When I finally got around to checking my Facebook Newsfeed this morning, this question was at the top of my page, having just been posted by a friend. I’m sharing it with you now so that you can ponder it yourself, “If it did not already exist, and the Bill of Rights was introduced in the Congress today, federal or state, would it stand a chance of getting out of committee, much less approved?”
In past writings I have asked a similar question of my readers. For instance, if Thomas Jefferson was alive today, do you think he could ever win a presidential election, or even make it as far as becoming the nominee for the Democratic Party?
I don’t think so.
I shouldn’t need to go any further in explaining what is wrong in America today; the answers you provide to those two questions ought to be sufficient to explain what is wrong in this country.
Look at why so many vote for a particular candidate for president these days. These candidates go out on the campaign trail, full of promises to do all these wonderful things for the people to make America a great place. Then, when one of them gets elected, the people expect him to fulfill those promises. If a president fails to do as he promised, his approval ratings drop. If he is blocked from doing so by Congress the other party is blamed.
What this shows me is that very few understand, or if they do understand, they do not care about the way our system of government was set up. Look at the word Executive, from the root execute. The job of the President is to execute the laws passed by Congress; to make sure they are faithfully enforced. The President can make suggestions to Congress; but that’s all they are, suggestions; Congress is under no obligation to act upon them. The President can also veto legislation sent to him for his signature if he feels they are unconstitutional. But then again Congress can override his veto if both Houses pass the bill with a 2/3’s vote.
If the people believe the President to be all powerful, who can summon Congress to act upon his will at the snap of his fingers, why do we even bother having a Congress? Why do we elect and pay the salaries for 535 individuals if they are merely the ones who act only according to the will of whoever is acting as President?
The simple explanation for how our government was formed is that the Congress was to be the body which made our nation’s laws, the Executive was the one who would ensure the laws were carried out, and the Supreme Court would be the branch which settled disputes arising under the laws passed by our government. Each branch had its own authority, and careful care was taken to prevent the others from overstepping their authority and infringing upon the authority of the others.
On top of all this, restrictions, or limitations were placed upon what areas our government had any authority to legislate upon. These limitations are found in the First Article, Eighth Clause of the Constitution; specifically listing the enumerated powers given our government.
In discussing political authority there is a term known as construction. Construction is basically how a legal document is to be interpreted. In the case of our Constitution there are two trains of thought; one is that it be taken literally; that the powers stated are the powers given, and nothing more. The other, more widely held belief, is that there are certain implied powers, for instance the General Welfare or Commerce Clauses, which give to government a great deal of leeway in what laws they can enact to provide for the General Welfare or to regulate commerce.
The only way one can learn the truth as to whether our Constitution was to be taken literally, or whether it was to be taken as a list of general suggestions is by reading the words of those who actively participated in both writing the document, and then in reading the arguments of both those for and against the ratification of it.
To obtain your interpretation of the Constitution from those alive today who seek, or hold positions of power within government is akin to allowing a criminal to expound the intent of the law in a manner which justifies their own crimes. Of course those in government are going to say that the Constitution authorizes them to do the things they do. Do you honestly think they are going to say, “What we are doing violates the Constitution, but it’s in your own best interests that we do this.” If you believe that, then you are for more naive then I thought.
If our government held unlimited powers, or hidden implied powers, why would Thomas Jefferson declare, “That the several States composing the United States of America, are not united on the principle of unlimited submission to their General Government . . . . and that whensoever the General Government assumes undelegated powers, its acts are unauthoritative, void, and of no force. . . . that the government created by this compact [the Constitution for the United States] was not made the exclusive or final judge of the extent of the powers delegated to itself; since that would have made its discretion, and not the Constitution, the measure of its powers”.?
Or why would James Madison say this, “If Congress can employ money indefinitely to the general welfare, and are the sole and supreme judges of the general welfare, they may take the care of religion into their own hands; they may appoint teachers in every State, county and parish and pay them out of their public treasury; they may take into their own hands the education of children, establishing in like manner schools throughout the Union; they may assume the provision of the poor; they may undertake the regulation of all roads other than post-roads; in short, everything, from the highest object of state legislation down to the most minute object of police, would be thrown under the power of Congress… Were the power of Congress to be established in the latitude contended for, it would subvert the very foundations, and transmute the very nature of the limited Government established by the people of America”.?
Or this, “[T]he powers of the federal government are enumerated; it can only operate in certain cases; it has legislative powers on defined and limited objects, beyond which it cannot extend its jurisdiction.”?
To understand the purpose for the existence of our federal government you must understand the timeline of its coming into existence.
-From 1620 to 1783 the Colonists were a people subject to the rule of a monarch; the King of England.
-Around 1625, with the passage of the Stamp Act, the Colonists began resisting laws they felt violated their Natural Rights.
