When one builds a house the first thing they typically do is to pour a concrete slab, called a foundation, for the house to rest upon. The purpose of a foundation is to provide stability against external forces for the structure that is built upon it. If you were to think about it, establishing a government is really not that different, although instead of pouring a concrete slab to build your government upon it is typically built upon certain principles or ideologies.
America was somewhat unique in that we were once governed by the arbitrary will of a King and then achieved independence; effectively wiping the slate clean and allowing our ancestors to establish whatever form of government they wanted for themselves. The thing is though, once the war with England was over, each State was a sovereign and independent entity unto itself; each with their own system of government established by the people living therein.
So when the former Colonies achieved their independence from British rule they were free to establish their own systems of government for each newly established State–which they did. But careful thought was given to the powers given these systems of government and the distribution of those powers. It was upon certain principles, or beliefs regarding both the purpose for and the powers given government, that they established them. That is the foundation that I’m talking about; the basis upon which any governmental authority rests.
And where can we find that foundation? Why, in the Declaration of Independence. That is the document that got expressed the beliefs of those who fought for America’s independence; and it is upon those beliefs that any future system of government must rest for it to be in accordance with the principles the Founders fought for in the War for Independence.
Many probably believe that the American Revolution was simply the war between the Colonies and the British Crown; yet I don’t believe that to be the case. The revolution was in the thinking of the Colonists regarding the purpose for, and the powers given, government. I believe the revolution was exactly what John Adams wrote to Thomas Jefferson in 1815, “The revolution was in the minds of the people, and this was effected … before a drop of blood was shed.”
The Declaration of Independence was more than just a document telling Britain that America was choosing to sever the ties which bound the two together; it was a universal statement regarding the beliefs of those living in the Colonies regarding their rights, the origin of all political power, and what course of action the people may take should government ever begin to overstep it’s just authority. In short, the Declaration of Independence is the foundation for American governance.
The first portion of the Declaration of Independence covers how those who signed it felt regarding their rights, and the purpose for which government should be established, and states, “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…”
The next declares what course of action is open to the people should government ever seek to become tyrannical or in opposition to those principles, “That, 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.”
Before I go a single step further I must once again speak upon the subject of sovereignty. I know I have talked about it before, but I believe that there are some who still do not fully understand what it means to be sovereign. A sovereign is one who holds the supreme or ultimate power and authority. When you read the Declaration of Independence it should be apparent that sovereignty in America rests with the people. Why else would Jefferson write that “…Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”? If government were the sovereign, why would it need the consent of those governed to exist?
This idea is further reinforced by the Preamble to the Constitution, which states, “We the People…do ordain and establish this Constitution…” The act of ratifying the Constitution was an act of the independent and sovereign people of America CONSENTING to a system of government as outlined by the Constitution. But remember the founding principles outlined in the Declaration of Independence state, “…whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it…”
Yet as individual sovereigns our authority extends only to the extent that affect our own lives; we cannot exercise authority or dominion over another; especially if doing so violates the life, liberty, or pursuit of happiness of anyone else. This founding principle was upheld by the United States Supreme Court in 1793 when the Court held, “..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…” (Source: Chisholm v Georgia)
So when our Founders voted to ratify the Constitution, what they were doing was they were consenting to the system of government outlined in that document, and more importantly, how it was promised to them it would function in regards to the powers it would wield and the security of the rights and liberty of both the States and the people. T
hose who ratified, or put this system of government into operation did so based upon how it was explained to them at the time; not how it might evolve in 50, 100, 200 years; but at that exact moment in time. That is the only just authority our government has, and anything else, no matter how beneficial it may seem to the public good, is usurpation and tyranny. As George Washington wrote in his Farewell Address to the people, “If in the opinion of the People, the distribution or modification of the Constitutional powers be in any particular wrong, let it be corrected by an amendment in the way which the Constitution designates. But let there be no change by usurpation; for though this, in one instance, may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed.”
It is not the place of the government, nor the people for that matter, to allow government to exceed the specific powers given government; as the government derives its authority upon the consent of those who ratified it according to their understanding of how it would operate; not how future generations might interpret the Constitution.
