“Words offer the means to meaning, and for
those who will listen, the enunciation of truth.”
V For Vendetta
In the beginning of the film Inside Man there is a scene which shows Clive Owen in a darkened room delivering a monologue which sets up the remainder of the film. In it he states, “…pay strict attention to what I say because I choose my words carefully…”
I have often wondered how deeply people think about the things I write, or whether they just breeze through them just so they can get on with ‘more important’ things. You see, I too choose my words carefully. If there is one thing I have learned in all these years of study, it is that words do mean things, and it is vitally important that they be taken in their true context; not how they have been bastardized or perverted to fit people’s agendas.
In the HBO miniseries, John Adams, based upon the book of the same name by author and historian David McCullough there is a scene where Ben Franklin and John Adams are reading through Thomas Jefferson’s first draft of the Declaration of Independence, making comments and editing as they go. After they edit out one specific section Jefferson says something along the lines that he chose his words carefully as well. Now I don’t know whether that actually took place, but knowing the intellect of the man, I don’t believe he would have written something as important as a Declaration of Independence without choosing his words wisely.
When reading through our founding documents, or any of the letters and correspondence of our Founders, one must know what the words they used meant to them in the era in which they were used. For instance, in the 2nd Amendment it states that “…the right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” Most people today think the word arms means pistols for home defense and rifles for hunting. Not so. In the day and age that the 2nd Amendment was written the word arms was understood to mean weapons of war.
Now why would our Founders want the people to retain the right to own weapons of war? Well, to answer that you must realize that the actual fighting of the American Revolution did not begin until the King sent his men to disarm the Colonists at Lexington and Concord of their weapons of war. Most people think that the Redcoats were marching only to confiscate a few muskets, powder and balls. Again, that is not so. Also contained in their stockpile of weapons were 3 cannon. Now I don’t know about you, but I can’t see any practical use that cannon might serve if the only reason the Colonists needed weapons was so that they could hunt deer.
The reason our Founders believed that the people should be armed with weapons of war was so that they could wage war, and be on equal footing against those who might violate their rights. To use the logic people today have in regards to what guns the people of this country should be allowed to own I offer the following analogy. Imagine if King George III had issued an edict that the Colonists could only own and carry bows and arrows; that privately owned firearms were not needed by the average citizen. Imagine the Colonists showing up on the battlefield armed with only bows and arrows, while the Redcoats came with the best military hardware of the time. I think the Revolution would have turned out quite differently had that happened; don’t you?
So you see, words do mean things, and if you don’t understand how they are being used then you can completely lose sight of the meaning of the intent of those who wrote them.
Another word that is frequently misused is the word democracy. I hear that word bandied about by political pundits, our elected representatives, and the everyday working man. I wonder if they even know what a pure democracy is. A pure democracy is where the people gather together to enact law. In a pure democracy there are no restrictions as to what laws the people may enact; it is simple majority rule.
Then there is a representative democracy where the people choose others to pass laws on their behalf; but the same majority rule applies to what laws they pass. If you want my honest opinion, this is the form of government most people believe our Constitution authorizes; however, again, this simply isn’t true.
It has been said that when Ben Franklin left the Philadelphia State House, now known as Independence Hall, he was confronted by a woman who asked, “Well, Doctor, what have we got—a Republic or a Monarchy?” To which Ben Franklin is quoted as saying, “A Republic, if you can keep it.”
What is the difference between a Republic and a Democracy, and why would Franklin say, “…if you can keep it.” In a Republic the people elect others to govern on their behalf; and in that it is virtually the same as a Representative Democracy. But, there is one distinct and defining difference between the two; in a Republic, those who govern are restricted by written law as to what their powers are, what areas they can enact law upon, and any other manner of things those who CONSTITUTE that government deem are necessary to fulfill the purpose for which government should serve.
In John Adam’s Thoughts on Government, (April 1776), we read, “We ought to consider, what is the end of government, before we determine what is the best form.” Although I could go into great detail what I believe to be the real reason our government was established, I will refrain myself and stick to what most believe was the purpose for which our government was established.
The purpose for which our government was established can be found in our Constitution’s Preamble. Before I continue with what the Preamble says, I want to make sure you know what a preamble is. A preamble is not a grant of power; it is merely an introductory statement which defines the purpose and intent of what follows. In his Commentaries on the Constitution, Justice Joseph Story says this about the Preamble to our Constitution, “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 of the powers actually conferred by the constitution, and not substantively to create them.”
