How the Founding Fathers Formed the Constitution and what a famous mathematician had to do with it!
Watch my conversation with Larry Tribe here: The Physics of Impeachment!
The Bill of Rights has been called the ‘heart and soul of the Constitution’. But, did you know how Euclid influenced it? The bill of rights was created as an outline for what government could, and could not, do. It is very similar in nature to Euclid’s Elements: an outline, a guide to the logic underpinning math.
The influence of Euclid on the creation of the United States Constitution is easily apparent. The laws which exist and are practiced today, in fact share much in common with Euclidean geometry. As we shall find out, this is no coincidence.
For over 2,000 years, Euclid’s famous work Elements had been a source of inspiration, reference, and fascination for many. Even today, it is still used as a textbook in the teaching of high school mathematics. The influence of this work on fields outside mathematics can not be underestimated.
While Euclid was in Alexandria writing Elements, not too far away in another part of Egypt, the ruler Ptolemy I was building his Library and Museum which housed the ancient Greek scientists’ works. Ptolemy acquired several fragments of Aristotle’s writings from Athens which included references to Euclid’s Elements, allowing others to gain access to a large portion of Euclid’s works.
In the 18th century Eastern world of philosophy and ideas, Euclid stood as one of the greatest mathematicians of all time. With work spanning over 20 years, he created about 13 works that still exist today. These amazing books have been used by numerous great thinkers in history to strengthen their ideas and give more structure to their views. One of these major thinkers was Thomas Jefferson.
The influence of Euclid on the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution was profound. The founding fathers were versed in the mathematical principles of the Elements, and used geometric proofs in the drafting of many provisions of the Constitution, as well as on money and measurements.
It’s no surprise that you’d look up Euclid in relation to the U.S. Constitution. Thankfully, there’s an easy way for you to see the connection and read about it in this fantastic blog post from this piece in Nautilus.
You can find a copy of Larry’s fascinating paper, helped out by a young research assistant named ‘Barack Obama’, here, in Harvard Law Review Laurence Tribe: The Curvature of Constitutional Space_What Lawyers Can Learn From Modern Physics_103 Harv. L. Rev. 1 (1989)