The Constitution for the United States of America is a legal document outlining both the structure and the powers given the federal government. Yet, prior to 1787 the Constitution simply did not exist, nor did the government it outlines. Putting aside the fact that those who wrote the Constitution overstepped their legal authority, at the end of the Constitutional Convention the document they produced was nothing more than words on a piece of parchment; a mere proposal to the States for a new system of government. It only became binding when it was accepted through a ratification process where delegates chosen from among the people of the States debated the merits and dangers posed by this new system of government, and then agreed to either accept or reject the proposed plan.
As a legal document the Constitution cannot be violated, either by those within our government, or by those who elect people to fill the seats of power within that government, without a crime being committed. Yet the Constitution itself makes absolutely no mention of what kind of punishment may be inflicted upon those who violate the Constitution by those who hold the supreme political power in America – the people.
I can almost hear people saying, “But Neal, we can vote them out of office.” So what! That’s like saying that if you hire someone to house sit for you and you find that while you were gone they stole from you, that you can just fire them without them facing any criminal charges for the theft of your property. So what if we vote them out of office, a crime has still been committed without those guilty of the crime ever facing any criminal charges.
This simple fact was among the many faults that Patrick Henry felt merited the rejection of the proposed Constitution by the delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia in 1788, “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.”
Not only did Mr. Henry say that, he expressed more than a bit of sarcasm when he said, “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?”
Every law that government passes has an enforcement mechanism in that there is some kind of law enforcement agency whose job is to ensure that the people adhere to the laws being passed by our government; yet where are the Constitution Enforcers? I have lived for more than 60 years and I’ve yet to meet one; yet I’ve seen plenty of government agents and law enforcement officials who stand ready and willing to enforce the laws passed by government upon me.
I don’t know what word you would use to describe a scenario where those in power have all the means in the world of enforcing their laws upon you, but you have no means of enforcing your law upon them, but I would call it despotism; especially when the laws being passed by those in power exceed those given them by the document that created government in the first place.
In 1785 James Madison, also known as the Father of our Constitution, wrote a Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments in Virginia. In it he states, “The preservation of a free government requires, not merely that the metes and bounds which separate each department of power be invariably maintained, but more especially that neither of them be suffered to overleap the great barrier which defends the rights of the people.
The rulers who are guilty of such encroachment exceed the commission from which they derive their authority, and are tyrants. The people who submit to it are governed by laws made neither by themselves nor by an authority derived from them and are slaves.”
Are you a slave? Are you governed by tyrants? The answer is yes if those who govern you are passing laws they are not authorized to pass. Does it matter that the laws being enacted have the support of a majority of the people, or even if they don’t, but the people simply comply because the government says they must?
You see, that is one of the key points which distinguishes a Constitutional Republic from a Democracy; in a Constitutional Republic the rule of law dictates what government can and cannot do, and in a Democracy the majority will of the people is all that is required for laws to be binding upon the whole body of the people.
Unfortunately, for a Constitutional Republic to work as designed the people must be fully aware of what powers the Constitution grants their government, otherwise it is an easy task for usurpers to assume undelegated authority. Not only that, if the people are not steadfast in their resolve to hold government to its few limited powers they are easily convinced to accept laws which violate their rights if they are promised some kind of benefits from that law; safety, comfort, security or even the creation of jobs or a booming economy being but a few tools used to convince the people into accepting unconstitutional laws without complaint.
I’d be willing to bet that 99 out of 100 people could not tell you where in the Constitution the specific powers granted their government are to be found; let alone list any of those powers. With that degree of ignorance, (or is it simply apathy), is it any wonder that we have a government that is almost $22 trillion in debt and continues to pass all kinds of laws that deprive the people of their rights and their property?
I may be strange, but it just seems like common sense for a people who want to keep their government within the confines of its legitimate authority to know what the limits placed upon their government actually are. Yet today when I get into political discussions with people I can almost see the light bulb inside their heads go off when I start talking about the constitutional limitations upon the powers given their government; it’s as if they don’t care what the Constitution says.
Well I care and I don’t take kindly to my rights being violated by criminals who have been elected by a people who are ignorant as to the purpose for which their government was established, or the limits imposed upon that government!
By the simple fact that people treat the election of a president like they do the celebration that goes on every Super Bowl Sunday I see that people simply do not understand how their system of government was supposed to function; and how the relationship between State and federal authority has been corrupted.
