My friend Michael Gaddy posted something a short while ago on Facebook which is the inspiration for what you are about to read. Mr. Gaddy posed the following question for his friends to consider, “If all potential voters had to pass a comprehensive test on our Constitution before being allowed to vote, how many would qualify to cast a ballot?”
I was tempted to be a smartass and answer by saying maybe a dozen, but then, in a sudden wave of generosity, said, “Generous estimate, about a million.” I knew my answer was at the extreme high end of possibility, but I wanted to give people the benefit of the doubt.
Ever since I began studying the Constitution on my own I have increasingly felt that some sort of test be administered prior to people being allowed to vote in any national election; (and I’m going to be discussing that word national a bit later, so stay tuned). But I’ll tell you from the get go, this will never happen because the last thing those in power want is an educated and knowledgeable block of voters who suddenly realized that they are all a bunch of criminals.
Nonetheless, I think every voter should prove that they have a solid understanding of our system of government before being allowed to vote for candidates to fill the positions within that government. After all, don’t potential drivers have to pass both a written and practical driving test before being allowed to drive on our city streets and highways?
However, since I’m such a nice guy, I feel that a simple two question test might suffice in weeding out a good majority of those who ought not to be allowed to vote due to their ignorance of the system they were participating in electing people to. The test would be in English only, it would not be multiple choice, no electronic devices would be allowed, and you would have 5 minutes to complete it. The first question would be, “What system of government did our Founders establish in 1787 and explain the basic principles of that system.” The second question would be, “Was our system of government designed to be federal in nature or national? Give a brief explanation of the differences between the two.”
I’d like to continue by discussing those two questions a bit more in depth. I’m always wondering how people answer these questions I pose to them in my commentaries, and that is even more so today. I’m wondering how many of you answered the first question by saying, “A democracy.” Well, if this test were for real you could just scratch your name off the voter’s registration list; because America was not established to be a democracy–in fact our Founders despised democracies.
I know you have been taught that, that the news media speaks about our democracy, that our elected officials speak of it, and even the Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville wrote a book entitled Democracy In America; but repeating a lie over and over again does not make it the truth.
After many arduous months of debate the delegates to the Philadelphia Convention finally produced a document which outlined a radically different system of government than the one which they currently had under the Articles of Confederation. As the delegates left the Pennsylvania State House, Benjamin Franklin was supposedly stopped by a woman who asked him, “Well Doctor, what have we got–a Republic or a Monarchy?” Franklin is quoted as saying, “A Republic, if you can keep it.” Even the Pledge of Allegiance makes reference to the fact that America was originally established as a Republic, “…and to the Republic for which it stands…”
Therefore it would behoove you to learn the difference between a Democracy and a Republic. A pure democracy is a system in which the people all gather together to enact the laws that all would be bound to obey; with a simple majority being all that was required for something to become law. Therefore, if a city consisted of 100 people, and they all gathered together and 51% of them voted in favor of a law saying that all blonde haired people must dye their hair black, then the remaining 49% MUST obey that law. That is a democracy; or as Ben Franklin said, “Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what’s for lunch.”
That’s democracy in its purest form; but there’s another form of democracy in which the people elect others to enact laws on their behalf, but the same simple majority concept applies; and this is what I think most people believe to be the system that America has. Unfortunately, they would be wrong.
Merriam Webster’s Dictionary defines a Republic as: a government in which supreme power resides in a body of citizens entitled to vote and is exercised by elected officers and representatives responsible to them and governing according to law. You see, in a Republic the people hold the real political authority, not the government. In a Republic, the people vote for others to represent them, but those they elect are bound by law as to what they can and cannot do on behalf of the people.
America, regardless of what it has become, was founded as a Republic. It was through the voice of the people in consenting to the Constitution that life was given to this system of government we have today. However, therein lies the fatal flaw within our Constitution; for the system to work as designed it requires that those voting for the representatives to fill the seats of power within our government to be fully knowledgeable about how the system was designed to operate.
This simple question was one of the biggest reasons Patrick Henry so staunchly opposed the ratification of the Constitution; the fact that there would be no accountability for those who held the positions in government created by that document. For instance, On June 7, 1788 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.”
Two days prior to that Henry had also warned, “The Honorable Gentleman who presides, told us, that to prevent abuses in our Government, we will assemble in Convention, recall our delegated powers, and punish our servants for abusing the trust reposed in them. Oh, Sir, we should have fine times indeed, if to punish tyrants, it were only sufficient to assemble the people.”
