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  They want to make all kinds of arguments proposing the words and views of our original founders are now outdated and somehow no longer relevant.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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Comments

15 Comments

  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.

    Reply
    • 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!

      Reply
    • Patricia Carole Dunnavant

      Our Constitution is the most insightful, stable and eternal document written by any nation. Other than the Bible (and we see what newer versions have done to it), it is the most Divinely inspired and principled document in Human history.

      [I like your hypothetical of the mortgage contract and your likening it to the Constitutional contract the founding fathers set before us.]

      There are attempts, even now, to distort the original intent of certain amendments to fit political ambitions and agenda. So many have no knowledge of the Constitution in general and the audacity to attempt to redefine or alter it is unacceptable. The power players, for example, are currently misusing the 14th Amendment, Section 3 in particular, to justify punishment of activities and participants on January six. The 14th Amendment was created to establish rights post-Civil War and to punish the Confederacy for their rebellion against the United States after pledging by oath an allegiance to same. Ignorance of the Constitution’s original intent allows politicians and pundits to spread falsehoods about the motives of the elite.

      Reply
      • Jason Southerland

        Amen – the Constitution as written and intended by our founders is a remarkable document unmatched in any other government document. I completely agree that the actions against many of the Jan 6 detainees are reprehensible, and completely in violation of their rights protected in the Constitution. If they broke laws, they should be punished, but they should maintain their due process rights (also protected by the 14th, as well as the 5th, Amendments) throughout the process. Thank you for your comment!

        Reply
    • Benjamin Lowery

      Thank God for the seal of the Spirit.

      Reply
  2. Suzy Enney

    An understanding of our true foundation will bring to light our founding documents were designed and written under divine providence. We have since called the old and allowed our officials to “redefine” and look to lessen and dismiss the sovereign design our forefathers knew was needed to keep man’s plumb line straight. Their foundation was God. The culture then had a common ground. They looked up, they prayed and the people prayed for them.
    They had common ground with government and churches in speaking to the people.
    Their intent was understood and supported by the people. In God we trust they lived.
    That is looked to be dismissed today. We are lost within ourselves. We have become a melting pot our self intent expecting the government to “fix it”, not realizing we are the government.
    Not realizing our forefathers created a pattern to keep us whole. Their intent was for We the People- the melting pot. When you read it sings scripture it truly is amazing grace.

    Reply
    • Jason Southerland

      Amen! Thank you for your comment! We have to consider the original intent of our founders, which, as you point out, was so often written with an assumption that we are a Christian nation, built upon Biblical foundations. The modern mis-understanding of “separation of church and state”, was first introduced to this country in 1947 by Supreme Court Justice, Hugo Black, who was also a KKK member. I bought a couple of Bible study textbooks from Wallbuilders that were used in Dallas, Texas, public schools as recently as the early 1950s. This stuff is just under the skin in our national history. Lord, please forgive us of our wicked ways and heal our land…

      Reply
  3. Tim Rennie

    I could not agree more. It is a travesty what we see taking place today by too many of our elected officials in the federal government to revise, add to, change, and even delete from the original intent of the Constituion through the use of crafty legislation, abuse of power and and outright infringment of the rights of citizens to imlement political idealogy that is contradictory to the original intent of the writers of the Constitution.

    Reply
    • Jason Southerland

      Yes, absolutely! Our Constitution would protect us against many of their attacks today, but Americans have got to wake up, learn the founding principles of our nation, and work to hold our officials accountable to the oath they took to support our Constitution. Thank you for your comment!

      Reply
  4. Tim Rennie

    The precepts of God are unchanging – they have and will always stand the test of time. It is man’s ever changing ethics and interpretation of those precepts that gave birth to societal moral breakdown of which continues this day. To properly understand right from wrong one must return to the very precepts of God to cut through the fog created by our societal moral corruption.

    Likewise one only need to understand, as witnessed by the very persons who constructed and wrote the Constitution, that it was by divine guidance of God that the principles contained in the founding documents were based on the precepts of God, but only as much as man’s compromise can achieve, and that only through the morally bankrupt belief system of today can one attempt to deny the truths that were set forth by the founding fathers of this country..

