(Graphic by my friend Louis Turner)
Here’s a little bit of trivia that I bet you weren’t aware of. For the first 8 weeks of our government’s existence it was basically impotent; meaning it could not enact any law whatsoever. That is due to the fact that it went into operation on March 4, 1789 and it wasn’t until April 30th that George Washington was sworn in as president. According to the Constitution, Congress must submit all proposed legislation to the President for his consideration; and if he does nothing for 10 days the bill automatically becomes law. But what if there is no president to submit these bills to; what then? But as soon as our government became, fully staffed, so to speak, it began the process of accumulating power unto itself…and it has been doing so ever since.
After retiring from public service, Thomas Jefferson kept actively informed on the affairs of the county he helped liberate from tyranny, and it was due to his being actively engaged that led him to write the following, “”Our government is now taking so steady a course as to show by what road it will pass to destruction; to wit: by consolidation first and then corruption, its necessary consequence. The engine of consolidation will be the Federal judiciary; the two other branches the corrupting and corrupted instruments.” (Source: Letter to Nathaniel Macon, 1821)
There is a lot to be learned from that quote if people would just apply themselves and make an effort to discern what Jefferson meant by it. First off though one must understand what he meant by the word consolidation, and how it applies to the government. Our government was, and I emphasize the word WAS, one of specific powers when it was first established. Not only were the powers given government as a whole specifically enumerated, the various powers held by each branch of the government were also enumerated; with Congress having the power to created the law; the Executive being the one to ensure the laws are faithfully executed; and the Judiciary being the body designed to hear disputes under the law.
Yet, although this new form of government had a great deal of power; much more power than did the Congress under the Articles of Confederation, it was still delegated power given to it by those it was established to represent. Not only that, the powers which were NOT given to the federal government were retained by either the States or the people themselves; and it is ludicrous to think that an entity created by the will of the people can take it upon itself to decide the limits to their power.
So, when Jefferson says consolidation, I think he was speaking of the central government assuming powers which were reserved to the States and the people…centralizing all power in Washington D.C. In a letter to Charles Hammond in July 1821 Jefferson provides the basis for my belief on this, “When all government, domestic and foreign, in little as in great things, shall be drawn to Washington as the centre of all power, it will render powerless the checks provided of one government on another, and will become as venal and oppressive as the government from which we separated…”
All that being said, it is my belief that consolidation became absolute with the defeat of the Confederacy by the Union forces. After that State authority became something that was only true in theory, but in reality the federal government, from that point forward, held all the power. If one accepts that as being true, then from the end of the Civil War until now all we have seen is the spread of corruption within our government.
It is Jefferson’s final comment, “The engine of consolidation will be the Federal judiciary; the two other branches the corrupting and corrupted instruments”, that I would now like to spend a few moments discussing. I find it absolutely incredible how some people think that whatever the Supreme Court hands down as a decision is final and absolute. They are, after all, part of the government; and if there is one universal truth it is that government NEVER seeks to limit its own authority.
Sure, there may have been times when the Court handed down a decision which declared certain laws to be unconstitutional, but it was the Supreme Court itself that delivered a ruling declaring that there were hidden or implied powers to be found within the Constitution. In McCulloch v Maryland the SCOTUS first says, “This Government is acknowledged by all to be one of enumerated powers. The principle that it can exercise only the powers granted to it would seem too apparent to have required to be enforced by all those arguments which its enlightened friends, while it was depending before the people, found it necessary to urge; that principle is now universally admitted….”
On the surface that may seem to be a declaration that our government is one of specific and limited powers, but the Court then goes on to say, “A Constitution, to contain an accurate detail of all the subdivisions of which its great powers will admit, and of all the means by which they may be carried into execution, would partake of the prolixity of a legal code, and could scarcely be embraced by the human mind. It would probably never be understood by the public. Its nature, therefore, requires that only its great outlines should be marked, its important objects designated, and the minor ingredients which compose those objects be deduced from the nature of the objects themselves.”
What the Court is talking about is construction; the way in which constitutional power is interpreted. Let me give you an example; the Necessary and Proper Clause. Depending upon how that is interpreted our government can assume a multitude of powers not specifically found within the Constitution itself. For instance, if I were to tell you to go to the store and buy the ingredients for supper tonight, you would have the power to buy whatever items were required to make whatever it is you were planning to eat. However, under a loose interpretation of the Necessary and Proper Clause you might say to yourself, “Well, I need a new car to go to the store and carry all those items in.” That would be beyond the spirit and intention of my having told you to go to the store and buy all that is needed to cook supper; but that’s exactly what the constructionist policy supported by the Courts decision in McCulloch v Maryland has allowed.
Madison warned about this loose interpretation of constitutional powers when he said,”If Congress can do whatever in their discretion can be done by money, and will promote the General Welfare, the Government is no longer a limited one, possessing enumerated powers, but an indefinite one, subject to particular exceptions.” If that is the case, then our government has taken upon itself to be the sole decider of what powers it shall hold. History has shown that once that happens the rights of those government was established to secure soon vanish.
It’s funny that it took less than a decade for our government to begin exercising powers that were beyond those given it; powers which caused a rift in the Executive Branch between the President and the Vice-President. When President John Adams signed into law the Alien and Sedition Acts his own Vice-President, Thomas Jefferson wrote the following in opposition to them, “Resolved, 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.”