To paraphrase another question my friend Mike Gaddy posed to his Facebook friends, “How can we expect to have a truly constitutional government when the people don’t know what the Constitution says, and those we elect don’t care what it says?” When was the last time you heard of an elected official being arrested, tried, and sentenced to prison for violating the Constitution? Sure, there have been those who have been charged with other crimes, but NOT violating the Supreme Law of the Land!
Can you imagine what would happen if an armed posse, or lynch mob descended upon our nation’s capital calling for the surrender of Dianne Feinstein, Chuck Schumer, or any of the other criminals who have violated the express powers given them by the Constitution? The news media would call it something like ‘an extremist branch of the Tea Party Movement’, the government would call it treason; but what do YOU call it when those elected to support and defend the Constitution ignore their oaths of office and violate it with impunity? I call it tyranny.
But I begin to stray, so let’s get back on topic. Our system of government is, or at least was originally established as a Republic. The only problem was that there was no enforcing mechanism within the Constitution other than the hope that the people would remain knowledgeable as to what it said, and have the virtue to hold those they elect to the limits it imposed upon them. Should either of those two things fail to happen…well, you can see what we have now; can’t you; it is basically an elective democracy? Although you may not be aware of it, James Madison, the so-called Father of our Constitution once said this about democracies, “. . . democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security, or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.”
I a democracy there will always be factions, or political parties if you will who seek to gain a majority so that they may impose their will, or agenda, upon the minority. However, a Republic nullifies the influence of factions, or political parties due to the fact that the government is restricted as to what it can and cannot do by written law; such as our Constitution. In a democracy the rights of the minority are always at risk, in a Republic they are shielded and protected by law.
That’s the difference between the two systems, and it’s high time we returned to being a Republic, not an elective democracy where the will of the majority is sufficient to violate the rights of the minority. It’s also high time we reasserted our sovereignty by demanding that those we elect strictly adhere to the Constitution, or face the consequences.
Well, I think I’ve pretty much answered the first question for you, so let’s move on to the second question; was our system designed to be federal or national in nature? I know the terms are used interchangeably today in regards to our government; but in 1787 they held distinctly different meanings.
While our Founders were fighting for their independence from Great Britain they established a somewhat ad hoc system of government under the Articles of Confederation. If you’ll notice the word confederation bears a striking resemblance to the word federal; and that’s not a coincidence because a confederation is a true federal system of government.
At the conclusion of the Revolution, the Colonies became distinct and separate independent States; each with their own system of government to regulate the internal affairs of their State. They had bonded together in a loose confederation for the purpose of providing strength in numbers and for regulating the common welfare of the individual sovereignties.
When the delegates were sent to Philadelphia in 1787 they were tasked with coming up with amendments to strengthen the powers of the government of the Confederation. However, James Madison and his cronies had other plans; they sought to abandon the Articles of Confederation and come up with an entirely new, and much stronger, centralized government. For this government to have the requisite powers to accomplish the purposes for which it was established would mean the States would be required to surrender a portion of their own authority to this centralized government; and this is where the question of federal versus national comes into play.
In a truly federal system the governing bodies of the independent sovereignties establish a central authority with certain powers to exercise on their behalf. However, in a truly national system, the independent sovereignties cease to exist other than in name only, and all power is centralized into the government being created. Therefore, when the Constitution was released to the public for discussion and consideration, of course the big question was, “What type system did it propose; federal or national?”
Most of you have probably never sat down and taken the time to read James Madison’s notes from the Constitutional Convention. I found them to be highly enlightening as to the various ideas and positions espoused by the many delegates to the convention which ultimately produced our Constitution.
For instance, Mr. George Read of Delaware stated, “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..”
As you can clearly see by Mr. Read’s comments, those alive back when our Constitution was written and ratified held distinctly different understandings of the words national and federal than we do today; and it is their understanding of the meaning of those words we must apply when we answer the question I posed to you earlier.
Again, returning to Patrick Henry’s arguments against the proposed Constitution, we read, “I rose yesterday to ask a question which arose in my own mind. When I asked that question, I thought the meaning of my interrogation was obvious: 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.”
This question was of such concern to those supporting the ratification of the Constitution that James Madison was forced to address them in Federalist #39. Writing under the pseudonym of Publius, Madison wrote the following three quotes:
“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.”
