This will probably be my last article for awhile. I got an e-mail from a friend whose opinion I respect saying I need to take a break; that all my recent submissions have been a repetition of the same thing. I too have noticed that my tone, and the message I’ve been trying to get across, has become increasingly negative.
I believe it is because I’m simply getting burnt out. I do have a month long vacation, (outside the continental US) planned in September, and was planning on using that time to recharge my batteries while getting away from all the things here that have been dragging me down. I guess I’ll just have to scrap that plan and just stop writing now.
I did want to finish a couple of loose ends first; I absolutely hate leaving things undone; and these last two articles were works in progress when I got my friends e-mail.
Writing for me has always been enjoyable; but of late it’s become almost an addiction. I feel like I have let myself down if I don’t produce something for people to read on a daily basis. But that’s the point; if nobody is reading them because I’m just repeating myself, then maybe I DO need a break from it.
Anyway, read these two, and then relax in knowing you probably won’t hear from me until after September ends.
It is truly sad that our children grow up only to graduate from high school with a reading level that, when I was growing up, would barely meet 5th Grade standards. It makes explaining things difficult because the words I use are not within the vocabulary of most people, their understanding of basic grammar is lacking, or the concepts I discuss are ‘too deep’ for them to grasp.
For instance, I wonder how many people know what a qualifier is. A qualifier is a word or phrase which precedes something else that defines, which increases or which decreases the thing which follows. For instance you could say, “That is a big house.” That is a basic sentence with a subject and a verb. Now add a qualifier and it might read, “That is a very big house.”
A more complex example might be, “I want you to go to the store; while you are there buy some ham and cheese.” You going to the store is qualified by the things which you are to purchase while there. In this instance it specifies what you are to do while at the store. It could have stated, “I want you to go to the store and pick up a few supplies” thus leaving open the determination of what ‘supplies’ means. In the first example your shopping list is qualified by the words ham and cheese.
Got it down sufficiently for me to continue?
Our Founders used qualifiers a lot in their writings, and unfortunately with today’s level of education the meaning, or intent, passes right over the top of most people’s heads. I would, however, like to take a moment to discuss a few such examples of these qualifiers.
The first is in regards to the phrase general welfare. The phrase general welfare appears twice in our Constitution, the first time it appears it is in the Preamble, and the second in Article 1, Section 8, Clause 1.
First off, the Preamble does not grant government any power whatsoever, it is merely a statement of intent; the purpose for which the Constitution was written. It lays out general principles which are qualified in the document which follows.
When Joseph Story wrote his Commentaries on the Constitution, he said this about the Preamble, “And, here, we must guard ourselves against an error, which is too often allowed to creep into the discussions upon this subject. The preamble never can be resorted to, to enlarge the powers confided to the general government, or any of its departments. It cannot confer any power per se; it can never amount, by implication, to an enlargement of any power expressly given. It can never be the legitimate source of any implied power, when otherwise withdrawn from the constitution. Its true office is to expound the nature, and extent, and application ofthe powers actually conferred by the constitution, and not substantively to create them.” (Chapter VI, The Preamble, p. 462)
This was later upheld by the Supreme Court in their 1905 ruling Jacobson v. Massachusetts, “Although that Preamble indicates the general purposes for which the people ordained and established the Constitution, it has never been regarded as the source of any substantive power conferred on the Government of the United States or on any of its Departments.”
So as far as the mention of the general welfare in the Preamble goes, it is not a grant of any specific powers and therefore irrelevant.
In Article 1, Section 8, Clause 1, it does state, “The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States… ”
That is a grant of power, the power of taxation; but is it a general power, or is it specific? James Madison declared it to be specific when he said, “With respect to the two words “general welfare,” I have always regarded them as qualified by the detail of powers connected with them. To take them in a literal and unlimited sense would be a metamorphosis of the Constitution into a character which there is a host of proofs was not contemplated by its creators.”
Funny, there’s that word again; qualified. The power of taxation is a qualifier, which is limited by the specific powers that follow it. The power to raise revenue for government spending can only be done in pursuance of the specified powers which follow the qualifier; it is not a grant of unlimited power to levy taxes to raise money for programs which the Constitution prohibits. If you still don’t believe me, how about something Thomas Jefferson said? In an 1817 letter to Albert Gallatin, Jefferson wrote, “Congress has not unlimited powers to provide for the general welfare, but only those specifically enumerated.”
So, like it or not, our Founders did not create a government with unlimited power to provide things for the American people, only a limited government with certain specific powers for the overall general welfare of the nation as a whole; such as the common defense.
Another qualifier is found in the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution; the one regarding the militia and our right to keep and bear arms. The text of the 2nd Amendment states, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
My take on the 2nd Amendment may be unique, and may upset many of those who support the individual right of people to own guns; but it is my understanding of how the phrasing of the 2nd Amendment was written, not what I wish it to mean.
I believe that it is the right of each and every citizen in this country to own guns; of that there is no question. I also, however, believe that this right is inexorably tied to service in the militia, regardless of what the Supreme Court said in D.C. v Heller.