Now that we’ve gotten that cleared up, let’s move on to what the Preamble to our Constitution says, “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
The Preamble can be broken down into three parts; first it declares who is doing something. Secondly, it declares the purpose for which they are doing it, and finally, it declares what is being done.
So, let’s begin with the who is doing something part of the Preamble. It states that “We the People of the United States…” It may be lost way back in the memory banks of your minds, but all political power in this country originates with the people. This concept has, as its origin, the writings of men like Locke, Rousseau, and others whose thoughts influenced our Founders. Jefferson immortalized the concept in our Declaration of Independence, “…Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”
That statement defines a concept that many people don’t seem to understand in this country; that we are the true sovereigns. Sovereignty is defined as the supreme or absolute political authority in a nation or state. To put it in words that may make more sense, we are the government, and those we elect are merely our agents, or representatives. They are bound by the laws we have enacted which say what they can and cannot do; not vice versa.
The next part of the Preamble declares the purpose for the thing the people were doing, “…to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…”
The first purpose, to form a more perfect Union, has been misinterpreted to mean that that Union is perpetual and cannot be broken apart. If that was truly the case, then by what authority did the Colonists have the right to separate from England in 1776? I’ve had people throw the full title of the Articles of Confederation in my face; as they also contain the words, “…and Perpetual Union.” I believe them to mean that the States were bound to each other; not to any form of government that they might create.
In 1754 Ben Franklin published a political cartoon which depicted a snake cut up into eighths, with each segment representing one of the Colonies. Under the snake was written the words; Join or die. What this meant is they must unite together to face whatever challenges might come their way, instead of attempting to face them on their own; it’s the old saying There are strength in numbers at its basic. I don’t believe for a minute that Franklin was saying that each Colony should give up their sovereignty and independence; only that to face any threats that might come their way they stood a better chance if they joined together as one.
The subject of secession is one in which people either support oppose based primarily on their feelings about the Civil War. Yet going back as far as the election of Thomas Jefferson as our third president the idea was believed to be a right of any State when it felt that their adhering to the Union was detrimental to their rights. Jefferson himself spoke the following words in his Inaugural Address, “If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union, or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated, where reason is left free to combat it.”
People think the only time secession was discussed, or attempted was during the Civil War. That simply isn’t so; it was discussed numerous times prior to then. Secession was discussed at the Hartford Convention in 1814 when the Northern States had grown weary of Federalist initiatives. Timothy Pickering, who had served as Secretary of State under Presidents Washington and Adams, proposed the creation of a New England confederation separate from the Union. Although nothing came of it, the idea that secession was a natural right of the States can be traced back to the earliest years of our young Republic.
Then, in 1844 abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison called for it again in his Address to the Friends of Freedom and Emancipation in the United States, “…at the expense of the colored population of the country”; southerners were dominating the nation—especially representation in Congress—because of the Three-Fifths Compromise; now it was time “to set the captive free by the potency of truth” and to “secede from the government.” Although nothing came of that either, it is interesting to note that Garrison did not say secede from the Union, he said secede from the government. That comment alone is worth a bit of introspection on your part as to how you view secession.
It was only when the Southern States actually did secede, and the government sought to keep them in the Union by force, that the concept of secession was tested. The fact that the Confederacy lost the war did nothing to answer the question as to the legality of secession though. All that proved is that with enough force the government could bind anyone to it forever. In fact, the reason Jefferson Davis never stood trial for treason is because had he faced a jury the subject of secession was bound to come up, and the North feared that if it did, the blame for the war would be placed squarely upon their shoulders; for secession was considered the lawful right of a State. It wasn’t until after the Civil War, 1869 to be exact, that the Supreme Court, in Texas v. White, ruled that secession was unconstitutional.
Sorry for dragging that particular section of the Preamble out, but it is one in which I feel the people have been misled and outright lied to about the so-called perpetuity of our Union. The next purpose which the people sought was to, “… insure domestic Tranquility…” As the States were each sovereign and independent entities, it was felt that the States could pass laws which were restrictive to the flow of goods from one State to another; thereby antagonizing their neighbors and leading to strife and conflict. Also, each State was issuing its own currency and passing their own laws regarding naturalization; leading to confusion and discord. It was felt that a supreme limited sovereign authority might help to lesson this; thereby insuring domestic tranquility.