“Each State, in ratifying the Constitution, is considered as a sovereign body, independent of all others, and only to be bound by its own voluntary act. In this relation, then, the new Constitution will, if established, be a FEDERAL, and not a NATIONAL constitution.”
“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. On trying the Constitution by this criterion, it falls under the NATIONAL, not the FEDERAL character; though perhaps not so completely as has been understood.”
It is the second and third quotes which I would like to take a few minutes addressing. If you’ll note, Madison states that each State is to remain sovereign and independent, implying a purely federal system. But, he also makes another very important point, that each State was voluntarily agreeing to the system as outlined by the Constitution. But what if that system began to pervert and abuse their powers; would the States be required to suffer under a tyrannical government, or would they have the recourse to revoke their consent to being governed by tyrants?
To answer that we must go to the State Ratifying Assemblies themselves to see what they said about the powers they were agreeing to give to this new system of government. The delegates for the Commonwealth of Virginia declared, “We the Delegates of the People of Virginia … Do in the name and in behalf of the People of Virginia declare and make known that the powers granted under the Constitution being derived from the People of the United States may be resumed by them whensoever the same shall be perverted to their injury or oppression…”
And just to be fair, I’ll include what the delegates to the State of New York said as well, “That the Powers of Government may be reassumed by the People, whensoever it shall become necessary to their Happiness…” Both those quotes can be found by Googling the Ratification Documents for the States of New York and Virginia; just in case you doubt me.
After all, isn’t that the fundamental principle which led America to become independent from the authority of the English Crown, “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.” (Source: Declaration of Independence)
Therefore, if the States, each in their own sovereign authority, agreed to this system of government, and if that system of government became tyrannical and oppressive, passing laws and enacting taxes which harmed an individual State, would it not stand to reason that all that State would have to do is rescind its consent to being tyrannized and that all powers given the federal government by that State be resumed by them? Well, isn’t that what 11 States did in 1861; no matter what their reasons for doing so were? And isn’t that exactly what Abraham Lincoln raised an army of 75,000 to prevent from happening?
If you could just put aside your emotional reactions to the issue of slavery you would see that Abraham Lincoln acted unconstitutionally when he sought to use force against those 11 States who only did what was universally accepted as a right of ANY State. There were many in the North who felt that the South ought to be left free to leave the Union in peace if that was what they desired. But there were those, especially those who derived huge sums of money in the form of government subsidies, that depended upon the revenues derived from the tariffs imposed upon the South. Lincoln couldn’t let the South go, even if he wanted to; his government would wither up and die without the lifeblood of taxes coming into it; those taxes which were primarily shouldered by the South.
Whether he meant to or not, and I’m inclined to think he meant to, Lincoln killed our federal system of government and we have been living under a purely national one ever since.
Think about it; before the Constitution was ratified a war of words was waged between those who supported it and those who opposed it. Those who supported it promised that the States would retain their sovereignty, with James Madison going so far as saying, “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.” (Source: Federalist 45)
Now you tell me, and be absolutely honest with me; compare what I just described to what we have today and tell me that the barrier which separates federal and State authority is intact? Tell me that the separation of powers between the Executive and Legislative Branches of our government remain intact. It is all I can do to not burst out laughing at those who say they are, with me screaming the words of Patrick Henry, “What can avail your specious imaginary balances, your rope-dancing, chain-rattling, ridiculous ideal checks and contrivances?”
But now can you begin to see why it is so vitally important that, if we wish to remain true to the principles upon which our system of government was established, that we as a nation must learn what those principles are? Can you not also see how destructive it has been to allow an ignorant and uncaring people to participate in the process of choosing those to fill the seats of power within our government?
You may think democracy is cool; for it provides you with all kinds of benefits at the expense of others. But the funny thing about democracy is that the roles can quickly become reversed when the oppressed no longer are a minority and gain control of the legislative authority. Then those who once tyrannized and oppressed others then find themselves being the ones tyrannized and oppressed. That is why our Founders despised democracies, with James Madison calling them turbulent due to the fact that there was no stabilizing force of law to restrain the majority from oppressing the minority.
I don’t expect that anything I have said today is going to change the minds of enough people to affect any real change. Just know this; those who have been oppressed for a long period of time always, and I mean ALWAYS reach a point where they can take it no longer; and they rise up against their oppressors. You may want to do some research on the French Revolution to get an idea of what happens when that occurs; you don’t want THAT happening here in America.
But know one other thing; if you keep pushing us; depriving us of our God-given rights, it IS going to happen here; and possibly sooner than you think.