When President John Adams signed into law the Alien and Sedition Acts, his own Vice-President saw this as such an affront to that principle that he authored the Kentucky Resolutions in opposition to what Adams had done. In those Kentucky Resolutions Jefferson writes, “…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…”
When people go to the polls today to cast their votes for those candidates they believe are best qualified to hold the office they seek, I wonder, how often does the constitutionality of the things those candidates campaigned upon cross the voters minds? Or, do they, as I most often hear, say that, “Well voting for __________ is better than letting __________ win?” Voting for the lesser of two evils, or voting for a candidate who will violate the Constitution to a lesser extent than the other candidate is STILL VOTING FOR A CANDIDATE WHO WILL NOT ADHERE TO THE CONSTITUTIONAL LIMITATIONS UPON GOVERNMENT!!!
People look at elections from the perspective of Republicans versus Democrats, when they should be looking at it from the perspective of Candidates versus the Constitution. People constantly tell me that if I do not vote I lose my right to complain, because I am not participating in the process of making changes for the better in America. I would vote if I believed there were candidates worthy of my vote; but I refuse to vote for any candidate who I believe will not adhere to the Constitution, and defend the Bill of Rights, with all their heart and being. Anything less would be a disservice to those who fought for our independence and established a system of government designed to protect and defend the Liberty of the people of this country.
There is not a person alive today in America who has lived under a truly constitutional form of government…NOT ONE!!! This system we have today is all people know, and therefore they play the game of electing people to fill the various positions within this government based upon their understanding of what purpose that government should serve. Today I hear from those on the political right how Trump is doing wonders for the economy and making America a great nation again. So what!!! Is that the purpose for which our government was established; to make America a great nation? Patrick Henry certainly didn’t think so. In fact, Henry declared, “You are not to inquire how your trade may be increased, nor how you are to become a great and powerful people, but how your liberties can be secured; for liberty ought to be the direct end of your Government.”
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for a vibrant and strong economy, I just don’t think it is the function of government to ensure that we have one. And don’t for a moment think I’m letting the political left off the hook; it also is not the purpose of government to provide for the needs of small special interest groups such as those who believe in a woman’s right to choose, or in gay marriages. Those things are not, and I repeat, NOT among the powers given the federal government.
As James Madison explained in Federalist 45, “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.”
According to how Madison promised regarding the powers given to the federal government, and those reserved to the States, the powers the political left believes should be exercised by federal law are supposed to be exercised by the State Legislatures. The federal government, according to Madison, had no authority over the lives, liberty and property of the people. Yet how many laws has our government passed which do the exact opposite of what Madison promised? I can’t begin to list them all; it would take volumes if I tried.
The government we have today, although it retains its basic structure, is NOT the government those who ratified the Constitution were promised it would be. Had they known that, by ratifying the Constitution, they would be setting the groundwork for the government we have today, I truly believe they would have rejected it.
The changes to our system of government were not sudden and violent as is the case in many revolutions; they were sudden and gradual; and often done with the consent of the people because it was promised that the powers being assumed would MAKE AMERICA GREAT, or be somehow beneficial to the overall general welfare of the country. James Madison warned of this process when he addressed the delegates to the Virginia Ratifying Assembly, “I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.”
Thomas Jefferson warned of the process by which free governments might be destroyed in a letter to Judge Spencer Roane in 1821, “Time indeed changes manners and notions, and so far we must expect institutions to bend to them. But time produces also corruption of principles, and against this it is the duty of good citizens to be ever on the watch, and if the gangrene is to prevail at last, let the day be kept off as long as possible.”
The thing about all this is, the fault lies not with our government; for all governments eventually devolve into tyranny when they are left unchecked. The fault lies with we the people for not voting for candidates based upon their desire to support and defend the Constitution, and then holding them accountable when they don’t. It is just like Ben Franklin said on two occasions. During the convention that produced our Constitution a speech prepared by Doctor Franklin was read to the delegates. In that speech Franklin wrote, “…there is no Form of Government but what may be a Blessing to the People if well administered; and I believe farther that this is likely to be well administered for a Course of Years, and can only end in Despotism as other Forms have done before it, when the People shall become so corrupted as to need Despotic Government, being incapable of any other.”
Then, upon leaving the convention on its final day, Franklin was confronted by a woman who asked him, “Well Doctor, what have we got―a Republic or a Monarchy?” To which Franklin answered, “A Republic, if you can keep it.” By that Franklin was stating that it was up to the people to ensure that the government they had just finished outline remained true to the principles upon which it was built.
We have failed!!!
Was this outcome inevitable? I believe it was based upon the fact that the survival of our rights and our liberty rested upon the willingness of the people to defend them against any and all who would violate them. Thomas Jefferson wrote about this natural progress of things when he said, “Experience hath shewn, that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny.”
