US Government 101 Part 1

I would like to begin by asking you a question, but before you just blurt out an answer I want you to take a few moments to really think about what I’m asking. The question is: Why do Americans bother going to the polls every couple of years to select the candidate they think will do the best job in the particular office for which the election is being held? Remember, I want you to think about it for a few moments before answering.

I have no way of knowing how you answered, or if you even bothered to answer, but I’d hope that if you did you came up with something along the lines of: because they represent us. While that was not the exact answer I was looking for, it’s close enough and it shows you were at least looking in the right direction.

Now what does it mean if you say that they represent us? If they represent us, or are our representatives, does that not mean that they derive their authority from us; that we are their employers; or a better way of saying it, their superiors and it is we who tell then what to do and what not to do; not vice versa?

This may come as a surprise to you but you hold more political power than your government does; and this applies from the mayor of the smallest town to the President of the United States. Sure they have the power to enact laws and have these huge bureaucracies at their control, but all their power and authority is delegated power given them by the consent of the people; which means that those that created government hold more power than those who occupy the seats of power within government.

What I have been skirting around is the matter of sovereignty. Sovereignty is defined as the supreme or absolute political power in a state or country. I suppose another way of saying it is that sovereignty is the well from which all political power flows; and in our system of government that well is the people.

I’m going to be getting ahead of myself here, but we created government in America; we tell it what to do and upon what areas it may enact laws upon. When our government passes laws in respect to those specific areas which we have delegated authority to it, the laws they pass are supreme and binding upon us. But when government passes laws that overstep its delegated authority those laws are effectively null and void; and no one is bound to obey them.

That’s why there is this little thing in our Constitution called the Supremacy Clause; found in Article 6, Clause 2, which states, “This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof….shall be the supreme Law of the Land…” (My emphasis) Now if you tie that in with what the 10th Amendment to the Constitution says, then maybe you’ll see why the laws passed by our government which are not in accordance with their specifically delegated powers are null and void. The 10th Amendment states, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

So if the powers not delegated to the government are reserved to the States or the people, and if the Constitution only grants supremacy to the laws which are passed in accordance with the specific powers granted it, what is the status of any law passed by our government which exceeds those specific powers? Well for one thing I would say it is criminal; because the Constitution is, in fact, a law, and each person holding office takes an oath to support and defend it. Secondly, if they are not in accordance with the specific powers granted government, then they hold no force over us; unless you want to admit that by using force to compel our obedience to them our government has become tyrannical.

But as I said, I was getting ahead of myself. So let’s get back on course and let me explain a few things.

To understand political power in our system of government you need to have a basic understanding of two things; what state men are in when no government exists, and what state the Colonists were in prior to the Revolution.

Let’s begin with a short discussion of what state men are in when no government exists. It can safely be assumed that if there is no form of government, then there are no laws being passed which restrict the actions of the individual. In his Second Treatise, John Locke speaks of this state of nature as follows: TO understand political power right, and derive it from its original, we must consider, what state all men are naturally in, and that is, a state of perfect freedom to order their actions, and dispose of their possessions and persons, as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of nature, without asking leave, or depending upon the will of any other man.

However, Locke goes on to explain how this is not a state of total freedom to do whatever we please, that we have the Law of Nature which governs our actions, “But though this be a state of liberty, yet it is not a state of licence: though man in that state have an uncontroulable liberty to dispose of his person or possessions, yet he has not liberty to destroy himself, or so much as any creature in his possession, but where some nobler use than its bare preservation calls for it. The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges every one: and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind, who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions…”

However, man is not a perfect creature and we do not always respect the rights of others. I think this is what Madison was getting at when he said, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.” (Source: Federalist 51) If men were, in fact, angels, there would be no murder, men wouldn’t steal from one another, and man would be happy and enjoy all their natural rights. But, since men are not angels, there is a need for some governing body to ensure that the rights of all are protected. That is the purpose for which our Founders believed government should serve; to protect the rights of those it governs; “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…” (Source: Declaration of Independence)

Now let’s touch upon what state the Colonists lived in prior to the Revolution. The earliest States began as English Colonies; in which those under British rule were given charters, granted them by the Crown, to establish settlements of English subjects in the New World. Although they were removed from the Crown by an ocean they were still subject to the laws enacted by Parliament and the King.

Now if you work for an employer you are subject, at least to a certain extent, to their will. They may tell you to go do this, or go do that, and you are required to do those tasks if you wish to keep your job. But slaves are also subject to the will of their masters, and the only thing which differentiates the two is the extent to which your rights are violated by those whose commands you are subject to.

As long as government respects the rights of those it governs, then government is good. But if government begins denying, or limiting the free exercise of your rights government becomes tyrannical. It goes against all the laws of nature to even suggest that man must submit to tyranny; that he must sit back and allow his rights to be violated without seeking a means to restore them.