    Reply
    • Jason Southerland

      Yes – I agree! In one of our classes, we discuss the term used in the Declaration of Independence, the “Laws of Nature and Nature’s God”. The quick summary here is that we see things in nature (e.g. self defense, defense of home, young, etc) and it is clear God wired this into us and are therefore part of the Laws of Nature. Then there is another group of things that even if we see them in nature (e.g. killing, stealing) they are dealt with in the Laws of God (Thou shalt not kill/steal) So the laws of God trump what we see in nature. Between these two groups of things, we can see a clear system of right and wrong, and the Declaration says that is what entitled them to form a new country. Your comment reminded me of this. Thank you!

      Reply
  5. Johni J. Peckinpaugh

    What Is the Original Intent And What Does It Matter?

    “Intent” is the “I” in R.E.C.I.P.E.

    What the Founders originally meant when they wrote the documents upon which our Nation is founded. As I see it, God said is written! I believe it and that settles it. It is a facade and political hypocrisy that has perplexed many by those having an ulterior intent . The severe complications and all confusion and conflict that motioned through the current administration is deplorable. There is nothing outdated or no longer relevant as opposing arguments and lack of wisdom suggested. Although the heartbeat of modern day Patriots has been beating pounding vehemently steadily for a long while, the quality of long suffering instead of hope deferred develops out of great patience and those determined in postures of prayer for this Nation!
    Our biblical world views are a driving force not to be reckoned with. Many skirmishes over vital integrity on the front lines.Undeniably the church is on her feet and we shall overcome. The gates of hell shall not prevail against us.Truth is the resulting nation our founders built is the most prosperous, most successful nation the world has ever seen, just as it is written in this article title: What is Original Intent and Does It Matter ?
    In answer to these questions, it is all matters of principle. Voting in, securing and making sure our elected officials stick to it has been greatly challenging. No doubt allowed we must persevere, rising up boldly above every principality and power over adversity and opposition using the Word of God. Steadfast, we must exert the believers authority fully faithful just as our founders did in the beginning.Leading the coming generation in their maturity must certainly be done quickly before opportunity fails our chance in this responsible to say and do so.We can not fail. We have Gods Word on it!
    Our constitution is a contract. More over it is a covenant agreement just as much as any covenant agreement God has ever given. We are to regard and recognize simply. We arise and preserve what was then and still holds true today in the heart of God almighty. Let us do the will of our Father and founding fathers set the stage for us to do. We will subdue all efforts of tyranny and bring correction to the rude awakening by applying honor trust wisdom and principles of original intent.

    Reply
    • Jason Southerland

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this important topic. I agree these are matters of principle. We have to identify those principles and hold those officials accountable! Thank you again for your comment!

      Reply
  6. Randy Parker

    Very important article on a very important topic. Original Intent is so very critical in how we view our country, our government, and our rights given to us by Our Heavenly Father. Original Intent is so very critical in how our founding documents are applied to our daily lives. Words mean what they mean (unfortunately in today’s society we have people redefining words to suit their purposes, one heinous example is when the anti-life people redefined a baby to be a fetus and a zygote thereby removing all humanity from the baby). What did our Founding Fathers mean when they put the words of our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution down on paper? It is easy to determine what they meant since they wrote it for the common person to read and understand. I like to think of Original Intent as being in the same category as God’s Morality for us. Since we are all stained by original sin and the sin we have committed we cannot establish right and wrong, we need God to do that for us as God is Free of Sin. Only God can establish a right and wrong that are free of our human limitations. Our Founding Fathers were solidly founded in Our Heavenly Father and followed God’s teachings in writing our founding documents.

    Reply
    • Jason Southerland

      Thank you for your thoughts on this subject! I love the parallel you draw between Original Intent and God defining morality. For them both, we look to the source to determine what they meant and how they should be interpreted, etc. Neither are open to new revelations or definitions. Thank you so much for your comment!

      Reply

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