Although there may be a great many people who are politically active, and have firm political beliefs, I do not think that there are as many who have a keen interest in political science; the study of the various types of governments and their finer points of construction and operation. This is, in all truthfulness, a shame. First of all, in a representative form of government such as ours, it is essential that those whom the government represents have a thorough understanding of the shape their government shall take, the powers granted it, and the restrictions imposed upon it.
It is only by understanding how a system of government was designed to function that one can be aware when that government begins to assume undelegated powers or alter its very nature; such as what has occurred over the course of the past 228 years with our government.
Besides, I find this stuff fascinating; it keeps the gears turning in my brain which keeps it from atrophying.
Quick question for all of you reading this; what type government do we have in America? Please, let there be at least one or two who did not answer with DEMOCRACY! Our Founders both despised and feared democracies. In Federalist #10 James Madison had this to say about democracies, “Hence it is that such democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security and the rights of property, and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.”
People today say that America is a democracy because that is what they have been taught, but I would venture to guess that many don’t even know what a true democracy is. A true democracy, or a pure democracy as Madison called them, is when the people gather together themselves to vote upon which laws shall be enacted; with a simple majority being sufficient to enact any law.
As an example, let’s say you have a small town with a population of 500 people. During one of their town meetings a proposal is made that all citizens MUST attend church services on Sundays. A vote is taken and 251 vote in favor of the proposal, while 249 vote against it. By two votes the proposal passes and becomes the law; forcing the remaining 249 to do something they disagree with.
That is a pure democracy, and under such a system of government the rights of the minority are always threatened. Democracies were feared so much that our Founders put a check against them in the Constitution as it pertains to the election of the Chief Magistrate, or President; the Electoral College. That is why there have been times when a candidate may get a majority of the popular vote, but STILL lose the election.
So, if we don’t have a democracy, what do we have? To fully answer that question one must understand the nature of our country prior to the adoption of our Constitution. Each State, or Colony, was essentially a distinct and separate political entity from the others. Each was sovereign in the way in which it governed the internal policies and how it enacted laws which affected the residents living within each of them. In short, each State was a sovereign and independent nation of its own right.
Prior to the Revolution, although each State was relatively free to govern itself internally, all were governed from above by the laws passed by Parliament. Yet the Colonies joined together in a loose confederation of sovereign States to fight a common enemy; the King. A confederation, or a confederacy, as defined by Bouvier’s Dictionary of Law, is, “An agreement between two or more states or nations, by which they unite for their mutual protection and good. This term is applied to such agreement between two independent nations, but it is used to signify the union of different states of the same nation, as the confederacy of the states.”
Our nation’s first constitution, although it wasn’t called that, was the Articles of Confederation; thereby proclaiming that each State retained its sovereignty and independence, but had aligned with each other for the mutual defense and good of all. However, with such varying laws being enacted by each of the States, many felt that this confederation was not strong enough to hold the newly established United States together for any length of time. Laws were being passed which interfered with the smooth flow of goods, or commerce as it is called, and it was difficult to collect the revenue, [taxes] to fund the central government established by the Articles of Confederation.
Therefore a convention was called for to propose amendments to the Articles of Confederation to make them better able to govern the affairs of the fledgling young nation. However, there were certain men who had ulterior motives; they wanted to completely do away with the Articles of Confederation and come up with an entirely new system of government. In doing so they overstepped the authority granted them by their State legislatures who had sent them to Philadelphia ONLY to amend the Articles of Confederation.
Could this be one of the reasons why it was decided that the finished document they produced was to be ratified by the people of the United States instead of the State Legislatures; because they feared that the Legislatures would shoot it down because the delegates had overstepped their authority and sought to diminish the sovereignty of the States?
It is at this point in time that I wish to draw your attention to two words as they pertain to systems of government; federal and national. Today those words are used interchangeably, but back in 1787 they meant entirely different things. A federal form of government was one that denoted a confederation, or confederacy of States; with each State retaining their sovereignty. A national, on the other hand, applied to a complete consolidation of the individual components into a single entity; in this case the United States of America.
Although there were many esteemed Founders who opposed the proposed Constitution for various reasons, it was Patrick Henry who argued most vehemently against the Constitution due to the fact that it created a national form of government over the existing federal one.
During the ratification proceedings for the Commonwealth of Virginia, Patrick Henry argued incessantly against the dangers he felt the Constitution, and the system of government it outlined, posed to the States and to the liberty of the people. On June 5, 1788 Mr. Henry arose to give a lengthy speech, which he began with the following words, “The fate of this question and of America may depend on this: Have they said, we, the States? Have they made a proposal of a compact between states? If they had, this would be a confederation: It is otherwise most clearly a consolidated government. The question turns, Sir, on that poor little thing-the expression, We, the people, instead of the States, of America.”