Such was the case of our Founders; they felt that the Crown had enacted laws which violated their rights as freemen. They tried petitioning the King to restore those rights; all to no avail. They actively resisted the laws which they felt violated their rights; only to have more laws enacted which further restricted their rights. Therefore, they were left with a choice; either submit to tyranny or sever the bonds which tied them to a government that refused to respect their rights. They chose the latter when they declared their independence.

Once the Colonists had defeated the British, the ties which bound them to English rule had been irrevocably severed. So, what state did the Colonists exist under at that point in time? To answer my own question, I offer you a portion of the Supreme Court’s ruling in the case of Chisholm v. Georgia, Chief Justice John Jay presiding, “…at the Revolution, the sovereignty devolved on the people, and they are truly the sovereigns of the country…”

Now we get to the point where I have a discussion over the difference between a democracy and a republic. You believe we have a democracy as that is what you read in your textbooks, it is what you hear on the news, and it is what comes from the lips of those you elect to represent you. But we DO NOT have a democracy!!!

A pure democracy is a system in which the people gather together to enact that law that is binding upon all; with a simple majority being all that is required for a law to go into effect. Then there is a representative democracy in which we select people to represent us, but with the same simple majority being the only thing needed to enact law. I think it is this latter form of democracy that the people of America believe we have today; but again, they would be wrong.

What we have is a Republic. A republic differs from a democracy in that there are written laws, or constitutions, which give the government the authority to enact laws upon certain specific areas. When James Madison was arguing in defense of ratification to the delegates chosen by the Commonwealth of Virginia to either adopt or reject the constitution, he made the following statement, “[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.”

I would read that as many times as required for it to sink in as James Madison’s words ought to carry great weight in deciding how much power you allow your government to exercise on your behalves. After all, he is the so-called Father of our Constitution; so if anyone knows what limits it imposes upon our government it would be him.

There is something else; if you are unable to accept that the Constitution imposes limits upon what our government does, then you cannot complain when one of the laws it passes affects you adversely; for you yourselves have accepted the premise that the limits imposed by the Constitution do not apply to our government. If that ever happens, you will have to accept that you are just a victim of your own beliefs and have no one but yourselves to blame.

That is probably my biggest gripe with the two-party system in America. When the Democrats hold a majority in Congress and the Presidency the Republicans scream bloody murder about their abuses of power. But when the tables are turned and they hold a majority in Congress and the Presidency, they go deathly silent when their party abuses the power given them. The reverse is also true, the Democrats scream about abuses of power by the Republicans, but then go silent when their party violates the Constitution and abuses the power given them. It makes me sick to my stomach to watch the hypocrisy from both sides of the political spectrum.

Now I’d like to ask you another question: If our government truly is a representative form of government, then who was it established to represent? If you had bothered to read the Constitution you would have seen, that as it was originally established, it represented two distinct sovereign bodies; the people and the States.

During the convention which produced the Constitution a great deal of discussion was given to whether or not the States should be represented by this form of government. Some felt that by representing the States it would limit federal authority and not be a truly republican form of government. Others felt that if the States were not represented it would amount to a consolidation of the individual States into one single nation; of which the government they were in the process of creating would be at the head.

It was finally realized that without some form of State representation in this new system of government, there was no chance that the States would even accept the finished document once the convention convened. So the Congress was established as a bicameral body; with one house representing the people and the other representing the States.

The reason I bring this up is because there is a political concept that states, “all politics begins locally.” If we truly are sovereigns, meaning that all political power ultimately resides with us, then it must flow upwards in government. A group of people may combine into a community and elect a mayor, or some other person to manage the affairs of their community. The authority given that mayor only extends to those who chose him; he/she cannot pass laws or ordinances which affect others in another city or town.

The next step up on the rung of political hierarchy is the County. Cities then unite together under a County Government, which has the authority to enact laws and ordinances which affect who? Why, the cities.

The Counties then combine and establish a constitution which creates a State government. See where I’m going with this?

Therefore, who was it that came together to establish our federal government; it certainly wasn’t due to a large outcry of the people. No, delegates were sent to Philadelphia on behalf of the States they represented; therefore it can be said that the federal government was established to enact laws which applied primarily to the States as sovereign entities. Even though it was ratified by Assemblies chosen from among the people, those people were chosen by the various counties and represented their State. A delegate from Virginia did not speak for the people or the State of Pennsylvania or Massachusetts; he spoke only for HIS State.

I’ve read most of the ratification statements issued by the States and they all declare that they are acting on behalf of their State, or the people of their State. The State retained all power and authority which was not directly delegated to the federal government by the Constitution. In fact, it was commonly accepted that if the government created by the Constitution ever made a tyrannical use of its power, that the power given them by any State may be revoked; with it returning to those who had originally granted it. The ratification statement for the State of New York expressly states, “That the Powers of Government may be reassumed by the People, whensoever it shall become necessary to their Happiness…”

You do see where I’m going with this, don’t you? And since this is turning out to be much longer than anticipated, I suppose this is as good a place as any for a break. So I’ll be back tomorrow with the conclusion. Till then, stay tuned…

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