As the author of that most notorious document, “The Use of the Apostrophe in the English Language”, I’m always on the lookout for how that most humble of punctuation marks humbles the high, mighty, and pompous. One of these days I’m going to make a “meme” (yes, I know that this is a corruption of the original meaning of the word) which shows the apostrophe key on a keyboard with the legend “The apostrophe key: its there to show readers if your an idiot.” Indeed, nothing so distinguishes slapdash scribbling from words worth reading than confusion between “its” and “it’s”. That’s because the rule distinguishing them is so easy to remember: “If you mean ‘it is’, or ‘it has’, write ‘it’s’. Otherwise, write ‘its’.” In particular, the use of “it’s” when the possessive “its” is intended, which I call an “idiot ‘it’s’ ”, is the signature of the sloppy writing of a muddled mind.
No State shall, without the Consent of the Congress, lay any Imposts or Duties on Imports or Exports, except what may be absolutely necessary for executing it’s inspection Laws: and the net Produce of all Duties and Imposts, laid by any State on Imports or Exports, shall be for the Use of the Treasury of the United States; and all such Laws shall be subject to the Revision and Controul of the Congress.
(Spelling as in the original, emphasis mine.)
Good grief—an idiot “it’s” in the Constitution!
But was this a goof on the part of whoever made the transcription from the original text, as written out by Jacob Shallus, or is it in the parchment original? Well, take a look at the enlargement of the original document at the top of this article (click the image for the full page, precisely as published by the U.S. National Archives). The apostrophe is there, or at least appears to be.
Could it be a flaw in the parchment? That’s possible, but I don’t see any others that resemble it, and the colour of the mark is very close to that of the letters of the word and the dot above the “i” at the start of the word. The placement of the mark is consistent with the diagonal slant to the right at which dots above “i” appear throughout the text. We can’t compare against another apostrophe, since this is the only apostrophe in the entire original text of the Constitution (or in fact, any of the amendments adopted to date).
Shallus’s original written text was not free of errors. At the bottom left of the final page are these errata noted by Shallus.
The Word, “the,” being interlined between the seventh and eighth Lines of the first Page, The Word “Thirty” being partly written on an Erazure in the fifteenth Line of the first Page, The Words “is tried” being interlined between the thirty second and thirty third Lines of the first Page and the Word “the” being interlined between the forty third and forty fourth Lines of the second Page.
As the document linked above notes, the errata themselves include two errors: the position of the interlined “the” is incorrect, and a second interlined “the” two lines later is not mentioned. When it came time to affix the signatures to the document, Alexander Hamilton, who wrote the names of the states to the left of each delegation’s signature, misspelled “Pennsylvania” as “Pensylvania”. There is no mention of the “it’s” in the errata.