If you did not notice, Jefferson did not say the people are not united on the principle of unlimited submission to the government, he said the States were not united on that principle. I think people have forgotten that this system of government we have was not established to represent them and them alone; it was also established to represent the States in their sovereign capacity as well. Why else would they have created a Senate; with its members being chosen by the State Legislatures?
The process of consolidation, therefore, must include the gradual diminishing of State authority and State say in what laws the central government enacts. It is my belief that the final act of consolidation was the defeat of the Confederacy, in that in that single moment in time a States right to nullify federal laws that violate their rights and sovereignty, or withdraw from a Union that had become destructive of the ends for which it was established, was forever eradicated. With the defeat of the Confederacy the government became supreme in all things; accomplishing exactly what Jefferson feared.
It’s ironic as hell that, in Federalist 78, Alexander Hamilton wrote, “There is no position which depends on clearer principles, than that every act of a delegated authority, contrary to the tenor of the commission under which it is exercised, is void. No legislative act, therefore, contrary to the Constitution, can be valid. To deny this, would be to affirm, that the deputy is greater than his principal; that the servant is above his master; that the representatives of the people are superior to the people themselves; that men acting by virtue of powers, may do not only what their powers do not authorize, but what they forbid.” I say it is ironic because it was Hamilton’s vision of a strong consolidated central government that Lincoln finally accomplished with the defeat of the Confederacy. Since 1865 the only thing that has changed is the extent to which our government has been corrupted.
There are a couple of Latin legal terms that I would like to address for a moment now; de jure and de facto. In legal terminology something that is de jure is something that is in accordance with established law, while something that is de facto is something that is in accordance with reality, or how things actually are. Right now our government exists as a de facto government, meaning it exists, but it is NOT in accordance with the law that created it.
Yet with all that I have said our government still maintains whatever power it has over us by our consent. If every American in this country were to withdraw their consent for this government it would wither and die. If we were all to refuse to pay our taxes and abide by the laws it passes, what could it do to all of us. It needs us to continue to believe in its authority to maintain its power over us. As long as it can maintain the charade that it is legitimate then the people will support it; regardless of whether it is controlled by Republicans or Democrats.
This two party paradigm gives people the illusion that their voice matters in what laws our government passes; when the truth is that most candidates from both parties are all puppets dancing to the tune of the same masters; and we are the puppets who dance to the laws they enact which are gradually turning us from freemen and women into slaves.
This two party paradigm is a poison which has infiltrated government at both the federal and State levels. Today the States are either governed by Republicans or Democrats; meaning that the platform of the political party that holds control of a State is what determines which laws are passed and which aren’t. No longer is the State’s best interests, or the interests of the people the driving force behind the laws being passed; it is whatever serves the agenda of the political party machine.
Therefore, if the political parties are the ones deciding policy, then doesn’t it seem logical that if the State governments and the federal government are run by either Republicans or Democrats then they are both acting off the same script and that the Constitution and our rights are secondary; if of any concern at all?
It has been said that a people get the government they deserve. Ben Franklin said something very similar on the final day of the Constitutional Convention, “I think a General Government necessary for us, and 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.”
If we, as a people, become ignorant of the purposes for and powers given our government, then aren’t we utlimately to blame when our government assumes undelegated powers, or makes a tyrannical use of its power? In an Independence Day Message, a century after the Civil War, President James Garfield made the following comment, “Now more than ever before, the people are responsible for the character of their Congress. If that body be ignorant, reckless and corrupt, it is because the people tolerate ignorance, recklessness and corruption. If it be intelligent, brave and pure, it is because the people demand these high qualities to represent them in the national legislature…. If the next centennial does not find us a great nation … it will be because those who represent the enterprise, the culture, and the morality of the nation do not aid in controlling the political forces.”
People today choose who they will vote for, not based upon how well those running for office show that they will support and defend the Constitution and safeguard our liberty, but upon the promises to do things for them that the voters find of importance. These things range from defending us from terrorism to providing programs for the needy. When we disregard the purpose for which our government was originally established we allow corruption to enter, and thrive within our government. Putting all of our hope and trust in one man, be it a Trump or an Obama, to make America into our vision of what America should be only empowers government and limits our freedom.
We are the ultimate check on the power government holds, and we can only exercise that check when we are knowledgeable about what powers our government was supposed to hold, and what purposes it was supposed to serve. As long as we keep voting within the confines of the two party system; while ignoring the actual purpose for which our government was established, ain’t a damned thing going to change…not really. The economy might get somewhat better, more people might be taken care of, but government will continue to grow and our rights will continue to be taken from us.
And that is why I no longer vote in federal elections; I refuse to vote for an entity that does not care about the limits that have been imposed upon its power. I refuse to vote for candidates who place party platforms over the Constitution and Bill of Rights. The lesser of two evils is still evil…and I’ve had about all I can stand of an evil government. So I simply have withdrawn my consent to participate in selecting between one of two criminals.
The answer, if there is one, is for people to abandon their hope that the federal government will fix all that is wrong in this country. The answer is to focus on State and local government and hope that those they elect will have the courage and the wisdom to stand up for both the rights of the States and the rights of the people who inhabit those States. But to put your hope and trust into a de facto government that, over a century and a half ago abandoned the Constitution, is to keep repeating the same mistakes over and over again. And you know what Einstein said about that right; he called it the very definition of ins