-Between 1625 and 1775 a game of tug of war took place where the King reacted to the Colonists disobedience to his laws and the Colonists reacted to further violations of their rights; until in April of 1775 it all came to a head when the King’s men attempted to take the guns from the Colonists at Lexington and Concord.
-Between 1775 and 1783 a war was fought to determine whether the Colonies would remain subjects under a tyrant, or whether they would become free and independent States.
-In 1783 the Colonists obtained their independence and the King recognized the Colonies, not to be a united nation but 13 free and independent states. (See the Treaty of Paris, Article 1, 1783)
-By 1783 most States had already established a system of government to manage the internal affairs of each State; with their members being chosen from among the citizens of the States they were to represent.
-During the period which saw the Colonies fighting for their independence they had written a document establishing a Congress to manage the joint affairs of the individual Colonies. These Articles of Confederation were ratified by a unanimous vote of all 13 Colonies by 1781. This created, for all intents and purposes, our nation’s first system of government.
-Within a decade of the Colonies becoming free and independent some felt that internal strife, a lack of the ability of the Congress to effectively regulate trade, and its inability to collect the taxes due led many to call for a convention to be held to recommend amendments which would give Congress the power it needed to effectively manage the affairs of the young nation.
-In 1787 this convention met in the city of Philadelphia. Upon adjourning the members were sworn to secrecy and James Madison unveiled his grand scheme; to completely abolish the existing form of government and create a much stronger form of government.
-There were some, such as Robert Yates and John Lansing of New York, who left the convention; protesting that the delegates were overstepping their just authority. Then there were others who stayed to the end, but refused to sign the finished document; arguing that certain changes needed to be added to secure the rights of both the States and the people.
Before I go any further I must speak about the meaning of the word sovereignty, and in whom it lies in America. Sovereignty, simply defined is the supreme power or authority. Our Declaration of Independence states that the purpose of any form of government is to secure the rights of those it governs, and that it derives its “…just powers from the consent of the governed…”
If government derives its powers from the consent of the governed, then those governed must be sovereign. This fact was later affirmed by the Supreme Court when they heard the case of Chisholm v. Georgia, “…at the Revolution, the sovereignty devolved on the people; and they are truly the sovereigns of the country, but they are sovereigns without subjects…with none to govern but themselves; the citizens of America are equal as fellow citizens, and as joint tenants in the sovereignty.”
If the people, therefore, are the true sovereigns in our country it is logical to conclude that when they come together to form a state government they are doing so in their sovereign capacity, and that they are endowing these state governments with the powers they deem necessary to manage the internal affairs of their State.
This begs the question of: If we have State governments to manage the affairs within each of our States why do we even need a federal government? The answer is that as free and independent States a state might pass laws which violate the rights of the other states, and that as a voluntary union of States we may be subject to attack from external enemies. Therefore, a centralized form of government would be required to manage the interaction between the individual States, and provide for the common defense of all.
Therefore, in establishing this centralized form of government, it is reasonable to assume that any power it might hold would be surrendered to it by the entities which it was to govern; the States. The rights of the people and their sovereignty were not to be affected, or limited by the creation of a central government as the powers the central government were to wield would primarily be felt by the State authority.
The above statement is confirmed by Madison himself in Federalist 45, wherein he states, “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.”
If one were to go and study the arguments of those who objected to the ratification of our Constitution they would find that of all the arguments against this proposed system of government there was one unifying fear; that it would abolish the authority of the States. For instance, on June 5, 1788 Patrick Henry argued “Here is a revolution as radical as that which separated us from Great Britain. It is radical in this transition; our rights and privileges are endangered, and the sovereignty of the states will be relinquished: And cannot we plainly see that this is actually the case? ”
Now if I were to ask you right now if you believed our government was doing the job it was intended it do when it was first established way back in 1789, how would you answer, and upon what facts would you base your statement?
Would you base your opinions upon the things spoken by politicians seeking, or currently holding office within this form of government, or would you base it upon the writings of those who knew why they were establishing this system of government and the specific powers it was to exercise?
I honestly do not know what else I can say to a people who care more about allegiance to political parties than they do allegiance to the Constitution. I do not know what else can be said to a people who value their liberty so little that they would willingly surrender it for the promise of security and comfort.
I take that back, I do know what I can say, and it is best summed up by a quote from Samuel Adams, “If ye love wealth greater than liberty, the tranquility of servitude greater than the animating contest for freedom, go home from us in peace. We seek not your counsel, nor your arms. Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you; May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen.”
Either we have a form of government that adheres to the document that created it, or we don’t. If we don’t, then can we at least be honest with ourselves and stop pretending that the Constitution holds any authority over the actions of our government? Can we at least admit that we are too weak and simple minded to be allowed to make our own decisions in life, and that we need an all powerful government to babysit us and care for our needs from cradle to grave?
Can we at least do that?