That may not mean much to you, but it denotes a world of difference between the two forms of governance for me. In a confederation the central government’s sole authority was in regards to the interaction of the individual States with each other. Therefore whatever laws they passed applied only to the States themselves, not directly to the people who inhabited them.
In a consolidated or national form of government, such as the one Mr. Henry feared the Constitution established, the laws would bypass the State authority and apply directly to the people.
To combat this fear, and it was a well founded one as many still feared a strong centralized government after having just fought a war to obtain their independence from one, James Madison, and two others, John Jay and Alexander Hamilton wrote a series of articles with the hope of calming any fears as they pertained to the extent of the power given this new form of government, and the threat it posed to both the State sovereignty and the liberty of the people. These articles became known as The Federalist Papers.
In Federalist #39 James Madison begins by assuring the people that a Republican form of government, such as the one proposed by the Constitution, was best to protect against the dangers of an aristocracy, and that the best way to ensure this was to have its fate decided by the body of the people, not the State Legislatures, “If we resort for a criterion to the different principles on which different forms of government are established, we may define a republic to be, or at least may bestow that name on, a government which derives all its powers directly or indirectly from the great body of the people, and is administered by persons holding their offices during pleasure, for a limited period, or during good behavior. It is ESSENTIAL to such a government that it be derived from the great body of the society, not from an inconsiderable proportion, or a favored class of it; otherwise a handful of tyrannical nobles, exercising their oppressions by a delegation of their powers, might aspire to the rank of republicans, and claim for their government the honorable title of republic.”
A few paragraphs later Madison continues by saying, “”But it was not sufficient,” say the adversaries of the proposed Constitution, “for the convention to adhere to the republican form. They ought, with equal care, to have preserved the FEDERAL form, which regards the Union as a CONFEDERACY of sovereign states; instead of which, they have framed a NATIONAL government, which regards the Union as a CONSOLIDATION of the States.” And it is asked by what authority this bold and radical innovation was undertaken? The handle which has been made of this objection requires that it should be examined with some precision.”
Now we begin to get into the question posed by Patrick Henry, and we also note that even Madison accepts that there is a difference between the two forms; national and federal.
Madison then goes to great lengths to explain how, in some instances the government created by the Constitution has national characteristics, while in others it has federal characteristics, “The next relation is, to the sources from which the ordinary powers of government are to be derived. The House of Representatives will derive its powers from the people of America; and the people will be represented in the same proportion, and on the same principle, as they are in the legislature of a particular State. So far the government is NATIONAL, not FEDERAL. The Senate, on the other hand, will derive its powers from the States, as political and coequal societies; and these will be represented on the principle of equality in the Senate, as they now are in the existing Congress. So far the government is FEDERAL, not NATIONAL. The executive power will be derived from a very compound source. The immediate election of the President is to be made by the States in their political characters. The votes allotted to them are in a compound ratio, which considers them partly as distinct and coequal societies, partly as unequal members of the same society. The eventual election, again, is to be made by that branch of the legislature which consists of the national representatives; but in this particular act they are to be thrown into the form of individual delegations, from so many distinct and coequal bodies politic. From this aspect of the government it appears to be of a mixed character, presenting at least as many FEDERAL as NATIONAL features.”
But then in the very next paragraph Madison gets to the root of the difference between a national and a federal form of government, “The difference between a federal and national government, as it relates to the OPERATION OF THE GOVERNMENT, is supposed to consist in this, that in the former the powers operate on the political bodies composing the Confederacy, in their political capacities; in the latter, on the individual citizens composing the nation, in their individual capacities.”
Madison would later, in Federalist #45, using different words, attempt to prove that the government created by the Constitution was NOT national, “The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government, are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce; with which last the power of taxation will, for the most part, be connected. The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State.”
In typical political form, Madison and the other writers of the Federalist Papers, used doublespeak and direct avoidance of the question to answer the questions posed by men such as Patrick Henry. Instead of saying that the system was not national, they said it was part national, part federal.
But for a system to be federal in nature the sovereignty of the States must be respected, and some manner of allowing the States to have a say in what laws the central government passes must be part of the system. This is why the lawmaking body, or Congress, was divided into two houses, the House of Representatives which was to represent the great body of the people, and the Senate which was to represent the State authority.
In Federalist 62 Madison explains the importance of having the members of the Senate chosen by the States thusly, “It is equally unnecessary to dilate on the appointment of senators by the State legislatures. Among the various modes which might have been devised for constituting this branch of the government, that which has been proposed by the convention is probably the most congenial with the public opinion. It is recommended by the double advantage of favoring a select appointment, and of giving to the State governments such an agency in the formation of the federal government as must secure the authority of the former, and may form a convenient link between the two systems.”