The next purpose was to, “… provide for the common defence…”; something which shouldn’t require any explanation on my part. As single sovereign entities, without this purpose one State might be attacked and left to defend itself without the aid of the militias of the other States. As a Union, if one State was attacked it would be considered as an attack upon them all, and they would come to its assistance.
However, the next part has been misconstrued, perverted, and the source of much of the abuses of power our representatives are guilty of; that being their authority to, “…promote the general Welfare…”
This was not meant as a broad scope of powers as people take it to mean today. Instead it was inserted to provide for the overall welfare of the Union itself, not the welfare of the individuals who inhabit it. Aside for the protection of copyrights, as found in Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution, none of the powers granted government were meant to specifically benefit one class or group of people; rather they were powers given to benefit the nation as a whole.
In 1831 James Madison wrote a letter to a colleague discussing his views on the General Welfare, stating, “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.”
This is where a thorough understanding of the meaning of words and grammatical context is essential. People read things and the opinions they form on what they read are based upon their understanding of grammar and the meaning of words. Take for instance what Madison says about the General Welfare being qualified. Do you know what a qualifier or qualifying clause is? A qualifying clause is akin to an introductory statement which is then followed by a list of specifics. In that it is much like the Preamble to the Constitution, it grants no power, it only states the general purpose for what follows; the General Welfare. The specific powers are those found within the Constitution itself in Article 1, Section 8.
The perversion of this clause, as well as the Commerce and Necessary and Proper Clauses, have been the means by which all manner of mischief has occurred; expanding our governments control and authority to the minutest aspects of our lives; much of it with the blessing and support of the 9 black robed tyrants known as the Supreme Court.
And the final purpose is stated as, “… secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…” What is liberty? Black’s Dictionary of Law defines it as: Freedom; exemption from extraneous control. The power of the will, in its moral freedom, to follow the dictates of its unrestricted choice, and to direct the external acts of the individual without restraint, coercion, or control from other persons. This sentiment is echoed in Bouvier’s Dictionary of Law: Freedom from restraint. The power of acting as one thinks fit, without any restraint or control, except from the laws of nature.
You’re at liberty to choose what clothes to wear, what to eat, what vehicle to drive, and what to watch on television; but as it pertains to the important things, you are not as free as you think. Can you openly speak your mind anyplace, anytime without fear of consequence? Are you free to meet with your representative and petition them for a redress of grievances without jumping through hoops to obtain an appointment; only to have your petition fall upon deaf ears? Are you free to keep and bear whatever arms you choose? Are you free to worship God as you see fit without worrying that someone might be offended? Are you free in your home from the prying eyes and ears of agencies like the NSA who view every American as a potential terrorist?
America, sweet land of liberty–Since when, 1776?
And the final portion of the Preamble states what it is the people were doing, ordaining and establishing a Constitution. Although the delegates to the Philadelphia Convention clearly overstepped their authority by drafting up a new form of government, the people accepted the plan they proposed. This was the consent of the governed that Jefferson spoke of in the Declaration of Independence; without our consent our government would not have come into existence; and it is only by our consent that it continues to exist.
The next topic for discussion is Franklin’s comment upon leaving the Philadelphia Convention; that they had created a Republic. But what kind of Republic; a federal or national one?
Prior to the ratification of the Constitution the American States were loosely united in what’s known as a Confederation, or a Confederacy. Bouvier’s Dictionary of Law defines a Confederacy thusly: 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.
In a Confederation the individual units, or States in this case, retained all their sovereign authority; nothing is surrendered to the central government other than what is expressly agreed to. One of the supposed faults of the Articles of Confederation was that for any act of Congress to become law it required a unanimous yes vote from the Legislatures of all 13 States. That was next to impossible, and it rendered the Congress relatively impotent.
Then along comes the Constitution, which the people were told would provide for a more perfect Union. But what did the delegates to the Constitutional Convention mean when they inserted the phrase, ‘a more perfect Union’ into the Preamble? Did they mean a more efficient central government? Did they mean a stronger union between the States; a permanent and irrevocable one? Did they mean that the States were to relinquish their sovereignty and submit themselves to the authority of central government? Or did it mean that the acts of the central government were supreme only when they were in strict accordance with the express powers given the government by the Constitution; and when government exceeded those powers they retained the right to withdraw from this so-called Union?
