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Does The Constitution Need A Warning Label?

Wilder Publications puts the following warning label on its reprints of the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, Common Sense, the Articles of Confederation, and the Federalist Papers, Fox News reports:

The key passage: “This book is a product of its time and does not reflect the same values as it would if it were written today. Parents might wish to discuss with their children how views on race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and interpersonal relations have changed since this book was written before allowing them to read this classic work.”

Why would they do this?

Walter Olson, senior fellow at the Cato Institute, says the company may be trying to ensure that oversensitive people don’t pull its works off bookstore or library shelves. “Any idea that’s 100 years old will probably offend someone or other,” Olson told FoxNews.com. “…But if there’s anything that you ought to be able to take at a first gulp for yourself and then ask your parents if you’re wondering about this or that strange thing, it should be the founding documents of American history.”

You’d think. Not surprisingly, this move has been controversial.

Amazon.com’s customer reviews of Wilder’s copy of the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Articles of Confederation show an overwhelming number of people speaking out against the disclaimer, describing it as “insulting,” “sickening” and “frankly, horrifying.”

Another review for Wilder’s edition of the Federalist Papers calls for an all-out boycott of the publisher, sarcastically pointing out the “dangerous ideas” it’s trying to protect children from: “limited government, checks and balances, constrained judicial review, dual sovereignty of states and federal government, and deliberative democracy.”

Well, certainly, those are ideas new to people watching how American government has actually operated in recent decades. . . .

At any rate, the thing that first struck me about the warning label is the 2007 copyright.  So, apparently, this thing has been circulating for three years and just now drawing attention.

As to the merits of the warning label, it’s no doubt true that the world of the 1760s, 1770s, and 1780s was radically different from today’s in terms of race and gender relations, much less sexuality, ethnicity, and interpersonal relations.  Offhand, though, I can’t recall much discussion of any of these issues in the founding documents, with the glaring exception of race (mostly in the context of slavery) and (largely by omission) gender.

But am I offended by this innocuous statement being affixed to such esteemed documents?  No.   Would I buy them from Wilder?   Again, no.  Then again, who is it that’s paying for copies of these documents?  They’re small and in the public domain, widely circulated in free print editions and available online in pretty much any format you could want.  Mostly without warning labels!

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. I wonder if they put a similar warning on Mein Kampf?

    It seems to me there are a lot of other pieces of literatures that could be more helpful with a warning label than the constitution.

    Then again, it might help block the real life types of these people:
    http://www.theonion.com/articles/area-man-passionate-defender-of-what-he-imagines-c,2849/

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  2. G.A.Phillips says:

    Very true Neil, The warning on the Onion should read something like this;If do not have have your liberal puppet masters hand plunged up your donkey you will make no sense of this script, unless you was born with brain damage, then you will do just fine:)

    er, puff, turn the page, then puff again.

    ***This book is a product of its time and does not reflect the same values as it would if it were written today.***

    lol, you think?…..if you take this literally, crap I could have wrote it!

    ***Parents might wish to discuss with their children how views on race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and interpersonal relations have changed since this book was written before allowing them to read this classic work****

    but here the idiot liberal goes and put parents where teachers out to be, or does this shop sell books to liberal homeschoolers?

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  3. [...] Outside The Beltway, more thoughtfully unoffended. [...]

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  4. Michael says:

    Then again, who is it that’s paying for copies of these documents? They’re small and in the public domain, widely circulated in free print editions and available online in pretty much any format you could want.

    I own a copy of both the Federalist Papers and Common Sense. They fit nicely on my bookshelf. We don’t all have Kindles.

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