What is a well regulated militia? Is it one that is under strict control of the government? No, I believe well regulated means to be well trained, and well organized. Our Founders despised standing armies. As James Madison said, “A standing military force, with an overgrown Executive will not long be safe companions to liberty.”
In Federalist 29 Alexander Hamilton states, “If circumstances should at any time oblige the government to form an army of any magnitude that army can never be formidable to the liberties of the people while there is a large body of citizens, little, if at all, inferior to them in discipline and the use of arms, who stand ready to defend their own rights and those of their fellow-citizens. This appears to me the only substitute that can be devised for a standing army, and the best possible security against it, if it should exist.”
Then there was this, written by Noah Webster, “Before a standing army can rule, the people must be disarmed; as they are in almost every kingdom in Europe. The supreme power in America cannot enforce unjust laws by the sword; because the whole body of the people are armed…”
The militia was the Founders answer to standing armies. But what is the militia? Well, according to George Mason the militia consists of “…the whole people, except a few public officers.” You say we have a well regulated militia in our National Guard units. Yet do you not know that the United States Code says that the National Guard is not the ONLY form of militia?
Title 10 of the United States Code, Section 311, Militia Composition and Classes, states;
The militia of the United States consists of all able-bodied males at least 17 years of age and, except as provided in section 313 of title 32, under 45 years of age who are, or who have made a declaration of intention to become, citizens of the United States and of female citizens of the United States who are members of the National Guard.
(b) The classes of the militia are—
the organized militia, which consists of the National Guard and the Naval Militia; and
the unorganized militia, which consists of the members of the militia who are not members of the National Guard or the Naval Militia.
It would appear that George Mason was right; all men aged 17 and above are members of the militia of the States they inhabit. Although militia service is no longer actively required, it is still part of United States law and therefore verifies what Mason said about who the militia actually is.
The next part of the 2nd Amendment continues by saying that a well regulated militia is necessary to the security of a free State. The words free State can be interpreted in many ways but I believe since the word state is capitalized it means the States themselves being free; but free from what? Anything is probably the best answer. Free from foreign invasion and free from an oppressive government. The best way to understand it would be to reverse the words State and free and insert the words ‘of being’ between them, “the State of being free.” Therefore the belief that a well regulated militia, (which is supported by the sentiments expressed by most of our Founders), is the best means to preserve a state of freedom in this country; be it free from invasion or free from an overbearing government.
In a letter to Thomas Cooper, written in 1814, Thomas Jefferson explained it thusly, The Greeks and Romans had no standing armies, yet they defended themselves. “The Greeks by their laws, and the Romans by the spirit of their people, took care to put into the hands of their rulers no such engine of oppression as a standing army. Their system was to make every man a soldier and oblige him to repair to the standard of his country whenever that was reared. This made them invincible; and the same remedy will make us so.”
And how can this state of freedom be preserved if the people are not armed? Thus we come to the qualifying statement that the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.
In a letter published in the Pennsylvania Gazette on February 20, 1788, Tenche Coxe wrote the following, “Who are the militia? Are they not ourselves? Is it feared, then, that we shall turn our arms each man gainst his own bosom. Congress have no power to disarm the militia. Their swords, and every other terrible implement of the soldier, are the birthright of an American…. [T]he unlimited power of the sword is not in the hands of either the federal or state governments, but, where I trust in God it will ever remain, in the hands of the people.”
While you may not believe that a time would come when our government becomes so big, so powerful, that the people must rise up and take up arms against it, our Founders left nothing to chance. They believed that any government, even the best of them, could become tyrannical and oppressive, and they left us the means to fight that tyranny should it raise its ugly head in America.
The 2nd Amendment; the militia it calls for and the right of the people to keep and bear arms is a doomsday provision should our government become too oppressive. It was included in the Bill of Rights when all other means of redress had been exhausted and our government still continued to violate all the other rights protected by the remaining 9 Amendments, or continued usurping powers it was never intended it possess.
When the Redcoats tried to disarm the Colonists at Lexington and Concord it was not the army that responded, it was the local militias. They brought with them arms that were in common use at the time and were ready and willing to fight to the death for their rights.
That same fighting spirit still exists in the hearts of many Americans today, and would probably grow into a raging inferno should certain conditions arise in the future. Government knows this and seeks to disarm us so that should the time come the American public realizes the extent to which they’ve been lied to and deceived by their government, they would be incapable of rising up to stop any further attacks upon their liberty.
Of course they will always tell us that it is in our own best interests to give up a portion of the right to keep and bear arms to keep us safe; they can’t certainly come out and tell us the truth can they?
Daniel Webster once said that “Good intentions will always be pleaded for every assumption of authority. It is hardly too strong to say that the Constitution was made to guard the people against the dangers of good intentions.”
However, for our Constitution to protect us against good intentions, for our Bill of Rights to preserve and protect certain specific rights, the people must understand what these documents say, and what they mean. To do that requires understanding the grammar used and the meaning of the words as they were used in the 1700’s, not the modern day slang and meaning. It means people must think; something most, unfortunately, are loathe to do these days.