Difference Between a Written and Unwritten Constitution

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Distinction between a written and unwritten constitution is not real. There is no constitution which is either wholly written or entirely unwritten.

All written constitutions grow and expand if they are to endure and serve their purpose.

The real constitution is a living body of general prescriptions carried into effect by living persons. No constitution can ever be a strait-jacket. Nor can it be ever in the mind of the constitutional fathers to work out in all details a complete and final scheme of government operative for generations to come.

They always seek merely a starting point and consequently provide a skeleton to be clothed with flesh, by customs, exigencies, national emergencies, economic developments, and various other factors affecting the welfare, of the nation.

Written constitutions, Bryce remarks, become “developed by interpretation, fringed with decisions, and enlarged by customs so that after a time the letter of their text no longer conveys their full effect.” The constitution remains a printed document, no doubt, but explained by judicial decisions, precedents and practices and illuminated by understandings and aspirations.

This point may be illustrated by few examples taken from the United States which is represented as the best type of a written constitution. The most notable example is the extra-constitutional development of the political parties.

The constitutional Fathers sought to provide a mechanism of government which would be free “from all violence of the faction”, as Madison called it. But in the Presidential election of 1796, the third under the Union and the first in which Washington was not a candidate, there were two national parties, one supporting John Adams and the other supporting Thomas Jefferson.

By 1800, the party system had settled itself quite firmly in the government, even to the extent of necessitating the addition of the Twelfth Amendment so as to make the Electoral College method workable....
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