Prior to the summer of 1787 the government of these States united was a joke. It lacked any real authority to enforce the laws it passed and the States went about their business disregarding their responsibility to provide revenue to support it. Also, due to no regulatory ability there were so many varied restrictions and tariffs imposed that trade amongst the States, and with foreign nation’s suffered so much that it almost completely can to a standstill. Something had to be done, and done quickly.
So, over the summer of 1787 a group of delegates from a majority of the States convened in Philadelphia to discuss ways to improve the Articles of Confederation so as to give it the proper strength and authority to remedy the problems that threatened to divide this united country into 13 independent squabbling sovereign states. Each of these delegates had their own ideas as to what needed to be done to rectify the faults in the Articles of Confederation, but a few had other ideas altogether, with James Madison being at the forefront.
Prior to this convention Madison had been studying history, particularly the forms in which government may take, to see if he could come up with a system that might correct the problems that the States faced as well as preserve the people’s rights. His plan from the beginning was to trash the Articles of Confederation and start fresh to develop a much stronger central government. This idea exceeded the authority granted the delegates by the state legislatures who had chosen them. Yet Madison was of the mind that if they didn’t do this, right then and there, that the Union of States would not survive long enough for another opportunity to fix what was broken.
The end result of that convention is our Constitution, but the process by which it evolved is not as straightforward as you might suppose. All of the delegates had their own ideas as to what needed to be done to give any new form of government the required powers to make it efficient in doing the job it was being designed to do. Everything was discussed/debated, from the ratio of representation in the legislature, to the number and the duration of service of the executive. At one point it was suggested that the executive, (the president), serve a life term. Another instance the idea of the federal government being given an unqualified veto over all laws passed by the states.
In the end, after many compromises, a constitution was written and presented to the delegates for their vote. However, prior to voting Benjamin Franklin had written a speech he wished to have read to the delegates. So on June 28, 1787 James Wilson rose and delivered Mr. Franklin’s speech to the assembled delegates.
The following is an excerpt from what Franklin had written, “In these Sentiments, Sir, I agree to this Constitution, with all its Faults, if they are such; because I think a General Government necessary for us, and there is no Form of Government but what may be a Blessing to the People if well administered; and I believe farther that this is likely to be well administered for a Course of Years, and can only end in Despotism as other Forms have done before it, when the People shall become so corrupted as to need Despotic Government, being incapable of any other...I doubt too whether any other Convention we can obtain, may be able to make a better Constitution: For when you assemble a Number of Men to have the Advantage of their joint Wisdom, you inevitably assemble with those Men all their Prejudices, their Passions, their Errors of Opinion, their local Interests, and their selfish Views. From such an Assembly can a perfect Production be expected? It therefore astonishes me, Sir, to find this System approaching so near to Perfection as it does…Thus I consent, Sir, to this Constitution because I expect no better, and because I am not sure that it is not the best.” (my emphasis)
The debates that occurred during the convention which produced the Constitution were nothing compared to the debates that arose when it was presented to the public for their consideration. Everyone who had an opinion shared it. There is a wealth of information available for anyone who wishes to study the debates, both pro and con, over whether the states should accept or reject the Constitution but it is not my intent to go over all the various points they debated. Let it be enough to say that the Constitution was agreed to by the required number of states and a new system of government was instituted in America.
On April 30, 1789, upon being sworn in as our first president George Washington uttered the following, “…the preservation of the sacred fire of liberty, and the destiny of the Republican model of Government, are justly considered as deeply, perhaps as finally staked, on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.”
Remember now, although Ben Franklin declared that this Constitution was the best that could be expected being produced by men with such differing ideas as to what formed good government, it was not perfect. Keep in mind also that Washington said that it was an experiment entrusted to the people of this country, not to the government itself.
Therein lies that fatal flaw within our system, a loophole if you will, which has allowed our government to morph from one of clearly defined powers, to one with almost unlimited powers with the people and the states having little say in what laws are passed and forced upon them.
In his defense of the British Soldiers charged with murder at the Boston Massacre, John Adams made the following statement, “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” What I am about to say is my opinion, but it is based upon much study and backed up by facts. You can argue all you want against what I am about to say but unless you can provide facts to the contrary your argument will have no leg to stand on.
The experiment which Washington spoke of in his inaugural address has failed. You may ask how can that be when we still have a government? Well the experiment was not about whether the system of government created by the Constitution would survive, it was about whether it would survive as ‘good government’ confined to the limits imposed upon it and respecting the rights of the people. We may still have a government, but it is far from good, and it is light years away from respecting the rights of the people for which it was established to protect.
I can’t count the times I’ve been asked what can we do to restore this country to one in which the government obeys the limits imposed upon it by the Constitution, and at the same time respects and protects our rights. I have pondered that question until I thought smoke was going to come out of my ears, and I have come to the conclusion that there isn’t a damned thing we can do about it. Things are going to go their course no matter what a few of us do or say to try and alter that course. I’m not giving up, I’m just being realistic. People keep tossing that Samuel Adams quote at me when I say things like this, “It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brush fires in people’s minds.” Believe me, I am irate, and I have been tireless, having written almost 700 articles over the past 15 years. Believe me, I’m about as keen to set brush fires in people’s minds as they come, but to set a brush fire you gotta have kindling, and most people’s minds simply don’t have any. You cannot win a battle against apathy and complacency. Ignorance can be cured by providing people with knowledge, but if they simply don’t give a damn there is nothing anyone can do to change that!
