand over centuries.  Let’s not let it lose its meaning just because we have tyrants in office who swore to support the Constitution, but would now rather not be bound by the restrictions of limited government.  Let’s spend the time to figure out what our brilliant founders meant when they authored our great documents – and let’s bring back the proper meanings in our founding documents and the proper form of government they gave us. 




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  1. Glenn Curlett

    Great resources cited. I look forward to reading their content.

    Let us not forget that the writers of our Constitution developed their intent because of the application of Godly Principles they held dear to their hearts and knew in their minds.

    Proverbs 16: 1-4 To humans belong the plans of the heart, but from the LORD comes the proper answer of the tongue. 2. All a person’s ways seem pure to them, but motives are weighed by the LORD. 3. Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and He will establish your plans. 4. The LORD works out everything to its proper end – even the wicked for a day of disaster.

    • Jason Southerland

      Amen! Yes, they built our nation on the principles they found in the Scriptures – may we return to those Biblical and Constitutional principles! Thank you for the comment!


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