Had you ever taken the time to read Madison’s notes on the Constitutional Convention, you would have seen that these very questions were the subject of much debate. There were those, Madison included, who felt that the States should merely be secondary to the central government. There were those that were in favor of doing away altogether with State authority.
On Wednesday, May 30, 1787, James Madison made a most telling comment in the Convention; he said, “…that whatever reason might have existed for the equality of suffrage when the Union was a federal one among sovereign States, it must cease when a national Govermt. should be put into the place.”
George Read, a delegate from the State of Delaware, went so far as to say, “Too much attachment is betrayed to the State Governts. We must look beyond their continuance. A national Govt. must soon of necessity swallow all of them up. They will soon be reduced to the mere office of electing the National Senate. He was agst. patching up the old federal System: he hoped the idea wd. be dismissed.”
Most people today use the words federal and national interchangeably when speaking about our government. Again, it is so vitally important that you know the meaning of words as they were used in common practice in the era in which they were used. Federal and National are two distinctly different ideas as it pertains to government.
I could prattle on at length on the differences between a federal government versus a national one; let it suffice to say that in a Federal government the States retain their sovereignty and independence, while a National government refers to a consolidation of the States into a single indivisible entity subservient to the central government.
That is why I will never again repeat the Pledge of Allegiance; because it says, “One nation, under God, INDIVISIBLE, with liberty and justice for all.” (My emphasis) I do not believe that these States can ever be, nor ever were perpetually bound together under any form of government. To even contemplate such a belief is to deny everything the Declaration of Independence stands for.
I am of the same mindset as was Thomas Paine, who when he wrote his book The Rights of Man, stated, “There never did, there never will, and there never can, exist a Parliament, or any description of men, or any generation of men, in any country, possessed of the right or the power of binding and controlling posterity to the “end of time,” or of commanding for ever how the world shall be governed, or who shall govern it…” If our government, which is an entity created by the consent of the governed, ever becomes oppressive, (which it has), I believe it to be an individual State’s right to withdraw from the Union; severing its ties to the system of government which is oppressing them.
Even Thomas Jefferson hinted at this in a letter to James Madison, dated September 6, 1789, “The question Whether one generation of men has a right to bind another, seems never to have been started either on this or our side of the water. Yet it is a question of such consequences as not only to merit decision, but place also, among the fundamental principles of every government. ”
To deny this concept is to deny everything the Declaration of Independence stands for; and if that is what people believe, they should stop celebrating Independence Day; for that is the very principle they celebrate, “That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
Which leads me to my final thoughts for this, rather lengthy, rant; tyranny. People mistakenly believe that tyranny can only occur under a dictatorship; not so. Tyranny can be the strong over the weak, the many over the few, and it can occur under system of government; be it a monarchy or dictatorship, a democracy, and yes, even a Republic such as we have.
A monarch, or dictator, although their power and authority is unquestioned, may be benevolent and have only the best interests of his subject in mind. But, if they use their power to plunder the wealth of the people they rule, seek to subjugate and oppress them, then they become tyrants.
A democracy may be benevolent if the majority keeps in mind the rights of the minority, but if it seeks to deprive the minority of their rights, it too becomes tyrannical. Same goes for a Republic in which the government is elected by the people and restricted by law as to what it can and cannot do. If such a government adheres to the purposes for which it was established, then it is good and the people should support it. But if it seeks to plunder, or oppress the people, then it becomes tyrannical. The question is, what would you do if you came to the conclusion that YOUR government was, in fact, tyrannical?
Would you continue to support it as long as the tyranny was imposed upon you by members of your team; i.e. Republicans or Democrats? This is why I refuse to play this two party paradigm game that most play. I look at candidates, and government in general, based not upon party platforms, but upon how well they respect the purpose for which government was established and how well they protect my liberty. And I don’t see a whole lot of respect for either coming from either party.
You know, some say that revolution is coming to America; I say it’s been going on for over 200 years already, and that only now are people becoming aware of the threat their government poses to their freedom.
In closing, I’d like for you to think long and hard about the definition I am about to give you. Ponder it and look deep within yourself and ask if that does not define the government that we have today. Then ask yourselves why you continue to support it, no matter which party is in charge. The definition is for the word tyranny, and is found in Bouvier’s Dictionary of Law: The violation of those laws which regulate the division and the exercises of the sovereign power of the state. It is a violation of -its constitution.
I thank you for your patience, and I hope you will give what I have said a great deal of thought…