For our system to remain federal, if that’s what it even was from the beginning, it was crucial that the States have some say in what laws the central government enacts. The moment that authority is taken away, the system becomes national; in that the laws are passed solely by the representatives of the people.
Also, if a system truly is federal in nature, this means that it is only by agreement between the entities which comprise the confederation, or Union should you choose to use that term instead, that they remain a part of the confederation. If, at any time, the system becomes destructive of the ends for which it was established, or violates the rights of certain classes of people, it is the right of that State, or portion of a State, to leave the Union. This is the fundamental principle enshrined within our Declaration of Independence. It is also something a young Congressman from Illinois once said in an 1848 speech regarding the War with Mexico, “Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up and shake off the existing government and form a new one that suits them better. This is a most valuable, most sacred right- a right which we hope and believe is to liberate the world. Nor is this right confined to cases in which the whole people of an existing government may choose to excercise it. Any portion of such people that can, may revolutionize and make their own, of so much territory as the inhabit.” What was the name of this young Congressman? Why, it was none other than Abraham Lincoln, who in 1861 would do a 180 and deny the Southern States the very right he said was the right of any people anywhere; which of course was the cause of the Civil War.
Whether the Southern States chose to secede because the North was attempting to interfere with the institution of slavery or if they left because of the oppressive tariffs imposed upon them is irrelevant. The fact is that they had every right to leave if they felt remaining a part of the Union was harmful to them. Lincoln had no right to force them into remaining, and it goes against all that a federal form of government stands for; the sovereignty of the States remaining intact.
By choosing to use force against the Southern States, Lincoln put the will of the federal government; particularly that of the President, above the will of the States and the people who inhabit them. He essentially declared that the government created by the Constitution was no longer federal, it was national. One look to his Gettysburg Address is all that it takes to confirm this, “…and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” There is no mention of State authority or State sovereignty, only the will of the people as a consolidated body; just what Patrick Henry feared.
The final nail in the coffin to our federal form of government came in 1913 with the ratification of the 17th Amendment, which states, “The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, elected by the people thereof, for six years…” (My emphasis)
No longer do the States have any say in what laws the central government passes. And with the extensive ignorance regarding the powers given the central government among the general public, and their selfishness and greed, we have evolved from a group of sovereign States to an elective democracy where the voice of a majority of the people, or members of Congress for that matter, is all that it takes to enact laws, however egregious they may be.
Again, with the ignorance of many, and the disregard for Constitutional limitations upon government by many more, the only thing stopping our government from becoming totally venal and oppressive is the hope that we are electing wise and virtuous men and women to the seats of power within it.
And as Patrick Henry said in regards to that, “And, Sir, would not all the world, from the Eastern to the Western hemisphere, blame our distracted folly in resting our rights upon the contingency of our rulers being good or bad. Shew me that age and country where the rights and liberties of the people were placed on the sole chance of their rulers being good men, without a consequent loss of liberty? I say that the loss of that dearest privilege has ever followed with absolute certainty, every such mad attempt.”
And finally, as our government has deemed to makes its will supreme, we have no recourse to fight all manner of unconstitutional laws, or laws which violate our most sacred possession; our liberty. How are we to fight them, in court? How effective is that when law enforcement enforces the most reprehensible laws upon the people and the court system routinely prosecutes people for merely exercising their rights as freemen? Again, as Patrick Henry warned, “But in this, there is no real actual punishment for the grossest maladministration. They may go without punishment, though they commit the most outrageous violation on our immunities. That paper may tell me they will be punished. I ask, by what law? They must make the law — for there is no existing law to do it. What — will they make a law to punish themselves? This, Sir, is my great objection to the Constitution, that there is no true responsibility — and that the preservation of our liberty depends on the single chance of men being virtuous enough to make laws to punish themselves.”
This is why I study, this is why I write, to share with you the things you have not been taught in school and to lift the veil of ignorance which shrouds you from the truth; that truth being that the government we have now is far worse than the one our Founders fought to gain their independence from. Yet the people today are far too concerned with which party is going to win the next election; never stopping to think that both parties are equally guilty of crimes against the people, and the document which gives them any authority in the first place; the Constitution.
I know this was rather lengthy, but it is my sincerest hope that you read it with an open mind, and re-read it again if the points I have made are not clear in your minds. Maybe, just maybe I will get lucky and a few light bulbs will go on in people’s minds and they will stop supporting this abomination that you call our government by refusing to participate in choosing who will sit in the seats of power within it. After all, did not Jefferson say that government derives its just authority from the consent of the governed? The only power it has over us is because we consent to it. If we remove that consent to a large enough degree, they become powerless over us.
And that is when we will once again begin to know what it means to be truly free.