I’m not saying that there aren’t people out there that can’t be reached and taught about how our government is truly supposed to function, and all the abuses of power which currently go on, there are. There are also a goodly number of people who are already aware of the things I write about and want the same things from government that I do. But these numbers are not sufficient to affect any lasting change upon the political landscape of America, and I’ll explain why.
We cannot win at the voting booth, the entire political process is corrupt. The party machinery that is the Republican and Democrat parties has been taken over by banking and corporate interests who have agendas of their own to forward, and the Constitution only stands in their way. Too many people still believe that they actually have a choice for good and bad candidates when they are all bad. As Carlin said, you have the illusion of choice. Besides, you couldn’t get enough people to vote for a truly good candidate anyway, the things they would say on the campaign trail would preclude most voters from wanting to have anything to do with them. Besides, finding one candidate who stands for the same thing our Founders felt is hard enough, trying to find enough to end the corruption and abuses of power in Congress would be next to impossible. We the voters have allowed this corruption to take hold and it is not going to relinquish the power it has accumulated without a fight.
Where does that leave us? Well, it means that if we want government to obey the Constitution we are either going to have to force it to, or take government back from those who occupy the positions of power and authority by force. I am not advocating for revolution for I believe it to be a no win situation. Not only is the federal government too big and too strong right now, but the state governments would, for the most part, not support the people in their efforts as they too are as corrupt by the two party system as is the federal government.
Besides, let’s just say for arguments sake, that there was a revolution, and the minority won. What then? John Adams once said, “The right of a nation to kill a tyrant, in cases of necessity, can no more be doubted, than to hang a robber, or kill a flea. But killing one tyrant only makes way for worse, unless the people have sense, spirit and honesty enough to establish and support a constitution guarded at all points against the tyranny of the one, the few, and the many.”
Furthermore, in the convention for the State of Virginia that was arguing to adopt or reject the proposed Constitution, James Madison said the following, “Is there no virtue among us? If there be not, we are in a wretched situation. No theoretical checks — no form of government can render us secure. To suppose liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people, is a chimerical idea. If there be sufficient virtue and intelligence in the community, it will be exercised in the selection of these men. So that we do not depend on their virtue, or put confidence in our rulers, but in the people who are to choose them.”
Think about that for it is the essence of the experiment that Washington spoke of in his inaugural address. A revolution may nor may not be successful, but even if it was how could we hope to retain a government that obeyed the Constitution unless the people who chose the representatives to occupy it were not virtuous and kept a watchful eye upon it for the first violation of the limits imposed upon it?
In 1785 James Madison wrote his Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments. In it he stated, “It is proper to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties–we hold this prudent jealousy to be the first duty of citizens, and one of the noblest characteristics of the late Revolution. The freemen of America did not wait till usurped power had strengthened itself by exercise, and entangled the question in precedents. They saw all the consequences in the principle, and they avoided the consequences by denying the principle.”
That is what must occur before any success can be hoped for. People must be willing to fight the minutest of violations of the Constitution by their government, no matter how much said violations serve the public welfare. And that gets right back to complacency and apathy, people have a natural tendency to ignore things until it directly affects them on a personal level. Back in 1929 Senator William Edgar Borah published an article in Readers Digest where he said, “The marvel of all history is the patience with which men and women submit to burdens unnecessarily laid upon them by their governments.”
So you see the predicament we are in? With the level of apathy and complacency exhibited by most Americans, and their unquestioning faith in the a corrupt two party system, we simply cannot hope to vote out the bad apples in government and replace them with candidates who will honor their oaths to support and defend the Constitution.
We also, although we might win a revolution, cannot hope to maintain a government that limits itself to the Constitutional powers granted it unless a majority of the people vote for candidates who promise to do that, then monitor their every action closely to ensure that they do. And that ties directly into the first statement, with the apathy and complacency of most Americans, that simply isn’t going to happen.
So you see the conundrum we face don’t you? That is the fatal flaw in our system of government, it relied upon us to do what is best for the country and not our own selfish needs and desires. That demanded that we the people remain virtuous and held on to true republican principles, while jealously guarding our rights. In all these areas we have failed dismally. If we want to turn things around in government we must first begin by turning around the attitudes and mindsets of the people who inhabit it, as Jefferson said in his Notes on Virginia, “It is the manners and spirit of a people which preserve a republic in vigor. A degeneracy in these is a canker which soon eats to the heart of its laws and constitution.”
I do not wish to end on a pessimistic, or cynical note, but I only speak the things that I have either learned or observed, and both have led to the conclusion that unless more people begin, first learning about their system of government, and secondly paying attention to what government is doing, then things will not get better, they will continue to get worse. And as John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail, “But a Constitution of Government once changed from Freedom, can never be restored. Liberty, once lost, is lost forever.”
I have no intention of giving up the fight as I would rather live free or die. But I am realistic in regards to what I see as the future of this country, and the picture is bleak, to say the least. But these things I have just said will go in one ear of most people and out the other and then they will go back to whatever it is they were doing before they read them…that is if most people even read this in the first place.
Unfortunately, the people who need to read this, need to understand the things I have been writing about for the past 15-20 years are not going to care enough to make any serious adjustments in the way they think and feel about the powers their government wield. They will go about their lives as happy as pigs in slop until the truth comes to their doorstep and awakens them from the illusion they have been clinging to all their lives. But by then it will be too late for them to do anything about it.
Our republican system of government demands that, for it to function effectively, the people remain actively informed and actively fight to keep it within the limits imposed upon it. It also requires that they understand their rights and fight each and every infringement upon them.
That is the experiment that was entrusted to us as people of this country, and if final grade were offered, we would get a big fat F.