Maybe that was Madison’s goal all along; to abolish the State authority. After all, in a letter to George Washington prior to the convention which produced the Constitution, Madison wrote, “Conceiving that an individual independence of the States is utterly irreconcileable with their aggregate sovereignty; and that a consolidation of the whole into one simple republic would be as inexpedient as it is unattainable, I have sought for some middle ground, which may at once support a due supremacy of the national authority, and not exclude the local authorities wherever they can be subordinately useful.” (My emphasis)
Maybe my interpretation of the highlighted portion of Madison’s comments is different than yours, but I take that to mean that the local authorities could be useful in enforcing the federal authority upon those within the States.
The way our system was originally established was that the federal government would have certain powers which touched upon certain specific functions, while whatever other powers held by government was reserved to the States. I would venture to guess that over 99% of the laws passed by the federal government within the past 50 years should never have been passed, as they belong to the category of powers which were supposed to belong to the States.
That was clearly the way that Madison explained the relationship between State and federal authority 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.”
On top of all that, the powers given our federal government are not unlimited, they are few and defined:
– Our tenet ever was that Congress had not unlimited powers to provide for the general welfare, but were restrained to those specifically enumerated…Thomas Jefferson, 1817.
– 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….James Madison, 1792
But Neal, what about the general welfare, doesn’t that mean the government can do anything it wants when it serves the general welfare of the Republic, or the people? No, it doesn’t. In 1831 James Madison wrote a letter to James Robertson in which he stated, “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.”
In 1792, when arguing against a bill that would have provided subsidies to Cod Fisheries, James Madison also said, “If Congress can employ money indefinitely to the general welfare, and are the sole and supreme judges of the general welfare, they may take the care of religion into their own hands; they may appoint teachers in every State, county and parish and pay them out of their public treasury; they may take into their own hands the education of children, establishing in like manner schools throughout the Union; they may assume the provision of the poor; they may undertake the regulation of all roads other than post-roads; in short, everything, from the highest object of state legislation down to the most minute object of police, would be thrown under the power of Congress… Were the power of Congress to be established in the latitude contended for, it would subvert the very foundations, and transmute the very nature of the limited Government established by the people of America.”
How hard is it for people to understand that their government simply cannot legally do most of the things it does? People are either painfully ignorant as to what powers their government was given, or they simply don’t care; they want an all powerful government that can provide them with all these programs that take care of their every need from the cradle to the grave.
Where does that leave those of us who do know how our system of government was supposed to work, and what powers it was supposed to be exercising? Are we to sit back in silence while we watch our government grow into this monster that regulates every aspect of our lives and destroys the liberty it was established to protect? I don’t think so; I am no slave — neither to you, nor those you elect.
Yet I am the radical because I adhere to the same beliefs as did those who actually created our system of government, and those who participated in establishing America as an independent country. That just shows me that people don’t even understand the meaning of the word radical; for the system of government we have today is a radical departure from the one that was envisioned when the States chose to ratify the Constitution.
You simply can’t argue with most people today; they are stuck in the rut of the two party paradigm, with each voter falling in line behind either the Republicans or the Democrats…and to hell with what the Constitution says. Facts don’t matter, the truth doesn’t matter…all that matters is that YOUR candidate wins. People condemn the crimes committed by the ‘other party’ yet turn a blind eye when their party commits the same crimes.
Were Thomas Jefferson alive today he would be laughing at you all, or shaking his head in disgust; for in a letter to Francis Hopkins he wrote, “I never submitted the whole system of my opinions to the creed of any party of men whatever, in religion, in philosophy, in politics or in anything else, where I was capable of thinking for myself. Such an addiction is the last degradation of a free and moral agent. If I could not go to Heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all.”
But I think the root cause of every single problem America faces can be summed up by 22 simple words, written by Samuel Adams and published in Public Advisor back in 1749, “Neither the wisest constitution nor the wisest laws will secure the liberty and happiness of a people whose manners are universally corrupt.”
The principles this country was founded upon; the beliefs regarding State and federal authority; the limitations upon federal authority; and the concern for individual liberty have all been corrupted, and the government is simply a mirror which reflects that corruption back upon those who are universally corrupt.
When Madison addressed the Virginia Ratifying Assembly he posed the following question to those in attendance, “Is there no virtue among us? If there be not, we are in a wretched situation. No theoretical checks — no form of government can render us secure. To suppose liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people, is a chimerical idea. If there be sufficient virtue and intelligence in the community, it will be exercised in the selection of these men. So that we do not depend on their virtue, or put confidence in our rulers, but in the people who are to choose them.”
If he were alive to ask that question today I would stand up and say, “Are you kidding me; just look at the average voter for your answer.”