Our Founders, if they understood anything, understood human nature. They knew that people were more likely to choose comfort and security over the animating contest for liberty. Although our Constitution outlines a decent system of government, with few limited powers, it provides for no real checks against the usurpation of unlawful power by those elected by the people.
In numerous instances Patrick Henry warned of the dangers of accepting the system of government proposed by the Constitution. I will simply list a few of them for you to ponder to see if Henry was correct in fearing the system of government being proposed to him.
– Such a Government is incompatible with the genius of republicanism: There will be no checks, no real balances, in this Government: What can avail your specious imaginary balances, your rope-dancing, chain-rattling, ridiculous ideal checks and contrivances?
– Where is the responsibility — that leading principle in the British government? In that government a punishment, certain and inevitable, is provided: 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.
– 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. Your arms wherewith you could defend yourselves, are gone; and you have no longer an aristocratical; no longer democratical spirit. Did you ever read of any revolution in a nation, brought about by the punishment of those in power, inflicted by those who had no power at all?
– 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.
If our system of government was truly based upon the principles, or foundation laid by the Declaration of Independence then impenetrable barriers should have been erected to protect the rights of those this system of government was designed to represent; both the States in their sovereign capacity, and the people…but they weren’t. The States have lost all their say in what laws the federal government passes and the limits to its authority; first by Lincoln’s attack upon a States right to withdraw from a voluntary union of States, and then by the ratification of the 17th Amendment; placing the election of U.S. Senators upon the fickle will of the people.
Our unalienable rights, both those protected by the Bill of Rights, and those left unsaid, yet still protected by the 9th Amendment, (The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.), if not entirely gone, are well on their way to being taken from us.
All for what, so that America might be great again; so that we might have a strong and vibrant economy; so that we can defeat terrorism wherever it might raise its ugly head; so that we can feel safe and secure in our lives; so that we are free to be entertained?
Those are not the things our Founders fought a war to secure for themselves, and for their posterity. They fought a war to secure LIBERTY for themselves, and their posterity; and it was, and remains our sacred duty as Americans to ensure, to the best of our ability, that our government remains true to that purpose; and if it doesn’t it is our right and our duty to resist it, “But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.” (Declaration of Independence)
Our ignorance, our apathy, our complacency have eroded the foundation upon which our system of government was built; leaving us with one that exercises almost absolute control over our lives, and our liberty. And yet we have the audacity to say that this is still the land of the free.
As I recently said, I fear that there is no going back to a system of government designed to protect our rights. It is as John Adams said to his wife Abigail, “Liberty once lost is lost forever. When the People once surrender their share in the Legislature, and their Right of defending the Limitations upon the Government, and of resisting every Encroachment upon them, they can never regain it.”
Although liberty may have been taken from us, and often surrendered willingly by a majority of the people, it will never die; there will always be a remnant that keeps alive the spirit which drove our Founders to risk all they had to secure it. We may be shunned by the majority; we may be declared to be domestic terrorists or radical extremists; we may be called old fashioned and outdated, but as Patrick Henry said, “Perhaps an invincible attachment to the dearest rights of man, may, in these refined, enlightened days, be deemed old fashioned: If so, I am contented to be so: I say, the time has been when every pore of my heart beat for American liberty, and which, I believe, had a counterpart in the breast of every true American” (with emphasis on the word TRUE.)
Although it was, and continues to be the people of this country that allows their government to exercise unlawful power and dominion, it was the Constitution which did not include iron clad defenses against these abuses of power.
Therefore, my question to you is this: Were those charged with ratifying the Constitution sold a lemon? Were they lied to by the supporters of this document; similar to how a used car salesmen lies just to make a sale?
All I know is that the preservation of my liberty, at least to me, is more important to me than the existence of ANY system of government. And when any system of government seeks to deprive me of my liberty it becomes my enemy, and I refuse to support it, or participate in choosing those who fill the seats of power within it. As Lysander Spooner so aptly stated, “A man is no less a slave because he is allowed to choose a new master once in a term of years.”
So go ahead, keep playing your Republican versus Democrat game; keep voting for candidates, then ignoring whether the laws they are passing on your behalf conform to the specific powers given them. Me, I’ll be here trying my best to live up to Jefferson’s philosophy, “Malo periculosam, liberatem quam”, translated to say, “I prefer dangerous freedom over peaceful slavery.”