A New Deal Constitution
by H.L. Mencken
This satirical piece first appeared in The American Mercury, 41 (June 1937), 129-36, and was reprinted in condensed form by The Reader’s Digest, 31 (July 1937), 27-29.
The principal cause of the uproar in Washington is a conflict between the swift- moving idealism of the New Deal and the unyielding hunkerousness of the Constitution of 1788. What is needed, obviously, is a wholly new Constitution, drawn up with enough boldness and imagination to cover the whole program of the More Abundant Life, now and hereafter.
That is what I presume to offer here. The Constitution that follows is not my invention, and in more than one detail I have unhappy doubts of its wisdom. But I believe that it sets forth with reasonable accuracy the plan of government that the More Abundant Life wizards have sought to substitute for the plan of the Fathers. They have themselves argued at one time or another, by word or deed, for everything contained herein:
We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish social justice, draw the fangs of privilege, effect the redistribution of property, remove the burden of liberty from ourselves and our posterity, and insure the continuance of the New Deal, do ordain and establish this Constitution.
All governmental power of whatever sort shall be vested in a President of the United States. He shall hold office during a series of terms of four years each, and shall take the following oath: “I do solemnly swear that I will (in so far as I deem it feasible and convenient) faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will (to the best of my recollection and in the light of experiment and second thought) carry out the pledges made by me during my campaign for election (or such of them as I may select).”
The President shall be commander-in-chief of the Army and Navy, and of the militia, Boy Scouts, C.I.O., People’s Front, and other armed forces of the nation.
The President shall have the power: To lay and collect taxes, and to expend the income of the United States in such manner as he may deem to be to their or his advantage;
To borrow money on the credit of the United States, and to provide for its repayment on such terms as he may fix;
To regulate all commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and within them; to license all persons engaged or proposing to engage in business; to regulate their affairs; to limit their profits by proclamation from time to time; and to fix wages, prices and hours of work;
To coin money, regulate the content and value thereof, and of foreign coin, and to amend or repudiate any contract requiring the payment by the United States, or by any private person, of coin of a given weight or fineness;
To repeal or amend, in his discretion, any so-called natural law, including Gresham’s law, the law of diminishing returns, and the law of gravitation.
The President shall be assisted by a Cabinet of eight or more persons, whose duties shall be to make speeches whenever so instructed and to expend the public funds in such manner as to guarantee the President’s continuance in office.
The President may establish such executive agencies as he deems necessary, and clothe them with such powers as he sees fit. No person shall be a member to any such bureau who has had any practical experience of the matters he is appointed to deal with.
One of the members of the Cabinet shall be an Attorney General. It shall be his duty to provide legal opinions certifying to the constitutionality of all measures undertaken by the President, and to gather evidence of the senility of judges.
The legislature of the United States shall consist of a Senate and a House of Representatives. Every bill shall be prepared under the direction of the President, and transmitted to the two Houses at his order by their presiding officers. No member shall propose any amendment to a bill without permission in writing from the President or one of his authorized agents. In case any member shall doubt the wisdom of a bill he may apply to the President for light upon it, and thereafter he shall be counted as voting aye. In all cases a majority of members shall be counted as voting aye.
Both Houses may appoint special committees to investigate the business practices, political views, and private lives of any persons known to be inimical to the President; and such committees shall publish at public cost any evidence discovered that appears to be damaging to the persons investigated.
Members of both Houses shall be agents of the President in the distribution of public offices, federal appropriations, and other gratuities in their several states, and shall be rewarded in ratio to their fidelity to his ideals and commands.
The judges of the Supreme Court and of all inferior courts shall be appointed by the President, and shall hold their offices until he determines by proclamation that they have become senile. The number of judges appointed to the Supreme Court shall be prescribed by the President, and may be changed at his discretion. All decisions of the Supreme Court shall be unanimous.
The jurisdiction and powers of all courts shall he determined by the President. No act that he has approved shall be declared unconstitutional by any court.
Bill of Rights
There shall be complete freedom of speech and of the press â€“ subject to such regulations as the President or his agents may from time to time promulgate.
The freedom of communication by radio shall not be abridged; but the President and such persons as he may designate shall have the first call on the time of all stations.
In disputes between capital and labor, all the arbitrators shall be representatives of labor.
Every person whose annual income fans below a minimum to be fixed by the President shall receive from the public funds an amount sufficient to bring it up to that minimum.
No labor union shall be incorporated and no officer or member thereof shall be accountable for loss of life or damage to person or property during a strike.
All powers not delegated herein to the President are reserved to him, to be used at his discretion.
Henry Louis “H. L.” Mencken (1880-1956)