The Constitution of the United States was written against the background of perceived crisis. 4 It is therefore no surprise that the language of “crisis” has never been absent from discussions of American politics or American constitutionalism. It would be remarkable indeed if a country that has unceremoniously ignored an existing constitution—the Articles of Confederation—in order to propose and ratify a radically different one, engaged in civil war, suffered a series of economic depressions, fought two world wars (and several other major conflicts), and expanded from the eastern seaboard to the mid-Pacific and the Caribbean Sea 5 could fail to test the limits of constitutional government and generate the kind of struggles over power that produce claims of “crisis.” Harry Jaffa’s justly praised book on the pre–Civil War Constitution—which tried unsuccessfully to honor the demands of freedom and slavery alike—is aptly titled Crisis of the House Divided .6 A classic article by Arthur Bestor is titled simply The American Civil War as a Constitutional Crisis .7 And that crisis, of course, was resolved by a great war (and subsequent Reconstruction) that generated more than its own share of constitutional struggles, 8 including the disputed presidential election of 1876. 9
Date of Authorship for this Version
Balkin, Jack M. and Levinson, Sanford, "Constitutional Crises" (2008). Faculty Scholarship Series. Paper 18.